Love Stories of Greek Myth

 

Naturally, love was one hot topic amongst the Greeks, and the proliferation of romantic themes—most of them tragic— is astounding. Of course, the Greeks honored love, but surprisingly, they did not particularly laud the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Her epithets—which are extremely indicative of how the Hellenes felt about this powerful emotion—include Androphonos [killer of men], Epitymbidia [she upon the graves], and Melaina [the blackened one].

Aphrodite really had no important festivals, and her favorite consort was Ares, god of war.

Love was extremely important—and hurtful, deadly, and destructive. However, love was vital to the scheme of existence, and the Greeks felt they had to pay homage to it...but not necessarily revere it.

I consider myself one of the most stoic, antagonistic, anti-"love" wenches on the face of this planet. However, requests for tales of love [and love lost] are among my most numerous, so I have decided to share a few of my favorites. Again, not  all of the stories of amour were included, but rather a selected group that I feel are representative of Greek mythology. Heck, the myths involving Zeus alone would make War and Peace look like a friggin' abstract!

Acontius and Cydippe

Acontius was a young man from Chios who, at a festival at Delos, fell in love with the Athenian Cydippe. He threw a coin at her, and she picked it up and read, "I swear by the temple of Artemis that I shall marry Acontius..." By saying it aloud, she was obligated to marry him. This myth reiterates how tradition—and male aspirations—took precedence over female wishes, whatever they may or may not be. 



Alcyone and Ceyx

Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, king of the winds. Her marriage to Ceyx was bliss—too happy, in fact. The couple often referred to each other as "Zeus" and "Hera", which naturally infuriated the king and queen of the gods. Whilst at sea, Zeus hurled a thunderbolt at Ceyx's ship, drowning the man. He appeared before his wife as an apparition, telling her of his fate. Distraught, Alcyone threw herself into the sea in order to join him. The gods pitied the woeful couple and transformed them into kingfishers. This may be the origins of "halcyon days", seven days before and after the winter solstice when Aeolus demanded the calm of the seas in honor of the couple.



Ariadne

Yet another instance of a male pig abadoning his faithful companion after she becomes of no use to him. Ariadne was the daughter of the the king of Crete, Minos. Minos had instigated from Athens a sacrifice of seven youths and seven maidens to feed the Minotaur, and the hero Theseus was to be one of the victims. However, Ariadne fell in love with him, and she assisted him by giving him a ball of gold thread to help him in the labyrinth where the creature dwelt. She accompanied him back on the voyage to Athens but he soon dumped her on the island of Dia, or Naxos. The god Dionysus found the wounded girl and made her his wife. He placed her wedding crown, the Corona Borealis, into the heavens as a symbol of their love.



Orpheus and Eurydice

One of the most tragic love stories of Greek mythology. Orpheus was the son of the Muse Calliope and therefore a grand musician. His wife was a dryad, Eurydice, who also attracted the attentions of Aristaeus. Aristaeus pursued her until she stepped on a poisonous snake and was forced into the Underworld. Orpheus was determined to retrieve his beloved. He journeyed down to the underworld, first charming Charon, ferryman of the dead, and lulling to sleep Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog. He encountered Hades, who initially refused to release Eurydice, but Orpheus's music so touched Persephone that she pleaded Orpheus's case, and Hades relented. There was one condition: that Orpheus not look back on their way out. Of course, Orpheus was worried that Eurydice was not behind him, and he fatefully glanced back to see if she was following him. She disappeared back into Hades, and he lost her forever. Unable to live without her, Orpheus spent the rest of his days wandering in aimless sorrow before he was finally murdered by maenads, the drunken followers of Dionysus.



Hero and Leander

This tale is based upon a later poem by Musaeus around the fourth century C.E.. Nonetheless, it follows the tragic theme of two doomed lovers. Hero was a Sestos priestess of Aphrodite, and Leander was a lad of Abydos. They were on opposite sides of the Hellespont, but the youths fell in love anyway. At nightfall, Hero would hang a torch so Leander could swim across to her, using the light to guide him. One stormy night, the wind blew the light out; Leander lost his way and drowned. Upon learning of her lover's death, Hero also drowned herself in order to be with him. The story is a favorite among Renassaince artists; Rubens has an especially astonishing portrait.



Hypermnestra

Danaus was the king of Argos; his brother, Aegyptus was the king of Egypt [go figure]. Aegyptus sent his fifty sons to marry Danaus's fifty daughters; Danaus, not trusting his brother, refused at first; the sons seiged Argos, and Danaus was forced to comply. On the wedding night, however, he gave each of his daughters long, sharp pins to conceal in their hair; at night, they were to kill their new grooms. All obeyed except one, Hypermnestra. Her husband, Lynceus, was good and kind and spared her viginity, and she found that she could not kill him and helped him escape. Danaus, furious, had her tried for life, but she was spared and eventually reunited with Lynceus. Her love also saved her from the fate of her murderous sisters: a lifetime of carrying jars of water with perforations.



