Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gods and Lovers: Apollo & Co

DO gods make better lovers than we mortals? Stories of gods in love with mortals are an integral part of Greek mythology; most of these love stories coming to a sad ending.
The arch-loser was Apollo, the god of prophesy and later the sun god, a great archer and a handsome youth.
Apollo fell in love with Cassandra, daughter of Priam, king of Troy. But Cassandra was a difficult damsel to please. When Apollo gallantly declared his love to her street smart Cassandra Replied: “But dear Apollo, you are a god. I am but just a mortal beauty. Is this a good match? Love-struck Apollo immediately asked: “Cassandra, my love, what do you want?” The Princess was waiting just for that moment. She answered: “Apollo, you are a god of prophesy. Make me a prophetess. Then only I will return your love.” As love was always blind, Apollo granted the boon without delay. As soon as Cassandra received her power of prophesy, she informed: “Apollo, dear god, wise people always advice never to trust a god. Tell me, how can I trust you that you love me? Besides, after this power of prophesies, we are equal, you see. Now, I’m worthy of Zeus’s love, not yours.”
Apollo got intolerably angry at Cassandra duplicity. He could do nothing about her power of prophesy; the boon was already granted. But the jilted lover gave Cassandra a terrible curse: She will retain her power, but none will believe in her prophecies.
Cassandra suffered her fate to the hilt. In the Trojan War she informed her people what was impending, coming of the Greeks, Hector’s death, the Trojan horse. But none did believe her. Such was Apollo’s curse. After the war was over, and she was given as booty to Agamemnon, she advised the Greek general that he should not return to his kingdom lest his wife murdered him. Agamemnon did not take hid of Cassandra’s mad mutterings and in the process got himself and Cassandra killed by Clytemnestra, his vengeful wife.
As a god of prophecy did Apollo know that Cassandra was going to refuse him? Did he know that poor Daphne would turn into a laurel tree?
Daphne, the beautiful daughter of river god Peneus, dedicated herself to Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and, refused to marry. One day, Apollo, while riding his chariot of sun from east to west, saw Daphne roaming among the woods and, as was his habit, fell instantly in love with her. He descended upon the wood and proposed his love to Daphne, but his object of desire would not listen. Desperate and love-struck, Apollo tried to force her physically. Daphne ran towards the deep jungle to save her izzat. But Apollo would not leave his prize so easily. He pursued her relentlessly. As she ran, she prayed her father to save her from the lusty clutches of Apollo. He father granted her prayers and as Apollo was about to reach her, the river god turned her into a laurel tree (Urvashi too turned into a tree while pursued by her mortal lover Pururuvas). Shocked and devastated, Apollo sat under the tree and wept for his lost love. Finally he decided to give Daphne his final tribute of love by wearing a twig of laurel leaves into his golden crown. Poor Apollo!
Goddesses as lovers suffered even greater tragedy. The Trojan king Priam’s nephew Tithonus, a handsome young man was loved by the goddess of dawn Eos. She also bore him a son, the hero Memnon, king of Ethiopia. But as a goddess, she was not permitted to marry a mere mortal. Eos went to Zeus, king of Gods and prayed for Tithonus’s immortality, which Zeus granted. But in her happiness and in her state of love, Eos forgot to ask for another boon, eternal youth for her lover. Gods were genetically ever-young, men were not. As time passed, Eos remained the same voluptuous and beautiful whereas Tithonus withered away to a decrepit and shrivelled old man who could never die. He was no longer a match for his divine wife and the only thing he could ask for was death. Finally Eos took pity on him and turned him to a grasshopper.

Apollo’s sister Artemis however was smart. She fell in love with the beautiful shepherd boy Endymion and made him sleep eternally so that he could never change and grow old. Adonis was another handsome shepherd loved by two goddesses, Aphrodite, goddess of love and Proserpine, goddess of the underworld. Then poor Adonis was killed by a wild boar. Aphrodite pleaded with Zeus to restore him to her. Zeus decreed that Adonis should spend the winter months with Persephone in Hell and the summer months with Aphrodite.

The tragic chemistry of divine and mortal love in Greek mythology found a happy ending in the Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche. Jealous of Psyche's beauty, Venus, goddess of love, ordered her son, Cupid, to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man in the world. The hunter however turned hunted, and Cupid fell in love with Psyche. He carried her off to a secluded palace where he visited her only by night, unseen and unrecognized by her. Although Cupid had forbidden her ever to look upon his face, one night Psyche lit a lamp and looked upon him while he slept. Because she had disobeyed him, Cupid abandoned her, and Psyche was left to wander desolately throughout the world in search of him. Finally, after many trials she was reunited with Cupid and was made immortal by Zeus.

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