"WHAT’S that you’re humming?"
The tantalizing tune floats my way on a balmy, Aegean breeze; while the sun does
a slow leave-taking, lively waves are whipped into whitecaps below.
"Just a little song," says Spiros.
We’re at the seaside taverna where he’s just finished his meal and I continue to
eat: fresh, tangy feta dusted with oregano; chewy, grilled octopus lightly
bathed in lemon juice; and some meaty Kalamatas plumped-up by brine. We sip
anise-flavored, iced ouzo–quintessential Greek concoction that sharpens the
appetite, relaxes the body and sweetens the mind; its lovely licorice aroma
inducing deep, sensuous repose.
"I don’t know yet; it just started to come to me."
Spiros raises his glass and clinks it gently against mine. Then he feeds me an
olive, picks up my hand and kisses my fingertips.
"It is for you, the way you sound to me in music," he says, "my ‘Kathleen’
song—about the amazing woman from America who came here and found me." He kisses
me again, this time on my chapped lips, my mouth still full of olive.
Now, years later, the song is my musical reminder of love at first sight—erotas
me tin proti matia–a phenomenon that, though widely acknowledged, I never
thought to be true, until I went to Greece and it happened to me, one April
evening, in the year when the Hale-Bopp comet streaked through the naked-eye
How fitting my lover and I meet in Greece—setting for the ancient myth of Psyche
and Eros, a story also propelled by love at first sight. We learn, like lovers
always do, that when Aphrodite gets involved, the love goddess will definitely
mess with you. But even as she engages in her devious ways, designed to
seriously test the resolve of lovers, Aphrodite also provides valuable lessons,
enlightening signs, subtle symbols and clues, in how to progress from purely
primal attraction to complex, committed love.
Psyche’s life changes when she first lays eyes on the sleeping Eros, and
instantly falls in love; at that same moment, she accidentally burns the god,
who awakens in pain, sees that Psyche has disregarded his directive to never
look upon his face, and flees, leaving Psyche suicidal. But Aphrodite holds out
hope to the distraught girl when she informs her that, if she ever wants to see
Eros again, she must complete four virtually impossible tasks: To separate, by
nightfall, a great scattering of the very tiniest seeds—a chaotic mixture of
poppy, millet, barley and such—and sort them all out neatly. To collect some
fleece from the ferocious golden rams—a risky endeavor indeed—and bring back the
glittery wool to Aphrodite. To fill a flask with water from the deadly river
Styx, an evil place guarded by dragons and surrounded by slimy slopes. The
fourth and final task the love goddess imposes on Psyche: To take a box, travel
to the underworld–without becoming distracted by anything whatsoever she
encounters along the way, otherwise, she’ll be trapped in Hades
forever–whereupon Psyche must ask Persephone to fill the box with her beauty
secret, so she can return the mystery contents to Aphrodite.
While the actual tasks are revealing, the solutions illuminate the heart of the
myth. Because no other god or goddess dares to defy Aphrodite, Psyche learns
that none are willing to come to her aid. But Psyche takes Pan’s advice to heart
and engages in prayer and tender submission to be freed from the bind she’s
in—and the universe responds. Armies of tiny ants appear and organize their
six-legged legions into an industrious operation of nonstop activity until every
seed is put in place. Elegant river reeds inform Psyche how to get her hands on
the rams’ golden fleece—when the beasts come to drink, strands of their shiny
fluff catch on nearby bushes, from where it’ll be easy for Psyche to gather. A
mighty eagle flies to the foul Styx to scoop its water into a bucket that he
carries in his beak, back to Psyche. Eros himself comes to Psyche’s aid after
she presumably screws up and peeks at the beauty secret inside the box, a
violation that instantly puts her in a deep-trance sleep that, of course, the
love god is able to undo.
