Diane Rayor: “Ἔρος δηὖτέ μ’ ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει, γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον.”
Ellie Brigida: Welcome to Sweetbitter, a podcast where we usually talk about Sappho, but today we’re talking to Liv Albert of Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! Are you going to join in, Leesa?
Leesa Charlotte: I mean, I think we’ve proven–
EB: [SINGING] Let’s talk about myths…
LC: Fun fact, if I can jump in really quickly, when I was in high school, I had to do a radio show for a school assignment, and I totally used the song “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby” on my podcast.
EB: I love it.
EB: It’s a good choice. Well, thank you so much for hanging out with us today Liv.
Liv Albert: Thank you for having me. I am always so–
EB: We are so excited.
LA: I’m so excited. I mean, you picked my all-time favorite goddess, but overall just one of my favorites, so it was an easy yes.
LC: We are so excited to have a few drinks and learn about Aphrodite. And we’re also joined, we should say, by our resident poet, Alyse.
Alyse Knorr: Hey, everyone. Thanks for letting me into this amazing opportunity of nice riches and nice people. And I’m so excited that I can’t speak.
EB: Alyse is eternally our hype girl, and I love it.
LC: I know, everybody needs Alyse in their life. It’s just constant hype.
EB: Yes. So Liv, why don’t you tell us? Why is Aphrodite your favorite? That’s a huge question, but let’s start there.
LA: Yeah, I don’t have a great answer for that. She’s historically my favorite, just because I think, when I was like in elementary school learning about Greek mythology for the first time, I just thought she was–I probably just thought she was really pretty, because I was that, you know, like 12-year-old who just needed so desperately to be pretty. And so I just loved Aphrodite. There’s not much more to it than that. But then she does have some really good and ridiculous stories. I think I like that she doesn’t like her husband. And she instead has Ares who she just has sex with all the time, and it’s never her husband. Like she has so many children, and not one is with her husband. So we can get into that, but that’s a great reason.
EB: That’s incredible. Who is her husband?
LA: So Aphrodite is married to Hephaestus, but she didn’t marry him by choice. She married him–I’m gonna just myth off, right now, that’s a new phrase I’ve just come up with now.
EB: Yeah, myth off!
LC: Myth off!
LA: Feel free to take what you want. But basically, if I recall, I also am going off the top of my head with Aphrodite because I do know most of it off the top my head, so we’re just going with it but–
LC: Way more fun.
LA: It is, exactly. This is what I usually do on, not my podcast, but other bonus episodes. It’s just more exciting that way. Have a beer, try to remember everything. Hephaestus created a golden throne that locked Hera in and trapped her. Hephaestus was mad because Hera is his mom, but she didn’t want him. She kicked him off Mount Olympus because he had a bad leg when he was born. Not a great mom. Anyway, Hephaestus was mad and so he made her the throne that locked her in and then Zeus was like, “Okay, well, we need to figure out how to free my wife. Like, who can do it? Whoever can free my wife can marry Aphrodite.” Which is super reasonable and definitely not like the main problem with all of Greek mythology. But, so a bunch of people tried for it. I guess maybe Ares failed, or maybe he didn’t even go for it even though he’d always been the one with Aphrodite. And then someone went and told Hephaestus like, “Hey, if you just go and like fix what you started, then you can marry Aphrodite.” And so Hephaestus did and he got to marry Aphrodite. But he was notoriously–like they call him the “lame god,” which is not a great word for it now, but he had a bad leg. And then he was just that god who like, hung out by the forge, he built weapons and armor, just by a hot fire all day long. Like he was not the god for Aphrodite. He was not attractive. And Aphrodite obviously cared about that.
LC: I love like a man coming in and like making a problem and then solving a problem and then being rewarded for it.
LA: That’s Greek mythology. That’s literally Greek mythology.
LC: Like here, let me handle that for you.
AK: So wait, who are Aphrodite’s parents?
LA: That’s a great question, and it has two different answers. The less exciting version is that her parents are Zeus and this Titan woman named Dione, essentially, it’s usually Homer that references that and there’s not a lot of story associated with it and there’s not like a lot of sources for it. But the more common version and the better version is that she was born when Kronos overthrew his father Uranos by castrating him and then throwing all the leftover bits that he had just sliced off into the sea, and then from the foam that erupted from the sea is where Aphrodite was born. That’s why she’s always showing like on a seashell or like arising from the foam. Yet I call it castration foam, and Alyse’s face is exactly what I call it that.
AK: This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.
LA: It’s the best story. It’s my favorite. I mean, Greek mythology is a trip.
EB: And like also just to clarify…
EB: So Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex and beauty was created by a dismembered member?
AK: Well now I know why she’s my favorite.
LA: She’s literally born of castration, specifically the foam that erupts in the sea when it hits.
LC: It also, just like when you think about the story of Adam and Eve and Eve being created from Adam’s rib–like this is just so much better. Like, why did we move on to Christianity?
LC: They had it.
LA: Yeah, the stories are so much better. There’s like, the blood that dripped as it was flying from Uranos into the sea, also it was where the Furies were born and the Cyclops. They were born out of like–no, the Giants, I think, were born out of the dripping blood. Like it’s a whole thing.
LC: I’m just gonna go back through this video and just screengrab Alyse’s face at random points and just make a montage of our holiday episode.
EB: Happy Holidays! Castration!
AK: I’ve just picturing Aphrodite like, in her seventh grade science genealogy class, she’s having to draw out her family tree and she’s like–
LA: Oh god.
AK: –“foam from someone’s castrated member.”
LA: On Wikipedia, I’m pretty sure it says something like that, where I saw it once and was like, “Oh, this is like the greatest thing, that it just has to lay it out like that.” Because also like trying to create a family tree of Greek mythology is such a disaster. Like I have people message me sometimes and they’re like, “I need you to explain this to me, like, I can’t make it work.” And I’m like, “That’s ’cause it doesn’t work. It’s not you.” It’s the fact that like, we’re talking like 2,000 years of stories. So it’s like saying, you know, a single story from the Bible hasn’t changed at all until now. Like, it absolutely has in the way people interpret it and, you know, for the worse, in our case. But these stories don’t–they don’t just stay the exact same, especially when they didn’t have printing, they only wrote things down sometimes. Usually it was that they would just tell the story. So it’s like a really–
LC: Well it’s like telephone, right?
