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Ch. 3: Aphrodite

Tell me, Muse, of the deeds of golden Aphrodite, the Cyprian, who rouses sweet desire among the Immortals, and vanquishes the tribes of deathly men, and birds that wanton in the air, and all beasts, even all the clans that earth nurtures, and all in the sea. To all are dear the deeds of the garlanded Cyprian.

Yet three hearts there be that she cannot persuade or beguile: the daughter of Zeus of the AEgis, grey-eyed Athene: not to her are dear the deeds of golden Aphrodite, but war and the work of Ares, battle and broil, and the mastery of noble arts. First was she to teach earthly men the fashioning of war chariots and cars fair-wrought with bronze. And she teaches to tender maidens in the halls all goodly arts, breathing skill into their minds. Nor ever doth laughter-loving Aphrodite conquer in desire Artemis of the Golden Distaff, rejoicing in the sound of the chase, for the bow and arrow are her delight, and slaughter of the wild beasts on the hills: the lyre, the dance, the clear hunting halloo, and shadowy glens, and cities of righteous men.

Nor to the revered maiden Hestia are the feats of Aphrodite a joy, eldest daughter of crooked-counselled Cronos [youngest, too, by the design of Zeus of the AEgis], that lady whom both Poseidon and Apollo sought to win. But she would not, nay stubbornly she refused; and she swore a great oath fulfilled, with her hand on the head of Father Zeus of the AEgis, to be a maiden for ever, that lady Goddess. And to her Father Zeus gave a goodly meed of honour, in lieu of wedlock; and in mid-hall she sat her down choosing the best portion: and in all temples of the Gods is she honoured, and among all mortals is chief of Gods. {168}

Of these she cannot win or beguile the hearts. But of all others there is none, of blessed Gods or mortal men, that hath escaped Aphrodite. Yea, even the heart of Zeus the Thunderer she led astray; of him that is greatest of all, and hath the highest lot of honour. Even his wise wit she hath beguiled at her will, and lightly laid him in the arms of mortal women; Hera not wotting of it, his sister and his wife, the fairest in goodliness of beauty among the deathless Goddesses. To highest honour did they beget her, crooked-counselled Cronos and Mother Rheia; and Zeus of imperishable counsel made her his chaste and duteous wife.

But into Aphrodite herself Zeus sent sweet desire, to lie in the arms of a mortal man. This wrought he so that anon not even she might be unconversant with a mortal bed, and might not some day with sweet laughter make her boast among all the Gods, the smiling Aphrodite, that she had given the Gods to mortal paramours, and they for deathless Gods bare deathly sons, and that she mingled Goddesses in love with mortal men. Therefore Zeus sent into her heart sweet desire of Anchises, who as then was pasturing his kine on the steep hills of many-fountained Ida, a man in semblance like the Immortals. Him thereafter did smiling Aphrodite see and love, and measureless desire took hold on her heart. To Cyprus wended she, within her fragrant shrine: even to Paphos, where is her sacred garth and odorous altar. Thither went she in, and shut the shining doors, and there the Graces laved and anointed her with oil ambrosial, such as is on the bodies of the eternal Gods, sweet fragrant oil that she had by her. Then clad she her body in goodly raiment, and prinked herself with gold, the smiling Aphrodite; then sped to Troy, leaving fragrant Cyprus, and high among the clouds she swiftly accomplished her way.

To many-fountained Ida she came, mother of wild beasts, and made straight for the steading through the mountain, while behind her came fawning the beasts, grey wolves, and lions fiery-eyed, and bears, and swift pards, insatiate pursuers of the roe-deer. Glad was she at the sight of them, and sent desire into their breasts, and they went coupling two by two in the shadowy dells. But she came to the well-builded shielings, {170} and him she found left alone in the shielings with no company, the hero Anchises, graced with beauty from the Gods. All the rest were faring after the kine through the grassy pastures, but he, left lonely at the shielings, walked up and down, harping sweet and shrill. In front of him stood the daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite, in semblance and stature like an unwedded maid, lest he should be adread when he beheld the Goddess. And Anchises marvelled when he beheld her, her height, and beauty, and glistering raiment. For she was clad in vesture more shining than the flame of fire, and with twisted armlets and glistering earrings of flower- fashion. About her delicate neck were lovely jewels, fair and golden: and like the moon's was the light on her fair breasts, and love came upon Anchises, and he spake unto her:

"Hail, Queen, whosoever of the Immortals thou art that comest to this house; whether Artemis, or Leto, or golden Aphrodite, or high-born Themis, or grey-eyed Athene. Or perchance thou art one of the Graces come hither, who dwell friendly with the Gods, and have a name to be immortal; or of the nymphs that dwell in this fair glade, or in this fair mountain, and in the well-heads of rivers, and in grassy dells. But to thee on some point of outlook, in a place far seen, will I make an altar, and offer to thee goodly victims in every season. But for thy part be kindly, and grant me to be a man pre-eminent among the Trojans, and give goodly seed of children to follow me; but for me, let me live long, and see the sunlight, and come to the limit of old age, being ever in all things fortunate among men."

