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Authors: Betsy Prioleau

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BOOK: Seductress
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A proactive love goddess, she made the moves and got her way. She bragged to Dumuzi of her physical enticements and sexual skills—precious caresses “more savory than honey”—and commanded him to stroke her pubic hair and to “plow my vulva, man of my heart, plow my vulva!” This hyperphilic lust, however, had a cosmic significance. Inanna’s sex energy generated all growth and productivity on earth and made the heavens dance. She was the
the sexual joy of the universe, the life force of creation. She was the deity who “loved to laugh,” who bid Sumer sing, carouse, and “be festive!”
Inanna, though, by her very nature, was as variable, as motile as the primordial moon goddess, her ancestress. Unpredictable, full of contraries, she was always in motion, now this, now that, sometimes everything at once. One minute she strapped on her sandals and became the “whirlwind warrior,” smashing skulls and soaking the earth with blood; another, she kissed babies and dispensed loving kindness. If she struck terror into human hearts with her tempests and carnage, she delivered the ultimate consolations of “Great Mother Cow.” Suffering she would not tolerate. As mistress of the “art of lamentation” she wept, wailed, clawed her thighs, and tore her hair to intercede for mercy. She held the most extreme oppositions in dynamic tension: deceit and straightforwardness, travel and domestic stability, strife and concord, dark and light. Under her bed, scene of honeyed amorous delights, she kept a scorpion.
Inanna’s mercurial, complex nature resulted not from her instability but from her supernal wholeness and maturity. To underscore the point, the Sumerians constructed a myth of her passage to ultimate adulthood. During her ordeal she descended—in classic heroic fashion—to the underworld, where she was stripped of her robes and breastplate emblazoned, “Come Man Come!,” hung on a hook, and left for dead like a piece of “rotting meat.” At the end of three days the gods came to her rescue. She arose, rid herself of her demons, and resumed her reign with redoubled authority.
Not only did Inanna personify the perfectly evolved psyche and unitary principle—the unmoved mover and welder of opposites—but she occupied the clout position in the pantheon. She seized the “world-ordering power” and put “all gods, all creatures” under her dominion. She was the quintessential powerfrau, “the goddess of sovereignty.”
In one of the coolest coups in mythology, she unseated the god of wisdom. Over a dinner date at the table of heaven she got him so drunk on beer and flattery that he gave her the entire
(all human knowledge), with the double meaning “power” and “laws of civilization.” Earthly wisdom became her province, from the arts of leadership and heroism to eloquence, crafts, and “Truth!” Included in the package was erotic knowledge: “The art of lovemaking! The kissing of the phallus!” and “tongue-playing.”
The sacred marriage ceremony that celebrated Inanna’s romance and union with Dumuzi in the holy temple adhered to the basic prehistoric paradigm and repeated the themes of the Seductive Way, with a Sumerian twist. Dumuzi’s courtship of Inanna, which set the stage for the wedding rite, established the goddess as an erotic adept. Before she accepted the handsome shepherd, she goaded him to fever pitch with her circuitous wiles. She backed and filled and made him walk over hot coals, taunting him with a competitor, deriding his appearance, and finally baiting him into a quarrel. Only when she had him sewed up, amenable to all her demands for superior treatment, did she turn up the volume and sing to him of all the delights in store.
This moment and their subsequent coupling carried such numinous significance for the Sumerians that they staged it each year with the priestess and king enacting the parts. Again, the objective was apotheosis, to be remade in the image of the goddess, to channel her divine sex energy and redeem and regenerate the earth. Accompanied by tigi music, the congregation wound up the spiraling ziggurat to the chapel at the top. Women, as usual, dressed with holy flamboyance—flounced, form-fitting one-shouldered kaunakes with gold hoop earrings, diadems, and stacks of bracelets.
The priestess who played Inanna, the
(woman of highest rank), wore the most spectacular attire and dramatic makeup and smelled like a living censer, having bathed and perfumed herself for days beforehand. Her hair, a huge turn-on for Sumerians, was coiled in a wreath of thick braids, surrounded by “small locks” and gold ribbons. Once within the high altar, the
accepted the king’s gift offerings, then serenaded him with lascivious verses, praising her “honey-man’s” erection, and itemizing how she would “holy churn” and pleasure him.