LA: Exactly, I was just gonna say. It’s a really messy game like telephone.
EB: Well it’s the same with Sappho, to tie it all back. Like, Sappho fragments have been telephoned throughout, whoever wants to filter them and translate them.
LA: Well, that’s translation in general, too, right? Like it’s so–yeah, it’s so messy.
EB: Let’s talk more about Aphrodite because I want to know more. So we know where Aphrodite came from, thank god.
LA: Everyone should know.
EB: Yes. What are some of the best Aphrodite stories?
LA: She has so many. Well, I mean, she doesn’t have that many stories where she’s, like, the highlight, just because she kind of had a hand in everything. But there are definitely a couple off the top of my head that are particularly great. Of course, she was a part of the story that started the Trojan War, out of womanly pettiness, because the Ancient Greek people who passed down the stories–not the Ancient Greek people overall–didn’t love women. And so the story goes that at the wedding of this couple named Peleus and Thetis–Thetis was a nymph, so she was divine, and Peleus was a human. She was not super keen on marrying him, but she kind of had to because she was a woman. It’s one of the only two weddings where all the gods showed up to a wedding with a bunch of mortals. And so all the gods were there and one god wasn’t invited, the goddess Eris, who’s the goddess of strife. She is an angry woman, which is why she wasn’t invited. But she was mad that she wasn’t invited. And so she–’cause she’s an angry woman. She’s literally the goddess of strife. Her major story point is either this, or the fact that she used to like, ride through wars on a chariot screaming for blood. She’s amazing. And so she showed up at the wedding with this golden apple with the word “kalliste” or “kallisti” inscribed on it, which means “for the fairest.” It is where Snow White gets the whole idea.
LC: I was just about to say! Yeah.
LA: And so she just like tosses it into the wedding, and basically watches as the three main goddesses fight over which of them is the fairest, and therefore which of them gets this random golden apple, which is apparently really appealing. And so it’s a whole big deal, like Hera thinks it belongs to her, and Athena thinks it belongs to her, and then Aphrodite says, of course it belongs to her. They go to Zeus. Zeus is like, “I am not making this decision. What a horrible thing to do.” You know, Hera’s his wife, Athena’s his favorite daughter, and Aphrodite is Aphrodite. And so he picks this random shepherd in Troy named Paris. He’s like, “You have to pick.” Doesn’t make any sense why, if you think about the chronology that a bunch of time has to pass, because Peleus and Thetis are also the parents of Achilles, and then Paris fights Achilles in Troy, and they’re about the same age. Anyway, chronologically, doesn’t make any sense. But they go to Paris and they’re like, “You have to pick”–
AK: Someone didn’t consult their show Bible, someone’s just like off. Like there’s continuity errors.
LC: It’s like lost, like they just never had anything planned, and then one day they were like, “Shit!”
LA: I mean, again, it’s all Greek mythology. It’s like, it literally never make sense. Chronology just in general doesn’t exist. I mean, it doesn’t also because–I’m gonna go off again–the god Chronos with a “ch,” not the guy who cut off his dad’s balls and threw them into the sea, is the god of time, and it’s where we get the word chronology. So he technically didn’t exist. Anyway! So Paris had to pick between those three goddesses, and so they all decided to offer him things. Hera told him that she would give him, I guess it’s like all the land in the world? Or whatever region he wanted, I’m thinking. For some reason I can’t remember exactly that. Athena told him that she would make it so he won every war, and was, you know, wise and everything. And then Aphrodite told him he could have the most beautiful woman in the world. And he was a young man, so he picked Aphrodite, because he wanted a beautiful woman, who said that he could have Helen, even though, yes, she was already married to a random king in Sparta. He would have to deal with that part, but he could have her. And thus, the Trojan War, just because Aphrodite wanted an apple.
AK: Woah, wait, wait, wait. I have a question to ask about this, a Sappho-related question. Okay. One of Sappho’s most famous fragments is Fragment 16, and in that fragment, she says, “Helen left her fine husband behind and went sailing to Troy.” Like, beauty led her astray and she went off, which seems like this rewriting of the original myth. Like is that what it sounds like she’s doing there?
LA: I think by beauty, she probably means Aphrodite. So, because they would often, you know, conflate concepts with gods, and so, like by using the word beauty like you could mean the concept beauty, but probably she means Aphrodite.
LA: Yeah. And then so the question of whether Helen went willingly is completely up for grabs, like it’s so unclear. It’s so unclear. Paris being so-called “given her” by Aphrodite is clear, but it’s not clear if like, he went there and met her. And then she was like, “Oh, fuck my husband, like, I don’t want him I want this like hot young guy from Troy.” So she could have left willingly, or he could have kidnapped her. The Greeks didn’t really care, is the problem, right? Like they just didn’t particularly concern themselves because, I mean even, like, every god “carried off” is the term always used, for like straight kidnapping and assaulting. Like, they would say, “carried off,” or they would say, “wrapped away,” which is like a real close word to what they mean. And so it’s just like–it was just a matter of like, women were property, so it didn’t matter, so no one knows. Just like the crux of my whole podcast.
LC: Can you just imagine a society where women are seen as objects? I just–
LA: I know, it’s so baffling, like it’s so unheard of. God, unimaginable.
EB: I literally–you said it so seriously, I was about to be like, “What do you mean? I can imagine it.” And then I was like, “Oh, oh, I get it. I get it.”
AK: It just seems really cool that, like, if it’s all up for grabs, Sappho would make the call like, “No, I’m going to tell the story like it was her autonomous choice. I’m gonna focus on her.” Like that seems really huge.
