*The Lady of Eryx' was named as the instigator of Persephone's abduction by Ovid, echoing an ancient story: The Descent of Inanna.
*Sumerian myth influenced the myths of the Hurrians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians, whose myth influence the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans and us!
*The temple at Locri shows that the marriage aspect of the Persephone myth was important in Locri in particular.
*In Akkadian, the abducted girl is called Ereshkigal.
*In Sumerian, she is the sister abducted by the enemy described as the foreigner, and taken away to the land of no return, the mountains.The Kur.
*Theogamy- marriage of the gods.
*Heiros Gamos- ritualised sexual union between people representing the gods.
_____________Ovid tells us in Metamorphoses: book V, how a sacred marriage- a theogeny- is to take place between Persephone and Hades.
The king of the Underworld has left his shadowy realm, and, drawn in his chariot by ink-black horses, carefully circles the foundations of the Sicilian land...
Then Venus, at Eryx, sitting on the hillside, sees him.
She embraced her winged son, Cupid, and said
In the 21st century we associate love with autonomy; free-will, choice and consent. Ovid describes Venus as the numen, or essence, of desire.‘My child; my hands and weapons, my power! Seize those arrows, that overcome all, and devise a path for your swift arrows, to the heart of that god to whom the final share of the triple kingdom fell. You conquer the gods and Jupiter himself, the lords of the sea, and their very king, who controls the lords of the sea. Why is Tartarus excepted? Why not extend your mother’s kingdom and your own? We are talking of a third part of the world. And yet, as is evident to me, I am scorned in heaven, and Love’s power diminishes with mine.
Autonomy, free-will and consent are incidental to Venus.
In this story no one is free.
Venus may be the Goddess of love, but in Persephone's myth, her journey to the Underworld has nothing to do with love as we recognize it. The abduction and marriage represent a well known motif from history. Persephone's marriage is a political move, ultimately motivated by Venus's desire to extend her rule to the land of the dead..
What is the history of The Lady of Eryx?
The name Venus was applied by the Romans to denote a type of goddess, regardless of the original name her worshipers used.
Venus Erycina "Venus from Eryx" is also called Venus Erucina.
The worship of 'Venus of Eryx' originated on Mount Eryx in western Sicily, a Phoenician town with a Phoenician temple dedicated to Astarte.
How did Astarte get to Sicily, and what was the nature of her worship?
The Phoenicians' or the people who spoke a Semitic language, referred to in the Bible as "Canaanites" and whose culture had much in common with the Assyrian people, arrived in western Sicily, circa 800 BC.
This coincided with the Greek settlement of the island's eastern areas.
The Phoenicians' Sicilian cities were primarily trading centers but the Greeks 'sought full-scale colonization of Sicily'.
Eventually, the Greeks fought a war against the Phoenicians, the Sicels of eastern Sicily. But the Phoenicians seem to have co-existed peacefully with the Elymians of the west, effectively co-founding towns such as Eryx.
As part of the Heracles myth, Heracles defeats and kills the king of Eryx.
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 83. 1 - 4 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
"Eryx was a son of Aphrodite and Butas, a certain native king of Sikelia (Sicily) of very great fame, and he was admired by the natives because of his noble birth on his mother’s side and became king over a part of the island. He also founded a notable city which bore his name; it was set upon a lofty place, and on the highest point within the city he established a shrine of his mother, which he embellished not only with a beautifully built temple, but also with the multitude of his dedications.
The goddess, both because of the reverence which the inhabitants of the region paid to her and because of the honour which she received from the son whom she had borne, displayed an exceptional love for the city, and for this reason she came to be called Aphrodite Erykinia . . . After Eryx has bestowed upon it the honours we have described, Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, when at a later time he was on his way to Italy and came to anchor off the island, embellished the sanctuary, since it was that of his own mother, with many votive offerings."Archaeologists have found that a cult of Astarte in the second half of the 6th century BC had replaced a native Elymian shrine that had previously stood there.
