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Bálint, M. (1938). Eros and Aphrodite. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 19:199-213.

(1938). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 19:199-213

Eros and Aphrodite

Michael Bálint

In classical antiquity there are two sovereign deities of Love, figures which are no mere doublets but separate and distinct beings. The one, Aphrodite, probably belongs to the same group of goddesses as Istar, Astarte and Isis; that is to say, she was originally a mother-goddess. In the more highly developed conception of the classical period, however, she is represented as a young, enchantingly beautiful woman, who kindles love on all sides and is herself as a rule in love. She is subject to no moral law and has many lovers, amongst them Adonis and Anchises. She has also several husbands, Hephaestus, Ares and Hermes. She leads, indeed, a mature sexual life, though not always with the same partner and, when she loves anyone, she gives herself up to her love. The other love-deity is Eros, a mighty god and yet a child, a mischievous, wanton, impudent rogue. Ethnologists will, of course, prove that he really symbolizes the penis, but we need not at the moment trouble about this. The important point for us is that Eros is never conceived of as a grown man; he is the constant companion of Aphrodite but never her sexual partner. He only plays, yet in his play he performs most difficult tasks. He is a child and yet mightier than the major gods. A favourite subject for plastic representation is the Triumph of Eros, in which Zeus himself is led behind the triumphal car, smiling but in chains. Or again, the Loves are represented as playing with the insignia of the high gods or taming wild beasts. Eros is indeed a child but his arrows spare no one. First of all the gods he issued forth directly out of Chaos, and Plato wrote the finest of his dialogues in his honour.

Thus the Greeks divided the phenomena of love into two groups which they then embodied in two ideas, two deities. A similar duality of libidinal experience was described by Freud in the Drei Abhandlungen. In sexual gratification we have to distinguish fore-pleasure and end-pleasure, and of the latter infantile sexuality as yet knows nothing.

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