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Aphrodite Urania, Aphrodite Pandemos

"Allegory", Christian Griepenkerl (1839 - 1916), German

In his acclaimed dialogue, "Symposium", in which various aspects and characteristics of love are described and praised, Plato brought up the existence of two Aphrodites - Aphrodite Urania and Aphrodite Pandemos. While expressing his own opinion of Eros (Love), Pausanias , claims that just like there are two Aphrodites, there must be two types of Eros. Aphrodite Pandemos, gave birth to the love for body and senses while Aphrodite Urania is the love for the intellect and soul. The love that comes from Aphrodite Pandemos is neutral in its essence, its nature is relative - it can be beautiful and noble or ugly and ignoble, depending on the context and its root. Aphrodite Urania's love is however, independent of relative value and meaning, it is universally good. "Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which he was desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away, in spite of all his words and promises; whereas the love of the noble disposition is life-long, for it becomes one with the everlasting." - are the words with which Pausanias describes the two.

"Aphrodite Urania", Christian Griepenkerl (1839 - 1916), German

Similarly, in Greek mythology, two Aphrodites were separated on a similar ground. Aphrodite Urania signified universal, divine, heavenly and spiritual love. Aphrodite Urania was daughter of Uranus, the sky god, born from his genitals after they had emerged from the sea foam. Aphrodite Pandemos, according to both Plato and Xenophon was a daughter of Zeus and Dione. Pandemos was goddess of "the many", she was the goddess of family, political life and society. Before philosophers had drawn a more visible distinction between two goddesses, both were equally regarded, and Pandemos was seen more as an extension of Urania. Xenophon considers this position. Even after courtesans were put under protection of Aphrodite Pandemos, her cult was generally pure and highly regarded, although often said to be less formal and serious than that of Urania.


Epiphany of Love and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky Very few themes were as engrossing to the writers, poets and artists as the theme of love. Whether it was a typical attachment that comes with purely erotic love, the attachment to one's own fantastical idea of the beloeved and that brings about the fate of Goethe's Werther or whether it is spiritual, divine love that is found in poetry of mystics or novels of different authors, it is fair to say that both Aphrodites, moved and inspired humanity from its earliest times. The beloved Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, was not exempt from the above mentioned law. One of his characters, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky from the novel "War and Peace" is relevant to the topic of universal love. Tolstoy's Prince Andrei is a proud and unsentimental being, uninterested in the shallow niceties of the high society in which he has to mingle. A man of few friends, he is also a soldier and is married to a woman he does not love. In one of the intimate confessions to his friend, Pierre, he admits: "My wife,” continued Prince Andrew, “is an excellent woman, one of those rare women with whom a man’s honor is safe; but, O God, what would I not give now to be unmarried! You are the first and only one to whom I mention this, because I like you.” Prince Andrei goes through difficult and heavy but decisive experiences which in the finale of his life, bring him to his understanding of the universal love.

James Norton as Prince Andrei, War and Peace (BBC, Tom Harper)

While he was lying on the field after the first battle with Napoleon's army, he was faced with an experience of his own smallness against the vastness of the sky above him. At that moment, in the midst of the chaos of the battlefield, between the smell of weapon, burned flesh and blood, he realised the "unimportance of everything I understand, and the greatness of something incomprehensible but all-important." Not much time had passed before the death of his wife left him with a feeling of deep guilt. Finally, the one who he truly loved, cheated on him with a cunning and ignoble man. Consumed by anger, he found himself unable to forgive. He was determined to have his revenge. When he finally was in the vicinity of the man he hated with every cell in his body, they were both fatally wounded. That was the moment when Prince Andrei experienced the first taste of the universal, divine love. "Yes, love, ...but not the love that loves for something, to gain something, or because of something, but that love that I felt for the first time, when dying, I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I knew that feeling of love which is the essence of the soul, for which no object is needed. And I know that blissful feeling now too. To love one's neighbors; to love one's enemies. To love everything - to Love God in all His manifestations. Some one dear to one can be loved with human love; but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. And that was why I felt such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What happened to him? Is he alive? ...Loving with human love, one may pass from love to hatred; but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, can shatter it." - "War and Peace", Leo Tolstoy

Not long before the experience described in the excerpt above, Prince Andrei found himself incapable of forgiveness. But after having witnessed the humiliation of the man he wanted to tear apart himself, he found within himself something he did not believe existed. It was not just strength to forgive that he had found though, it was rather, love that existed within him and that was not conditioned by circumstances, a part of him that could not be stained by any experience. Prince Andrei did not die at the surgeon's table, although his wound was fatal. Moments before his death, however, that which began at surgeon's table, reached its climax. "Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source." - "War and Peace", Leo Tolstoy These epiphanies serve as a perfect description of the universal, divine love that is represented by Aphrodite Urania. The love which is described is not the love that is conditioned by the existence of another being or thing, it is not love that moves the appetites or that is related to prolongation of one's own life. It is the love which exists for itself and drinks from its own deep, never dry well.