LA: Absolutely. And especially because, like, none of the men who told these stories were doing it. So it makes so much sense that like, a woman who had a voice in that time, and, you know, pretty close after the theoretical date for Homer, you know, like Sappho was so early, in terms of everything we have that’s written. Like, all the stories are really early, but in terms of writing of that kind of caliber, I feel like–I’m sure I’m gonna be wrong–but to me, Homer and Hesiod come before her, and I can’t think of many others, if any. And like the Homeric Hymns, but we think maybe those are Homer, maybe there’s some random, but like, those three works kind of overall come before her and otherwise there’s very little else. And so–and I’m sure there was so much back then that we don’t have, that wasn’t written down, or that got lost or whatever. But the idea that she wanted to, like, give a voice to women or to this character who–like the Greeks, you know, whether or not, if they really thought about it, they thought it was real, but they believed the Trojan War had happened. They believed it was in their history, and that they came from this line of people who had these heroic pasts and and did these heroic things, and that the–you know, Troy was history to them. And so a woman would probably look at that and think, like, “Well what about all the women that were involved,” that, in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” have absolutely no agency. None of them get any kind of story at all, except for kind of some of the goddesses, but it’s usually it’s just like, “Well how did the goddesses help the men?” And then that’s the story they get, but it’s nothing else. And so, I love the idea that Sappho had a voice, who was a woman, who actually had a platform to tell these stories and do these things, would be like, “No, Helen wanted to. Like Paris was hot, and she was like absolutely into that and left Greece.” I mean, Menelaus was like some boring king of Sparta, you know. “Screw him, like I’m gonna go to this hot guy from Troy.”
EB: I’m also dying. I’m trying to remember–sorry, I’m trying to remember. Because you’ve seen the movie “Troy”? I’m like–
LA: I mean Orlando Bloom is cute.
EB: –of course, Orlando Bloom. Orlando Bloom!
LA: Yeah. Especially versus like, I don’t remember the name of the guy who plays Menelaus, but like, they make a point of it being like, “No, Orlando Bloom is hot and young, and he’s Helen’s age and he’s like, her level of hotness,” whereas Menelaus is not.
AK: This raises another question for me, though, which is that like, what is the relationship between Aphrodite and eros? Because I know that eros is not a god, but rather like a concept. Is that true? And then is Aphrodite the goddess of eros? Or is she purely beauty? Like how are they connected?
LA: Another great question that has so many answers. Eros is one of the most confusing gods, if you try to like actually pin something down, because, very similar to Aphrodite, he has two different origin stories. So one says that he’s the son of Aphrodite and Ares. Aphrodite and Ares had a bunch of kids, Eros being one of them, Harmonia, she’s the goddess of harmony, she’s another, the Erotes, which are like a group of eros-like figures that kind of symbolizes sort of eroticism in general, and a number of other ones. Either Eros is the son of Aphrodite and Ares making him like the god of erotic love, like he is, but also very much more down to earth. It’s not like a literal phrase, but it has the meaning I want here, where he was just a bit more human, even though he was a god. Whereas the alternative for Eros is that he sprung from Chaos alongside Gaia, like the first of everything. So he’s either like one of the oldest concepts and gods in the whole of the Pantheon, or he’s the son of Ares and Aphrodite.
AK: Wait, okay.
EB: I love Alyse’s face.
AK: So erotic love either comes from beauty and war…
AK: …or, chaos itself?
LC: I mean, it all checks out, it all checks out for me.
AK: It does, because Sappho’s poems are always about like, “Eros is killing me to death, and eros is destroying my body and hurting me or like, making me suffer.” Like it makes sense, I just never knew.
LA: Honestly. Well, yeah, Eros is a funny one, and then it was very much–and it’s similar to what I said about beauty maybe referring to Aphrodite herself, because it was a lot of like–they understood the concepts to be the gods and the gods to be the concepts. So when you’re complaining about the way Eros treats you or like, in that way of, you know, Eros is really being hard on me lately, or whatever. It is like the god and it’s the concept? Because that’s just kind of how it works. So they had gods for everything. Like, Alyse, you inspired tomorrow’s episode by asking me about Eos and Tithonus and me not knowing how to answer. So tomorrow’s episode is all about Eos, who turns out, she was very much like all the male gods and she straight up kidnapped a lot of dudes.
LC: Well, I mean.
LA: Yeah, Tithonus is like a question mark whether or not he was fully kidnapped by her, and like Greeks would have understood that differently. Like they didn’t, you know–it wasn’t like they necessarily understood it to be the horror show that we would now, but yeah, her story is basically like–yeah, she carried off this dude because he was pretty and then she carried off this dude because he was pretty and then this one–like, it’s quite the tale. But essentially, it’s like, she’s a good example of concept. Like she is the dawn, she’s rosy-fingered dawn. Most of her story is simply like naming her. Like in Homer, she’s named like every two pages because every time a new day breaks, the way you say a new day has happened, is that “rosy-fingered dawn has appeared.” And so there’s a new day passing. And then she was also like the mother of all the winds because each directional wind had its own god. Like they just understood every single concept on earth to have a god, so it was just sort of, if you’re talking about a concept, you would just refer to the god as the concept. It’s so cool that you’re talking about Eos and Tithonus because they’re the subject of the poem that we’re talking about for our next two episodes.
LC: Well the last episode we did and the following episode that we have.
AK: Yes, yes, that’s the one and so–
LA: Perfect. Well, my episode tomorrow morning is all about her, but it’s not great. It’s literally like, “So she kidnapped all these men.”
AK: That sounds great.
LA: That’s the story, essentially. But yeah, so I mean, Eros is such an interesting one. Like, I always like him to be the the child of Aphrodite and Ares, but mostly because I like the gods as gods, as characters in stories. And so he is like a much more down to earth character in stories when you think of him that way. And also my favorite all-time myth, it’s not really like–it’s not really the same as all the other myths. It’s Cupid and Psyche, which is all about Eros as like very much a human man, and having a love life. And then he’s very much the son of Aphrodite. So I’ve just sort of always been around that idea. Because Cupid is obviously the Roman name for Eros, the same basic concept, but always, I think in Roman mythology, he would always be the child of, in that case, Venus and Mars. But yeah, I mean, it’s just, they’re all so fucking fascinating. And like, you could just kind of go off forever trying to understand how all of it works and functions like there’s really no clear cut answer, because it’s, you know, it’s like one person wrote something in 800 BC, and then the next thing we have is from 400 BC, so who knows what happened in those 400 years and what people actually believed, versus, you know, what got written down and actually passed down to the point where we have it now, like, 2,500 years later.