At the climax of the service they repaired to a bed on the dais and copulated, to the ecstatic cries of the assembly. Inanna had revealed herself, charged the king with semidivinity, and reinvigorated the world. A blowout carnival of license followed. Possessed by their goddess, the “one-who-is-joy,” the community joined in a rhapsodic orgy of games, feasts, dances, music, intoxicants, and wholesale coupling.
After the Babylonians adopted Inanna and renamed her Ishtar, she began to lose her luster among Sumerian divinities. As the archfascinator Ishtar in
The Epic of Gilgamesh,
she failed to conquer the hero, even though she deployed all of Inanna’s wiles and added extra enticements. Despite her bribes of endless wealth, political power, and jeweled chariots, the mighty Gilgamesh stood his ground. He scorned her lures and sex appeal and read her a long lecture on her loose morals. At this point in mythology the seductress began her metamorphosis into the femme fatale. With all the fury of a woman scorned, Ishtar declared war on Gilgamesh and destroyed him. Ishtar became an icon of predatory female sexuality, the mantis lady red in tooth and claw.
But unofficially Ishtar’s cult persisted and prospered for centuries. Inanna/Ishtar was too compelling, too magnetic an archetype to be swallowed up by patriarchy without a trace. Excavations in one city, Alalakh, contained temples to her at fifteen different levels, and throughout the ancient world she resurfaced with new names: Astarte, Asherah, and finally, in a slightly altered form, Aphrodite.
Unlike her sister Athena, Aphrodite did not spring full blown from Zeus’s head but developed incrementally from a mélange of earlier goddesses. She came late to the Greek pantheon, a Near Eastern import who smuggled a powder keg into Attic culture—she-power and the raging tumult of sexual passion.
The patriarchal Athenians did what they could to curb her. They limited her job description to romantic love, restaged her myths, frowned on her festivals, and prettied her up, but she burst through their definitions and became “the most potent goddess.” A PC Grecian makeover couldn’t efface centuries of worship. An amalgam of the archaic Serpent Goddess and Inanna, she threw Olympus into confusion and attracted one of the most enthusiastic cults of classical times.
Although the Greeks demoted her from her central place in the cosmos, Aphrodite preserved much of her earlier all-inclusive preeminence. In the original story of her birth she united the powers of heaven and hearth and inherited jurisdiction over both. After the sky god’s semen fell on mother ocean, Aphrodite arose miraculously from the foam. She supervised mankind as queen of the world and sailed through the empyrean as empress of the great above in a chariot drawn by swans.
The sea birth also signaled her regenerative powers. As statues of her with snakes coiled on her arms indicate, she was a resurrection goddess of life renewal. Wherever she stepped, roses, crocuses, hyacinths, and lilies sprang up in her path like a magical May Day processional. She was a walking “cosmic generative force,” the joyous energy of procreation, who fecundated earth and sea and reanimated existence. She inspired art; she “postponed old age.”
Celestial superstar that she was, she carried a large entourage in her wake, advertising her primordial, mythic attractions. Along with Eros, Himeros (desire), the Seasons, Graces, and Persuasion, a throng of amorous creatures followed her everywhere. Attended by bees, doves, sparrows, goats, “insatiable panthers,” wolves, and dolphins and trailed by a swarm of children from each of her affairs, she announced her divine kinship with the Mistress of the Animals and Mother Goddess.
Of all the Greek goddesses, none approached her multinatured complexity and plentitude. Despite the loss of the creatrix’s total wisdom, she still possessed a formidable “mind that ruled over” the gods and got the best of “even the wise.” Like her prehistoric ancestress, she “resolved opposites” and “made pale very sort of partialness” with her triumphant wholeness. Besides sensuality and maternity, she combined compassion and vengeance, peace and war, candor and guile, and male and female. She gave birth to the twin-sexed Hermaphroditus, and her rites featured gender bending and an androgynous Aphroditus.
With divine variability, the “shifty-eyed” Aphrodite changed moods and personas as unpredictably as her mother, the sea. By turns cruel and kind, she unleashed hideous persecutions with her blessings. She fomented the ten-year bloodbath of the Trojan War, put her daughter-in-law, Psyche, to the torture, and afflicted the Lemnian women with such a bad smell that their husbands deserted them. At the same time, she saved sailors from the deep, arranged happy marriages, and adopted orphans.
Her most salient trait, though, like Inanna before her, was her gangbusters sexuality. Although the Greeks attempted to domesticate her, she incarnated “
the sheer amoral drive” of lust and attraction. Misogynistic mythmakers married her off to the hunchbacked Hephaestos and made her guardian of conjugal love. Sculptors subjected her unruly sexuality to Apollonian law and order, freeze-framing her in ideal visions of symmetry and “beauty without extravagance.”