Eryx (Erice) was founded by the rather mysterious Elymian colonists, allegedly refugees from Troy, who, along with Sicans and Sicels, are considered to be the earliest settlers of Sicily. Partly destroyed by the Carthaginians, Erice was taken by the Romans in 241 BC.; it enjoyed a considerable prosperity under the Arabs and the Normans. The many relics discovered across the territory include: remains of the city walls still retaining three Norman gates; a medieval fortress known as the Venus Castle; scanty remnants of an ancient shrine dedicated to Venus dating from the 5th-4th century BC.
What is Rome's connection with Venus of Eryx?
In times of war the Romans had a tendency to institute new cults and to take over the gods of their enemies.
After Rome's defeat at the Battle of Lake Trasimene (June 21, 217 BC) in the opening episodes of the Second Punic War (Hannibal's crossing of the Alps), the Sibylline oracle recommended the importation of the Sicilian Venus of Eryx. A temple was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill in 217 BC: a second temple to her was dedicated in 181 BC outside the Porta Collina.As the more polite authors say, the Sicilian Venus of Eryx embodied "impure" love, and was the patron goddess of prostitutes.
Back to Ovid.
Ovid explains: when The Lady of Eryx sees Pluto she calls on her son Cupid to shoot an arrow of love into Pluto's heart, her wish is to extend her rule to the Underworld. To this end Venus commands her son, "Bring about a union between the goddess and her uncle"
Cupid fires straight and true.
And Pluto, now blinded by love is unable to resist stealing Persephone away.
The key element to this part of Persephone's story as told by Ovid, is Venus's desire to become ruler of the Underworld. On a human level, this story as a metaphor, describes an attempt to make death a less loveless, a less bleak unrelentingly sad domain.
At this point the story shows itself to be very old.
For there is no redemption in this Underworld.
This story is older than the Mystery religions.
It belongs to the time of Achilles and Gilgamesh; when the Underworld was Irkalla- ash grey and dismal.
Venus wishes there to be love in the Underworld, and Persephone is her representative.
Persephone is to become the dark-sister of Venus.
Just as Ereshkigal is described as Inanna's sister.
History records the reality of daughters promised to marry kings of distant lands in order to consolidate political treaties and to extend kingdoms.
It is a story as old as the hills.
But this specific theme of the Goddess of passion and desire descending to the underworld, is one of the oldest stories in existence.
From the Great Above, Inanna, The Great Goddess, opened her ear to the Great Below. She turned her attention to the underworld, and decided to descend.
She abandoned heaven and earth to descend into the underworld. She abandoned her office of holy priestess and abandoned her temples in seven cities, from Uruk to Akkad.
She gathered together seven of The Me, attributes of civilization which she transformed into such feminine allure as her crown, jewelry, and royal robe to serve as her protection.
She instructed her faithful servant, Ninshubur, what to do in case she did not return -- to seek out her fathers, urging them not to let their daughter die.
The Heiros Gamos.
According to Samuel Noah Kramer, a translator of Sumerian texts, the sacred marriage in Ancient Sumer involved the king spending the night with a priestess who embodied The Queen of Heaven. The ritual symbolised the union of the king with the divine.
For a king could not rule without the assent of heaven.
Inanna was the numen of the full store house.
Sex, war and desire were hers.
A king needed her blessing.
No king can continue his rule when the people starve and the country is besieged by war.
On a more prosaic note, a king cannot rule without the civil service and social workers. In ancient Mesopotamia, such work was provided by the temple. It was in both of their interests to ritualise this truth, and so it is reasonable to believe that the Heiros Gamos was a mixture of religion and theater that may have become prostitution...as a way for the temple to increase its funds.
Celibacy and prostitution are mentioned in Mesopotamian texts; both within 'The Epic of Gilgamesh'.
Celibacy (childlessness) is ordained by Enki in the story of Atrahasis. After the flood -deemed necessary by the gods because humans had become too numerous and too noisy and a flood was needed to wash the troublesome beings away- the God Enki orders the...
