Insta-love and insta-lust in three classical myths

instalovewhen someone you’ve just met thinks that you are their soul mate and they want to spend the rest of their lives with you and have kids with you. 

Prepare yourself – there will be monsters.

If you are at least an occasional reader of fantasy/paranormal romance this scenario is certainly something you’ll recognize without any problem.

A boy meets a girl or a girl meets a boy. The exchange one glance, often even less – they might scent each other’s musk or hear each other’s voice – and that very instant the Earth stops moving for them and they know: this one is my second half, my mate, my only true love forever till death do us part or even much, much longer (an option open for vampires, zombies, mummies, ghosts and such).

As soon as they get together they start to live in each other’s pocket. Nobody and nothing can separate them – neither their family nor friends nor their gang/pack/coven/nest/cluster/clowder or whatever the supernaturals they belong to call themselves as a group. Anybody who even tries to prise them apart is perceived as a mortal enemy. Still if some unlucky circumstances do force them apart they get depressed and suffer incredible torment, often finding themselves after a very short period of time on a brink of suicide. They simply cannot and don’t want to live separately, often claiming that they function at all only if they are together.

If you are interested in an in-depth analyzis of different fantasy romance plots which feature such a scenario visit for example  the Fangs for the Fantasy blog ; it’s enough I mention here some of the series I personally read: Twilight, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Anita Blake, Psy-Changeling. In all of those you can find different romantic fixations which are so possessive that you can hardly speak about the freedom of choice or indeed any other personal freedom ; not when your love interest spends the night in your bedroom without your knowledge and consent, watching you sleep. Horribly romantic and perfectly understandable? Or maybe just sick?

However, as a big fan of ancient myths and stories, I decided to show that those depicted such instantaneous, blind infatuations as something disastrous, unnatural and evil, a curse rather than the epitome of romantic bliss. Yes, strange but true: the freedom of choice in romantic relationships was, it seems, far more appreciated by the ancient Greeks than our contemporary fantasy romance writers.

Here are three cases in question: Pasiphae, Apollo and Daphne and Narcissus.

PASIPHAE was an immortal daughter of the sun-god Helios. Like her two siblings, Aeetes and Kirke, she possessed the powers of witchcraft(pharmakeia). Pasiphae wed a human, King Minos of Krete, and bore him a number of sons and daughters so you can safely assume their marriage wasn’t that bad.
One day, however, a beautiful animal in a form of a white bull was found on a beach and sent to the king. This bull soon became one of the most prized possessions of Minos; the king  admired the creature so much that he refused to offer the bull as a sacrifice to the god of the sea, Poseidon. Bad move, your Highness, especially as you rule an island surrounded by water – angry Poseidon decided to punish that shocking lack of proper respect and devotion. Some versions of the story claim that it was Poseidon himself who gave the bull to Minos so that the king would in turn present the animal as an appropriate sacrifice; the king, very cheekily, offered another bull thinking that the god won’t notice the difference.

Anyway, soon afterwards the Queen Pasiphae was cursed with a strange infatuation: a very strong desire to couple with the king’s finest animal. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat, she ran after the bull and wooed it as best as she could, poor thing, day and night. The king found out that there was no way to overcome Poseidon’s curse, except to allow Pasiphae to consummate the union. The clever craftsman Daedalus was called in to create a cow made of wood wrapped in a bovine skin and endowed with mechanical life. Hiding herself inside this contraption the Queen sated her appetites, conceived and bore a hybrid child, the bull-headed Minotaur (I am pretty sure the successful birth was possible only because she was a minor goddess and an immortal). Later on the same Daedalus was tasked to build the first Labyrinth to house the adult Minotaur who (which?), apart from a quite unusual appearance, possessed a very violent, unstable character and a taste for human flesh (shouldn’t he have been a herbivore? Oh, no matter). Still I bet Minos and Pasiphae were afraid to touch Minotaur with even their little fingers – what if Poseidon got angry again?

That disturbing myth shares many points with some fantasy romances: the insta-lust, the inability to stay away from your object of passion one moment longer, the necessity to consummate the union as soon as possible, finally the change of your tastes and even your looks to accommodate your lover. If you think that a bull, beautiful or not, is just an animal, far removed from your average fantasy love interest, think again: usually those vampires and werewolves do share a lot with different predators like a supernatural strength and agility, a superior sense of smell or/and a sense of hearing. Also in ancient cultures – I think here mainly about Egypt and Mesopotamia – bulls were the symbols of the sun and Pasifae was a daughter of the sun-god. From that point of view, I suppose, that couple made as much sense for people worshipping such deities as any vampire-human/werevolf-human/fairy-human couple for contemporary readers. One of the roles of old myths was close to the escapism that makes most of us read fantasy fiction.

