Eros & Aphrodite

This animation shows the love god, Eros, at work.  It was created from a fourth-century vase.

 

The story was developed by pupils from Kendrick School, Reading.

about the animation

Hellenistic poets liked themes about Eros causing trouble, which is exactly what we find in this animation.  Eros looses an arrow into a young man, causing him to fall in love with Aphrodite.  A second arrow strikes Aphrodite herself, but her desire is for the reflection of herself that she sees in her mirror, leaving the young man dejected at her feet.  This story also has hints of the myth of Narcissus, the boy who wasted away after falling in love with a reflection of himself (for which see Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.342+).

© Trustees of the British Museum.

BM 1875.0812.1

This bronze mirror cover, made c.320-300BCE, depicts Aphrodite and Eros in relief.

The vase that this animation was made from is very narrow.  As such, the figures were reduced in size very slightly for the animation to make sure that they remain visible when they move.

The storyboard required Eros to hold a bow and arrow.  The bow was created from the neckline of the female figure’s dress and shaped to resemble the bows in contemporary vase images.  The first mention of Eros’ bow appears in Euripides’ Ipheginia at Aulis (lines 543-545), which mentions his twin arrows, one for happiness, the other for confusion.

about the myth

This lively story features the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros.  The ancient Greeks considered Aphrodite to be an extremely powerful deity.  Together with Eros – the embodiment of physical desire - Aphrodite oversaw all sexual relationships.  None could resist her when she urged them on.  Even the gods were susceptible to her powers, falling for gods and mortals as she directed; only Athena, Artemis, and Hestia could resist (Homeric Hymn V, To Aphrodite, 1-44).  Aphrodite was thought of as a 'laughter-loving’ and smiling goddess, but she could also be formidable.  In the Iliad, Aphrodite terrifies Helen into submission when Helen tries to resist her command to lie with Paris (Iliad 3.383+).  Another myth told how Aphrodite destroyed Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and an Amazon, when he refused to worship Aphrodite and chose to live as a virgin.  This myth was the subject of Euripides’ play, Hippolytus Stephanephorus, and of two at least two lost plays - Euripides’ Hippolytus Calyptomenus and Sophocles’ Phaedra.  The music on this animation comes from a performance of the surviving play (see below).

Like Aphrodite, Eros was sometimes thought of as playful, as in this fragment of a 7th century poem by Alcman:

'It’s not Aphrodite,

Just wild Eros playing his boyish games,

Alighting on the petals – please don’t touch!

- of my galingale garland.’

(Alcman, 58, trans. after West)

Sometimes, however, Eros was regarded as very ancient, with a frightening power to overcome good judgement:

'Eros, fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the minds and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them.’

(Hesiod, Theogony, 120)

Photograph by Maria Daniels,

courtesy of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, F 2536

As well as overseeing love and sexuality, Aphrodite presided over many further aspects of relationships and fertility.  In Corinth and Mantinea, she was worshipped as Aphrodite Melainis, or Black Aphrodite, overseeing the fertility of the soil and the powers of night.  As Aphrodite Euploia she protected sailors and as Aphrodite Pandemos she promoted civic harmony.  Young women about to marry sacrificed to Aphrodite (and Artemis), as did courtesans and prostitutes.  As Aphrodite Urania, she presided over all unions – including those of the gods and the functioning of the cosmos itself.  In the Homeric epics, Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione (Iliad, 5.370-430).  Others made her part of a much older generation – born of Uranus, the sky. (in e.g. Theogony, 178-206, and often in cult).

Eros was often associated with the gymnasium and with the military, where he played an important role in promoting solidarity between soldiers.  The playboy general, Alcibiades, had an image of Eros on his shield (Plutarch, Alcibiades, 16).  In art, Eros is often shown as Aphrodite’s companion.  He frequently carries a lyre or hare, but can be hard to tell from other winged boyish figures, such as Himeros (Desire), Anteros (Reciprocal Love) and Pothos (Longing).  Eros could also appear in plural, as several 'Erotes’.

storyboard

Kendrick school pupils' storyboard compared frame-by-frame with the animation

music

Jamie Masters composed the track on this animation for the Thiasos Theatre Company (www.thiasos.co.uk).  It is taken from a performance of Euripides’ Hippolytos, directed by Yana Zarifi.  The track is the '1st Stasimon: 'Eros Eros’.

In translation, the words are:

Eros, Eros, you who drips desire into the eyes,

as you lead sweet delight into the souls of those whom you war against

may you never appear to me with harm,

nor come to me in distorted measure,

for neither the arrow of fire nor the arrow of the stars is more powerful than the arrow of Aphrodite,

which is shot by the hands of Eros, the son of Zeus.

(Eur. Hipp. lines 525-534)

vase details

Apulian, red figure alabastron vase depicting a winged Eros crowning a nude youth who stands before a seated, draped female.

The reverse shows an adolescent, seated winged Eros.

Late classical c.350-340BCE. Ure Museum

(Accession Number: 49.1.2).  Alabastron vases held luxury perfumed oils that were used after bathing.

© Ure Museum (49.1.2)

further reading

M. Cyrino, Aphrodite, (Routledge, 2010)

A. Faulkner, The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite: Introduction, Text, and Commentary, (OUP, 2008)

Homeric Hymn V, VI, and X, To Aphrodite

R. Osborne, Archaic and Classical Greek Art (OUP, 1998)

A. Smith & S. Pickup (ed.), Brill’s Companion to Aphrodite, (Brill, 2010)

C. Vout, Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome, (BMP, 2013)

© Trustees of the British Museum BM1867.0508.1186

follow-up activities

1)  Ask your pupils to storyboard a new story for this vase.  What else could happen with these figures?

2)  Show this animation as a route into a discussion of relationships in the ancient Greek world, or as a starting place for discussing 'heroic nudity’ and clothing in Greek vase painting.

3)  After watching the animation together, ask your pupils to consider and discuss why Aphrodite and Eros appear on so many vases for perfumed oils.

Like the vase from the Eros and Aphrodite animation, this fifth-century BCE vase depicts a seated female figure looking into a mirror with Eros hovering nearby.

Ure Discovery

Ure Discovery was an innovative Arts Council funded project run at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in 2013.

Steve worked with staff and students at the University of Reading helping local secondary school groups interpret and respond to the Ure Museum collection.

The pupils created stories, storyboards, and other artwork based on a selection of vases and each storyboard was transformed into an animation made from images of the vase which inspired it.  Ancient art, digital artistry, and teenage imagination combine to retell ancient myths and present new stories.  The Ure Discovery and Ure View animations can be seen alongside their vases via a tablet trail that visitors can take around the museum.

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Except where otherwise noted, content on www.panoply.org.uk by S.Simons & S.Nevin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.