Then Aphrodite the daughter of Zeus answered him:

"Anchises, most renowned of men on earth, behold no Goddess am I,--why likenest thou me to the Immortals?--Nay, mortal am I, and a mortal mother bare me, and my father is famous Otreus, if thou perchance hast heard of him, who reigns over strong-warded Phrygia. Now I well know both your tongue and our own, for a Trojan nurse reared me in the hall, and nurtured me ever, from the day when she took me at my mother's hands, and while I was but a little child. Thus it is, thou seest, that I well know thy tongue as well as my own. But even now the Argus-slayer of the Golden Wand hath ravished me away from the choir of Artemis, the Goddess of the Golden Distaff, who loves the noise of the chase. Many nymphs, and maids beloved of many wooers, were we there at play, and a great circle of people was about us withal. But thence did he bear me away, the Argus-slayer, he of the Golden Wand, and bore me over much tilled land of mortal men, and many wastes unfilled and uninhabited, where wild beasts roam through the shadowy dells. So fleet we passed that I seemed not to touch the fertile earth with my feet. Now Hermes said that I was bidden to be the bride of Anchises, and mother of thy goodly children. But when he had spoken and shown the thing, lo, instantly he went back among the immortal Gods,--the renowned Slayer of Argus. But I come to thee, strong necessity being laid upon me, and by Zeus I beseech thee and thy good parents,--for none ill folk may get such a son as thee,--by them I implore thee to take me, a maiden as I am and untried in love, and show me to thy father and thy discreet mother, and to thy brothers of one lineage with thee. No unseemly daughter to these, and sister to those will I be, but well worthy; and do thou send a messenger swiftly to the Phrygians of the dappled steeds, to tell my father of my fortunes, and my sorrowing mother; gold enough and woven raiment will they send, and many and goodly gifts shall be thy meed. Do thou all this, and then busk the winsome wedding-feast, that is honourable among both men and immortal Gods."

So speaking, the Goddess brought sweet desire into his heart, and love came upon Anchises, and he spake, and said:

"If indeed thou art mortal and a mortal mother bore thee, and if renowned Otreus is thy father, and if thou art come hither by the will of Hermes, the immortal Guide, and art to be called my wife for ever, then neither mortal man nor immortal God shall hold me from my desire before I lie with thee in love, now and anon; nay, not even if Apollo the Far-darter himself were to send the shafts of sorrow from the silver bow! Nay, thou lady like the Goddesses, willing were I to go down within the house of Hades, if but first I had climbed into thy bed."

So spake he and took her hand; while laughter-loving Aphrodite turned, and crept with fair downcast eyes towards the bed. It was strewn for the Prince, as was of wont, with soft garments: and above it lay skins of bears and deep-voiced lions that he had slain in the lofty hills. When then they twain had gone up into the well-wrought bed, first Anchises took from her body her shining jewels, brooches, and twisted armlets, earrings and chains: and he loosed her girdle, and unclad her of her glistering raiment, that he laid on a silver-studded chair. Then through the Gods' will and design, by the immortal Goddess lay the mortal man, not wotting what he did.

Now in the hour when herdsmen drive back the kine and sturdy sheep to the steading from the flowery pastures, even then the Goddess poured sweet sleep into Anchises, and clad herself in her goodly raiment. Now when she was wholly clad, the lady Goddess, her head touched the beam of the lofty roof: and from her cheeks shone forth immortal beauty,--even the beauty of fair-garlanded Cytherea. Then she aroused him from sleep, and spake, and said:

"Rise, son of Dardanus, why now slumberest thou so deeply? Consider, am I even in aspect such as I was when first thine eyes beheld me?"

So spake she, and straightway he started up out of slumber and was adread, and turned his eyes away when he beheld the neck and the fair eyes of Aphrodite. His goodly face he veiled again in a cloak, and imploring her, he spake winged words:

"Even so soon as mine eyes first beheld thee, Goddess, I knew thee for divine: but not sooth didst thou speak to me. But by Zeus of the AEgis I implore thee, suffer me not to live a strengthless shadow among men, but pity me: for no man lives in strength that has couched with immortal Goddesses."

