Romance Advice from Homer: After Sex, Tell a Story

Odyssey, 23.300-309

“After they had their fill of lovely sex,
they took pleasure in their stories, narrating for one another.
She told him everything she endured as a woman
watching the ruinous throng of suitors in their home,
slaughtering so many bulls and fat sheep,
and draining down so much wine.
And godly Odysseus told her all the grief he caused men
and how much he suffered himself in his efforts.
He told her everything. And she enjoyed hearing it—
sleep would not alight upon her brows before he told every bit.”

τὼ δ’ ἐπεὶ οὖν φιλότητος ἐταρπήτην ἐρατεινῆς,
τερπέσθην μύθοισι, πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἐνέποντες,
ἡ μὲν ὅσ’ ἐν μεγάροισιν ἀνέσχετο δῖα γυναικῶν
ἀνδρῶν μνηστήρων ἐσορῶσ’ ἀΐδηλον ὅμιλον,
οἳ ἕθεν εἵνεκα πολλά, βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα,
ἔσφαζον, πολλὸς δὲ πίθων ἠφύσσετο οἶνος·
αὐτὰρ διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεύς, ὅσα κήδε’ ἔθηκεν
ἀνθρώποισ’ ὅσα τ’ αὐτὸς ὀϊζύσας ἐμόγησε,
πάντ’ ἔλεγ’· ἡ δ’ ἄρα τέρπετ’ ἀκούουσ’, οὐδέ οἱ ὕπνος
πῖπτεν ἐπὶ βλεφάροισι πάρος καταλέξαι ἅπαντα.

There’s not much sex in Homer–epic does not deny the existence of the act–or its power–but it is chaste in describing it. And when it does, the situation is usually a bit, well, awkward. In the Iliad, Aphrodite rescues Paris from a duel with Menelaos and inserts him in his bedchamber.  She tells Helen to go ‘comfort’ him and when Helen balks, Aphrodite threatens. Helen insults Paris a bit, and he responds rather weakly (Il. 3.437-447):

“Paris then answered her with this speech:
“Don’t criticize me with such harsh words, wife.
For now, Menelaos would have overcome me with Athena’s help
Or I would have killed him. Gods support both of us.
Come on, let’s lay down in bad and have sex.
For desire has not ever so clouded my thoughts
Not even when I first took you from beautiful Lakedaimon
And sailed in the sea-going vessels
And I stopped to linger in sex and sleep on the island Kranaes.
This is how much I want you now as this sweet longing takes me.”
That’s what he said as he led her to the bed. His spouse followed.

Τὴν δὲ Πάρις μύθοισιν ἀμειβόμενος προσέειπε·
μή με γύναι χαλεποῖσιν ὀνείδεσι θυμὸν ἔνιπτε·
νῦν μὲν γὰρ Μενέλαος ἐνίκησεν σὺν ᾿Αθήνῃ,
κεῖνον δ’ αὖτις ἐγώ· πάρα γὰρ θεοί εἰσι καὶ ἡμῖν.
ἀλλ’ ἄγε δὴ φιλότητι τραπείομεν εὐνηθέντε·
οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ’ ὧδέ γ’ ἔρως φρένας ἀμφεκάλυψεν,
οὐδ’ ὅτε σε πρῶτον Λακεδαίμονος ἐξ ἐρατεινῆς
ἔπλεον ἁρπάξας ἐν ποντοπόροισι νέεσσι,
νήσῳ δ’ ἐν Κραναῇ ἐμίγην φιλότητι καὶ εὐνῇ,
ὥς σεο νῦν ἔραμαι καί με γλυκὺς ἵμερος αἱρεῖ.
῏Η ῥα, καὶ ἄρχε λέχος δὲ κιών· ἅμα δ’ εἵπετ’ ἄκοιτις.

The scene is not much better in the Iliad’s most famous instance of lovemaking. Hera spends most of book 14 preparing to seduce Zeus so that she can thwart his plans in helping the Trojans. She arrives, with a promise of help from the god Sleep and special cosmetics borrowed from Aphrodite, and Zeus’ response is immediate (14 312-328):

“Zeus the cloud-gatherer answered her:
‘Hera, it is perfectly fine for you to do there later.
But let’s go to bed and have sex right now.
No desire like this for a goddess or woman
Has ever come over me and overcome me like this.
It wasn’t like this when I lusted after Ixion’s wife
Who gave birth later to Peirithoos, a counselor equal to the gods.
It wasn’t like this when I wanted Akrisios fine-ankled daughter Danae
Who gave birth to Perseus, the finest of all men.
It wasn’t like this when I wanted the daughter of famous Phoinix
Who gave birth to Minos and godly Radamanthus
Or even when I lusted after Semele or Alkmene in Thebes-
And one of them gave birth to strong-hearted Herakles
And the other gave birth to that charm for men, Dionysus.
I didn’t feel like this for the well-tressed mistress Demeter
Or fertile Leto, or even you yourself!
This is how I want you now as this sweet desire overtakes me.”

