Who gives this maiden in marriage?
During a recent discussion of Parada’s “Robe and Necklace of Harmonia” article, Maya M observed, “Zeus gave Cadmus Harmonia to be his wife, (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 25) and she brought along her cursed necklace and robe. In the same way, Zeus gave Epimetheus Pandora to be his wife, (Hesiod, Theogony 510) and she brought along her jar, another format of the cursed divine gift setting the human condition.” I applauded her observation and added Helen to the pick whom Aphrodite gave to Paris (Hyginus, Fabulae 92) and we all know what trouble followed. So it would seem that when the gods give divine brides to mortal men, disaster follows. However, Hera gave Heracles her own daughter Hebe as wife (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.39.3) and “Happy he! For he has finished his great works and lives amongst the dying gods, untroubled and unaging all his days." (Hesiod, Theogony 950) But, maybe this is not an exception to the Law of Misalliance because Heracles was already ascended to Olympus as a god. We should probably add the Nereid Thetis to the above list. Since she was given to the Peleus by Zeus himself (Hesiod, Catalogues of Women Fragment 58) and as a consequence the Trojan War erupted. These were all the goddesses I could find “given” to mortal men. But I found one said sub-category I don’t know what to think about;
“The gods long before had slain their parents, and the girls were left orphans in their house. But Lady (Dia) Aphrodite had nurtured them with cheese and sweet honey and pleasant wine; Hera had given them beauty and wisdom beyond all other women; virgin Artemis made them tall, and Athene taught them the making of lovely things. But when Aphrodite went up to high Olympus to entreat Zeus to let these girls attain the moment of happy marriage - because Zeus knows all things perfectly, what is fated and what not fated for mortal men - meanwhile the Harpies snatched them away and delivered them to the ministrations of the detested Erinyes." Homer, Odyssey 20. 68
Who grasps this struggling maiden?
Of course, Peleus still had to wrestle down and abduct Thetis first. (Pindar, Nemean Ode 3) So, next I wondered about the heroes who’d snatched up immortal goddess to wed, the old fairy-wife myth. The answer that came to mind was Peleus’ own father the pious Aeacus
"Aeacus had intercourse with Nereus' daughter Psamathe, although she turned into a seal in her desire to resist him.” (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.158)
Naturally this is one of the few examples of a mortal man abducting a goddess. No harm seems to have come to him or his immediate family.
Like a pure maiden in height and mien…
So, what happens to a mortal hero when a goddess “gives” herself to him? The answer here can be provide by the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite and the complaint to Calypso in the Odyssey.
After a tryst with the disguised Aphrodite Anchises famously pleads at line 188 “…don’t let me become disabled don’t let me live on like that among humans! Please, take pity! I know that no man is full of life, able, if he sleeps with immortal goddesses". Well this doesn’t bode well for consensual goddess/hero co-mingling, particularly because we know from the Aeneid that he was crippled up at a relatively young age. I have more to say on this scene in a blog post called;
Our other evidence on the outcome of goddesses giving themselves to heroes comes from Calypso at Odyssey 5:116;
“Calypso, the beautiful goddess, shuddered, and she spoke, and addressed him with winged words: “Cruel are ye, O ye gods, and quick to envy above all others, seeing that ye begrudge goddesses that they should mate with men openly, if any takes a mortal as her dear bed-fellow. Thus, when rosy-fingered Dawn took to herself Orion, ye gods that live at ease begrudged her, till in Ortygia chaste Artemis of the golden throne assailed him with her gentle shafts and slew him. Thus too, when fair-tressed Demeter, yielding to her passion, lay in love with Iasion in the thrice-ploughed fallow land, Zeus was not long without knowledge thereof, but smote him with his bright thunder-bolt and slew him. And even so again do ye now begrudge me, O ye gods, that a mortal man should abide with me.”
· Gents, if Zeus or some other divine father-in-law is walking your bride down the aisle – run!
· Abducting a divine bride might be done safely, but we have scant evidence. So, maybe, maybe err on the side of caution and decency.
· Finally, welcome the advances of a goddess and you get the shaft.