Galatea and Acis

Acis, a minor river god, loved the nymph Galatea. However, the cyclopes Polyphemus [some say the same one who terrorized Odysseus ] also loved the girl. There really was no competition: Acis was young and handsome, Polyphemus large and ugly. Acis and Galatea carried on a secret love affair, but one day Polyphemus heard Acis singing a love song for her and hurled huge rocks at the two. Galatea transformed him into a river and the stones which Polyphemus threw became the Cyclopian Rocks in Sicily.



Phaedra and Hippolytus

Phaedra was the young princess whom the hero Theseus chose as a new bride. His son, Hippolytus, was from yet another wife whom he had trashed, the Amazon queen Hippolyta. Hippolytus was a rash, impetuous young man who completely scorned the goddess Aphrodite and devoted all his attention to Artemis. Aphrodite, enraged, would not be ignored; she cast a spell which makes Phaedra fall hopelessly in love with her step-son. Hippolytus was repulsed by Phaedra's advances, and she killed herself in agony. She left a note for Theseus that claimed Hippolytus violated her, and Theseus called upon his father Poseidon to take vengence on him. Hippolytus dies, but not before Theseus discovers the truth. This sad tale reveals just how deadly love can be—and how it cannot, and should not, be neglected.



Philemon and Baucis

A kindly, elderly couple from Phrygia who entertained and comforted strangers even though they themselves were impoverished. One set of "bums" were impressed and decided to reward the couple; indeed, the strangers could, for it was Zeus and Hermes, who had been treated rudely in their previous encounters with mortals. A grand palace was created for the kindly couple, and the gods granted their wish that they should die at the same moment. Both were transformed into trees: Philemon the oak and Baucis the lime; their boughs were entertwined, symbolizing their everlasting love.



Hyacinthus

A rather important story because it represents one of the first significant tales of homosexual love—and how it was not necessarily scorned in ancient Greek culture. Hyacinthus was an exceptionally handsome young man who excited the love of both Apollo and Zephyrus, god of the west wind. Hyacinthus professed his love for Apollo, and the jealous Zephyrus raised his winds so that a discus thrown by Apollo killed the youth. Heartbroken, Apollo had the hyacinth bloom where the young man died.



Pyramus and Thisbe

Actually a Babylonian tale, this involves two lovers in a situation similar to that of Hero and Leander and presents somewhat of a pre-Romeo and Juliet scenerio. They would meet at night, near a mulberry tree outside the city. One evening Thisbe arrived, but fled when she saw a lioness approaching. In her haste, she dropped her cloak. The lioness, fresh from a hunt, mauled the cloth with its bloodstained paws, and retreated. Pyramus soon arrived and discovered the cloak with the blood—and naturally assumed the worst. In agony, he stabbed himself; his blood splattered on the mulberries, which have been red ever since. Thisbe found his body and herself committs suicide.



Oenone and Paris

Oenone was the tragic, abandoned first wife of the Trojan prince Paris. He dumped her when he ran off with someone of youth and beauty, Helen, but after the siege of the city and later when he was wounded, he begged her to take him back. She naturally refused but hung herself after she learned of his death.



Penthesilea and Achilles

Penthesilea was the valiant queen of the Amazons. The daughter of Ares, she was an ally to the Trojans, and fought rather heroically against the Achaeans. In battle with Achilles, he [unfortunately] killed her, but upon seeing her dying, fell immediately in love with her beauty and bravery. He was ridiculed by fellow warrior Thersites; Achilles, blinded by anger and love, killed the man.



Pygmalion and Galatea

This is actually a Latin myth, but it is rather amusing, so I'll include it: Pygmalion, king of Cyprus, was extremely dissatisfied with the vain and loose women of his kingdom. Instead of seeking a mate, he spends his time carving from marble his ideal woman, whom he lovingly refers to as Galatea [not the same as the one in a previous entry]. At a festival honoring Cyprus's patron goddess Aphrodite, he prays for a wife like his statute. Aphrodite is charmed by his devotion. When he returns to his home, he embraces the marble to find that it returns his hugs. Aphrodite has granted him his wish—Galatea is alive.



Sappho and Phaon

Sappho hailed from Lesbos and is best known for her poetry of admiration of young women [hence the term lesbian.] Later, it was believed she held an unrequited love for the young lad Phaon; when he repulsed her advances, she jumped from a rock and killed herself. The rock is known as Sappho's leap.