LC: I just like–I want to like Matrix-style download your brain into my brain. Like I’m thinking about, like, all of the things, because like, I just love pop culture and like–I really love the whole “Vampire Diaries” universe.
LA: I’ve seen a lot of that.
LC: It’s so good and terrible. And I recently finished “Legacies,” finally, because like, I’d watched–I’d been watching along with CW and then we didn’t have it in Australia when I was stuck there. And so I just finished “Legacies.” Like they’ve been doing all the gods, right, so they had like Eros, and then it wasn’t Eros, it was like another one of the gods, and then he was like eating people’s hearts and it was like so much. And then just thinking about like “American Gods” and like all of the gods in this from all the different things and all I want is like–like an Isle of Lesbos Elle Woods/”American Gods” where all of the gods are in human form, and it’s really gay. That’s my dream.
EB: I’m down for that.
LC: Yeah. Liv will bring you on as her researcher.
LC: As a god-expert.
LA: I just there’s–all I want in this world is an adaptation of Greek mythology, in movie or TV show form, that is accurate, and good quality, because it has never happened. And I can’t understand why they always fuck it up. And I hope I can swear on your show, ’cause I have been.
EB: Yeah, you can.
LC: Oh my god, swear a lot.
EB: So how do you feel about “Hercules”?
LC: That Disney one?
EB: The cartoon.
LA: The cartoon is the best one. Okay, so I stand by–Disney’s “Hercules” is one of the most accurate adaptations of Greek mythology, ever.
LA: They don’t screw it up in the way that almost everybody else does. I mean, except that they call him Hercules, which is literally not his Greek name. His name is Heracles, so like from the start, they’re off to a bad start. But–they’ve got a lot of flaws. Hera loving him as a son is hilarious, because the entire story of Heracles is that Hera was literally trying to get him killed his whole life. That’s all of it. That’s a good one.
AK: That’s a big mistake.
LA: But it’s very Disney.
AK: A very big divergence.
LA: But the thing is, is that like, Hera hated him because Zeus went down to earth and then had sex with a mortal woman, who had his baby. So like, what is Disney going to do?
AK: Well, okay, but hold on! Disney not have qualms about family members hating their kids, like what the fuck was Cinderella? It was like all about family, and like–
LA: Those are step-parents.
EB: No, but yeah, they’re not related.
LC: Oh, but actually, no, no, but then–
EB: Hera wouldn’t be related either.
LC: Yeah, that’s true.
LA: But that’s cheating. We can have the king of the gods, like in a god-like figure, like capital “g” God-like figure.
LC: But that’s all he does.
LA: That’s literally all he does.
LC: Zeus is a dick. I don’t know why they skirt around his issue.
LA: Zeus is garbage. He’s the worst. Oh man, yeah. But no, Disney’s “Hercules” is so good. Like I stand by that one and no other, no other adaptations at all, because they always make it weird.
EB: That’s solid. I just needed to know, because I love “Hercules.”
LA: No, it’s the best.
EB: So I just wanted to know if I was okay to like it.
LA: Yeah, absolutely.
LC: All the songs are great.
LA: Though I think you should know that Hercules never rode Pegasus. Never.
EB: That is very–
LA: That’s important information for everyone to have.
EB: So what is the truth behind Pegasus?
LA: So for one, he was not born of a cloud. He was born of Medusa’s severed head, or the stump–
LA: –from which Medusa’s severed head had been recently removed.
EB: Of course, of course.
AK: Okay, I have a tangential thing, which is that I was recently talking to a really good friend who–she was complaining about how she hates, like, angel tree toppers, angel Christmas tree toppers, because they’re not accurate to how the Bible actually describes angels. ‘Cause like, the Bible doesn’t talk about angels as being like blonde ladies in a dress. It talks about angels being like, crazy messes of like–it’s like two wheels, interlocking, covered in eyeballs and wings. That’s an actual angel, according to Ezekiel and Revelations. And so she’s been like complaining about how she can’t find–she wants a real angel topper for her tree.
LC: That would be amazing.
AK: A mythologically accurate tree topper. And she has been complaining about this for a long time. And I was like–so I went on Etsy the other day and like found a sticker of one.
AK: And then I found her a tree topper, and I’m like trying to assemble it to give her, but like–everything is more interesting in the original source text. Everything is more interesting, and then it just gets like, you know, censored and like, you know, just made more boring by pop culture a lot of times
LA: You can blame Greek mythology for the angel thing, too.
LC: Oh, really?
LA: Well, I think it probably all comes from that cherubic look of Eros/Cupid, right? Like I think–so Eros is a funny one also, because he’s sometimes a child and sometimes an adult, like depending on depictions of him. So that like baby, chubby-cheeked, cherubic Cupid comes from mythology. And I would imagine that’s like, where–I don’t know what the whole like women angelic thing–probably comes from Greek mythology too, because you can imagine like, I mean, even Nike–
LC: And the patriarchy.
LA: –and the patriarchy. Everything. I mean, specifically, Greek mythology comes from the patriarchy.
LC: And racism. There’s just a lot.
LA: It’s all messy.
LC: She says, and has another sip of wine.
AK: I was literally gonna say.
LA: I’ve run out of my drink. You’re making me tempted to go get more wine, or some wine.
LC: Oh, please, go get something. We can always take a little hiatus for more alcohol.
EB: And we’ll be back after a brief ad break.
AK: I have a question I’ve been waiting to ask. The only complete poem of Sappho that we have is “Ode to Aphrodite,” where she’s like, “Aphrodite, I really need your help with this girl that I like to like me back,” and it’s so good. But right in the middle of it, she talks about Aphrodite coming down from her father’s golden house in like a chariot that’s yoked by sparrows that are bringing her down from Earth and flying through the air. And I was just wondering if you could comment on like, Aphrodite’s methods of transportation and all that.
