“La Surprise” (1718), Jean-Antoine Watteau, Getty Museum, Los Ángeles (2017)
According to Greek Mythology, when Aphrodite exercises her powers there’s not much that Gods, Heroes or Humans can do to avert her designs. All succumb to Aphrodite’s wishes. Just think of Paris, princess of Troy, and how he went on to abduct Helen, the most desirable woman on Earth, an action that started the legendary Trojan war. A kind of temporary madness takes over the minds of those under Aphrodite’s influence, a madness that will not subside until the object of desire is within reach. And even then.
In modern times, we have come to associate Aphrodite -also known as “Venus”, in Roman Mythology- with love and romance which is an unfortunate misconception. Here in the West, we believe that men-women romantic relationships must be infused with “true love”. A cozy and convenient ideal, indeed. This gives us comforting feelings and a rather infantile justification for marriage. “He is my princess charming ” or “she is the woman of my dreams”, I must marry him / her. But, alas, romance and romantic love are relatively recent inventions. There was not such a thing as romantic love or “true love” in the times of the Greeks. Back then, only sexual passion was acknowledged and only sexual passion had some substance, if only temporary.
Impulses and feelings have a lot in common. They both arise for no reason and, given enough time, they both dissolve into nothingness for no reason. The nature of desire is to be transitory and this thing we call romantic love is also non permanent. Why should we expect an everlasting flame? Impulses and feelings cloud our understanding and while we experience those things, we are taken over by irrationality.
The Greek’s conception of Aphrodite strikes me as real and honest. There is no intention to mask or sweeten the raw reality of men and women, in relationships. Perhaps if we embrace sexual desire as it is, if we accept its ephemeral nature and enjoy the short-lived effervescence of this passion, we may actually create the necessary space for love. Neither “true” love nor “untrue” love. Just love….LOVE in capital letters, if you will *