Mary Rose Cook's notebook

The public parts of my notebook.

My homepage.

Ares and Aphrodite, from The Odyssey

Presently the bard struck up and lifted his fine voice in song. His theme was the love of Ares and Aphrodite of the beautiful diadem, how they first made love secretly in her husband Hephaestus’ palace; how Ares gave her many gifts and how he dishonoured the Lord Hephaestus’ marriage-bed. But the Sun had witnessed their loving embraces and came to inform Hephaestus, who, when he heard the bitter truth, went straight to his workshop with his heart full of evil plans, laid his great anvil on the block and forged a network of chains which could neither be broken nor undone, to bind them there. His fury with Ares inspired him as he worked, and when the snare was finished he went to the room where his marriage-bed stood and threw the netting right round the legs. A number of further lengths were attached to the rafter overhead and hung down like fine spiders’ webs, quite invisible even to the blessed gods. It was a masterpiece of cunning work.

When he had surrounded the bed in this way and set his trap, he made a pretence of leaving for the pleasant town of Lemnos, his favourite place on earth. Meanwhile Ares of the Golden Reins had not kept watch for nothing. Directly he saw Hephaestus, the illustrious Master-craftsman, leave, he made his way to his house, filled with a passionate desire for Aphrodite of the lovely diadem. She had recently returned from seeing her mighty Father, Zeus, and had just sat down when Ares came in at the door, clasped her hand and greeted her fondly.

‘Come, my beloved,’ he said, ‘let us go to bed and find pleasure in love, for

Hephaestus is no longer around. He has gone to somewhere in Lemnos, to visit his barbarous Sintian friends.’ Aphrodite desired nothing better than to sleep with him; so the two went to bed and lay down. Immediately the netting which Hephaestus’ ingenuity had contrived fell around them in such a way that they could not move or lift a limb. They found too late that there was no escape. And now the great lame god himself approached. For the Sun, acting as his spy, had given him word; and he hurried home in anguish. Standing there in the entrance, in the grip of fierce anger, he let out a terrible yell and called aloud to all the gods.

‘Father Zeus and you other blessed gods who live for ever, come here and see a comic and cruel thing. Zeus’ Daughter Aphrodite has always despised me for my lameness, and now she has given her heart to this butcher Ares just because he is good-looking and sound of limb, while I was born a weakling. And whom have I to blame for that, if not my father and my mother? I wish they had never begotten me! But see where these two have crept into my bed and are sleeping in each other’s loving arms. The sight is like a sword in my heart. Yet I have an idea that they won’t be eager to prolong that embrace, no, not for a moment, not for all their love. Theirs is a sleep that both will soon be tired of. But my cunning meshes are going to keep them just where they are, till her Father hands me back every one of the gifts I made him to win this brazen bitch, who may be his daughter and a lovely creature but is the slave of her passions.’

At his words the gods came thronging to the house with the bronze floor. Up came Poseidon the Sustainer of the Earth; Hermes, the Swift Runner; and Apollo, Lord of the Bow; but the goddesses, out of modesty, all stayed at home. So there they stood in front of the doors, the immortals who are the source of all our blessings; and when they caught sight of Hephaestus’ clever device a fit of unquenchable laughter seized the blessed gods.

‘Bad deeds don’t prosper,’ said one of them with a glance at his neighbour; ‘the tortoise catches up the hare. See how our slow-moving Hephaestus has caught Ares, though no god on Olympus can run as fast. Hephaestus may be lame, but he has won the day by his cunning. And now Ares will have to pay him an adulterer’s fine.’

This was the kind of comment made. The Lord Apollo, Son of Zeus, turned to Hermes and said: ‘Hermes, Son of Zeus, Guide and Giver of good things, would you care, though tied down by those unyielding chains, to lie in bed by golden Aphrodite’s side?’

To which the Guide, the Giant-slayer replied: ‘Lord Apollo, royal Archer, I only wish I could. Though the chains that kept me prisoner were three times as many, and though all you gods and all the goddesses were looking on, yet would I gladly sleep by golden Aphrodite’s side.’

At his words laughter arose among the immortal gods. But Poseidon did not laugh; he kept begging the great craftsman Hephaestus to free Ares from the net. ‘Let him go,’ he said, and his words flew, ‘and I promise you that he shall make full and proper atonement, as required by you, in the presence of the immortal gods.’

‘Poseidon, Girdler of the Earth,’ replied the illustrious lame god, ‘do not press me. Pledges for the worthless are worthless. How could I throw you, in chains while the immortal gods looked on if Ares were to wriggle out of his debt as well as out of his chains?’

‘Hephaestus,’ said Poseidon the Earthshaker, ‘if Ares does repudiate his debt and abscond, I myself will pay you the fine.’

‘To such an offer from you,’ replied the great lame god, ‘I cannot and I must not answer no.’

With that the mighty Hephaestus undid the chains, and the two of them, freed from the shackles that had proved so strong, leaped up and fled, Ares to Thrace, and laughter-loving Aphrodite to Paphos in Cyprus, where she has her sacred sanctuary and altar fragrant with incense. There the Graces bathed her and anointed her with the celestial oil that is like a bloom on the limbs of the immortal gods. And they dressed her in lovely clothes that were a marvel to behold.

This was the song that the famous minstrel sang, to the delight of Odysseus and the rest of his audience, the Phaeacians, those famous and intrepid mariners.