Alex Miller, Asteroid Files

The Naughty Bits, Part I: Eros

by Alex Miller on July 1, 2010

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Mythically, Eros is the name given to two distinct deities, linked via a common bond of expression of sexual passion. The original Eros was conceived by the ancient Greeks as a primordial force, the first emanation from nothingness, antecedent to all other energies, which compels sexual intercourse, and thus procreation and continuation of all species.  As ancient Greece gave way to the classical period (5th and 4th centuries BCE), Eros became reinvented, not once, but twice.

The original re-casting has him as a son of Aphrodite, goddess of love, by her brother and lover Ares, god of war.  As such, Eros (erotic passion) would seem to be the result of a union between romantic attraction (Venus/Aphrodite) and raw sexuality (Mars/Ares), a perfect blending of these energies, with both necessary in equal parts to achieve true eroticism.

Eros depicted as a youth with wings and bow

Imaged as a gloriously beautiful male youth, forever young, he is often depicted winged, armed with a golden quiver stocked with two types of arrows—one, of gold, fletched with dove feathers, inspires love in those he pierces; the other, of lead with owl feathers, inhibits romantic desire, causing indifference.  He carries a torch, with which to engender love’s flame, and is sometimes shown blindfold, to denote that love is blind, and not always subject to physical appearance.

Sometimes Eros appears as Aphrodite’s only child, while at others, he is accompanied by a host of similar beings, the Erotes, ancestors of the classic Roman cupids.  To Eros is given the power of inspiring physical passion, and his brothers include Anteros, ruling mutual attraction; Himeros, governing unrequited love; and Pothos, whose purview was passionate longing, often of an unattainable object.  Of these, the most commonly depicted were Eros and Anteros, who, as his name implies, was seen as Eros’ opposite, a sort of evil twin who avenged would-be lovers whose affections were not returned, thus spurning the mutual ardor he rules.

The Erotes

As classic Greece was in turn succeeded by the Hellenistic period (at the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE until the conquest by Rome in 146 BCE), Eros’ role began to evolve yet again.  It was Eratosthenes, a famed mathematician, poet and astronomer, who seems to have introduced the idea that Eros was particularly interested in homosexual love, reserving heterosexual desire for Aphrodite alone.  Eratosthenes’ Eros was cut from whole cloth, but quickly caught on, and within decades no gymnasium in Greece was complete without its statue of a nude Eros, presiding over the official and unofficial recreations that were engaged in by the naked young men who frequented them.  From that point on, Eros was recognized by Greek society as the special patron of the erastes (older man)—eromenos (young boy) tutelary relationships which became the foundation of its culture, philosophy and science.

The mythic Eros has no overtly homosexual adventures, but his story is a thin one, focusing primarily on his doomed love for Psyche, a mortal maiden who is born so unfortunate as to rival Aphrodite in beauty.  The jealous goddess of love commands her son to pierce Psyche with one of his golden arrows, causing her to fall in love with the most loathsome, grotesque creature on earth.  But just as Eros approaches the sleeping Psyche, weapon at the ready, she wakes, startling him, and he pricks his arm, falling helplessly in love with her himself.

Smitten by his own weapons, Eros cannot continue his mission, and an enraged Aphrodite curses Psyche with a life of singleness, no husband of her own.  Eros’ response is to refuse to perform his passion-inducing duties at all, and for months the earth languishes infertile, as without Eros’ inspiration, procreation itself ceases.  Realizing she is beaten, Aphrodite persuades Eros to return to work, granting him his own heart’s desire, to have Psyche for himself.

Now that all is operating normally on earth again, Psyche’s parents are even more mystified as to why no one wants their beautiful daughter.  They consult an oracle, who demands they leave Psyche alone on the nearest mountaintop, from where the west wind spirits her away to Eros’ magnificent palace.  There, Psyche lives in luxury and splendor, but sees no one, as all the servants are invisible, and her new husband, who has not revealed himself to her, visits only at night, commanding that she extinguish all lamps, forbidding her ever to view him.

