The Abbreviated Plans of Humans and Gods: A Fragment for Valentine’s Day

Sophocles, fr. 941 [=Stobaeus 4, 20.6]

“Children, the Cyprian is certainly not only the Cyprian
But she is a being of many names.
She is Hades. She is immortal life.
She is mad insanity. She is desire undiluted.
She is lamentation. In her is everything
Earnest, peaceful, all that leads to violence
She seeps into the organs of everything
In which life resides. Who is ever sated by the goddess?
She enters into the fishes’ swimming race,
She is in the four-limbed tribe on the land
And guides her wing among the birds.

Among beasts, mortals, among the gods above.
Whom of the gods has she not thrown three times?
If it is right for me—if it is right to speak the truth,
She rules Zeus’ chest without a spear or iron
The Cyprian certainly cuts short
All the best plans of humans and gods.”

ὦ παῖδες, ἥ τοι Κύπρις οὐ Κύπρις μόνον,
ἀλλ᾿ ἐστὶ πολλῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπώνυμος.
ἔστιν μὲν Ἅιδης, ἔστι δ᾿ ἄφθιτος βίος,
ἔστιν δὲ λύσσα μανιάς, ἔστι δ᾿ ἵμερος
ἄκρατος, ἔστ᾿ οἰμωγμός. ἐν κείνῃ τὸ πᾶν
σπουδαῖον, ἡσυχαῖον, ἐς βίαν ἄγον.
ἐντήκεται γάρ †πλευμόνων† ὅσοις ἔνι
ψυχή· τίς οὐχὶ τῆσδε τῆς θεοῦ βορός;
εἰσέρχεται μὲν ἰχθύων πλωτῷ γένει,
χέρσου δ᾿ ἔνεστιν ἐν τετρασκελεῖ γονῇ,
νωμᾷ δ᾿ ἐν οἰωνοῖσι τοὐκείνης πτερόν.
* * *
ἐν θηρσίν, ἐν βροτοῖσιν, ἐν θεοῖς ἄνω.
τίν᾿ οὐ παλαίουσ᾿ ἐς τρὶς ἐκβάλλει θεῶν;
εἴ μοι θέμις—θέμις δὲ—τἀληθῆ λέγειν,
Διὸς τυραννεῖ πλευμόνων ἄνευ δορός,
ἄνευ σιδήρου· πάντα τοι συντέμνεται
Κύπρις τὰ θνητῶν καὶ θεῶν βουλεύματα.

Image result for Ancient Greek Aphrodite vase
Birth of Aphrodite, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Homeric Love Advice: 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):

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A Spurious Etymology for ‘Venus’: Varro, On the Latin Language, Book V, 61-2

“For this reason, everybody, when it is too hot or too moist, will either die or, if it persists, will be sterile. Summer and winter bear witness to this, since in the first, the air is hot and the wheat dries up, while in the other nature does not long to struggle with the rain and the cold to bring new life—instead, it waits for spring. Therefore, the roots of creation are two-fold: fire and water. For this reason there are placed at the threshold during wedding ceremonies since here is where things join and since the fire is male, which the semen is there, and the water is female, since a fetus develops from her moisture and the force of their binding together is Venus. This is why the comic poet says “Venus is his conqueress, do you see this?” not because Venus wants to conquer [vincere] but because she plans to bind [vincire].”

Inde omne corpus, ubi nimius ardor aut humor, aut interit aut, si manet, sterile. Cui testis aestas et hiems, quod in altera aer ardet et spica aret, in altera natura ad nascenda cum imbre et frigore luctare non volt et potius ver expectat. Igitur causa nascendi duplex: ignis et aqua. Ideo ea nuptiis in limine adhibentur, quod coniungitur hic, et mas ignis, quod ibi semen, aqua femina, quod fetus ab eius humore, et horum vinctionis vis Venus.

Hinc comicus:
Huic victrix Venus, videsne haec?
Non quod vincere velit Venus, sed vincire.

Don’t Hurt A Lady Like Diomedes Did (Ovid, Amores 1.7, 31-34)

“The son of Tydeus left the worst example of crimes—
He struck a goddess first—but I did it second!
And he was less to blame: The one I profess to love
I hurt; Tydeus’ son was a beast with an enemy.”

pessima Tydides scelerum monimenta reliquit.
ille deam primus perculit—alter ego!
et minus ille nocens. mihi, quam profitebar amare
laesa est; Tydides saevus in hoste fuit.

In this poem, Ovid starts out by asking to be handcuffed because he struck his girlfriend. He compares himself to insane Ajax or Orestes, before spending some time speaking of Diomedes. Of course, a lot of this ‘play’ is just part of the self-mockery and generic-gaming of the Amores where our poet starts out by mentioned the “arms and violent wars” he was preparing (arma gravi numero violentaque bella parabam, 1.1.); but from a modern perspective, the conceit of writing a poem about the temporary “madness” that made one strike a lover, seems a bit less than funny. Indeed, it seems, well, primitive and, as Ovid puts it, saevus.

And, though Ovid at first appears to make light of Diomedes’ wounding of Aphrodite in the Iliad (book 5), he certainly knew (as evidenced by the Metamorphoses 14.460-510) that Diomedes’ act had some grave consequences. According to some authors, Diomedes came home to find his wife Aigialea shacked up with his own relative Kometes. He must shelter in the temple of Athena and then flee his own land. According to some accounts, he makes it to Italy where he marries the daughter of Daunos and gets a kingdom. According to others, he is killed on a hunting expedition, either on purpose, or by accident.

So, perhaps wounding Aphrodite was a mistake to begin with…but I do wonder how much Ovid wants us to think about this when singing of Diomedes.