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Greek mythology is filled to the brim with erotic desire and and sexual misconduct. Zeus, the almighty King of the Gods, cheated on his wife regularly with many women, goddesses, demi-goddesses, and other kinds of females. There was a whole section of the Greek pantheon devoted to the Erotes, gods associated with love in its different forms. There were at least nine, all sons of Aphrodite, and of these, Himeros was the one associated with uncontrollable desire.
Himeros in Hesiod’s Theogony
Hesiod wrote his Theogony around 700 BC, when the so-called Dark Ages were coming to an end, and it remains the main source for understanding the genealogy of gods and goddesses in Greece. In lines 173 to 200, he states that, although Himeros is usually referred to as Aphrodite’s son, they were actually born at the same time. In some versions of the myth, Aphrodite was born pregnant with the twins Himeros and Eros and gave birth to them as soon as she was born. According to Hesiod, Aphrodite was born from sea foam, and was presently greeted by the twin ‘loves’, Eros and Himeros. The twins were inseparable and remained her constant companions and agents of her divine power, following her “as she went into the assembly of the gods” (Theogony, 201).
Depictions of Himeros
Himeros was usually depicted as a young man with white, feathery wings. He was identified by his carrying a taenia, a colorful headband that athletes would wear at the time. Sometimes he would hold a bow and arrow, as did his Roman counterpart, Cupid. But unlike Cupid, Himeros is muscular and lean, and older in age.
There are many paintings and sculptures that show Aphrodite’s birth, where Himeros appears almost invariably in the company of Eros, the twins fluttering around the goddess.
In some other paintings, he is depicted as part of a love triad, together with Eros and another Erotes, Pothos (passionate love). Some scholars have proposed that, when paired with Eros, he was perhaps identified with Anteros (reciprocal love).
Himeros in Mythology
As mentioned before, Aphrodite is either listed as being born pregnant with twins or having given birth to Himeros as an adult (in which case, Ares was the most likely father). Either way, Himeros became her companion when she appeared before the assembly of the gods and would regularly act on her behalf.
This included, of course, forcing people to do wild things for love, not all of them sweet. Himeros would follow Aphrodite’s orders not only in the realm of interpersonal relations, but also in war. For instance, during the Persian Wars, Himeros was responsible for tricking the Persian general Mardonius into thinking that he could easily march into Athens and seize the city. He did this, overcome by terrible desire (deinos himeros), and lost almost all his men at the hands of Athenian defenders. His brother Eros had done the same centuries before, during the Trojan War, as Homer states that it was this destructive desire which made Agamemnon and the Greeks attack the heavily defended walls of Troy.
Himeros and His Siblings
Different accounts list different names for Himeros’ siblings, which the Greek called Erotes.
- Eros was the god of love and sexual desire. He is probably the most well-known of all the Erotes, and as the primordial god of love and intercourse, he was also responsible for securing fertility. A twin to Himeros, in some myths he was the son of Aphrodite and Ares. Statues of Eros were common in gymnasiums, as he was commonly associated with athleticism. Eros too was depicted as carrying bow and arrow, but sometimes a lyre instead. Classical paintings of Eros show him in the company of roosters, dolphins, roses, and torches.
- Anteros was the protector of mutual love. He punished those who disdained love and rejected the advances of others and was the avenger of unrequited love. He was the son of Aphrodite and Ares, and according to a Hellenistic myth he was conceived because Eros was feeling lonely and deserved a playmate. Anteros and Eros were very similar in appearance, although Anteros had longer hair and could be seen with butterfly wings. His attributes included a golden club instead of bow and arrow.
- Phanes was the god of procreation. He was a later addition to the pantheon, and is commonly mistaken for Eros, which made some scholars think they might be the same person.
- Hedylogos, despite having logos (word) in his name, is not mentioned in any surviving textual source, only in classical Greek vases. He was considered the god of flattery and adulation, and helped lovers find the words to declare their emotions to their love interests.
- Hermaphroditus, god of hermaphroditism and androgyny. He was the son of Aphrodite, not with Ares, but with Zeus’ messenger, Hermes. One myth tells that he was born a very beautiful boy, and in his young age the water nymph Salmacis saw him and fell instantly in love with him. Salmacis asked the gods that let her be with him forever united, and so both bodies merged into one who was neither a boy nor a girl. In sculptures, their upper body has male features with a woman’s breast, and their waist is also that of a woman, while their lower body has female buttocks and thighs, and a penis.
- The god of wedding ceremonies was called Hymenaios. He was supposed to secure happiness for the groom and bride, and a fruitful wedding night.
- Finally, Pothos was considered the god of yearning. In most written accounts he is listed as a brother to Himeros and Eros, but certain versions of the myth describe him as the son of Zephyrus and Iris. He was associated with the god Dionysus, as his attribute (a grape vine) shows.
FAQs About Himeros
Eros and Himeros both represented aspects of love but were not the same. They were Erotes, and while the number of Erotes varied, Hesiod describes there being a pair.
Himeros was the child of Aphrodite and Ares.
He lives on Mount Olympus.
Himeros was the god of sexual desire.
Of the numerous forms of love that had godly names, Himeros stood out as perhaps the wildest of them all, for he was the passion that could not be contained. This uncontrollable love frequently drove people mad, made them make terrible choices, and even lead entire armies to their defeat. His popularity assured him a place in Roman iconography as well but transformed into the chubby winged infant with bow and arrow that we have all seen even in contemporary cultural manifestations.