LA: Yes, hopefully. So for one, it seems like Sappho subscribes to her being the daughter of Zeus based on that, because Zeus would be where she’s coming from, or Olympus. But I think I haven’t–maybe I’ve heard sparrows before, I don’t know. There’s all so many different versions and, like, takes on it. Usually her bird is a dove. And I think they all had chariots. I don’t remember if I’ve heard of her in a chariot pulled by birds before. It sounds very Aphrodite, so I’m sure I’ve heard of it somewhere. The problem is, is that like, all the stories we have, you know, for the most part, they’re not full blown stories, because like, thankfully, we have “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” which are full on stories, but otherwise, it’s usually, like, odes, just hymns to the gods. And so they’ll reference a story, they’ll tell a story. Some of them have full length stories, like the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, it’s one of the greatest things ever, it’s the most insane story you’ll ever hear in a Homeric Hymn. But then, so is the Aphrodite one, actually, which is the story I’m telling next. But they so rarely have–they don’t have our version of detail and structure. So if they’re talking about Aphrodite coming here, there’s not too many people that would include how she got someplace. Unless they had a reason for it. And then it’s just because we have so few sources that have survived, like maybe somebody wrote a novel and it had all this detail about what happened, how Aphrodite got anywhere at any given time, you know. There’s just so much we don’t have. It’s heartbreaking, and I could talk about it forever.
AK: I love that mystery and like, the ways in which writers’ imaginations and even our imaginations today can like fill those gaps. And it also reminds me of like in Greek–in later Greek theater the way that they were always bringing people down, bringing the gods down in chariots, like, that’s where you get the phrase like, “deus ex machina.” Yeah, like Medea just shows up. And she’s like, “I just killed all my kids, and I’m in my chariot.” And it’s like, what, like, it’s this huge spectacle to see them in their chariot.
LA: Pulled by dragons. Medea’s chariot was pulled by dragons, and, depending on the timeframe you’re talking about, they had a full on crane-like structure that descended her chariot from the sky over the theater, pulled by dragons. Like that’s what “deus ex machina” is. The “machina” is literally like a crane. It’s a ghost in the machine.
AK: I don’t understand how any of us have been satisfied going to the theater like since then. Like this is all bullshit.
LA: And Medea is one of the few non-god examples of the use of deus ex machina, which is why it’s called deus ex machina, because it’s obviously “god in the machine.”
LC: It’s just making me think of the Super Bowl. And like, you know how it goes–like as an Australian, like I say, we don’t have the Super Bowl. You guys go all out on everything, right?
LA: I just wanna state I am Canadian. Just want to make that perfectly clear.
EB: Honestly, honestly, good. Be proud.
LC: I’m talking to the country in which I now reside. It’s insane how big things can be, and like the Super Bowl is such a great example of that. Like our grand finals are like, not that big. It’s just so much and I’ve only really watched them since I’ve moved here and I’m just always amazed at like, the spectacle of it. It’s just so unnecessary and ridiculous. Like can you imagine if that’s like the thing that survives from our time?
AK: Oh my god.
EB: So like when P!nk comes down from the sky, in her like–that’s deus ex machina.
AK: And you know Aphrodite had some like, nationally broadcasted nipple slip. Like that seems on brand.
LA: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
LC: So Janet Jackson really is the Aphrodite of our time?
AK: I could be down for that. Yeah.
LC: Although Janet Jackson was very unfairly canceled, and that’s another complication.
LA: Well that’s–because of the patriarchy.
EB: This is a really recurring theme.
LA: It’s my whole podcast. I literally make a living complaining about the patriarchy. I don’t know how it’s physically possible.
LC: So my favorite thing is reading Liv’s bad reviews. Like if people were talking about it today, like when you get your reviews and it’s like, “You don’t have to bring so many politics into it,” and you’re like, “That is the podcast. That is the whole podcast.” That you don’t pay for, like available for free. Like if you don’t want to listen to it–
LA: Listen or don’t!
LC: Please don’t listen.
LC: Maybe it’s not your thing. But yeah, I do complain about the patriarchy, it’s my job.
LA: And so many cisgender men take such issue with just like, the way that I talk about the patriarchy, and then also talk about–just the fact that like, the gods assaulting women all the time was bad. And they’re like, “Well, you’re putting your modern morals onto the ancients.” And I’m like, “I’m just putting morals into the story. Like, these are not modern morals, like, this is just morality.” I’m just putting like, “Women are people. You don’t own them,” onto the stories and it’s like, oh my god, I’m breaking Greek mythology.
LC: Gods forbid you should actually expect that women be treated like humans. That was your first problem.
LA: Honestly, the number of people that tell me, “I would like to show if she didn’t hate men so much.” And I’m like, “The only time I hate men is when they are assaulting women.” I don’t ever say I hate men otherwise. So if you’re hearing that, like that’s on you, and it says a lot more about you than me.
AK: It almost sounds like you’re like, you know, okay with the people but like, you know, trying to hold them accountable for their own actions that they’ve taken.
LA: I literally love them more than anything. Greek mythology is my whole life now. It’s crazy. My apartment is just like 99% Greek mythological things. It’s truly my favorite thing in this world, I just don’t let men get away with rape. Like, sorry.
AK: Well, that poem we were talking about earlier, Fragment 16 by Sappho, where she rewrites the Helen-Troy thing, she’s just totally like, you know, subtweeting men in that poem, right? Like the poem starts out, “Some men say an army on horse, and some men say an army on foot, and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is what you love.” And like, obviously I’m right because like, why do you have a hard on for armies and navies and not beautiful women? Like, come on! Wake up, like.
EB: I love your drunk Sappho voice, Alyse.
AK: That’s how Sappho would perform. I’m actually only halfway through beer number one. So that’s just like my like, Sappho is owning up the patriarchy in this poem.
EB: I love it.
AK: Truth and the facts.
LA: I have a great story.
EB: Ooh, yes, let’s hear it.
