The Origins of Aphrodite, Redux

I recently attended a great workshop by Emily Trinkhaus, on Venus Revolution: 12 Dimensions of the Sacred Feminine. As part of the presentation, Emily mentioned that the origin myth for Aphrodite was one she has never liked or really understood. Although I can completely relate to never liking what we keep being told is the origin myth for Aphrodite, it was one of those moments where I remembered/realized “Geez, why haven’t I put up on this site the REAL myth behind the ancient Greek revisionist one!?”

Happy to remedy that right now!

In case, there are readers who aren’t familiar with, or have forgotten, the ancient Greek version, here’s a quick rendition. But, first things first. The myth starts with the origins of the cosmos itself. As Hesiod, tells it in Theogeny :

“Khaos (Air) was born first, and after came Gaia (Earth) /  the broad-breasted, the firm seat of all the immortals . . . /and the misty Tartaros (Underworld) in the depths of the broad-pathed Earth / and Eros (Sexual Love), fairest among the deathless gods; / who unstrings the limbs and subdues both mind  / and sensible thought in the breasts of all. . . .

Khaos (Air) gave birth to Erebos (Darkness) and black Nyx (Night); / then Erebos mated with Nyx and made her pregnant /  and she in turn gave birth to  were born Aither (Light) and Hemera (Day). /  Gaia now first gave birth to starry Ouranos (Heaven), / her match in size, to encompass all of her. . . . / She gave birth to the tall Ourea (Mountains) , / enchanting haunts of the divine nymphs who dwell in the woodlands; / and then she bore Pontos (Sea), the barren sea with its raging swell. /

All these she bore without mating in sweet love. / But then she did couple with Ouranos /. . . [and conceived and birthed the great Okeanos and the original Titans]. / Kronos, the sinuous-minded, was her last-born.”

Aphrodite Medici statueCommentary– I am using A. N. Athanassakis’ translation of the Theogeny. This creation story of the cosmos is much older than Hesiod’s telling (8th century BCE). What Hesiod transcribed were incredibly ancient oral myths.

What gives this away is that Gaia conceives and births the starry heavens, the wide seas, and the tall mountains parthenogenetically, i.e. all by herself!  Also, realize that Hesiod is using the term “gods” here as a placeholder term for all of the deities, male and female; similar to the way that “men” is often used to represent all of humanity. 

Therefore, Khaos (Air) like Gaia is female as is Eros and Nyx. As Athanassakis remarks of Eros, “This figure has nothing in common with the winged and cherubic child of Hellenistic and Roman art. . . . Eros is the motive force in the generative and procreative processes.”

Again, there are the big clues. Who has those powers?  Females! Eros, who later becomes turned into the “child” of Aphrodite, is actually the older name for this goddess of sexuality, fertility, and astonishing power of sensual desire and love.

Additionally, this creation myth reflects truths about our actual cosmos. Air or Atmosphere is perhaps a great description of the cosmic void or chaos that appears to be the womb of our beginnings. Dark matter and Night evidently did spark a huge Light that brought forth our galaxy, our Sun, and by proxy, our Day.

Gaia, typically interpreted as Earth, appears in art and other myth as something much larger. Gaia may be akin to Shakti or generative energy. And as we now know, the starry cosmos is expanding and seems to match the “size” of Gaia. And, all species have evolved to display sexual allure, attraction, and desire in  stunningly diverse ways.  Life delighted by Life, taken up by Life and generating Life.  Of course, that’s chock-full of Eros or, as we now commonly call her, Venus /Aphrodite.

Castration of Ouranus by Lucas Fowl.
Castration of Ouranus by Lucas Fowl.

The myth now takes a really weird turn. This is usually a sign that other things are being tacked on or revised from the original. Sure enough. The mythic origins of Aphrodite are being reframed.  Think of Hesiod’s new version as akin to the head-scratching we encounter between the Genesis 1 and 2 creation stories.

Even though Hesiod says Kronos is Gaia’s last-born, there is then an account of her birthing the Kyklops (who were personifications of storms), and the Hundred-Handers (personifications of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the like). Ouranos has shut all of them “in Gaia’s womb” and will not let them live. Gaia asks her in-dwelling progeny that “we all punish your father’s outrageous deed.” None but Kronos would pick up the adamantine sickle.

At night when Ouranos came to lay upon Gaia, Kronos took the sickle and chopped off Ouranos’ genitals and tossed them away “into the stormy sea”. Blood fell onto Gaia and from this blood, she conceived and bore the Erinyes (Furies), the Giants, and the Meliai (Ash Tree Nymphs). The ocean then used Ouranos’ genitals to create Aphrodite, the “majestic and fair goddess.” Plus, now Himeros (Desire) and Eros (Sexual Love) become her constant companions. (Like they weren’t already part of her essential being.)

Commentary–For savvy readers, the point where the creation myth gets really bizarre and the really odd “origin” of Aphrodite as a creation of ocean water and disembodied male genitalia, smacks of a patriarchal rewrite. What we have here is a literary explanation that male genital bleeding produces children. All women know this is just insane. Women bleed, menstrually and at childbirth, and we do so as a freaking miracle, not as a monthly violent aberration.

Bronze statue of Aphrodite, Roman 1st c CE.
Bronze statue of Aphrodite, Roman 1st c CE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, yeah, patriarchy.  Totally has wanted and still wants to take over this amazing female power.  And, if not, then to control, control, control women’s sexual and reproductive powers.  Hesiod’s writing, symbolically absconds with women’s procreative powers, and results in the horribly manufactured genital cutting between the god of heaven (Ouranos) and the god of time (Kronos) by an unbreakable crescent. 

And please note that by putting these two gods as the main characters, this revision works to steal powers that appear to be woven into women’s very bodies: the cycles of the heavens and the marking of time. 

The cycles of the moon and stars as well as women’s ancient necessity and abilities to tell time have been tied to our monthly bleeding (periods–time, menses–moon, sickle–the new moon) as well as our pregnancies and births.

So,  join me in thoroughly rejecting this crusty Hesiod rewrite that is painful for both women and men. A lie, we’ve been repeatedly asked to read, take in, and believe.  Balderdash!  Out with the trash!!  Let’s live the myths that speak truth, that delight in the wonder of our world, our cosmos, ourselves, and LOVE.  In doing so, we truly start honoring Eros / Aphrodite/ Venus once again.