'Establishment of high priests and priestesses, let them be celibate, and so cut down childbirth'.Prostitution is referred to in the first book of Gilgamesh. The wild man, Enkidu is tamed by a woman from the temple called Shamhat who draws the wildness from Enkidu by first sex and then knowledge, showing him how to enjoy hot water and being clean, good clothes, fresh bread and beer.
Later in the story, the hero Gilgamesh is invited to share the bed chamber of The Queen of Heaven, Inanna (Ishtar). The wayward king of Uruk declines, perhaps to point out even further his rejection of kingship:
"For Dumuzi the lover of your youthUnion with The Queen of Heaven is not for a hero who will eventually try to conquer death.
You decreed that he should keep weeping year after year.
You loved the colourful allallu-bird,
But you hit him and broke his wing.
He stays in the words crying 'My wings!'
You loved the lion, whose strength is complete,
But you dug seven and seven pits for him.
You loved the horse, so trustworthy in battle,
But you decreed the whip, goad, and lash for him
You decreed that he should gallop seven leagues (nonstop),
You decreed that he should be overwrought and thirsty,
You decreed endless weeping for his mother Sililu.
You loved the shepherd, herdsman, and chief shepherd
Who was always heaping up the glowing ashes for you,
And cooked ewe-lambs for you every day.
But you hit him and turned him into a wolf,
His own herd-boys hunt him down
And his dogs tear at his haunches.
You loved Ishullanu, your father's gardener,
Who was always bringing you baskets of dates.
They brightened your table every day;
You lifted your eyes to him and went to him
'My own Ishullanu, let us enjoy this strength,
So put out your hand and touch our vulva!'
But Ishullanu said to you,
'Me? What do you want of me?
Did my mother not bake for me, and did I not eat?
What I eat (with you) would be loaves of dishonour and disgrace,
Rushes would be my only covering against the cold.'
You listened as he said this,
And you hit him, turned him into a frog (?),
Left him to stay amid the fruits of his labor."
- tablet VI, SBV ii
But back to Persephone, when Ovid mentions 'The Lady of Eryx' as the real cause for Persephone's abduction he reminds us that she is to take part in a sexual union.
A better preserved temple of Demeter and Core is to be found at Locri on the Southern coast of Italy. Here the focus is on Persephone as bride and then Queen of the dead.
Artemidorus Daldianus a professional diviner who lived in the 2nd century:
"Marriage for a virgin is a metaphor for death: dream of marriage, dream of death,and long is the cohort of "the brides of Hades" who exchanged the wedding song for the funeral dirge.Kore as bride, and as bride she becomes Queen of the Dead..
According to Diodorus Siculus (27.4.2), Persephone’s sanctuary at the Mannella hill at Locri was considered:
"the most renowned temple in Italy, preserved as holy for all time by the inhabitants."Orsi excavated the shrine dedicated to Persephone, there.
He found clay pinakes depicting:
- Kore as bride.
- Peresphone with Hades receiving Dionysos.
A cave in Locri called Grotta Caruso -The Cave of the Nymphs- was excavated in 1940. It was described by Paolo Arias (Le Arti, 1941) as a large space with a height over 9 feet...
'Inside was a basin that could be filled with water to a depth of about 2 feet, brought from a spring in the cave through a system of canalization. A large block positioned in the basin would have been submerged when it was filled with water and clearly served for part of the ritual; nearby is a stone altar that was intended to remain above water when the basin was filled, as it was raised from ground level with rocks placed beneath it. By a series of stairs the participants could descend to the water. Niches in the walls of the cave were repositories for a wide variety of votives'.
I like to image that the Locrian women who entered the Grotta Caruso and descended the stairs were enacting a ritual descent to the Underworld.
For us, it is the wedding car, so similar to the hearse!
One of the most striking aspects of this story is, if it is true, the value placed on Locrian women. James M. Redfield, professor of Classics at the University of Chicago in: The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy states that Locrian women determined the social status of their husbands. It is probably safe to say that young women had a greater status at Locri than was usual for women elsewhere.