Returning to the idea of insta-lust, it is clear that in this case it constituted a severe, cruel punishment; Minotaur, the fruit of that sad union, wasn’t a ‘good guy’ by anybody’s standards – he was a monster with the horned head (or, alternatively, two pairs of hooves as shown above) and a black, cruel character to match. I only wonder why a wife had to be punished for the sins of her husband; perhaps because she, as a minor deity and a queen, was supposed to know better?

The story of APOLLO AND DAPHNE might be called a story of unrequited love or a duel between insta-lust and insta-hate, both created with supernatural means.
Now imagine such a scenario: Apollo, one of the handsomest Greek gods (and they were a handsome lot to begin with, all of them), one powerful Olympian, a great warrior, poet and musician, was rejected by a simple nymph. Without as much as a second glance. Just like that.

Some versions of this myth claim that all of it happened because our handsome deity mocked the god of love, Eros, for his use of bow and arrow, which Apollo, the finest divine archer in Olympus, found simply childish. The insulted Eros took two arrows, one of gold and one of lead. With the leaden shaft, to incite hatred, he shot the nymph Daphne and with the golden one, to incite love, he shot Apollo through the heart. Apollo was seized with love for Daphne instantly and she in turn completely abhorred him. Apollo continually followed her, begging her to stay, trying to win her over, but the nymph continued her flight. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened and helped Apollo gain upon Daphne – the cruel cad was so hell-bent on teaching his divine cousin a lesson  that he didn’t mind cheating a bit.

Seeing that Apollo was bound to catch her, she called upon her father for help. Her father,  frightfully answering her plea, cast upon her an enchantment of great power, her skin turned into bark, her hair became leaves, and her arms were transformed into branches. Daphne stopped running as her feet became rooted to the ground. Apollo embraced the branches, but even them shrank away from him. Tough luck.

Daphne became a laurel tree but she proved her point: a no means a no, you can reject even a god if you don’t like him and nobody should blame you for that. Of course I am aware that her hatred, like his love, was artificially created by the magic of Eros’s arrows but I wish such lessons were included more often in fantasy romance books. If the myth could make a simple girl say ‘no’ in the most forceful way why so many authors don’t allow their heroines the freedom of choice? However, once again the insta-love (and lust) was presented as an affliction, a punishment leading straight to a tragedy, not the best thing in life that can happen to you.

Now let’s deal with NARCISSUS, the best example of a bad, obsessive romance I managed to find for my essay.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter from the territory of Thespiae in Boeotia who was renowned for his beauty. He was also exceptionally proud, disdaining those who dared to fancy him. Nobody was up to scratch – neither a woman nor a man.
One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him instantly. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted “Who’s there?”. Echo repeated “Who’s there?”. She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him but he stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her.

Nemesis, the goddess of destiny and revenge, noticed the hubris of Narcissus and decided to punish him. She attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus drowned (in some versions it was an accident, in others he deliberately committed suicide because he couldn’t live any longer without his love by his side – rings a bell?).

Appearances are deceitful and it seems the ancient Greeks have learned that particular lesson –  this myth is a great example how good looks can be combined with a perfectly crappy character and a rotten attitude, not to mention an astounding degree of selfishness which allowed Narcissus to watch the torment of Echo (among his others prospective lovers) without any pangs of conscience. Small wonder the name of Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself; it also shows that for the Greeks an insta-lust or/and insta-love was not a great beginning of a healthy, happy, long-lasting relationship but a calamity, a madness sent by angry gods, something to be avoided at any cost. The more I think about it the more I personally agree with such a view.

My sources:

Thank you, my dear Rameau, for providing me some ideas, tweeting the Fangs for the Fantasy link and helping me with the editing – you rock!

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6 Responses to Insta-love and insta-lust in three classical myths

  1. blodeuedd says:

    i do love my romance but instalove, ugh. Like I loved Bf the minute I met him, well I thought he was hot, but I certainly did not love him

  2. heidenkind says:

    I actually adore instalove romances, but I agree-they would be more interesting if authors took a page out of ancient mythology.

    Incidentally, have you read Melissa Marr’s Fragile Eternity books? I think you would really get into them.

  3. rameau says:

    *crickets* What do have we here? Ooh… Ana’s essay 🙂

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