Sunday, January 22, 2012

TFBT; Nerites, the Father of Love

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born of the severed genitals of the primordial sky-god Uranus when his son Cronus tossed them into the barren sea. Foam-born Aphrodite came to life among the gentle sea deities of the Aegean. Being born without a mother is not such an odd occurrence in Greek mythology. Athena sprang forth from Zeus brow fully grown and fully armed. Dionysus was born of his father Zues’ thigh. Even the ancient sea-god Nereus might claim to be motherless. (See “Hesiod’s Cosmos” by Jenny Strauss Clay page 21)

According to Aelian, (On Animals 14. 28 ff) Nereus, “the old man of the sea” wed Doris of the lovely hair, daughter of Oceanus. To them were born 50 daughters; the Nereids, and one son; Nerites. Nerites was the most beautiful of men and gods. He served as Poseidon’s charioteer. When he drove his chariot over the waves, great monsters of the deep, dolphins and sons of Triton, sprang up from the deep, galloping and dancing alongside the chariot. His escort would be promptly left behind as over the smooth-spread waves coursed his cerulean steeds. His sisters sported on the peaceful sea while he raced across the wine red sea driving a team of four steeds yoked together. His abilities as a charioteer were so great that Helios came to resent the swiftness of the boy and his team. The Sun god was not Nerites’ only admirer. Aphrodite also delighted to be with Nerites in the Agean and loved him. When Zeus, the Father of the gods summonded, Aphrodite to be enrolled among the Olympians, she wished to bring her play-fellow. But Nerites refused, preferring life with his sisters and parents to Olympos.

At which point Aphrodite departed her watery world and entered ours;

"To sea-set Kypros the moist breath of Zephrys wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Horai welcomed her joyously… And with her went Eros (Love), and comely Himeros (Desire) followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. (Hesiod, Theogony 176 ff)
Eros is most often considered Aphrodite’s son and the “youngest” of the gods, but how came he to be present at his mother’s birth. That is to say, stepped ashore for the first time. And who was his father?

Poets suggested many answers including; Ares, Zephyrus and Poros. Aaron J. Atsma at says, “Hesiod may be suggesting that Eros and Himeros were born of Aphrodite at her birth. Indeed, according to Sappho, Uranus was the father of Eros by Aphrodite, which suggests she was imagined born pregnant with the god. Nonnus says this explicitly.” There is no myth associating Ares and Aphrodite prior to her ascension to Olympus. The only myth about Zephyrus and her is at the moment of her departure from the sea. Poros is more of a philosophical abstract. Rather than the double monogenesis formed by the Uranus option, I’d perfer to use Occam’s Razor to finish off the hydra-headed question of Eros’ paternity and suggest simply Aphrodite’s foster brother Nerites.

As noted above the goddess and the handsome godling were lovers. And the “beds of the gods are not unfulfilled" to quote Lyons in “Gender and Mortality” Hence in picture at the top of the page, "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli, Aphrodite arriving on her half shell must have already been pregnant with Himeros and with Eros, the bow-packing little cherub commonly called Cupid.

Making Nerites the father of “the god of sensual love, who bears sway over the inhabitants of Olympus as well as over men and all living creatures: he tames lions and tigers, breaks the thunderbolts of Zeus, deprives Heracles of his arms, and carries on his sport with the monsters of the sea”. (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology)

(Video presentation available at  )

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