There’s nothing quite as fitting as spending Valentine’s Day in Roma. Except for the fact that my significant other is in the United States…
Oh well, at least I’m saving money. 🙂 Really though, it’s ok. Valentine’s Day seems to be a much bigger deal in the United States than in Italy. The origin of the holiday, in a nutshell, happened originally during a pagan festival known as Lupercalia, celebrated in Ancient Rome. The Catholics took over the holiday and substituted Valentine’s Day. Both, in ways, celebrate fertility and love. If you want to know more about the entire history; I featured it in my religion column in the Temple News.
Of course I wrote that article based on my own research; it seems only fitting I learned about Aphrodite (goddess of love) in mythology class today. Now I know much more about how the ancient Greeks and Romans interpreted love. The chapter was filled with stories (many of which could be made into a very good, or bad, romantic comedy. Some could even be, or already have been, made into tragedy films) that deal with the goddess and her offspring.
The first thing to know about Aphrodite (Venus) is that she has two stories of where she came from. The first story basically says that she came from Uranus’ (sky) castrated testicles. These fell to the sea, and the semen turned into foam. There’s a lot of strange family history there and a perfectly good reason why he was castrated, but you can do that research on your own. Anyway, Aphrodite rose out of the foam of the sea. That’s why we have this picture, The Birth of Venus. This creates a “Uranian” love. It is older, pure, and sacred.
Venus being born out of the sea, according to the story.
The other story says that Zeus and Dione (some lesser diety) mated and had Aphrodite, obviously through intercourse. This demonstrates a second kind of love called “Pandemos.” This means literally for all demographics. This is the commoner’s love: basic, physical, and even profane.
Both of these kinds of love have existed over the course of history, and are obviously very relevant to the 21st century. But I’ll get to that in the second part of this post. It should be pointed out that our popular culture, from films, to popular songs, to epic novels, poems, short stories…revolves 90% of the time around some sort of love story. Here are some of my favorites from class, alla fairy-tale.
Pygmalion: There once lived a man who hated all the women of Cyprus, where he lived. And so he decided to sculpt the perfect woman out of ivory. Once he had finished with her, he saw she was beautiful, and began to fall in love with her. He brought her gifts, and dressed her in jewels and gowns, and made her a bed. But she could not respond to his touch or his love. And so, during the festival of Aphrodite, he asked the goddess if he could find a love as perfect as his sculpture; he was too ashamed and embarassed to ask that the ivory itself be made real. When he returned to his home, he found that the ivory had begun to turn flesh colored. When he touched her, the skin began to warm and melt. Gradually, she became a woman, named Galatea. Pygmalion and Galatea were happy, and gave birth to a child named Paphos.
To be analytical, this obviously derives from Pandemos Aphrodite. You kind of have to wonder if this story is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it’s good because it tells us that we can create what we believe to be perfection. It can be argued that the gods, or God, fell in love (whether platonic or not) with their creation. In that way we are like them. The story also helps to give us faith in true miracles. It somehow lets us know that the gods (or God), hears and answers our prayers, not matter how far-fetched they may seem. On the other hand, it’s a tragic and sad story, de-humanizing women by making none of them worthy of Pygmalion. It further relates to the idea of plastic surgery today; our own way of sculpting the body to achieve perfection, merely to impress or conform to the society that has created it.
Adonis and Aphrodite: From the offspring of Pygmalion came Paphos. From the offspring of Paphos came Cinyrous. Cinyrous fathered a daughter, Myrrah. She took him secretly as a lover, and from their offspring came Adonis. (that was more alla Bible…whatever. I try.)
Before the story of Adonis and Aphrodite is told, it must be known that Aphrodite had the power to sway anyone with the exception of three goddesses: Artemis, Hestia, and Athena. When Zeus created her, he allowed even Aphrodite herself to be swayed by love. And so, she fell in love with Adonis, a very handsome man, and a hunter. Aphrodite feared for Adonis’ life, constantly warning him not to hunt. But he did not listen. One day he was attacked and mauled by a wild boar. Hearing his cries, Aphrodite went to him, and held him in her arms as he lay dying. She sprinked nectar onto him, and from this came a flower called the anemone. Today, this flower blooms every spring, and is a symbol of rebirth, ressurection and love for Adonis.
This theme of a dominant woman and the ressurection of a fragile lover that returns in the spring is constantly recurring in mythology. There are many parallels between the image of Adonis dying in Aphrodite’s arms to Jesus dying in Mary’s arms. This kind of love is obviously platonic, and very much relating to a mother and son. The term “adoration” (such as in Adoration of the Magi, or in the words Come let us adore him) may very well stem from Adonis. This heartache is arguably the most powerful love that exists in this world.
Pieta di Michelangelo, Basilica di San Pietro
Socrates’ speech (from Plato’s Symposium)- A symposium is a gathering, especially after dinner, where the greeks would drink and talk. It’s awesome to know that over the course of 2000 years, this idea has not changed. There was a certain symposium that Plato wrote, both as a philosophical document and a story, set at a cast party. This particular philosophical myth (used to explain human emotion), has to do with love. The following is by Socrates, again, loosely written by me.
At the beginning of the world, there existed three sexes. The first sex, whose realm was the Sun, was formed by two men attached back to back, with two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two heads. The second sex, whose realm was the Earth, was formed by two women attached in the same way. The third sex, whose realm was the Moon, was formed by a man and a woman in the same position. Zeus grew angry that these gods disregarded him, and so he severed and separated them all with the strike of a lightning bolt. Since then, each has spent his or her life searching the world for its other half.
This is a powerful message, and the first true story of mythology that supports homosexual love. In today’s society, we thrive and search for this love, no matter who it is between. Plato believede that there were two kinds of love, much like Aphrodite’s two kinds of love. The first is physical, erotic, with the possibility of producing children. While this kind of love mostly, but not entirely supports homosexual relationships, the second one does. Through this physical love, a couple can attain this philosophical, or Platonic love. This is abstract, a union of thoughts and ideas, considered the highest form. The lessons from this highest love, no matter what genders it exists between, are passed on to the children of the couple. Love was extremely important and powerful to the Greeks, perhaps even moreso than it is to many people today.
Happy Valentine’s Day.