A Character Profile of Aphrodite…-

Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of Love, Beauty, and Fertility.  There are great variations in the stories about her; I will offer a brief general portrait of her, and then I will describe her as she relates to the Trojan myths and to Polyxena in my novel.

Homer tells us she was the daughter of Zeus (Ruler of the Olympian Gods) and Dione, a Titan or Oceanid.  Other sources place her origins in the mid-east, linking her to Ishtar and Astarte (Babylonian and Canaanite deities).  She comes upon the Olympian world in either Cyprus or Cythera.  Her name derives from the Greek word for sea foam, aphros.  She emerges naked from the sea upon a clam shell to the delight of drooling Gods who cannot believe their good fortune, and the dismay of Goddesses who frantically try to cover her up.  At least that’s how Botticelli envisioned the scene in his painting, The Birth of Venus (I’ve spiced it up a bit).

She was married to Hephaestus, the disfigured God of fire and metalworking, who, oddly enough, was uninterested in her; it mattered little to her as she seemed to have carried on affairs with seemingly everyone but him.  Her sexual appetite was voracious, extending to mortals as well as gods.  She bore four children with Ares (God of War), among them Eros (Love), as well as a child with Hermes, the messenger god, and Poseidon (God of the Sea), and Dionysus (God of Wine, Vegetation).  Among her human ‘conquests’ was the Dardanian king, Anchises; she bore him a son, the hero Aeneas.  She wore a magic girdle that allowed her to seduce anyone.  All the signature features connected with love -its intensity and passions, its joys and pleasures, its jealousy, envy, heartache and pain- are attributed to her maneuverings.  It’s easy to see that she may have been the most invoked of the goddesses in everyday life, but she ranked third in the hierarchy of the goddesses, after Hera (Queen of Olympus) and Athena (Goddess of Wisdom, the Arts, and War), probably because the Greeks, being Greeks, esteemed sound reasoning and logic to base emotionalism.  She is usually depicted nude, or partially nude, in sculptures -a rarity for the female gender in Greek art.

Aphrodite was the mythical cause of the Trojan War.  The story goes like this:  The Olympians attended a party celebrating the marriage of the mortal Peleus and the sea-goddess Thetis -the union that spawned Achilles- to which Eris (Goddess of Discord) was not invited.  She showed up anyway but was not admitted entrance so she tossed a golden apple into the crowd with the inscription “For the fairest’ on it.  The Goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite each assumed the apple was meant for them and, sure enough, strife erupted among them.  Zeus, not wanting the party spoiled, had Hermes transport the goddesses to Mount Ida, where Paris, handsomest of men and a prince of Troy, was tending a flock; he was to give the golden apple to the goddess of his choosing.  Each goddess provided her own inducement that would lead Paris to favor her; Hera promised him rule over all Asia; Athena wisdom and victory in every battle; Aphrodite the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.  Paris gave the golden apple to Aphrodite (literature’s famous ‘Judgment of Paris’).  The promise turned out to be Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  Paris later went there on a diplomatic mission; saw her; they fell in love; he abducted her (actually she went willingly), and the war was on.

Aphrodite would have been more venerated in Troy than in Mycenae or Sparta; she was one of the two main Olympians -the other being Apollo- who clearly favored the Trojans in the war.  For all her faults, Aphrodite remained loyal to people who did her favors.

By contrast, Hera and Athena bore an inordinate hostility towards the Trojans, giving credence to the adage “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned”.

None of the aforementioned material is in my novel; what follows next is:

Polyxena, facing death by sacrifice, in almost desperation searches for the meaning of her life, hoping an answer to this will bring relief to her distress.  In this, she has a special relationship with Aphrodite, seeing the goddess as a confidante in whom she can divulge her innermost feelings, seeking out the deity’s benevolence in providing the comfort and strength she is in need of.

To you, Immortal Goddess, I reveal my thoughts….As I face death…and try my best to compose myself’, difficult as it is for me, for I must be honest in saying that I truly fear it, I will commit myself to recall how all this came about. … Grant me the solace I seek; spare me the horror that comes from the realization of having lived a futile life.

Polyxena knows that much her own actions led to her fate, but also that other influences had a hand in it.  That she should turn to Aphrodite on this is fitting -after all, it was her love of Achilles, and her later spurning the love of Neoptolemus, that doomed her -and Aphrodite reigns over matters of love.

How do I explain Neoptolemus’s reaction to me?  I have no recollection of ever leading him on to draw the conclusions about my loving him as he did.  Was this the proverbial unrequited love the poets so often lament over?  If so, is this not your handiwork, oh Goddess?

Polyxena runs the entire emotional gamut in imparting her thoughts to Aphrodite, even angrily denouncing the goddess at one point:

You are a cruel goddess, Aphrodite.  More than any of the other deities, you involve yourself in the lives of mortals, bringing about our demise through the pain and suffering you afflict us with.  Greater misfortune has been caused by your interference than all other conspiracies combined.

Their association was conceived in a greater context -as a connection between Polyxena and the reader because the reader, in essence, is Aphrodite.  In revealing her story, her openness with it, she creates the bonds that endear her to the Goddess -i.e. the reader.

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