Friday, January 19, 2007

Aphrodite: Foam, Genitalia, and Immortal Flesh

William Annis posted notes for the shorter Hymn to Aphrodite on his Aoidoi website a few weeks ago. The hymn begins:
αἰδοίην χρυσοστέφανον καλὴν Ἀφροδίτην
ᾅσομαι, ἣ πάσης Κύπρου κρήδεμνα λέλογχεν
εἰναλίης, ὅθι μιν Ζεφύρου μένος ὑγρὸν ἀέντος
ἤνεικεν κατὰ κῦμα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης
ἀφρῷ ἔνι μαλακῷ·

[I will sing the revered, gold-crowned, beautiful Aphrodite, who protects the walls of all of seaside Cyprus, where the moist might of blowing Zephyrus carried her over the waves of the loud-sounding sea in the soft foam.]

He notes that ἀφρός is an etymological figure on Aphrodite's name, and that led me eventually to the story of her birth in Hesiod's Theogony. Angry that Heaven has been imprisoning many of their children and keeping them from the light, Earth creates a sickle and persuades her son Kronos to take revenge on his father. As Heaven comes down (bringing night) to Earth for intercourse, Kronos cuts off his genitalia. Hesiod continues (lines 188-200):
μήδεα δ᾽ ὡς τὸ πρῶτον ἀποτμήξας ἀδάμαντι
κάββαλ᾽ ἀπ᾽ ἠπείροιο πολυκλύστῳ ἐνὶ πόντῳ,
ὣς φέρετ᾽ ἂμ πέλαγος πουλὺν χρόνον, ἀμφὶ δὲ λευκὸς
ἀφρὸς ἀπ᾽ ἀθανάτου χροὸς ὤρνυτο· τῷ δ᾽ ἔνι κούρη
ἐθρέφθη· πρῶτον δὲ Κυθήροισι ζαθέοισιν
ἔπλητ᾽, ἔνθεν ἔπειτα περίρρυτον ἵκετο Κύπρον.
ἐκ δ᾽ ἔβη αἰδοίη καλὴ θεός, ἀμφὶ δὲ ποίη
ποσσὶν ὕπο ῥαδινοῖσιν ἀέξετο· τὴν δ᾽ Ἀφροδίτην
[ἀφρογενέα τε θεὰν καὶ ἐϋστέφανον Κυθέρειαν]
κικλήσκουσι θεοί τε καὶ ἀνέρες, οὕνεκ᾽ ἐν ἀφρῷ
θρέφθη· ἀτὰρ Κυθέρειαν, ὅτι προσέκυρσε Κυθήροις·
Κυπρογενέα δ᾽, ὅτι γέντο περικλύστῳ ἐνὶ Κύπρῳ·
ἠδὲ φιλομμειδέα, ὅτι μηδέων ἐξεφαάνθη.

[And so first having severed the genitals with the blade, he threw them down from the land into the surging sea, and so they floated on the open sea for a long time. And a white foam rose around them from the immortal flesh, and in it a girl was formed. First she approached sacred Cythera, from where she then came to water-bound Cyprus, and came out a revered and beautiful goddess, and grass grew around under her slender feet. Gods and men call her Aphrodite [and the foam-born goddess and well-crowned Cythera] because she was formed in foam; and Cythera, since she arrived at Cythera; and Cyprus-born, since she was born in well-washed Cyprus; and smile-loving, since she appeared out of genitals.]

West notes in his commentary to line 197 that this etymology from ἀφρός appears also in Diogenes Apolloniates (A24) and Plato's Cratylus (406c), and "that it leaves the second half of the name unexplained is typical of ancient etymologizing, especially in the early period." He points out too that Didymus (Et.magn.179.13) "attempted to do better" by deriving it from ἁβροδίαιτον, effeminacy.

The description in lines 191-192 of Aphrodite being formed in the foam is quite vivid in the Greek: τῷ δ᾽ ἔνι κούρη ἐθρέφθη, where the word ἐθρέφθη is often used of children, to be reared, to grow up. West says that τρέφω "can be used of anything growing or solidifying, of congealing cheese, ice (Odyssey 14.477), etc.; also of the fetus, as Aeschylus' Eumenides 665, Thebais 754, Hippocrates vii.482."

Her connection with Cyprus is also mentioned in the eighth book of the Odyssey, in the song of Demodocus about Ares and Aphrodite (lines 362-363):
ἡ δ᾽ ἄρα Κύπρον ἵκανε φιλομμειδὴς Ἀφροδίτη,
ἐς Πάφον, ἔνθα δέ οἱ τέμενος βωμός τε θυήεις.

[But smile-loving Aphrodite went to Cyprus, to Paphos, where there is land for her and a fragrant altar.]

These two lines also display the frequent epithet φιλομμειδὴς Ἀφροδίτη, which Bergk used to conjecture φιλομμειδέα for line 200 of the Theogony above, and which West reads, where the manuscripts have φιλομμηδέα, gential-loving, ὅτι μηδέων ἐξεφαάνθη. I suppose it's easy to see why scribes would be tempted to write φιλομμηδέα, to make sense of the immediate context; but if she isn't otherwise called φιλομμηδέα, then surely the original reading must have been φιλομμειδέα, with a pun on the nearly identical sounding words, and perhaps her association with sex and lust. I wondered about the distant possibility of a genitalia pun in November's Hera's Vengeful Plans.

And a random note: The description in lines 190-191 of the Theogony, ἀμφὶ δὲ λευκὸς ἀφρὸς ἀπ᾽ ἀθανάτου χροὸς ὤρνυτο, reminded me of the Hymn to Demeter, lines 278-279, τῆλε δὲ φέγγος ἀπὸ χροὸς ἀθανάτοιο λάμπε θεᾶς, and a light shone far from the immortal flesh of the goddess.


Post a Comment

<< Home