Two daughters of Zeus

Immortal Aphrodite

Aphrodite was a goddess of many duties that affect humans, but first of all she was the goddess of love and beauty, marriage and birth. Aphrodite had no childhood; she was born as a beautiful maid straight out of the foam of the sea. Some say it was in the region of Paphos,Cyprus, others say at Kythira Island and another tradition considers her as the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

From the outset as this beautiful and temperamental Goddess reached up the Olympus she naturally attracted many lovers from among the gods, “who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife,” (Homer) and she had earthly lovers as well through her life. Aphrodite, as a Goddess of love had a power on humans’ most desired will. She could orchestrate loves and infatuations and to make matches between people.

From around 620 BC to 570 BC lived in the Island of Lesbos the poetess Sappho. It was Aphrodite’s kingdom and the Muses (goddesses of inspiration, literature and arts) which been embroidered in her poems. “A so sensitive and yet courageous creature that we rarely met in life, a petite girl with dark skin, which showed that she is able to subdue a rose, to interpret a nightingale or a wave, and by saying “I love you” to the world, to make it feel excited.”(Odysseas Elitis)

She was admired through ages of the ancient world. Plato called her the “tenth muse” and the Roman poet Horace said that “even the dead in the under world hear her poems with admiration and sacred silence. None of the poets or novelists could be compared with her in beauty of thoughts, in the melodiousness of verses and the intensity of feelings.” Unfortunately, her reputation comes out today only from fragments of her poetry which had left through history; burning the library in Alexandria and in Rome and Constantinople caused most of her poetry to disappear. “Hymn to Aphrodite” is maybe the only one of her poems that survived as a whole. Lines from that poem were adapted to Modern Greek by the Nobel Prize winner Odysseas Elitis:

Immortal Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus,

you always set up traps of love

Despina I beg you

if you please don’t, don’t drop in my soul more weight

from sorrows and bitterness

 

Despina I beg you

 if you please, don’t

 

What it can be again, what

that my crazy heart desires

who can be again the one

that you plead Pitho to bring back to you

who made you hurt Sappho

who can be again the one

that you plead Pitho to bring back to you

 

So come one more time

to set me free from my sufferings

(Despina means “Honorable Lady”, Mistress. Pitho – is the goddess of persuasion which has a great power on people’s reasoning)

Eleftheria Arvanitaki sings to the music of Nikos Ksidakis:

Who was the one who “made you hurt Sappho”; causing her to beg for help from Aphrodite? Very little is known about Sappho’s life. One tradition says that it is Kerkilas, a wealthy man she loved passionately, married and had a daughter with. He left her heart broken, descending into melancholy. The common view tries to find in her lyrics clues to her private life. This view asserts that in her poems on love, like Hymn to Aphrodite and in other fragments she addressed the lover many times as a female, rarely expressing physical love. As a distinct poet she was circled in Lesbos by a group of aristocratic girls in a kind of “lounge” in which they practiced poetry, literature, music and dance. Sappho shows strong emotions to her students and this strengthened the view that she had an inclination towards women and rumors that she fell in love with some women. Lesbian love is named after her native island. Did Sappho prefer the love of women? Too little is known to say something confidently. What left are her fragments of lyrics “full of love, with rare directness that touches perfection”.

The Beautiful Eleni

Eleni was another daughter of Zeus, but she lived on Earth. She was human and immortal at the same time. Myth says that she was born when Zeus came in a form of a swan and tempted the beautiful Leda, the wife of Sparta’s king. Another myth places her in the Islands, with another mother, Nemesis. Any how Eleni came out from an egg, maybe to be the gods’ most beautiful representative on earth, to teach humans about themselves, especially, I think, about passion and honor and the destruction they cause.

In Homer’s epic she is called “Argeia”, after the name of Argos, a Peloponnesian city which all the royal families of ancient Greece had come from. She received Spartan Education but already at childhood her beauty and her ancestry attracted greedy characters. As she was still a child, though perhaps still in puberty, she was kidnapped by the aging Theseus, king of Athens, a son of the gods himself who thought he deserved a woman of the same rank. So Eleni became a cause for raising an army, the first in her life, as her twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces marched from Sparta to Athens to rescue her.

As Eleni reached the age of marriage many kings and princes, heroes and the rich, all quite naturally sought her hand. A competition was made and the winner was chosen by the king of Sparta, and her mother’s husband Tyndarcus. The choice was a political one – Menelaus. Eleni had no say in this choice. Soon they became the royal couple of Sparta and she gave birth to Hermione.

