Showing posts with label ancient history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ancient history. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Aphrodite ~ Her Real Character

Even as far back as ancient Greece, there were people who feared the power of Aphrodite. Of course, that's a bit misleading because the Greeks feared the powers of all Gods, not just Her. To act as though Aphrodite was the only One who sometimes caused men to cower is simply untrue. All of the Gods were both loved and feared. But love and sex were, and still are, extremely powerful forces, and when something takes possession of us, even if it's part of our natural state, we can sometimes find ourselves afraid and therefore think of it as terrible or mischievous. However, in reality, Aphrodite is not a Goddess who does bad things, no God is. She was worshiped and celebrated all over the ancient Greek world. Even though Her dominant epithets may have slightly differed from region to region, She was still the same Goddess. For example, to some, Her sphere of sexuality may have been more geared toward marital unions, while others viewed Her as present in sexual activity in general. There can be no doubt that Her realm gives life to us all. Without sexual union, humans would go extinct. We don't often think about it, especially if we have achieved great success in life, but the basic intercourse of sexuality is the reason we are even here in the first place, and therefore it's something to love and celebrate. 

Although, despite the fact that She was so widely loved and served by so many, modern authors of ancient Greek history, at times, take the liberty to portray Her as a force that the Greeks resented and preferably wanted nothing to do with, one that was dreaded most of all. But as Socrates said in the Dialogue of Theaetetus, it is not possible for a God to wish for wickedness upon mankind. It's also important to remember that there was no dogmatic belief system in ancient Athens. The Greeks were more so concerned with practice, instead of the personal beliefs of each person. Therefore, what one Athenian believed about a God, could be different than what another believes about them. Just because they write those beliefs down, no matter how famous the author, doesn't necessarily mean there's a universal consensus. In fact, it's probably a safe bet that we have lost most of the things that were written down in ancient Greece.

The ancient Greeks were certainly people who were far more sexually free and accepting of the wonderful things about sexuality than the later Christians who took over the West, and although places like ancient Athens in the Classical Period are routinely portrayed as sexist and fearful of the female, their religious devotion does not seem to coincide with that image. After all, the men dedicated the City to a Goddess (Athena), and did so in place of a male God (Poseidon). On the Acropolis, the holiest of holy places for Athens, which was a City dominated by men, there stood a shrine to Aphrodite and Her son Eros, the God of love. One of the most well known festivals held in Her honor in Athens was called Aphrodisia, and is the first festival of the Athenian new year. Her most famously known devotee from ancient times is Sappho, another female, who was elevated to the rank of the 10th Muse. And Aphrodite Herself was known to the Athenians as Heavenly, Averter of Unlawful Desire, and Common to All People.

In the book Greek Religion by Walter Burkert, the section on Aphrodite is very clear on Her purpose and Divinity.

"Aphrodite's sphere of activity is immediately and sensibly apparent; the joyous consummation of sexuality" (Burkert, 152).

Notice he says, "joyous," not fearful or resentful. There was a time in human history when sex was a way to connect with the Divine, instead of something to be thought of as lowly, impure, or sinful. It didn't keep us from Deity, it brought them to us. And it sometimes seems that the more and more ancient culture and philosophy progressed, the more the Gods were viewed and understood as Bringers of good things, and not Beings to make you fear your humanity or the world. As it was said, I believe by the philosopher Sallustius, The Gods are always good, and never harmful. We would therefore be led to believe that something which is the contrary has not been sent by the Gods.

This progression in theology, and the various ways to connect with the Gods was, of course, interrupted by the Christian take over, and early Christians sometimes used their own interpretation to revise ancient perceptions and beliefs, and when they did this, it was not a flattering view. If there was one thing they hated more than the Pagans, it was sexual freedom exercised by a woman, and Aphrodite, being a sexually strong and independent female Divinity, would have no doubt gotten the worst end of male dominated, Christian supremacist wrath.

Of course, it would be highly dishonest to act as though all ancient Greek men were trusting of women. It would also be dishonest to suggest that every Greek culture was sexually identical, when women in Sparta held more power than women in Athens. And there has never been, in the world's history, a society of matriarchy, and no one's denying that. But I think that, as human beings, no matter our gender, we sometimes fear those of the opposite. Men have feared women because they worry about seduction, temptation, or manipulation, and women have feared men because they worry about misogyny in its many forms. This has sometimes led us to demonize one another, but I think that if we come to terms with the fact that male and female are both blessed beings, we will lose the grip of fear and distrust on our minds.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Work Cited: Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1985.

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