Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
And shake the darkness from their loosened manes,
And beat the twilight into flakes of fire
From “Tithonus” by Lord Alfred Tennyson
The Roman goddess, Aurora, who blinded the stars with her radiance is the unattainable love in Tennyson’s poem, “Tithonus.”
Aurora is the goddess of the dawn and descended from the Titans. She is a celestial sister to the sun and the moon. To the Greeks she was known as Eos. Every morning she awakens, renewed and vibrant, to set a blanket of reds, oranges, and pinks across the wakening sky; opening the gates of heaven so her brother Helios, the sun, can ride in his golden chariot across the sky.
The goddess had many lovers, and bore the winds and stars with the god Astraios. She deeply loved Orion, yet Orion was also loved by the goddess Artemis, who was tricked into killing him by her brother Apollo.
Some say that the goddess Aphrodite placed a curse upon Aurora which caused her to be rather free when giving of herself to men. As a result, Aurora had many lovers. In fact, she eventually kidnapped four men, Cephalus, Clitus, Ganymede, and Tithonus, so they could be with her at all times. Ganymede was later stolen from her by Zeus to be his cup bearer and Cephalus longed to return to his mortal wife, so Aurora released him.
Tithonus, the prince of Troy, was her greatest lover. Her love for him was so strong that she asked Zeus, the king of the gods and goddesses, if he would grant her lover immortality so that they could be together for all time. Zeus, in a rather cruel gesture, granted immortality, but not youth, so Tithonus, though immortal, continued to age. His body eventually became so old and decayed that she laid him to rest in a room with shining doors where he remained until he shriveled up into a grasshopper.
Aurora and Tithonus had two children together, Memnon and Emathion. Memnon grew to be a great king, but was eventually killed by the mighty Greek warrior, Achilles, in the Trojan War. To this day Aurora is so distraught over the death of her son that her tears cover the earth as dew, as she flies across the skies every morning.
Aurora’s tale is not so different from that of many women. Love and loss seem to be a part of life. And sometimes we find ourselves living up to the expectation of others rather than seeing and expressing our own strengths and talents, as when Aurora allowed herself to live up to Aphrodite’s curse. She also, naively, trusted Zeus when it was known he had a reputation for being malicious, especially when granting wishes.
Aurora reminds us that though life may be filled with pain, there is also beauty and love, and we need to have higher expectations for ourselves, and to always be clear about what we want and expect.