Here Aphrodite intervened in her half sister’s life. The myth says that she promised the gorgeous woman to Paris, a prince from Troy. The opportunity came when Paris was in Sparta and Menelaus was absent.Eleni was charmed by the handsome stranger, as Aphrodite made him even more handsome and had even more charm so Eleni irresistibly fell in love with him. This love caused the greatest war in Eleni’s life which brought calamity on every Greek – The Trojan war.

She left her native land with Paris for Troy. “Her most noble husband deserted and she went sailing to Troy, with never a thought for her daughter and dear parents.” (Sappho) As Eleni and Paris disembarked at Troy, a wedding ceremony took place; the king of Troy, Priam swore to protect her as long as she stays. This protection turned out to be vital, as Menelaus, her husband and the King of Sparta started to gather armies and built ships to go to Troy. He reminded all the other former competitors for Eleni’s hand, an oath they had made to protect her, and so people from all over Greece were conscripted for the mission.

Years of war ended in the fall of Troy to the Greeks (With the help of the famous Trojan horse). In those war years Eleni was hated by the Trojans. “For no longer have I anyone beside in broad Troy that is gentle to me or kind; but all men shudder at me.” (Homer)Her love to Paris had been eroded, and she allied with Hector, his brother. As both brothers were killed, she became the lover of their younger brother, but as Troy fell she left him unarmed to the mercies of the conquerors. Menelaus found Eleni, ready to kill his unfaithful wife – but her beauty stopped his sword.

She returned to Sparta with Menelaus. Many stories say that she remained there until her death; some said that shortly after she went up to the Olympus as a goddess, others tell that she found herself in Rhodes were she had been hung on a tree by the local queen, Polyxo, as revenge for her husband’s death in the Trojan War.

“The most fascinating thing about Eleni was her story. It was far better than she was. We do not see any real character development in her and have to regard her as a pawn of the gods. The larger story involves the people around her, their rise and fall. She herself seemed almost oblivious to the horrors that surrounded her… She seemed removed and largely unaffected by the outcome of the war.” (Robert E .Bell)  She sometimes showed some emotion, but she left it to story-tellers and commentators of all times to imagine or assume whether Eleni regretted the destruction she caused to all    Greece by her fleeting love to Paris.

Manos Hatzidakis wrote the music to the lyrics of Mihalis Bourboulis of  “About Eleni”,which uses fractions of Eleni’s various stories.The song draws a mestyrious character that is not real: “a girl that appears every now and then and disappears again, through rain, through the clouds and through the sea.” (Hatzidakis) “I think that with this song, he doesn’t refer to one Eeleni, but to the concept of the woman (or the girl) that never had an active role in Hatzidakis’ love life. He just uses the mythical Eleni, who was very beautiful and a “femme fatale”, to give us a hint of the feelings that overwhelm him every now and then. It’s not regret, it’s not disappointment, it’s just something unknown to him as far as experience goes.”(Katherina Siapanda)

Maria Dimitriadi (1950-2009) sings:

If you don’t see the video here is an audio and the lyrics:

 

Twenty years now you’ve been asking me

whom does Eleni love?

is she in Sparta? On the islands?

or is she married in Troy?

 

They ask me about Eleni-Ah,Eleni!-

who is a weeping icon- Ah,Eleni!

but I don’t answer

I seal my heart,

and embroidering my bitterness.

 

Twenty years you’ve been asking me

where is Eleni to be found.

as a painting in a church

or lit  like a candle?

 

Twenty years you’ve been asking me

where Eleni was buried?

perhaps in Argos, in the fields,

or maybe in the universe.

 

They ask me about Eleni-Ah,Eleni!-

who is a weeping icon- Ah,Eleni!

but I don’t answer

I seal my heart,

and embroidering my bitterness.

 

The post is based on wikipedia and other sources:
 Aphrodite-Sappho
http://clubs.pathfinder.gr/GreekLesbiansCommunity/838074
 http://gym-eresou.les.sch.gr/sappho%20ikaria.htm
 Eleni
 http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Go-Hi/Helen-of-Troy.html#b.
 http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hd/abouthelen.htm
 
Many thanks to Nata Ostria for research and translations, for Katherina Siapanda for her advise , Shahaf  Ifhar for editing.

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