Eros

Psyche’s loneliness is overwhelming, and she importunes her unseen husband for the company of her sisters.  Eros agrees, but the sisters, jealous of Psyche’s good fortune, persuade her that she has married a monster, whom she must reveal and, if necessary, slay.  Tearfully, Psyche agrees, and prepares an oil lamp in readiness by her beside; after Eros falls asleep, Psyche lights the lamp, recognizes her husband as the god himself, and falls passionately in love with him.  But a drop of hot oil spills from the lamp onto Eros’ shoulder, waking him.  Betrayed, Eros flies off into the night, and Psyche finds herself abandoned back in her homeland.

Disconsolate, Psyche roams the earth, searching for her lost lover; seeking advice in every temple she encounters, she eventually appeals to Aphrodite, who assigns her three impossible tasks if she is to be reunited with Eros.  Beings both mortal and divine come to Psyche’s aid, and she is unexpectedly able to complete her assignments, but still Aphrodite will not relent.  Seeing the proof of Psyche’s love, Eros appeals to Zeus, who decrees that it is his will that the young couple should be joined, and, summoning Psyche to Olympus, he gives her ambrosia to drink, conferring immortality upon her, and making her a (somewhat) acceptable daughter-in-law for Aphrodite.  Eros and Psyche have a daughter, Voluptas, whose name means “delight” or “bliss,” and who in turn becomes the goddess of sensual pleasures.

The tale of Eros and Psyche combines many themes common to erotic attraction—a hapless, helpless, at-the-whim-of-fate state of mind which isolates us from others in our own private world of delights or fears, often inspires jealousy in others not so smitten, and carves a swath of destruction in our lives, littered with the detritus of the bad decisions we have made in our quest for love.

Eros was famed for following his rather inconsistent mother’s every whim in matters of love, as well as having a capricious bent of his own when it came to pairing apparently otherwise unsuited mates.  He it was who accompanied Paris on his fateful tour to collect his reward for bestowing Eris’ golden apple of discord, inscribed “To the Fairest,” upon Aphrodite, for which she granted him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife.  Paris’ choice of Helen, already the wife of Menelaus of Sparta, and Eros’ use of his arrow to ensure her receptivity, were the proximate causes of the decade-long Trojan War, perhaps a warning about the unintended and potentially protracted consequences of passion run amok.

The only hint of any homosexual by-play on Eros’ part comes in the circumstances surrounding another ill-fated match he wrought at Aphrodite’s behest.   In the struggle between Zeus and his wife Hera over the fate of Jason (of Argonauts fame), the Queen of the Gods enlisted Aphrodite’s help in facilitating the hero’s victory in his search for the Golden Fleece.  Knowing the magical relic was in the keeping of the King of Colchis, Hera entreated Aphrodite to cause that king’s daughter Medea to fall passionately in love with Jason, as a means of helping him acquire the Fleece.  Aphrodite decided this was a mission for Eros, and finds her errant son rolling dice with Zeus’ cupbearer and bed-mate, the youth Ganymede, and cheating him at every throw.

While there is nothing explicit to state what the stakes were, it’s possible that Ganymede’s embraces were among the tokens traded that lazy afternoon on Olympus.  It took not one but two of Eros’ arrows before Medea was sufficiently enamored of Jason to betray her father and her country, and ultimately, that match also came to a very bad end, with Jason putting her aside for a more profitable marriage, and Medea murdering her two children by Jason, then poisoning his new wife.  This cautionary tale indicates how easily the passion of desire can transform into an equally passionate aversion, and desire for revenge, when our love is not reciprocated.

