According to the Greek poet Hesiod, it all began with Eros; the impetus of life, and the incarnation of sexual love. It was Eros who brought Gaia, (earth) and Tartarus (underworld) together; and together they brought forth existence. Through this association Eros is not only the guardian of marriage to both gods and humans, but the protector of homosexual love, as well. He is the primal symbolization of desire that even the gods owe their existence to.
It was by integration that Eros was assimilated into myths, where he expands into Aphrodite’s son. Eros was personified as an athletic young man, injuring with his arrow those who offended his mother. No one knows better the havoc Eros can generate better than Medea, whose flaming desire for Jason of the Golden Fleece not only caused the death of her brother, but of her children as well.
Eros was not immune to love for he fell in love with Psyche, the personification of “soul.” Aphrodite, displeased that her worshippers abandoned her in favor of the Princess, sets her son out to avenge this preposterous transgression. Eros is told to shoot Psyche with his arrow, with the idea of causing her to fall in love with something repulsive. However, contrary to his mother’s demand, Eros falls in love with her himself and secretly marries her.
For the Greeks, Aphrodite was foolish passion, yet without her influence in love and sex there would be no life and no humanity. She is all encompassing in her contradictoriness, as she represents the sacred and profane, marriage and prostitution, adultery and chasteness. She is the patroness of beauty, elegance, pleasure, and grace; and she is the goddess of laughter. Comedies fall under her influence, as well as, roses, myrtles, apples, swans, sparrows and doves, all sacred to her.
Aphrodite is believed to be of Eastern origin evolving from the Phoenician, Astarte. Therefore the myths surrounding Aphrodite are two-fold. As senior goddess “Aphrodite Urania,” she is the offspring of the first sky god Uranus, and the sea. In this context she represents sacred love, untainted by sexual contact. As Aphrodite Pandemos (of the people,) she is the illegitimate daughter of Zeus and Dione, born out of sexual attraction and physical love.
The beautiful Aphrodite was married to the very ugly Hephaestus, yet despite her marriage had many affairs. Her most prolific ones were with Hermes, by whom she had the breathtakingly beautiful Hermaphrodites, whose body became fused with that of a love-sick sea-nymph. With Dionysus she had Priapus, the ithyphallic fertility god.
However, her favorite was Ares, the god of war. The results of this union were Harmony, representative of love’s ability to temper the anger of conflict, and Anteros, the god of orderly love and shared tenderness. Whether Eros was Ares son or not is often debated, for some claim him to be the son of Hermes; yet despite this inconsistency, Anteros is often pictured wrestling with his brother Eros. Aphrodite also had a child, Aeneus, with the mortal Anchises, a Trojan hero. It is through Aeneus that Virgil poetically proclaimed him to be the founder of the Roman race.
The myths of Aphrodite and her children explore the many kinds of love that came to mankind: shared tenderness, mad passion, love between gods and humans, and sexual desires-both between men and women, and men and men. However, with the steadily increasing rank of the patriarchal Zeus, Aphrodite’s status declined, as did her son’s. No longer was he depicted as a young man, but rather as a child; and it is in this child like form that the Roman’s adopted him and named him Cupid.
There are many other gods and goddesses from around the world who are associated with love, to name a few: Aegnus, (Celtic); Freya (Norse); Bastet, (Egypt); Krishna and Kama (India); Xochiquetzl, (Aztec);