Chapter 8: The Constraints of Eros
By John J. Winkler
I. Basic Definitions
A. Eros: sexual desire
B. Philia: amicable association
C. Agogai: rituals designed to lead a desired person to one's house and bed
D. Philtra: love charms
E. Epoidai: spells
II. Eros in the Context of Greek Culture
· was not flowers, boxes of candy, or Hallmark cards
· involved wishing discomfort, annoyance, profound inner turmoil, and pain on the body and soul of the object of one's affections
III. Home Remedies for Eros
A. Public Drama
1. Eros played a very obvious role in the public sphere
· marriages, sexual relationships, etc. could cause the success or downfall of families and individuals
· young women were the actors whose cooperation was necessary in the process of transmitting property through marriage and the joining of families
· a woman's status defines that status of all the men that are related to her/ these men share the consequences of what happens to her and therefore the commitment to protect her virtue
B. Recipes for Success
1. Self-help procedures: often aimed at "winning friends and influencing people"
2. The pressure for personal success in Greek culture led to the incorporation of these types of prayers/magic
Ex: Prayer to Helios: "Come to me with your face gleaming, at the resting place you chose yourself, granting me, NN, life, health, safety, wealth, fine children, knowledge, ready hearing, good disposition, good counsel, good reputation, memory, charm, looks, beauty before all persons who see me, and make my words persuasive, you who hear everything without exception, great god."
· to get the edge on competitors often involved charming or outfoxing them, not fighting or insulting them
3. A person's sexiness was a large part of their total social success/influence
· Ex. of a charm for sexiness: carrying the right and first tail joint of a wolf in a gold container
4. Spells restraining the anger of one's enemies was also crucial in attaining personal success
5. Parhedros: wax statute of Eros made to be an all-purpose assistant
· "I call upon you, in your beautiful resting place, in your house of desire, serve me and always convey whatever message I tell you."
C.. Erotic Pharmacology
1. Philtrokatadesmos and charitesion: cover not only prayers and amulets but also medicines for stimulating and managing sexual feelings (includes penis ointments and love potions)
2. Symposium was the central institution for sharing this knowledge
3. Most of these drugs involve a system of checks and balances
· the Greeks needed to control eros both in arousal and in its dispersal
· often the same ingredients could be varied just slightly to act as either an aphrodisiac or an agent to depress desire
* These self-help procedures did not provide a reliable means to manage the deepest and most disturbing problems of passion, particularly the unwanted experience of falling in love.
IV. Remedium Amoris
* The Greeks believed that "intense desire was a diseased state affecting the sould and the body, an illness that up to a point can be discerned and analyzed but that is remarkably difficult to treat."
A. Falling in Love
1. Was viewed as being much the same as falling ill (especially if the desired is someone they cannot marry or associate with)
2. Suicide was a common end to stories of hopeless love
· in these instances eros made live unbearable
3. Since eros dominates one's better judgement, its diagnosis and treatment are crucial
· the continued complaint was that there was no drug to cure "that disease" except the beloved in person
B. Agogai: If the spell works there can be no resisting it
* Fire and hair were often key ingredients in the spell
1. A nights scene
· when the setting for the spell is specified, the time is always night and the place is usually a high room or rooftop
2. The Agent: usually a male
· the agent stands facing the night sky, looking at the moon, addressing a long prayer to her and watching for the goddess's reactions
· certain preliminary steps may be required during the day
3. The Victim: usually a female
· the person being affected by the spell is usually sleeping in her own bed, the agent wishes for her to have an increasing powerful feeling of restlessness and inner torment so that she wakes up
* Ex: "Make her dizzy, let her not know where she is"
* Ex: "Let her be terrified, seeing phantoms, sleepless with lust and affection for me."
4. Agogai are structured as a system of displacements:
· the therapeutic value of the spell in itself
· the spiritual authority assumed by the lover
· the diabolic strategy often used to enlist the aid of the goddess
5. Dreams of Passion
· "dreamsending" was sometimes an aspect of the agogai
V. The Torments of Psyche
* The terra-cotta statue (like the one on the cover of our book) suggest a deep hatred of women that is found in the symbolic actions of the agogai
· Do these symbolic acts incorporate or suppress women's sexual desires?
1. The fundamental purpose of agogai is constraint
2. Men's concept of eros did not mean women's bondage (contrary to what some of the violent aspects of the spells would suggest)
· men didn't want to dominate the women, they just what the women to experience the same torment they were experiencing
· the torments experienced were only temporary inducements to actions, not the end purpose of the spell
· the agogai were like a sneak attack, the were a last minute effort to maintain the status quo by managing eros
* "These terms and practices are bundles of complex, historically specific meanings that are socially constructed according to the interests of cultures and economies very different from our own and hence difficult to translate without losing not just their savor but their very soul."
Return to Main Page: CLST 4003H. Spring 2002. Greek Religion Honors Colloquium.