Each task/solution characterizes a particular item on love’s ever-transforming
agenda. Seed-sorting ants demonstrate the essential role decision-making plays
in the cultivation of love; the evaluation, organization and communication of
our thoughts are the foundations for love to flourish. Supple river reeds reveal
the importance of flexibility to nurture love’s growth and avoid confrontation;
rejecting direct encounter can allow things to come to you. The eagle—symbol of
unconscious courage and wisdom—shows that love prospers from within when we tap
innate powers and learn to more readily trust our own instincts. Psyche’s
underworld trip puts her, for the first time, in direct contact with sacred
female energy; although Psyche gives in to neither pity nor fear and
successfully retrieves the box, she essentially falls asleep on the job. Eros’s
shows a seeming failure–landing in a trance–to be, actually, a catalyst for
love because revealing vulnerability is as important as displaying inherent
strength. Psyche’s perseverance, patience and steadfast pursuit of him, despite
the daunting duties she’s had to endure, has a potent effect on Eros. Deeply
moved, the love god, after he rescues Psyche from her eternal snooze, makes a
formal request on Olympus that he be allowed to marry her. This unprecedented
marriage, between god and mortal, is the divine union of Eros and Psyche–love
and soul. The heavenly wedding is followed by the birth of their child, Voluptas—pleasure,
bliss and joy—who encompasses the fruits of true love.
While Psyche’s tough treatment is partly punishment from Aphrodite for injuring
Eros, the goddess is more intent upon teaching the clueless lass the complicated
lessons of love. The increasingly difficult—and dangerous—tasks Aphrodite
imposes on Psyche are preparation for the trials inherent in evolved,
high-stakes love. Each solution that presents itself to Psyche helps further
develop her emotional intelligence—she starts as a naïve, uncertain girl and
becomes a wiser, more self-resourceful woman, who gains knowledge about herself
and the mysterious ways of love. She learns that love’s bonds can be either
strengthened or strained by the challenges us mortals are subjected to when we
explore love’s wilder terrains.
Had I studied Psyche and Eros more astutely, perhaps I’d have better understood
love’s power to irrevocably change one’s life. Falling in love is like a one-two
punch: Eros’s arrow delivers the first blow; Aphrodite follows with the K.O.
Like Psyche with Eros, when I first catch sight of Spiros, I deeply succumb and
fall hard for my Greek guy. I, too, come to find out that Aphrodite runs the
show; love is out of our mortal hands. The way Psyche steered through the
straits and shoals of her love-tossed venture, I must chart a course on my own
sea of love, replete with distractions, dilemmas and demands, related in part to
having fallen for a man in a foreign land. Love may transcend borders but
governments don’t give a damn; a love affair with a foreigner has always been
more complicated to carry out–even before 9/11. But also because, and to top
things off, my man turns out to be a blues-rocker who plays electric
guitar–dear reader, it doesn’t get any knottier than this. In terms of
compatibility, a writer in search of some silent solitude, is to a musician
who’s quite keen to kick out the jams, what a recluse spider is to a lightning
bug—like night and day, antithetical to their cores!
Before I realize, let alone understand, any of this, I’m immediately plunged
into completely unfamiliar territory. To begin with there’s Greece–adopted
country, land of the one I love–where I don’t speak the language and, save for
my newfound lover, know not a soul; then there’s the rock musician’s life—a
strange, testosteronic terrain featuring my lover’s harem of electrifying
guitars—with all its sublime noise, raucous joy and raw physicality.
As I set off from New York, I consider myself a worldly-wise kind of gal, but
once I get to Greece, I rethink everything I thought I knew about love.
Aphrodite sets things straight and makes a believer out of me. Like Psyche I,
too, must navigate through the preposterous predicaments, formidable hurdles and
absurd laws of attraction imposed on me by the irresistible, irrepressible,
indomitable goddess, Aphrodite, who teaches me, "Love’s goal is not know
thyself, but reveal thyself."
© Copyright 2009-2011 by Kathleen Cromwell. All rights reserved.