Astronomically, Eros and Ganymede are also linked—both are Near Earth Asteroids of the Amor class, having orbits lying between Earth and Mars, and are the two largest known bodies in that class.  Significantly, the peanut-shaped Eros is the only asteroid ever to have actually been encountered by a man-made device, the Shoemaker probe, which orbited the asteroid for a year and then landed, appropriately, just before Valentine’s Day 2001.  It’s no accident that of the estimated 1.9 million asteroids in the solar system, we should have landed first upon one named for so central a theme of human experience.

Mythic Eros’ dual nature, able to both attract and repel, is well depicted both by his asteroid namesake’s simultaneous discovery by two different astronomers on the night of 13 August 1898 (Gustav Witt in Berlin and Auguste Charlois in Nice, France); as well as by the extreme variance of its daytime and nighttime temperatures, which swing from a passionately heated 100 Celsius to a coldly frigid  -150 Celsius, all within its 5.27-hour rotational period.  Talk about ambivalence!  Eros has also been pivotal in major scientific discovery, as during its opposition to the sun in 1901, when parallax measurements of the asteroid were made to determine the sun’s distance from earth, a standard which held until the introduction of radar telescope methods in 1968 which gave greater accuracy.

Astrologically, Eros represents the quality of the irresistible attraction, a sexual urge so strong it overpowers the mind, often leading to unexpected or unfortunate results.  As such, it indicates passion and desire, both for an individual or a cause, can point to sexual objectification or obsession, and suggests blindness or single-mindedness in pursuit of a desire or goal.  In its earliest, primordial incarnation, it represents the creative principle, while in his latest Greek cultural incarnation via Eratosthenes’ pen, Eros also functions as an indicator of homosexual attraction.

If we think of Eros as the signature of “one who loves not wisely, but too well,” allowing the passion of the moment to rule their relationship choices, so in love with love that nothing else matters, entailing an almost inherent weakness for making mistakes in love, then there are several candidates in popular culture who spring to mind as examples.

Liz Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor (born 27 February 1932), focus of erotic fantasies of many men for decades, has Eros at 5 Pisces closely conjunct both her Sun at 7 and Mars at 2 Pisces, and opposed Neptune at 6 Virgo.  Acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Liz’s private life was tempestuous, to say the least, with a passionate expression rivaling those of her best-loved characters, from Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” to Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  Married eight times (including twice to Richard Burton, perhaps the most volatile of her relationships; their second union lasted barely nine months), and seven times divorced (she was widowed from her third husband, Michael Todd), in April 2010, at age 78, Liz announced her ninth engagement, to a man almost 30 years her junior.

Surely this inability to chose wisely in matters of the heart is reflective of something central (Sun) to her nature, fanned by the sexual flames of Mars and the fantastically unrealistic expectations of Neptune, which often bring disillusionment in their wake.

Anteros, the contrary urge to separation or rejection most opposed to Eros, also figures prominently in Taylor’s chart; at 22 Sagittarius, it forms a grand trine with her precise Venus/Uranus conjunction at 17 Aries (a combination evoking her exotic, lavender-eyed beauty as well as a tendency to form volatile, disruptive attachments) and Jupiter (the excessive, larger-than-life quality of her relationships) at 15 Leo.

Tying Liz for matrimonial failures, and vying with her for passionate entanglements, are Larry King and Mickey Rooney.  Like Taylor, Larry King (born 19 November 1933) sports eight marriages with seven spouses, and, oddly enough, announced his eighth divorce, from current wife Shawn, at almost the same time Liz announced her newest engagement (the couple have since reconciled).  King’s matrimonial history is a tangle of brief encounters—most of his marriages lasted less than three years, and only the latest has endured beyond a decade—often ending in acrimonious and highly public divorces.  King’s Eros at 28 Capricorn is tightly sextile his 27 Scorpio Sun and forms a T-Square with natal Uranus at 24 Aries and natal Pluto at 24 Cancer, indicating both the primacy (Sun) and the inherent instability (Uranus) or destructive capacity (Pluto) of passionate attachments (Eros) in his life.  Anteros also holds sway, describing King’s inability to make permanent romantic connections. At 10 Scorpio, it is exactly squared Saturn (loss, limitation) at 10 Aquarius and sextile Neptune (disappointment, unrealistic appraisals, false images) at 12 Virgo.