Then answered him Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus:

"Anchises, most renowned of mortal men, take courage, nor fear overmuch. For no fear is there that thou shalt suffer scathe from me, nor from others of the blessed Gods, for dear to the Gods art thou. And to thee shall a dear son be born, and bear sway among the Trojans, and children's children shall arise after him continually. Lo, AENEAS shall his name be called, since dread sorrow held me when I came into the bed of a mortal man. And of all mortal men these who spring from thy race are always nearest to the immortal Gods in beauty and stature; witness how wise-counselling Zeus carried away golden-haired Ganymedes, for his beauty's sake, that he might abide with the Immortals and be the cup-bearer of the Gods in the house of Zeus, a marvellous thing to behold, a mortal honoured among all the Immortals, as he draws the red nectar from the golden mixing-bowl. But grief incurable possessed the heart of Tros, nor knew he whither the wild wind had blown his dear son away, therefore day by day he lamented him continually till Zeus took pity upon him, and gave him as a ransom of his son high-stepping horses that bear the immortal Gods. These he gave him for a gift, and the Guide, the Slayer of Argus, told all these things by the command of Zeus, even how Ganymedes should be for ever exempt from old age and death, even as are the Gods. Now when his father heard this message of Zeus he rejoiced in his heart and lamented no longer, but was gladly charioted by the wind-fleet horses.

"So too did Dawn of the Golden Throne carry off Tithonus, a man of your lineage, one like unto the Immortals. Then went she to pray to Cronion, who hath dark clouds for his tabernacle, that her lover might be immortal and exempt from death for ever. Thereto Zeus consented and granted her desire, but foolish of heart was the Lady Dawn, nor did she deem it good to ask for eternal youth for her lover, and to keep him unwrinkled by grievous old age. Now so long as winsome youth was his, in joy did he dwell with the Golden-throned Dawn, the daughter of Morning, at the world's end beside the streams of Oceanus, but so soon as grey hairs began to flow from his fair head and goodly chin, the Lady Dawn held aloof from his bed, but kept and cherished him in her halls, giving him food and ambrosia and beautiful raiment. But when hateful old age had utterly overcome him, and he could not move or lift his limbs, to her this seemed the wisest counsel; she laid him in a chamber, and shut the shining doors, and his voice flows on endlessly, and no strength now is his such as once there was in his limbs. Therefore I would not have thee to be immortal and live for ever in such fashion among the deathless Gods, but if, being such as thou art in beauty and form, thou couldst live on, and be called my lord, then this grief would not overshadow my heart.

"But it may not be, for swiftly will pitiless old age come upon thee, old age that standeth close by mortal men; wretched and weary, and detested by the Gods: but among the immortal Gods shall great blame be mine for ever, and all for love of thee. For the Gods were wont to dread my words and wiles wherewith I had subdued all the Immortals to mortal women in love, my purpose overcoming them all; for now, lo you, my mouth will no longer suffice to speak forth this boast among the Immortals, {180} for deep and sore hath been my folly, wretched and not to be named; and distraught have I been who carry a child beneath my girdle, the child of a mortal. Now so soon as he sees the light of the sun the deep-bosomed mountain nymphs will rear him for me; the nymphs who haunt this great and holy mountain, being of the clan neither of mortals nor of immortal Gods. Long is their life, and immortal food do they eat, and they join in the goodly dance with the immortal Gods. With them the Sileni and the keen- sighted Slayer of Argus live in dalliance in the recesses of the darkling caves. At their birth there sprang up pine trees or tall-crested oaks on the fruitful earth, nourishing and fair, and on the lofty mountain they stand, and are called the groves of the immortal Gods, which in no wise doth man cut down with the steel. But when the fate of death approaches, first do the fair trees wither on the ground, and the bark about them moulders, and the twigs fall down, and even as the tree perishes so the soul of the nymph leaves the light of the sun.

"These nymphs will keep my child with them and rear him; and him when first he enters on lovely youth shall these Goddesses bring hither to thee, and show thee. But to thee, that I may tell thee all my mind, will I come in the fifth year bringing my son. At the sight of him thou wilt be glad when thou beholdest him with thine eyes, for he will be divinely fair, and thou wilt lead him straightway to windy Ilios. But if any mortal man asketh of thee what mother bare this thy dear son, be mindful to answer him as I command: say that he is thy son by one of the flower- faced nymphs who dwell in this forest-clad mountain, but if in thy folly thou speakest out, and boastest to have been the lover of fair-garlanded Cytherea, then Zeus in his wrath will smite thee with the smouldering thunderbolt. Now all is told to thee: do thou be wise, and keep thy counsel, and speak not my name, but revere the wrath of the Gods."

So spake she, and soared up into the windy heaven.

Goddess, Queen of well-stablished Cyprus, having given thee honour due, I shall pass on to another hymn.

Andrew Lang