Aphrodite Pandemos as a Vector to Aphrodite Urania

"Beatrice and Dante Ascend to the Primum", Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883), French

"If in the heat of love I flame on thee beyond the measure which is seen on earth, and vanquish thus the power of thine eyes, wonder thou not thereat, for this proceeds from perfect sight, which, as it sees, directsits feet to penetrate the good perceived. I clearly see that in thine intellect the Light Eternal is already shining, which, if but seen, always enkindles love; and if aught else seduce the love of men, ’t is nothing but some vestige of that Light, which there, ill-recognized, is shining through. Thou now wouldst know if for an unkept vow, one could with other service pay enough, ’gainst prosecution to ensure the soul.” - "The Divine Comedy", Dante Alighieri So begins the fifth Canto of Dante's "Paradise". It is nobody else but Beatrice who speaks to him. Dante's Beatrice was not just an allegory for Divine Love in his Comedy, she had predecessor who was made of flesh and bone. She was a young Florentine woman who Dante knew from an early age. It was from an early age as well that Dante had his marriage to Gemma Donati arranged. However, that did not stop him from admiring Beatrice from afar. His deep affection for Beatrice, led him to create a new poetic style that he named "dolce stil novo." This poetic genre took love as its main theme. Beatrice's death triggered the alteration of Beatrice - from Platonic affection she became a spiritual figure, the very embodiment of Divine Love. In "Paradise", instead of Virgil, it is Beatrice who guides Dante towards God. His love for Beatrice guides him to the love for God, and his own understanding of divine love within himself "I clearly see that in thine intellect the Light Eternal is already shining, which, if but seen, always enkindles love ". In Dante's case, it was his deep, selfless, unconditional and long love for Beatrice that brought him from hell to paradise. The two Aphrodites were not opposed to one another, but rather, one enforced the other.


Earthly Love, Heavenly Love

"Flora And Zephyr", William Adoolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), French

The experiences of fictional Andrei Bolkonsky and truly living Dante Alighieri are in certain ways different - Andrei did not see a glimpse of it faced with a person he loved, it came to him when the person he in the past days, weeks, hated the most, was looking for a fellow soldier, human being in him. For Andrei, it did not come as a result of life-long devotion, as an artistic expression that developed over a long period time, it appeared in the moment of anger. Andrei's realisation was that the love, the "true essence" as he names it, was always there, but unheard beneath the voices of anger, guilt and grief. Dante was devoted to his love for a very long time, one could say that he craved an altar out of his love and prayed before it daily. It was through this experience of already, impossible, selfless, never to be consummated love, through its growth and change that he understood, that the unconditional love he felt for Beatrice could be nothing else but divine love - love for love's sake. What Dante and Andrei share is the grief, the confusion, the loss they go through. Andrei has been prepared for his epiphany through his experiences of battlefield, guilt, betrayal and loss, Dante through his own exile, crisis and loss. Where both found, the step, the pointer towards universal, divine love was through other people, through the living, breathing experience on earth.

It is not a rare occurrence, that humans, seek the love of God, of Heavens, because they cannot bear with the faulty, imperfect human beings. It is also not a rare occurence that behind the great confessions of the love of God, is even greater contempt for humans. Divine, universal love is not the same as love for the Divine. Andrei and Dante found that they were capable of the divine or universal love. They found that they did not just love God, if they believed in one, but that they were capable of loving divinely, universally. That experience, that began as simple love for a human being before them, around them, was an opening that allowed a greater, universal experience to happen. The only way to experience the great love described by Tolstoy, Dante, Plato and many others is through love for humans and other living beings, for life and experience of life itself -never through detached gaze towards the sky and resentful gaze towards life.


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Towards late adolescence I picked up 2 books--Dante's Comedy and Homer's Iliad. All the way back then, I was not particularly well-read, but I liked the idea of being familiar with the Western canon of literature. The Iliad became such an unanticipated source of inspiration, that I knew it wasn't enough to just read those words. In the blistering heat of the summer, I had to place as many layers on top of me as possible, to exacerbate that heat--I wanted to feel what it must have been like, in that searing hot plate armor, 3,000 years ago on the bloodied fields outside of Troy. It still was not enough; I had to replicate their habits of worship. Curiously, I…

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Oh wow. What a story! And beautiful & poetic insight. Thank you for sharing!

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