Chapter 9
Lecture One of Two
Myths of the Female
Deities: Demeter, Hestia, Aphrodite
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The Female Olympians
• Mostly reducible to some aspect of fertility
• Greek myth told by and for Greek males
• With the exception of Aphrodite and Athena,
they never do very much
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The goddess of the harvest.
DEMETER, MISTRESS OF WHEAT
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Demeter
• “Wheat” mother?
• Connection with foundation myth of the
Eleusinian Mysteries will be discussed in a
separate chapter.
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The eldest child of Zeus and Hera.
HESTIA, THE HEARTH
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Hestia
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Goddess of the house.
Few stories (she’s inside all the time).
No love affairs.
Had suitors briefly: Apollo and Poseidon.
Given honor instead of marriage.
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The power of sexual attraction.
APHRODITE, GODDESS OF SEXUAL
LOVE
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Aphrodite
• Goddess of sexuality
• Her lineage
– As Aphrodite
– Zeus and Dione
• Connections with Eastern deities
– Istarte, Ishtar, Inanna
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Venus: Images of Beauty in European Art
PERSPECTIVE 9
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Perspective 9a Botticelli: Birth of Venus
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence; Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York
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Perspective 9b: de Cosimo Venus and Mars
Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Gemaldegalerie; Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/ Art Resource, New York
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Perspective 9c: Veronese: Venus and Adonis
Museo del Prado, Madrid; Scala/White Images/ Art Resource, New York
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Perspective 9d: Veláquez: Toilet of Venus
©National Gallery, London; Art Resource, New York
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Aphrodite
• Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite celebrates the
goddess power over even the unwilling.
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Children by various male deities or associated powers.
HERMAPHRODITUS AND PRIAPUS
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Hermaphroditus and Priapus
• Hermaphroditus has qualities of both sexes
because he was fused with the nymph
Salmacis when she prayed to Aphrodite that
they never be parted.
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Hermaphroditus and Priapus
• Priapus
– Aphrodite and Dionysus or Hermes
– Asian garden deity
– “priapism”
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Fig. 9.1
Priapus weighs his penis.
Pompeii, House of the Vettii; Scala/Art Resource, New York
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The inspiration for Shaw's play Pygmalion and the musical My Fair Lady.
PYGMALION
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Pygmalion
• Pygmalion, the king of Cyprus, makes a statue
of his image of the perfect women, with which
he promptly falls in love.
• Aphrodite brings his statue to life for him.
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Pygmalion
• The girl, named Galatea, gave brith to Cinyras
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Pygmalion
• Cinyras’s wife boasts that Myrrha is more
beautiful than Aphrodite herself.
• Aphrodite inflicts Myrrha with a passion for
her father, Cinyras.
• Cinyras lured into sex with her
• Enraged, he chases her until she turns into the
myrrh tree
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Aphrodite
• Her tears are myrrh resin, burned on
Aphrodite’s altar – an etiological myth
• From the myrrh tree, Adonis is born
• Semitic name: “lord,” cf. Adonai, another
name for YHWH in the Old Testament
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Fig. 9.2
The Capitoline Venus, a Roman copy of
a lost statue from the Greek master,
Praxiteles.
Museo Capitolino, Rome; author’s photo
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This explains how the Romans are ultimately descended from Venus.
APHRODITE AND ANCHISES
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Aphrodite and Anchises
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Anchises
Prince of Troy
Aphrodite “punished” by Zeus
Made to fall in love with a mortal man
“Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite”
His “reward” will be to have a famous son,
Aeneas
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Aphrodite
• But he reveals the secret – that Aphrodite is
Aeneas’s mother – and Zeus strikes him with a
thunderbolt
• After that, he is lame
• Aeneas goes on to become the legendary
founder of the Roman people after his escape
from Troy.
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End
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