“Love Hurts, Love Scars, Love Wounds and Mars”

Romantic love beckons to young girls, luring them in with promises of beautiful sunsets, rhapsodic violin melodies, and long romantic dinners.  Love, they believe, will solve all their problems, heal all their wounds, and make their thighs look thinner.

For romantic girls such as these, the goddess of love resembles a fairy godmother, Disney style.  American Girl Love Goddess is warm and benevolent, full of goodwill towards us mere humans.  She just wants to see everyone happily coupled with their soul mates.  She WILL eventually make all of us happy in love.

 The Fairy Godmother from Disney's "Cinderella"

The Fairy Godmother from Disney’s “Cinderella”

The ancient Greeks and Romans knew better.  The goddess of love they worshipped (called Aphrodite by the Greek and Venus by the Romans) was no warm and cuddly grandmother type.  She was a FORCE to be reckoned with.  She was someone to respect, someone to fear.

Roman copy of Greek statue of Aphrodite  by Callimachus
Roman copy of Greek statue of Aphrodite by Callimachus

 “Watch out, or I will smite you!”

 Hippolytus and Phaedra learned this the hard way.  Their stories, passed down by myth, were portrayed in Euripides’s tragedy Hippolytus, first performed in 428 B.C. in Athens.  Hippolytus was an upright young man, full of virtue.  He was so virtuous, in fact, that he did not pay the proper respect to Aphrodite.  He preferred to remain a virgin and devote most of his reverence to Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt.  People warned Hippolytus that he was asking for trouble by ignoring Aphrodite and the force of eros she represented.  Hippolytus ignored their wise counsel.

He should have paid more heed.  Aphrodite did not take kindly to being ignored, and she decided to teach Hippolytus a lesson.  Unfortunately, Aphrodite took out her desire for vengeance on an innocent bystander: Phaedra.   Phaedra was married to Hippolytus’s father, Theseus.  She was living happily with Theseus until Aphrodite decided to smite her with overwhelming passion for her stepson.  Obviously, this put Phaedra in an untenable position.

Phaedra was in agony.  She could not bear to live without the object of her desire, and yet she could never reveal her secret to anyone.  So she decided to waste away silently.  She stayed locked in her room, refusing to see anyone or eat anything.  Struck as she was with the force of eros, she wanted to die.

Alexandre Cabanel, Phaedra and her nurse
Alexandre Cabanel, Phaedra and her nurse

The chorus of Hippolytus understood her pain, her predicament.  They chanted the following lines:

Erôs, Erôs, who blindest, tear by tear,
Men’s eyes with hunger; thou swift Foe that pliest
Deep in our hearts joy like an edgèd spear;
Come not to me with Evil haunting near,
Wrath on the wind, nor jarring of the clear
Wing’s music as thou fliest!
There is no shaft that burneth, not in fire,
Not in wild stars, far off and flinging fear,
As in thine hands the shaft of All Desire,
Erôs, Child of the Highest!

I won’t reveal what happened next, in case you wish to read the tragedy yourselves.  (It’s well worth a read and does not take a long time.)  Since it is considered a tragedy, however, you probably figured out that the story does not turn out well for either Phaedra or Hippolytus.  Readers and viewers of Euripides’s Hippolytus understand that Eros is not a warm and benevolent gift.  Rather it is an overwhelming, ruthless force that not only has a strong potential for serious damage, but can also kill.

Dido of Virgil’s The Aeneid (19 B.C.) shares a similar fate with Phaedra.  Dido, like Phaedra, is the victim of the scheming love goddess.  (Since Virgil was Roman, the goddess of love is now called Venus, but she is just as destructive as Aphrodite. )

When we first meet Dido, she is a strong, single, successful woman.  She is the founder and ruler of Carthage, an up-and-coming city that has the potential to ruin Rome (in the future).  Because Dido and her city are so successful, however, they pose a threat to Rome.  Therefore they must be destroyed.  Venus, who happens to be the mother of Aeneas (our hero), smites Dido with overpowering erotic love for her son.  Once Dido is struck with Venus’s arrow, she is doomed:

The queen, for her part, all that evening ached
With longing that her heart’s blood fed, a wound
Or inward fire eating her away.
The manhood of the man, his pride of birth,
Came home to her tie and again; his looks,
His words remained with her to haunt her mind,
And desire for him gave her no rest.

