To talk about love is akin to bringing up an old sore to which each is to her own pain. (Ecstasy is usually consigned to the false prophets.) Much like talking about a creed, a faith, or a politic. This is so because love is strapped to the point of petrifaction with so many layers of myths, hearsays, moral tales and differentiated thoughts. The scientists will tell you, it’s simply molecules causing a chemical combustion. The poets, wiser, nonetheless more oblique, eulogize Aphrodite, sending her up to the altar of all creations. They refuse to obfuscate the matter with nitty-gritty abstraction. The thinkers are of a different stripe of creatures altogether. They refuse to accept established norms. Grappling with a few working tools, they try obdurately to unmask the myths and sniggle in the ever narrowing crack to fish for a still possible new light.
Venus and Aphrodite
Various beliefs and myths tell us that Venus is the Roman counterpart of the Greek Aphrodite. She is the protectress of Julius Caesar and the Goddess, often associated with Etruscan deity Turan, has as many epithets annexed to its name as there are people to claim her heritage: thus we have Venus Acadilia (to do with baths and a well in Orchomenus, Venus Cloacina (the Purifier), Venus Erycina (from Mount Eryx in Sicily to represent the icon of impurity for prostitutes), Venus Genetrix (Mother Venus as the originator of Romans), Venus Libertina (erroneously construed for pleasure) and Venus Victrix ( a derivative from east for Istar, a goddess of war).
Eros in mythology is generally described as the son of Aphrodite. Hesiod claims in Theogony that Eros emerges from Chaos. But Eros is known for his love for Psyche, the youngest of three daughters of a king , who is so beautiful that she angers Aphrodite. Eros is sent to make Pysche fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. But Eros, upon seeing Psyche, falls in love with her. He’s so in love with her that he touches himself and Psyche with his torch. Eventually, understanding the impossibility of their situation, Eros erases the memory of their love from Psyche. Sensing that her cupid son hasn’t done his job, Aphrodite casts a spell on Psyche. Not another suitor will come knocking on her door ever since. Her worried parents take her to see the oracle, who tells them that Psyche will never marry a mortal. She will be given to one who waits for her beyond the mountain. He will overcome Gods and men. In the valley, Psyche soon hears the voice of her husband, a kind and loving creature that refuses to be seen in daylight. Because once she sees him, their happiness will flee forever. Soon her sisters come to visit her in the valley. They insinuate into Psyche the idea that she must definitely take a good look at her husband for fear that she might be trapped by some insidious monster. One night after her husband has gone to sleep, she lights up a lamp and takes a good look at him. It’s Eros, who looks back at her in astonishment and flees away. Saddened, she returns to her village and tells her sisters about her betrayal of Eros’s trust and the penalty of her sin. She then embarks on an aimless journey in search for him. One day she comes upon a deserted hall strewn with ears of corn, barley and wheat. Psyche proceeds to clean up the mess. Her deed catches the attention of Demeter who sees the beauty of her soul and takes pity in her. She tells her to go to Aphrodite’s temple and begs for her forgiveness. Of course, Aphrodite is still angry with Psyche. She sets up a chore for her to finish before sundown, which Psyche does with patience. Which naturally angers Aphrodite even more. So she asks her to go down to the grove and collect the fleece from all the sheep there. Again with the help with the Naiads, the sea nymphs, who tell her that the sheep are tame and quiet after the sun sets and while they sleep, Psyche can collect their golden fleece. Returning to Aphrodite with the golden fleece, Psyche is set upon another task to go down to the underworld to collect Persepone’s beauty in a box. A task Aphrodite believes will definitely trip Psyche. Again, Eros comes to her assistance, navigating her through the dangerous labyrinths and tells her not to open the box that contains Persepone’s beauty. On her way, Psyche thinks that Aphrodite will not need the beauty but she, travel-worn that she is, will please Eros tremendously if she has the beauty. So she opens the box, thus breaking the commandment of the immortal and falling unconscious. Eros goes to Olympus and pleads with the feasting gods. The gods are moved by the pure beauty of their love and summon Aphrodite and soothe her until she relents. Hermes is then sent down to earth to pick up Psyche and reunite her with Eros in Olympus.
Myths, as we‘ve learnt, are disguised statements from lived lives. There is hidden in the story of Eros and Psyche the longing for the ideal love: the eternal truth of love. The kind that moves and affects even the gods! But how are we to make of this ideal love when Venus or Aphrodite as goddess or as saint is perceived in different lights by diverse cultures? When there are as many myths and stories of love as there are individual experiences? When love, as an acronym, an abstract term can’t constitute itself for lack of unifying denominators? This impasse in thought had caused the postmodern to think erroneously that since there was not one altar for love, therefore there must be many. As such, bodies and languages were the two freest components of our existence. So we abused them. Promiscuities and obscenities were the direct results; the firebrands of this cause thought this was the meaning of life: rebellion and defiance against our own limitation! Now we can look back with a sneer at this thought. A more scientific and more thoughtful way of looking at the whole matter has been posited by more affirmative thinkers. There is no One, true, but the multiples are not necessarily dissembling into nothingness. The negative sign ¬ p can be converted into positive by simply adding ¬¬p. Therefore, nature is by itself positive. So is love. The trick is never to buy into the concept of two become one. But rather Two as the inevitable inscriptions in the arena of love; they are irreconcilable, because to love as in to live is not about aiming for the totality of the count, for that unreachable definitive term of love or life, but the recollections of every move in an endless counting. To move from one step to another step in the ascending ladder, as Plato’s Diotima tells us, is the way to eternal love.
A version of this article was published in Now Jakarta, February 2010