LA: So the other major story when it comes to Aphrodite and the one that is in her Homeric Hymn, is–so she slept with Ares a lot. And like I said, I don’t know if she never slept with her husband, but they don’t have any children, whereas she and Ares have like, I don’t know, like eight kids or something. And so this one time, they were having sex in Aphrodite’s bed, so like in her house with Hephaestus. So Helios is the sun. He can see everything, because he’s the sun. So notoriously, Helios is kind of like a peeping tom at times, and he’ll just spot things that nobody wants to be seen, because they’re trying to hide, but he’s the sun. And so Helios saw Ares and Aphrodite together in Hephaestus and Aphrodite’s bed, and he told Hephaestus, and Hephaestus was angry, obviously. It seems like Hephaestus didn’t want to believe that his wife didn’t like him, even though he knows how they got married. So I mean, he should know. But he was super mad and so, he decided to trick them and catch them again. So what he did, because he’s Hephaestus so he can build anything with metal and forgery and all that–not forgery, like fake things, forgery like using a forge. And so he forged these magical either chains or a net, depending on kind of how you translate it or how you understand it. But either way, he forged a contraption and stitched it up all invisible over their bed, and then was like, “Hey guys, I’m off to Lemnos. You know, I’ll be back in a few days. I’ll be gone. I won’t be here. I’ll be there on the island.” And so immediately he was gone then Aphrodite and Ares were like, “Well perfect, he’s gone. He won’t be here. He’ll be gone for a couple of days.” And so they go straight to the bed. And then the minute they lie down on the bed together, Hephaestus’s trap like springs into action and like, fully traps them in this bed. Like either by like a net falling on them or chains like appearing and wrapping around them, but they’re like naked on the bed and now trapped where they are. And then obviously Hephaestus has planned this, so he comes back immediately, findd them, and then he decides what he wants to do is like–he thinks he’s going to shame them by pulling all the other gods together. Like he’s gonna kind of get his revenge for this, you know, cheating by getting all the other gods, and all the other gods are gonna then look at Aphrodite and Ares and, you know, think really poorly of them or hate them or whatever. And so he calls all the Olympian gods and all the Olympian gods show up at his house, where he has trapped his wife and her lover on their bed. And so obviously, because the Olympian gods are sane, they all just start laughing. So they all just laugh at Hephaestus and at the situation, thinking, “What the fuck is going on? Why have you called us here? This is ridiculous.” And then, I think they’re probably also looking around being like, “Literally all of us cheat all the time. Like, hi, Zeus is here, like what do you think he’s doing?”
EB: You’re like, “And? The problem is?”
LA: Hephaestus is so angry, he’s just like, going to explode. And he refuses to let Ares go, but then everyone’s like, “Hey, like, we need Ares. He’s the god of war. He’s super important. Like, also, you know, we don’t think this is that big of a deal. Like you should just let him go.” Anyway, he just refuses to let them go. And they all try to talk Hephaestus down and eventually–I think it’s Poseidon says that he’ll talk to Ares, or he says they’ll do something that like placates Hephaestus into letting them go. And then they’re still embarrassed, as much as this was funny, you know, Aphrodite and Ares are embarrassed, so Aphrodite flies off to Cypress and Ares heads over to Thrace where–those are both like their regions where they hang out–and Hephaestus just goes on to be a shitty dude.
LC: Did you say Thrace?
LA: Yeah, Ares was like very much based in Thrace, or like a Thracian kind of god.
LC: So Thrace is a part of Greece?
LA: Well, Greece didn’t exist, right? So it’s kind of tough to say what was Greece, like the Hellenic world was like the world kind of united by a basic shared language, with a bunch of dialects and like, sort of a shared culture-ish. But it varied so much based on what region. Yeah, Thrace is like really close by. So it was an ancient culture alongside them, like whether it counted in the Hellenic world is the only part that I am not certain of. I don’t think–like I don’t think they spoke Greek. Like there was probably people there who spoke some Greek, but they weren’t Hellenic, necessarily. But they were so closely aligned with the Greeks, but they were like a really war-based culture. So that’s why Ares is said to hang out in Thrace, because they considered the Thracians really big on war, and really kind of brutal and hardcore. And so obviously, Ares was then associated with them. Thrace is really big. There’s a bunch of Thracians even in “The Iliad,” too. They help Troy though. Yeah, because at one point, Odysseus and Ajax, like sneak in in the middle of the night and kill a bunch of them. Anyway, but yeah, Thrace is very much in the ancient world. Spartacus was from Thrace. He was obviously later, but I’m obsessed with the “Spartacus” TV show from Australia.
LC: Is Spartacus gay? Spartacus feels gay to me, I don’t know anything about it.
LA: “Spartacus” the show was very gay. Spartacus himself was not gay. The “Spartacus” TV show that was filmed in Australia, like a while back, is so good. The first two seasons of it are some like–oh my god, they’re so good, and they are very gay, in like the most satisfying way. Like there are some really hot naked gladiators who have some really strong feelings for each other and it’s lovely.
LA: Like they show male love in a really, really nice way that’s like, you can be really hardcore gladiators who are super naked and like will kill each other in the battle or in the arena, but then are all super tender with each other–
LC: And also fuck.
LA: –where they’re kept as slaves.
LA: Well, no, they also fuck.
EB: They’re tenderly fucking.
LC: I am halfway through my bottle of wine.
LA: But yeah. But no, I would say the like straight relationships are much more like that. And the gay relations are actually much more nice and lovely.
LA: The men with women it’s like nah, that’s like hardcore. Anyway, great show.
LC: Interesting, I need to see it.
LA: Hot men and women everywhere.
AK: You just toasted your glass, like to this.
LC: To hot people!
EB: We all just toasted to that bisexual statement.
AK: Yes, here’s to that. Shit.
LA: I also just want to say the wine I’m drinking right now is called Bacchus, and I am drinking it in a glass that has the Ancient Greek word “oenomania,” which means “an insatiable affection for wine.”
LC: She’s so much.
LA: It’s my whole life.
AK: Yes, this is good. I’m drinking an apple cider, and Sappho likes to talk about all these apples being just out of reach. So that’s like my connection.
LA: Does she talk about golden apples ever?
AK: I think she–wasn’t that the one–I think it was like really red because she’s using some of that like fruit imagery.
LC: No she uses red. This is the one that we just did. It was like–
AK: It’s 130 right?
LC: “Red highest on the reddest branch”–oh, no. “High branch, red on the highest branch.”
EB: It was a lot of red, red, red.
LC: She is really about red apples.
AK: ‘Cause it’s vulvas, you know?
LC: Yeah, it’s true. It’s all about the vulva.
EB: Yes. You know, just like, it’s like so matter-of-fact. ‘Cause it’s vulvas.
LA: Yeah. I got that. Of course.
LC: Alyse is a descendant from Sappho, and Alyse knows.
AK: I am.
LC: Oh, this is one of my favorite ones that I always turn to which is, “Virginity, virginity / Where are you gone leaving me behind? / No longer will I come to you / no longer will I come.”