Τὴν δ’ ἀπαμειβόμενος προσέφη νεφεληγερέτα Ζεύς·
῞Ηρη κεῖσε μὲν ἔστι καὶ ὕστερον ὁρμηθῆναι,
νῶϊ δ’ ἄγ’ ἐν φιλότητι τραπείομεν εὐνηθέντε.
οὐ γάρ πώ ποτέ μ’ ὧδε θεᾶς ἔρος οὐδὲ γυναικὸς
θυμὸν ἐνὶ στήθεσσι περιπροχυθεὶς ἐδάμασσεν,
οὐδ’ ὁπότ’ ἠρασάμην ᾿Ιξιονίης ἀλόχοιο,
ἣ τέκε Πειρίθοον θεόφιν μήστωρ’ ἀτάλαντον·
οὐδ’ ὅτε περ Δανάης καλλισφύρου ᾿Ακρισιώνης,
ἣ τέκε Περσῆα πάντων ἀριδείκετον ἀνδρῶν·
οὐδ’ ὅτε Φοίνικος κούρης τηλεκλειτοῖο,
ἣ τέκε μοι Μίνων τε καὶ ἀντίθεον ῾Ραδάμανθυν·
οὐδ’ ὅτε περ Σεμέλης οὐδ’ ᾿Αλκμήνης ἐνὶ Θήβῃ,
ἥ ῥ’ ῾Ηρακλῆα κρατερόφρονα γείνατο παῖδα·
ἣ δὲ Διώνυσον Σεμέλη τέκε χάρμα βροτοῖσιν·
οὐδ’ ὅτε Δήμητρος καλλιπλοκάμοιο ἀνάσσης,
οὐδ’ ὁπότε Λητοῦς ἐρικυδέος, οὐδὲ σεῦ αὐτῆς,
ὡς σέο νῦν ἔραμαι καί με γλυκὺς ἵμερος αἱρεῖ.

Hera ignores most of this speech and tries to get Zeus to go back to Olympus, but he insists on having sex right away (he builds them a cloud sex-hut on Mt. Ida) and then he falls asleep. During his post-coital slumber, things for very bad for the Trojans.

And this love scene on Mt. Ida makes me think of the only other major Homeric sex scene, which comes from the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. In the Hymn, Zeus afflicts Aphrodite with lust for a mortal man (named Anchises, they have Aeneas together) to teach her a lesson for causing so much mischief among the gods. Like Hera, Aphrodite gets all dolled up and approaches Anchises who is tending his flocks on Mt. Ida (68).

At first, surprised that there is a beautiful woman in the middle of mountainous sylvan pasture, Anchises is afraid and thinks she’s a goddess. She tells him a rather threadbare tale about how Hermes brought her from her home to be his wife—she asks him to take him home and introduce her to his parents. Once these words are out, Anchises cannot help himself (144-154):

“Lust overtook Anchises, and he addressed her:
‘If you are mortal and a mortal mother bore you
And Otreus is in fact your father’s famous name as you claim,
And you come here at the behest of the immortal traveler Hermes,
Then you will be called my wife for the rest of time!
No god or mortal man from this moment on
Will be able to prevent me from having sex with you.
Immediately. Now. Not even if far-shooting Apollo himself
Should start splashing out his stunning shafts at me.
I would still then choose, wife so like a goddess,
to go to Hades’ home after climbing into bed with you.”

᾿Αγχίσην δ’ ἔρος εἷλεν, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζεν·
Εἰ μὲν θνητή τ’ ἐσσί, γυνὴ δέ σε γείνατο μήτηρ,
᾿Οτρεὺς δ’ ἐστὶ πατὴρ ὄνομα κλυτός, ὡς ἀγορεύεις,
ἀθανάτου δὲ ἕκητι διακτόρου ἐνθάδ’ ἱκάνεις
῾Ερμέω, ἐμὴ δ’ ἄλοχος κεκλήσεαι ἤματα πάντα·
οὔ τις ἔπειτα θεῶν οὔτε θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων
ἐνθάδε με σχήσει πρὶν σῇ φιλότητι μιγῆναι
αὐτίκα νῦν· οὐδ’ εἴ κεν ἑκηβόλος αὐτὸς ᾿Απόλλων
τόξου ἀπ’ ἀργυρέου προϊῇ βέλεα στονόεντα.
βουλοίμην κεν ἔπειτα, γύναι εἰκυῖα θεῇσι,
σῆς εὐνῆς ἐπιβὰς δῦναι δόμον ῎Αϊδος εἴσω.

He takes her into some kind of a mountain hut where they have sex on the lion and bear-skin rugs (actually true, line 159: ἄρκτων δέρματ’ ἔκειτο βαρυφθόγγων τε λεόντων). And then? Anchises falls asleep. Aphrodite stays awake. And the poem’s tone changes quickly. Western literature’s first and clearest example of post-coital remorse.

(Really, everyone should read this one).

So the lesson from these tales? Take your time and be patient. And don’t fall asleep right after sex.

Aphrodite

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