Having recently started a new relationship, I haven’t felt very inspired to write lately. Well, maybe not uninspired, but distracted. I’m sure we’ve all been there. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what it will take to be a good boyfriend, and that has me wanting to reprise the article I wrote up on Ares and Aphrodite a while ago. Sure it was okay, but the more I write, the more I feel I need to be more… priestly? You know, in the pastoral counseling kind of way, where one tries to help others relate myths and parables to their own lives (religions across the board are doing pretty terribly at this, our own often included). I don’t feel just putting random facts out there is enough; just because you can read the letters doesn’t necessarily mean you can understand the words.
My first article was rather macro level, this one will be more at the individual, micro level. Therefore, I want to reexamine the love relationship of Ares and Aphrodite, and perhaps even more importantly, talk about the offspring of that union. From Anteros to Phobos, the children of this divine pair all have parts to play in our romantic lives, and it’s my belief that it is important to recognise the impact fear, longing, and desire play into our relationships. This will probably be a long post broken up into parts, hence this being “#1”. First I’ll look at the myths surrounding Ares’ and Aphrodite’s relationship, particularly its beginning, as well as their child Harmonia, and how harmony plays an integral part in successful relationships.
When we take a look at the way Ares’ and Aphrodite’s relationship began, it was pretty much a hot mess. Aphrodite was given in marriage to Hephaestus, whom she didn’t really love, if myths are to be believed. Aphrodite’s eyes wandered, and settled upon Ares, who was probably, and understandably, smitten with her. Homer’s depiction of the scene of the affair is quite vivid, detailing the anger and anguish of Hephaestus, the shame and embarrassment of Ares and Aphrodite, and the amusement that many of the other gods felt as they laughed at the couple.
On the surface, the myth can clearly be interpreted as a parable expounding the evils of adultery and unrestrained passion. Then, as now, marriage was a bond meant to be unbroken and unsullied. Cheating is bad, and if you cheat, you will get your comeuppance. Ares now owes Hephaestus a debt, and demands from Zeus his dowry back; this alludes to the attitude toward woman as property in ancient culture. Aphrodite is now “damaged goods”, and therefore her husband, aka the “property holder” demands recompense. While not as prevalent today, there is still a notion that an adulterer, male or female, is “damaged goods”, and that has served to further divide our society along gender lines, perpetuating stereotypes and double-standards, such as a woman being a slut for sleeping with more than one man in her lifetime (especially before marriage), or that men in relationships are never faithful, so why bother?
Let’s look at the myth from the inside, however. Sometimes, people find themselves stuck in loveless, boring relationships, or even worse, abusive ones. Sometimes, people start new relationships before the old ones have dissolved, for one reason or another. Aphrodite was stuck in such a loveless relationship. While I’m sure Hephaestus did feel deeply and kindly toward her, I don’t think Aphrodite could reciprocate that love and affection. It’s hard to fake being attracted to someone. Remember, their marriage was a political one, arranged for the release of Hera from Hephaestus’ trap. It was Aphrodite’s duty to her husband that forced her to stay by his side before straying. Well, that and the lack of no-fault divorce. One might sympathize for Aphrodite.
On the other side of the coin, we have to look at what happened to Hephaestus and acknowledge the deep pain and shame her felt by being rejected. Mind you, this comes after being cast away from his mother, who you should generally assume to be her child’s number one fan. One painful rejection after the other is really hard for even a god to bear, I’d think, especially in so public a manner. I think Hephaestus’ dialogue as related in the Odyssey sums things up best:
“because I am lame she never ceased to do me outrage and give her love to destructive Ares, since he is handsome and sound-footed and I am a cripple from my birth; yet for that my two parents are to blame, no one else at all, and I wish they had never begotten me. You will see the pair of lovers now as they lie embracing in my bed; the sight of them makes me sick at heart.” Homer, Odyssey 8. 267
His pain is so great he actually wishes he had not been born. That’s pretty low. I’m sure we’ve all said that once or twice as children, but as adults? Probably pretty rare. I do know we’ve all probably felt that pit-like feeling in our chests after a bad breakup though. or seen something so emotionally awful it literally makes you feel sick.
So what can we take from this? Cheating sucks. It hurts people. Keep in mind though, that not all cheating is without cause. If you’ve been cheated on, I’m sorry. Take the time though, to ask yourself if there was maybe something you could have done to keep your partner from straying. If you’re entering a new relationship with someone who perhaps cheated on a previous partner, consider the circumstances before you write the person off. I’m not saying that everyone who cheats has a decent or forgivable excuse; some people are dicks. Just get to know the context first. Also, if you find yourself stuck in a bad relationship, get out before you become too invested before the temptation to be unfaithful occurs. If you feel unsafe, please, go to someone else like the police or a rescue shelter; it’s not worth your life to stay with a person for sake of appearances.
Okay, so for as rocky as this relationship started out, it resulted in one of the most important immortals (in my opinion) in the entire pantheon: Harmonia. Born of passion and love, in my mind she represents one of the most important requirements of a successful relationship: compatibility. There’s no words more insidious in a relationship than “I’m gonna change that about you”, and it is Harmonia’s blessings that allow us to find those who are compatible as well as look past and actually accept the differences with our partners and become more than comparable; Harmonia makes partners complimentary, which I see as the loftiest ideal of a relationship.
Take a look back at Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus. Harmonia, theoretically, did not exist yet. Had she, things might have gone differently. Perhaps she could have smoothed things out with her mother and her uncle (would-be father?). Part of me has always seen Harmonia as chatty, mostly because communication can make or break a relationship. I myself have encountered a lot of strife because I couldn’t communicate effectively with my then girlfriend. You can’t expect compatibility and harmony to occur if you don’t communicate your needs, desires, and interests. I’m reminded of the song Escape , where the artist sings of leaving a loveless, boring relationship, puts an ad in the local paper, and when he meets the “love of his life”, it turns out that it was the wife he wanted to leave. He didn’t realize the person he wanted was the one he had, all because (it is implied) they didn’t communicate these things to each other.
I hope you all enjoyed this first installment into the themes of love and relationships, and now have a better understanding and perhaps new insight into the relationship of Ares and Aphrodite, as well as their daughter Harmonia. The second reprise will detail the realms of both Anteros and Phobos, their relationship to love, and their interactions with their parents. To close, here is a prayer to Harmonia for harmony and bliss in a relationship.
Dearest Harmonia, beautiful daughter of Boisterous Ares and Golden Aphrodite
Given in marriage to brave Kadmos, the King and Dragon-Slayer,
I pray you turn your lovely countenance to me, Theban Queen
Long-eduring one, bind me and mine by an unbroken chain
A close union of heart to heart
Grow within us your compassion, your patience, and your grace
Make our a pure love, free from wandering lusts
That we may be gracious to each other, as you are gracious to man