AK: So she’s writing these–yeah, she’s writing these poems for like weddings. And if you’re a young girl and you’ve been like only hanging out with other girls and Sappho, and only spending time with other girls and learning about sex and love and relationships that way, then on your wedding day, when you’re like, quote, unquote, “virginity is taken,” like, yeah, it’s a lifetime of not coming. I think it’s pretty safe to say. Based on what we know, about opposite-sex relationships in Ancient Greece, it was not–like marriage was not the place for pleasurable sex. Like, the men would go to brothels for that, or they’d go to other men for that. It was like, you had sex with your wife to have babies, not to like have fun.
LA: Yeah, well women were like, full property. Like there’s not a lot of love, I don’t think, in those relationships back then. It was like strategic, it was ’cause it was necessary, ’cause you had to own her. But yeah, a lot–I mean, a lot–was men went to younger–I don’t, I mean, I will say boys, because that’s what the accurate statement is.
LC: Yeah, they were boys.
AK: Yeah, there’s a lot–I have another Aphrodite poem in here from Sappho that I wanted to ask about, which is that at the very end of 112, she says–she’s talking to the bridegroom and the bride, so she says, “Blessed bridegroom, your marriage just as you prayed / has been accomplished / and you have the bride for whom you prayed / gracious your form and your eyes / as honey: desire is poured upon your lovely face / Aphrodite has honored you exceedingly.” So is Aphrodite showing up in this poem, like she gave the bridegroom this beautiful bride, or is she calling the bridegroom beautiful, and like Aphrodite blesses people with their physical beauty? Like what’s going on with Aphrodite in that poem?
LA: Yeah, that’s interesting. For one, I just want to say I wish I was a scholar. I’m not. This is all based on, like, all the shit I read for my podcast and the BA I took almost ten years ago.
AK: I think she’s a scholar.
LA: But well, so ’cause Aphrodite wasn’t associated with marriage, specifically. Like she was really all about sex and beauty. But like Hera’s the goddess of marriage, and then there’s Hymen is the god of marriage. And his name is Hymen.
LC: Wow. I actually didn’t know that.
EB: “Hi, men.”
LA: Like Hymen like, H-Y-M-E-N.
LC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I understood it.
LA: Yeah, good. Just making it clear. That’s fully where we get the word from.
LC: I got the reference.
EB: It was clear.
LC: I understood that I lost that very important part of me. And now…
LA: Yeah. Well, god, we’re completely worthless.
LC: “Virginity, virginity.”
EB: We had a conversation that stays between us. You can think about–you can debate what you think it was about, but we’re gonna go back to this.
AK: Sappho Fragment 111 is a bunch of boner jokes involving the god Hymenaeus. Am I saying that right, Liv?
LA: Probably, it’s all Ancient Greek, so you can say whatever you want.
LC: It’s all Greek to me.
AK: So in this poem she goes, “Up with the roof / Hymenaeus / Lift it, carpenters / Hymenaeus– / the bridegroom is coming in / equal to Ares / Hymenaeus / much bigger than a big man/ Hymenaeus.” So she’s saying like, “You have to lift the roof of this building because the bridegroom’s boner is so big, it’s as big as Ares.” And I love that.
LA: That’s wonderful. That’s really fun.
AK: Like that’s Sappho just being the best.
EB: Yeah, that’s a great one.
LC: Love a good boner joke.
AK: I have to go, y’all, because I’m trying to be a better mother than Hera, and, you know, like parent my child who’s coming home from daycare right now. So I’m gonna step away from the boner jokes and go hang out with my toddler for dinner and I’m sorry that I have to leave.
LC: Well thank you, for hanging out with us.
LA: Being better than Hera is a very good thing.
EB: Bye, Alyse!
AK: Y’all are a dream! Y’all are the coolest people, I’m sad I have to go.
EB: So, Liv, before we wrap up. Are there any other beautiful Aphrodite stories that you’re just like, “Okay, we need to hear these before we wrap up.”
LA: I mean, honestly, like I take it upon myself to make sure every single person on this planet knows the story of her being birthed from castration foam, because I just think it’s required knowledge for being a human.
LA: And then the story of her and Ares is just my absolute favorite because it’s just so silly. So no, I would say we got the real–we got the key bits of Aphrodite in here. I mean, honestly, like she’s just–she doesn’t have a ton of stories with mortals, which I love. She is the mother of Aeneas, maybe that’s interesting information. She’s the mother of Aeneas who then Rome took on to be their founding character. But she’s the mother of Aeneas because Zeus–she, like, bragged that she’d never slept with a human and Zeus was like, “Well, I’ll make sure that you do.” And so he like basically forced her to fall for Anchises, the father of Aeneas. Yeah, it was a whole–it’s a whole thing. So it’s like, you know, it was still based in like very silly Olympian squabbles as so much of Greek mythology is.
EB: We got the good stuff. As they always are.
LC: It also feels really like, “Oh, you just haven’t, like, found the right human yet. Like you just haven’t found the right man.” It feels really that, like, “Oh, you have to try it.”
LA: Well, and she’s had sex with loads of gods, and at one point, like, she was with Adonis, obviously, so–but I don’t know, maybe the story came beforehand, probably. Or she maybe never slept with Adonis. Adonis is a weird character too.
EB: There’s so much.
But he’s known mostly for his name. And like there’s not a ton of story. It’s literally like–
LC: I don’t know anything about Adonis except for the name.
LC: It brings in my head like a really attractive person.
LA: Yeah, like Fabio-style is all I could think of.
LC: Oh, okay.
LA: But yeah, I think the basics of that story are literally like, Aphrodite fell in love with this man. He was beautiful. She tried to, like, steal him away in some way. And so she brought him to Persephone to keep safe, but then Persephone fell in love with him because he was so hot. And then they fought over him and got to share time with this hot guy.
LC: So it was a–
EB: A little poly situation, I love it.
LA: Like a little. They were not super thrilled by it. It was literally like, “Well, you can spend one month with me and one month with Persephone, and then the other month you can spend with yourself.” And then apparently Adonis was like, “I’m gonna spend the other month with Aphrodite, ’cause she’s hot.” And then that was basically it.