But she behaved with supreme disregard for Attic sensitivities. Repudiating respectable femininity—servile marital fidelity, house arrest, and nonpersonhood—she cat-prowled the premises in search of buff gods and men. The second part of her name,
means “wanderer.” Never raped in a culture that celebrated rape in hymns and odes, she aggressively pursued lovers and took her pleasure with un-apologetic “extravagance.” She went by the epithet “laughter-loving,” a pun on “penis-loving.”
She was a lioness on the loose in the Olympian firmament. There was “no resisting her.” She could lead astray the “mind of Zeus himself.” Warriors dropped their swords, men’s knees buckled, and the immortals “gawked” in her presence. When Hera wanted to recapture her husband, Zeus, she turned to Aphrodite for help: “Give me love and desire, the powers by which you yourself subdue mankind and gods alike.”
Contrary to modern expectations, Aphrodite didn’t zap Hera into a willowy blonde. Proving that she relied on more than her beauty to bewitch men, Aphrodite provided her subjects with a whole system of love artistry. This “complex, learned discipline” incorporated some of the basic precepts of the Seductive Way.
Of the five separate areas of expertise, the first treated the most elementary: the movements and positions of lovemaking, with special emphasis on the ultimate Greek delicacy,
the female-superior “racehorse.” Second came singing, dancing, cosmetics, and hygiene, then persuasive speech, followed by the more advanced arts of poetry and recitation. Finally, there were the virtuoso psychological skills: empathy, sensitivity, and all the ruses, “wiles and charms of amorous relations.”
To the consternation of the ruling patriarchs, Aphrodite plied her love arts to her heart’s content with impunity. Her seductions were no cheap candlelight and negligee affairs. When she went after a man, such as the shepherd Anchises, she rolled out the big effects. She had the Graces bathe, oil, and perfume her and deck her in operatic finery, a gown “brighter than fire-flesh,” caught at the waist by a belt figured with sexual scenes, and ornamented with fabulous jewelry. Her necklaces, brooches, earrings, and spiral ringlets—their goldenness proclaiming her associations with honey and seminal fluid—shone before the astonished Anchises “like the moon” when she surprised him on the mountaintop.
A shepherd greeted in such circumstances on the wild scarps of Mount Ida required deft handling. Aphrodite, the “weaver of wiles,” did not disappoint. She appeased him with arch flattery, then beguiled him with her golden tongue. Another Scheherazade, she spun an account of herself so colorful, picturesque, and expertly crafted that Anchises listened in rapt fascination. Posing as a virgin princess, she told him she’d been kidnapped by a god to be his bride and accord him honor, riches, and prestige. Filled with “sweet longing” by her words, Anchises bore her to his tent, where she ravished him on a bearskin rug.
At this point Aphrodite, as part of Zeus’s revenge, should have become the shepherd’s love slave. Instead she resumed her divine identity and shot up to the ridgepole of the tent in all her eight-foot glory. The terrified Anchises reacted with the same thrill of terror as his ancestors in the presence of the goddess—with a Grecian difference. Panicked by the specter of female sexual power, he begged not to be castrated. The obliging Aphrodite reassured him, promised him the consolation prize of a heroic son, and rocketed back to Olympus in a blaze of special effects.
Aphrodite foiled Zeus’s attempt to shackle her and thwarted every other patriarchal takedown. When her cuckolded husband, Hephaestos, invented an invisible iron net to capture her flagrante delicto for eternity, her philandering days seemed over. But as soon as the panel of gods saw her in bed with Hermes, they were so overcome with lust they voted to free her. The state proved just as ineffectual in curtailing her power.
Her rites, the most popular in the Mediterranean, proliferated in dozens of forms despite their unofficial, unsanctioned status. All honored different aspects of Aphrodite inherited from past goddesses, with the same riotous abandon to mystical intoxication, revelation, and transfiguration. At one, girls reenacted Inanna’s maturity passage, filing through a tunnel to Aphrodite’s temple with secret objects on their heads. This likely duplicated ceremonies in which the objects were phalluses, and the celebrations, revels with dildos. (The Greeks took female hypersexuality as an unfortunate given and thought it exceeded men’s tenfold.) Another cult restaged the death and annual resurrection of the consort god, Adonis, with the traditional bacchanals afterward.
BOOK: Seductress
2.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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