But there are other stories about the Locrian women.
The Locri Epizephyrii are believed to have been the first people to use written laws. After they had lived under good laws for a very long time, Dionysius, on being banished from the country of the Syracusans, abused them most lawlessly of all men. For he would sneak into the bed-chambers of the girls after they had been dressed up for their wedding, and lie with them before their marriage; and he would gather together the girls who were ripe for marriage, let loose doves with cropped wings upon them in the midst of the banquets, and then bid the girls waltz around unclad, and also bid some of them, shod with sandals that were not mates (one high and the other low), chase the doves around--all for the sheer indecency of it.However, he paid the penalty after he went back to Sicily again to resume his government; for the Locri broke up his garrison, set themselves free, and thus became masters of his wife and children. These children were his two daughters, and the younger of his two sons (who was already a lad), for the other, Apollocrates, was helping his father to effect his return to Sicily by force of arms. And although Dionysius--both himself and the Tarantini on his behalf--earnestly begged the Locri to release the prisoners on any terms they wished, they would not give them up; instead, they endured a siege and a devastation of their country. But they poured out most of their wrath upon his daughters, for they first made them prostitutes and then strangled them, and then, after burning their bodies, ground up the bones and sank them in the sea.
When I search the Internet for information about the Locrians, I get
'Epizephyrian Locri, maidens were prostituted as a reminder and punishment for a certain act. Ancient basis for prostitution was that girls would marry early and foreigners would complete the rites. The completion of the rites enhances the status of girls'Unfortunately I can't see where the original quote comes from. It may refer to the daughters of Dionysus, rather than the Locrian girls, and originates in the passage I quoted from Strabo:
And although Dionysius--both himself and the Tarantini on his behalf--earnestly begged the Locri to release the prisoners on any terms they wished, they would not give them up; instead, they endured a siege and a devastation of their country. But they poured out most of their wrath upon his daughters, for they first made them prostitutes and then strangled them, and then, after burning their bodies, ground up the bones and sank them in the sea.
What really happened, did the king sleep with the priestess?
Inanna's 20th century scribe, Samuel Noah Kramer translated the Sumerian texts he named The Sacred Marriage Rite.
Kramer takes literally the description of a ritual 'Sacred marriage' in that text, which describes the king taking the place of Inanna's husband Dumuzi, in the temple for one night on the tenth day of the New Year.
Jean Bottero states that the only documentary evidence thus far found, for the Heiros Gamos from Mesopotamia, exists on a clay tablet dating from the end of the third millennium and beginning of the second, and found in Southern Mesopotamia.
It is a poem written by woman (believed to have been a priestess) to Shu-Sin (2037 - 2029) the fourth ruler of the third dynasty of Ur, and it is believed to describe or suggest the wedding night (Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia -Jean Bottero- page 154).
Bottero believes that the Sacred Marriage took place (agreeing with Kramer) but eventually it became purely symbolic, statues were used to replaced people.
Shu-Sin’s Ritual Bride, A Priestess of Inanna (c. 2000 B.C.E) LINK.
According to Ovid, the Dies Natalis of the Roman temple at Porta Collina was the 23rd of April -the festival of the Vinalia- and was dedicated to the Meritrici, the sacred prostitutes who followed the customs established by the Sicilian temple at Eryx.
Only Ovid does not call them 'Sacred' prostitutes.
Julia Assante in "From Whores to Hierodules: The Historiographic Invention of Mesopotamian Female Sex Professionals." describes how nineteenth-century European popular culture portrayed ritualized prostitution, sacred marriage and other forms of Near Eastern "sexual aberrancy" as historical fact, without possessing any real evidence.
On the other hand, Richard Miles in his book: Carthage Must Be Destroyed makes it clear that he believes that sex was a part of Phoenician temple life, at the very least at Pyrgi.