LC: I love how petty all the gods are. Like I’ve been really enjoying listening to your podcast for this. I feel like everybody should just go and subscribe to Myths, Myths, Baby. Oh–Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!
EB: Yes, so where can people find your show?
LA: Oh, literally everywhere. Yeah, if you can listen to a podcast somewhere, you can find my podcast. If you search for “myths” or “myths baby” or “mythology,” it’s gonna show up, or my website’s mythsbaby.com. I’m @mythsbaby everywhere on the internet. And yeah, I talk a lot. I have three years worth of content now of talking about in-fighting and squabbles with the gods. I’ve, for the past like almost a year now, I’ve been just like reading “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” on bonus episodes. So you can also just like listen to me read a really old and not great translation, because it’s in the public domain, but it’s still like–it’s still “The Iliad” in “The Odyssey.”
LC: There’s an overwhelming amount of content. I’m like, I never know where to start. I’m always like–so I search for the gay shit first, actually, that’s what I did.
LA: There’s so much. I have a lot of those.
EB: Yeah, that’s actually a good question. What are your–okay, so if someone loves Sappho and loves Aphrodite, what are some of the top episodes of your show you’d recommend?
LA: So, travesty of travesties, because of the patriarchy. There are almost no stories of lesbians. Almost none. I think it’s–I subscribe to the idea that Artemis was gay, because she literally hated men and surrounded herself with nymphs all the time. So I think it’s obvious. Some people call her asexual, I don’t think that’s true. I think if anyone is, it’s Athena.
LC: Are nymphs nymphomaniacs? Is that where the word comes from?
LA: Definitely, yes.
LC: So how is she asexual? I’m very confused.
LA: That’s the thing. Well, there’s no talk about her having sex with anyone, but there’s no talk about her having sex with anyone because people who are telling the stories and writing things down were dudes who didn’t want to think of women having sex with the women, because women are property, they’re not sexual beings. So it’s not–I don’t subscribe to that at all. I do think, if anyone is, it could be Athena, because there’s no stories of Athena being romantic with anyone, so she could be like asexual or aromantic or what have you. But Artemis is literally like, “I hate men. I really like to have my nymphs around me all the time. We like to bathe naked as much as we can.” And then people are like, “I don’t know. I don’t think Artemis was with anyone.” Like well, I think that she had sex with a lot of her nymphs.
EB: Yep. “Sappho and her friend.” Classic.
LA: Yeah, exactly. So that’s basically it when it comes to that. But I have covered a lot of generalized LGBTQ+ stories. There’s a lot of trans stories. There’s a lot of stories of gay men that are great. So I tend to–you can go through like June of every year, and you’ll find a bunch, because I always do a pride month.
LC: Yeah, I think that’s where I found them. I think I listened to the Hermaphroditus story.
LA: Yeah, there’s one that’s like there’s a bunch all in one, because I’m running very low now on stories that I haven’t told already. So Apollo was with a bunch of guys, but they tend to all end in tragedy. Like Apollo and Hyacinthus is a really good story.
LC: Just like every gay movie.
EB: I mean, it just sounds like gay movies, yeah.
LA: Yeah, exactly.
EB: Like, “And it’s been happening for eternity.”
LA: But yeah, so Apollo and Hyacinthus is a very good one. And also, it’s called–I named the episode “A Frisbee Tragedy,” which I just really like the name of the episode. So I’m gonna hype that one.
EB: I love it.
LA: But yeah, there’s definitely a bunch of those. I love the trans stories, because I think it’s fascinating how the Ancient Greeks understood trans people to exist. They tended to understand that it was like, either a gift or a curse from the gods. Usually a gift, which is cool. Yeah, so I just–those are some of my favorites, because I love sort of emphasizing the idea that this is not a new phenomenon, and it’s just like 21st century Western culture that’s shitty, that like, seems to want to believe that it’s something new. And even the Ancient Greeks were like, “Oh, you were born a man. But you’re a woman. Cool. Well, then the gods clearly just made you a woman.” That’s obviously what happened. And yeah.
EB: I love that. That’s so cool.
LA: It’s really lovely. It’s nice. So there’s a bunch of those.
LC: And you have a book coming up!
LA: Oh, yeah, I have a book! I keep forgetting that–I should hype my book.
LC: Yes, you should.
LA: But I don’t feel like a real author yet, ’cause I don’t have physical copies.
LC: I have it on pre-order.
LA: Thank you! Yeah, so I have a book of Greek mythology coming out. It is called “Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook.” Book of Greek mythology, like very sort of for, not beginners, but it’s like people new to it. But it’s very honest, in the way that my podcast is and I’m very excited, because it’s gonna be the first book I own out of all my mythology books that uses the word “assault” when it comes to stories from Greek mythology. And I don’t say “carried off” or “wrapped away” or even–sometimes I do say “kidnapped,” because sometimes it’s not clear, but it’s also, I mean, “kidnapped” is bad enough.
LA: But yeah, so that comes out in March and is available for pre-order wherever you find your books.
EB: That’s so awesome.
LC: Well thank you so, so much for coming on, teaching us about Aphrodite, having a few drinks with us.
EB: And just hanging out with us and being friends.
EB: We really know each now.
LC: Yeah, we really do.
LA: With everything that’s been cut out of this podcast, we really know each other. No, this was–thank you guys so much. This was actually so much fun.
LC: Thanks for listening to Sweetbitter. Our next episode will be out on the 14th of January. And here we are just trying to do this outro a little bit drunk at this stage. Ellie, what else do they need to know?
EB: If you want to rate and review us on iTunes, we would love that. It helps other people find the podcast, and if you’re feeling generous in the holiday spirit, you can join our Patreon. We would love to see you there.
LC: Please, please, we love that. It’s the best Christmas present we could ever get. I mean, it’s past Christmas at this point.
EB: But still.
LC: It’s the best New Year’s gift that we could ever get.
LA: Non-denominational gift.
LC: Exactly, non-denominational, 2021, you want to support our podcast, we would love to have you. We also couldn’t help ourselves. We’ve recorded this song for this episode as well.
LA: I’m so excited! I was told about this and I’ve been looking forward to it.
EB: Stick around for our take on Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! Here we go.