Mickey Rooney (born 23 September 1920) is another veteran of eight Hollywood marriages and seven divorces.  Eros at 9 Libra broadly conjoins the 0 Libra Sun and squares Pluto at 8 Cancer, while lying at the midpoint of an exact Neptune/Mars trine from 12 Leo to 12 Sagittarius, reiterating the theme of disillusioned romantic/sexual desires in an individual for whom passion is a central, essential component of life.  None of Rooney’s early marriages lasted more than six years, although he has been with his current wife, Jan Chamberlin, since 1978, after his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity.   Anteros at 3 Pisces is closely conjunct Uranus at 2 Pisces, stirring the pot with a strong need for freedom and variety, as well as a desire to strike out on a different, nonconformist path.  This pairing opposes Jupiter at 5 Virgo, inflating the situation and tending toward excess and infidelity, but also dampening the fires, once organized religion (also Jupiter) entered Rooney’s life.

Examples of individuals whose passions, at least publicly, do not run to romance, but who are very impassioned for a cause, include Clara Barton (born 25 December 1821), founder of the American Red Cross, whose 27 Libra Eros opposes a Saturn/Jupiter conjunction at 19 and 20 Aries, and is inconjunct Pluto at 27 Pisces.

Clara Barton

A Civil War battlefield nurse, Barton was also closely associated with the women’s suffrage movement, which with her humanitarian work in the Red Cross establishes a firm passion (Eros) for societal (Saturn) justice (Jupiter), and a strong desire to transform (Pluto) others’ lives.

Jonas Salk (born 28 October 1914), whose passion for research and medicine led to the world’s first vaccine for polio, had Eros at 21 Pisces, trine Mercury (health, doctors, research).

Nelson Mandela (born 18 July 1918), who spent 27 years in a South African prison as an anti-apartheid activist and then rose to become the first black president of his country, has Eros at 29 Gemini, conjunct both Jupiter (justice) at 1 Cancer and Pluto (transformation, racial integration) at 5 Cancer, and trine Uranus (reform, innovation) at 28 Aquarius.

Jacques Cousteau (born 11 June 1910), whose passion for underwater exploration helped galvanize the ecology movement of the 1970s, was a noted innovator in deep sea diving technology.  His Eros at 29 Scorpio forms the apex of a Yod, or Finger of Destiny, with inconjunct aspects to Saturn (career) at 2 Taurus and Pluto (ecology) at 26 Gemini, is sextile Uranus (innovation, science, technology) at 24 Capricorn and sesquiquadrate Neptune (the ocean) at 17 Cancer.

Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner (born 9 April 1926), whose passion is passion, created a soft porn empire with the publication of Playboy magazine in the 1950s.  Hef’s Eros at 18 Capricorn forms a T-Square with his 19 Aries Sun (his basic essence) and Pluto (sex, taboo, pornography) at 12 Cancer.

Two passionate advocates for their side in the culture wars are TV commentators Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity.  MSNBC’s Olbermann (born 27 January 1959) has Eros at 23 Aries, square Mercury at 25 Capricorn, and evinces a passion for factual news and minutia (both Mercury) which, with a natal Sun/Uranus opposition, tends to the liberal side.  Fox News’ Hannity (born 30 December 1961), with Eros at 5 Aquarius conjunct Saturn at 29 Capricorn and Jupiter at 10 Aquarius, is an impassioned proponent of conservatism (Saturn), while allowing himself more hyperbole and exaggeration of the facts (Jupiter).