Eusebius of Caesarea ( AD 263–339) is often quoted, writing about Baalbek he said:
"men and women vie with one another to honour their shameless goddess; husbands and fathers let their wives and daughters publicly prostitute themselves to please Astarte."Frazer (of The Golden Bough) copying just a bit from Herodotus methinks, continues:
'Thus at Babylon every woman, whether rich or poor, had once in her life to submit to the embraces of a stranger at the temple of Mylitta, that is, of Ishtar or Astarte, and to dedicate to the goddess the wages earned by this sanctified harlotry. The sacred precinct was crowded with women waiting to observe the custom. Some of them had to wait there for years.
At Heliopolis or Baalbec in Syria, famous for the imposing grandeur of its ruined temples, the custom of the country required that every maiden should prostitute herself to a stranger at the temple of Astarte, and matrons as well as maids testified their devotion to the goddess in the same manner. The emperor Constantine abolished the custom, destroyed the temple, and built a church in its stead.
In Phoenician temples women prostituted themselves for hire in the service of religion, believing that by this conduct they propitiated the goddess and won her favour. "It was a law of the Amorites. that she who was about to marry should sit in fornication seven days by the gate."
At Byblus the people shaved their heads in the annual mourning for Adonis. Women who refused to sacrifice their hair had to give themselves up to strangers on a certain day of the festival, and the money they thus earned was devoted to the goddess.
A Greek inscription found at Tralles in Lydia proves that the practice of religious prostitution survived in that country as late as the second century of our era. It records of a certain woman, Aurelia Aemilia by name, not only that she herself served the god in the capacity of a harlot at his express command, but that her mother and other female ancestors had done the same before her; and the publicity of the record, engraved on a marble column which supported a votive offering, shows that no stain attached to such a life and such a parentage.
In Armenia the noblest families dedicated their daughters to the service of the goddess Anaitis in her temple at Acilisena, where the damsels acted as prostitutes for a long time before they were given in marriage. Nobody scrupled to take one of these girls to wife when her period of service was over.
Again the goddess Ma was served by a multitude of sacred harlots at Comana in Pontus, and crowds of men and women flocked to her sanctuary from the neighbouring cities and country to attend the biennial festivals or to pay their vows to the goddess.'
From The Golden Bough: Sir James Frazer- chapter XXXI.
The Greek historian Herodotus (c.484 BC – c.425 BC) famously wrote:
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, "I invite you in the name of Mylitta" (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfill the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.
Herodotus, The Histories 1.199, tr A.D. Godley (1920)
Here and now.
The oldest Western images I can think of portraying the more earthly, Heiros Gamos - the sacred marriage- are in alchemical texts; an image of a king and queen lying together in a retort, or buried in the earth.
We have C.G.Jung to thank for the resurfacing of this and many other alchemical symbols.
This particular image, before it made its way to the sleeve cover of an album of songs by Leonard Cohen is to be found in an essay by Jung: The Psychology of The Transference (2nd ed.1966).
Jung interpreted the symbol as depicting the union of psychic opposites in the consciousness of the enlightened saint.
Religions, and society in general, have three 'containers' for sexuality:
There is a fourth 'container' known as Tantra the symbolism of which often refers to Nei-tan (inner alchemy)
The Heiros Gamos, sacred marriage has, it seems to me, more in common with Tantra than prostitution. Tantra is at its core, a ritualisation, or augmentation of ordinary behavior thereby creating something extraordinary.
Tantra and the Heiros Gamos invest ordinary behavior with symbolic meaning.
The woman in tantra represents Wisdom, and the sexual act is performed by people who have decided to be other, representing gods or forces larger than us.
Heiros Gamos performed as a theogamy.
Meanwhile, prostitution, in our time is portrayed as theriongamy, a fall away from the god(s); an act of desperation (therion means animal). Something that belongs in the animal realm, where the higher values are replaced by basic need.
In accord with this rationale, prostitutes are portrayed as drug-addicted, desperate for money. Women who have been forced by circumstance off the straight and narrow path of righteousness Men are portrayed as using prostitutes, in our mythology, 'because they cannot form intimate relationships'.
Fortunately we have literally thousands of years of myth and history to broaden simplistic notions into something wider and richer, and more human.