Poor Dido!  This love for Aeneas is not a gift, but a “wound,” and will be the cause of her undoing.  Yes, she and Aeneas do have a mutually passionate relationship for a few months.  But soon, Aeneas is called away by the gods. Yes, they actually visit him and tell him it’s time to leave Carthage to go found Rome. He feels bad, but he tells Dido he needs to move on.

Dido is devastated.  For her, life is no longer worth living.  She can never go back to her content days as Queen of Carthage.  Instead, she builds a funeral pyre, climbs upon it, and stabs herself to death.

Henry Fuseli, Dido
Henry Fuseli, Dido

 

Keep in mind, all this ruin was caused by Venus, who deliberately started the flames of passion in Dido, knowing full well what the results would be.  In other words, Venus is one cold bitch.

What should you take away from these ancient myths?  The ancients knew something about the power of eros.  They would tell you this:

Be careful.  Pay Aphrodite/Venus the respect she is due.  And then get out of her way before she smites you.

The rock band Nazareth knew this, too, as their hit song from 1976 demonstrates:

“Love Hurts”

Love hurts, love scars, love wounds
And mars, any heart
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts

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Just South of Canada

This past weekend, my husband and I stayed with some friends who live northeast of Ely, Minnesota, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  This glorious wilderness boasts over 2000 lakes as well as abundant bears and wolves.  Not surprisingly, many of the people who live are hard-core nature enthusiasts.   I don’t think I could live here year-around, but I can understand the attraction for those who do.  The natural beauty is glorious!

How to be Black in America: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ifemelu, the main character in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, writes a blog about race in America.   Ifemelu, like Adichie, is Nigerian.  When she was growing up in Nigeria, she never thought much about race—because she never had to. When she came to the United States for her college education, however, that changed.  As a black person in a majority white country, she is forced to think about the color of her skin because it shapes the way others define her.

While in the U.S., Ifemelu learns not only about the racial tensions between American whites and blacks, but also about the tensions between American blacks and Africans.  She observes that the experiences of African-Americans differ markedly from the experiences of African-Americans (newly arrived immigrants from Africa.)  The way blackness plays out in the U.S.  intrigues Ifemelu so much that she starts to write a blog about it, a blog that becomes wildly successful.

Many of her sharp, insightful blog posts are reproduced in the novel and serve as a commentary on what Ifemelu and the people in her lives are experiencing.  For example, in this post, Ifemelu advises her readers (tongue-in-cheek) on the proper tone to adopt when discussing racial injustices:

I”f you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you make sure you are not bitter.  Don’t complain.  Be forgiving.  If possible, make it funny.  Most of all, do not be angry.  Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism.  Otherwise, you get no sympathy.  This applies only for white liberals, by the way.  Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you.  Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion.” (223)

This post is most obviously a commentary on the experiences faced by black characters in Americanah.  Black people in America are not allowed to be angry about racism because it makes white people uncomfortable.   The stance of this blog post also, however, echoes the tone Adichie adopts in Americanah.   Both Adichie’s and Ifemelu’s tone when it comes to race is sharp, sometimes even withering.  At the same time, though, it is funny (at times) and warm enough not to veer too far into the tone angry bitterness that scares away so many white people.    Adopting the right tone so that a black author can reach a large audience of white people in order to chastise them about their racism is no easy feat.  Adichie, I believes, succeeds at this difficult maneuver.

I say this, in case it is not obvious, as a white reader.  I am, in fact, one of those white liberal readers who is the target of many of Adichie’s most satirical jabs.  For example, Adichie’s white employer Kimberly tries so hard to be non-racist that when she is around Ifemelu, she coos over photos of ordinary-looking black women:

“Kimberly said, “Oh, look at this beautiful woman,” and pointed at a plain model in a magazine whose only distinguishing feature was her very dark skin.  “Isn’t she just stunning?”