Oscar Wilde

Eros, especially when linked with romance and sex arbiters Venus or Mars, does seem prominent in the charts of famous gay men.  Victorian author and playwright Oscar Wilde (born 16 October 1854), eventually arrested and jailed for “gross indecency” with other men, had Eros at 14 Aquarius, trine an 8 Libra Venus. Truman Capote (born 9.30.24), an American icon of the effete ‘50s male, had Eros at 12 Sagittarius quintile a 25 Aquarius Mars.  Actor Rock Hudson (born 11.17.25), whose terminal battle with AIDS in the mid-1980′s outed both himself and the disease, had Eros at 13 Libra square Venus at 11 Capricorn.  Earlier disclosure of Hudson’s homosexuality could have destroyed his career, but Harvey Fierstein (born 6 June 1952) and Nathan Lane (born 3 February 1956), products of a more indulgent era, built their reputations on roles which emphasized their sexual preference.  Fierstein’s 29 Leo Eros is sextile his 1 Scorpio Mars; Lane’s Eros at 21 Sagittarius lies broadly conjoined Mars at 13 Sagittarius, and tightly squared Venus at 20 Pisces.  Cult favorite Divine (born 19 October 1945), the cross-dressing drag queen who rocketed to counter-culture stardom in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972) and went on to parlay his appeal to mainstream audiences in Hairspray (1988), sported an Eros at 10 Sagittarius which was sextile his 6 Libra Venus.

Barney Frank

Politician Harvey Milk (born 22 May 1930), San Francisco’s assassinated mayor, had Eros at 2 Aries in an out-of-sign square to Venus at 27 Gemini. Barney Frank (D-MA), the US Congress’ first openly gay representative (born 31 March 1940) has Eros at 2 Capricorn, inconjunct Mars at 29 Taurus.  “Culture Club” lead singer Boy George (born 14 June 1961), famed for his outrageously androgyne make-up and costume, has Eros at 2 Scorpio opposed Venus at 7 Taurus, while singer George Michael (born 25 June 1963), who began his career with “Wham!” and was later arrested for soliciting sex with men in public bathrooms, has Eros at 27 Capricorn, sesquiquadrate to both Venus at 15 Gemini and Mars at 11 Virgo.

Boy George

Eros also appears frequently in the charts of scandals involving passion gone awry.  When South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford revealed his adulterous affair with an Argentinian lass for whom he proclaimed his undying love on June 24, 2009, transit Eros at 16 Pisces was tightly sextile a conjunction of Mars and Venus at 17 and 18 Taurus.  When New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey came out and admitted an adulterous affair with another man on August 12, 2004, transit Eros at 1 Gemini was exactly squared Mars at 1 Virgo.  Incredibly, McGreevey (born 6 August 1957) has Eros and Mars conjunct at birth, at 29 Leo and 1 Virgo respectively, with transit Mars exactly on natal Eros for his disclosure, and transit Eros in exact square to its natal degree.

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton

That granddaddy of all American political sex scandals, the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, has Eros’ fingerprints all over it.   When the affair began in an anteroom of the Oval Office, on 15 November 1995, transit Eros at 18 Pisces was conjunct Saturn, symbol of the presidency, at 22 Pisces.  When the infamous semen stain was created on Monica’s blue dress, 28 February 1997, transit Eros at 23 Aquarius was semisquare Saturn at 6 Aries.  And when news of the scandal finally broke on 17 January, 1998, transit Eros at 29 Libra was exactly squared Neptune at 29 Capricorn, bundled with the Sun at 27 Capricorn and Venus at 25 Capricorn, depicting deception (Neptune) in romance (Venus) from a leader (Sun), with Venus exactly inconjunct Clinton’s natal Sun at 25 Leo, bringing the scandal home to him very personally.

Eros’ impact on our lives cannot be disputed, whether we direct that energy toward personal passions or in the broader context of issue advocacy, and the havoc Eros can wreak with his irresistible arrows shows just how vulnerable we still are to the snares of love.

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