“No, she isn’t.”  Ifemelu paused.  “You know, you can just say ‘black.’ Not every black person is beautiful.”

Kimberly was taken aback, something wordless spread on her face and then she smiled, and Ifemelu would think of it as the moment they became, truly, friends.” (149)

Scenes like this, describing well-meaning yet ignorant displays of the racial divide in this country, make me question myself.  Am I as silly and short-sighted as these white characters when it comes to race?  If so, what can I do to be different, to take a small step towards improving the sad state of racial relations in this country?

Adichie does not provide any simple answers to this question, nor should she be expected to do so.  She does, however, give this piece of advice:

“So after this listing of don’ts what’s the do?  I’m not sure.  Try listening, maybe.  Hear what is being said.  And remember that it’s not about you.  American Blacks are not telling you that you are to blame.  They are just telling you what is.  If you don’t understand, ask questions.  If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway.  It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place.  Then listen some more.  Sometimes people just want to feel heard.  Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding. ”  (328)

This advice to “listen” seems so commonsensical, it is sad to think it has to be said.  Yet I think it does.  Maybe if we would also listen (or read) more and argue (defensively) less, we could make some progress.  Here’s to possibilities of listening—and friendship and connection and understanding.

—-

This post is part of the Africa Reading Challenge hosted by Kinna Reads.

With Amber Waves of Grain

I spent this past weekend at Vasa Guest Cottage with three women friends.  Set in southeastern Minnesota, the cottage is a 19th-century farmhouse surrounded by pastoral perfection.  I would recommend the cottage for a weekend getaway or as a retreat from the law. There is a vast underground labyrinth of tunnels which will transport you across the border to Wisconsin, the land of no laws.*  Click here for more information about Vasa Guest Cottage.

*I was kidding about the underground labyrinth, and I would NEVER recommend evading law enforcement officials.

She Rose in the Dark

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Click here to learn more about the 100 word challenge.

She woke up, finally.  She looked around the room and felt confused.  She saw dark walls and a single window.  The brown curtains reminded her of the braids of her favorite doll, Jessie.  The light was streaming in from outside, but she could not tell what lay beyond.  The bed she slept in was soft and covered with a single, ratty blanket.  There was no other furniture in the room.

Where was she?  Why was she so groggy?  She remembered waking in the dark in her own home right before a  hand muzzled her mouth.   After that, she remembered nothing.

********

These 100 words are my response to this weeks challenge from Julia’s place.  The challenge was to write 100 words, using the prompt, ….as I rose in the dark…

(I took a few liberties with the wording but kept the basic idea.)

 

Punctuation Perverts

You know they are out there.  They lurk in the dark and in broad daylight too. They work in public places.   They play with your children.  In some cases they ARE your children.  They are the punctuation perverts.

nothing last's forever

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These people are dangerous.  They take innocent creatures–the comma, the apostrophe, the semi-colon, the colon, quotation marks—and use them in ways not intended by God or our Founding Fathers.

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Some of them abuse with excess; they insert punctuation marks in places they have no business being.  Others abuse by withholding their marks when the sentence is crying out in agony for a soothing comma, an elegant semi-colon, or a sprightly colon.

http://www.funnytypos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Rachael-Ray-cooks-her-dog.jpg

photo source

Why, God, why?  Is it because of the downfall of the family?   Did the femininazis cause this scourge?  Might it be the separation of church and state?

I cannot say.  I can only weep.

*******

This post is in response to yesterday’s Daily Post prompt, Upturned Noses:  Even the most laid back and egalitarian among us can be insufferable snobs when it comes to coffee, music, cars, beer, or any other pet obsession where things have to be just so. What are you snobbish about?

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/upturned-noses/

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/df/54/b1/df54b14a74978db506957e60e5dd759e.jpg

image source

Temple of Heaven, edited

Debra discovers free online photo editing!  Which version of the Temple of Heaven do you prefer?  I used FotoFlexer to experiment with special effects.

The Temple of Heaven, located in Beijing, China, was first built in 1420 and later enlarged.  Here the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties held their Heaven Worship Ceremonies.