Phanes / Eros Protogenos vs. Eros Ouranios

Phanes is an interesting figure in Hellenic mythology, and I say this because He seems to exist solely to the Orphic cosmology, while pan-Hellenic interpretatio (for lack of a better term) suggests that “Phanes” is simply the Orphic name for the deity Whom Theoi.com recognises as Eros Protogenos or “Elder Eros” while defining Eros as Son of Aphrodite or “Younger Eros” as a different Deity. Not being “Orphic” in my beliefs or practises, I don’t use the name “Phanes” in my worship — in fact, the Orphic ideal of asceticism, abstinence (basically), seems diametrically opposed to my own philosophical views that indulgence, in certain degrees of moderation, bring us not only the joys of this life (both personal and interpersonal) but aid us to the joys of the next life and, possibly, can bring us closer to certain understandings of the Theoi and, thus, the Universe. (Needless to say, I don’t get on, philosophically, very well with Neo-Orphics and other ascetic-minded Hellenistai, but such is life.)

Of course, my own gnosis-driven (and at least some of which is verified, interestingly, via Aristophanes) theology isn’t wholly Hesiodic, as it sometimes “feels” (to me). I believe that, through Khaos, Nyx (Night) and Erebos (Darkness) simply came into existence, and this makes Them equals, though Nyx had the slight advantage of being pregnant at the time she sprang, adult and fully-formed, into existence. As much as I like the imagery of the “world egg”, I don’t think it’s really for me to say if this is, in fact, how Eros was born, but I like the imagery because it sort of detaches Him from the essential “darkness” of Nyx. I do believe that, however He was born, He sprang fully-formed as an eternal Ephebos, young man in ancient Greek, and that this is important in how He’s depicted, because it’s significant in that it is during the prime of our youths, aged approximately 16-30, when we are at our most passionate and most driven to create with full force. Now, I say “the darkness of Nyx because that is what Night before Day, Stars, or Moonlight basically was — it was the presence of Eros that inspired Nyx and Erebos to see not only the beauty in each-other, but inspired Them toward passion, and to makes more beautiful beings, each with Their own place. First were created of these combined Dark forces were The Moirai (Fates), Whom I believe number more than simply three (more on this at a later date), and who basically assign lots and places to both Theoi and Man alike. Then the celestial bodies, Hemara (Day), Aether (Light), and from those two were born Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), the Astaera (Stars), Eos (Dawn), and Gaia (Earth); and these Protogenoi gave Nyx and Erebos (Night and Darkness) significance, for now with Beings that counter Them in force and domain, the place of Nyx and Erebos now has meaning.

How does this figure in with “Younger Eros”?

Well, if blogging has taught me nothing else, it’s that I’m prone to going off on tangents….

So, as per Hesiod, in Theogeny, it’s depicted that when Aphrodite sprang from the foam created in the sea by the blood and seed from the loins of Ouranos, that She was joined shortly thereafter by Eros and Himeros. As sourced on theoi.com, it is stated:

[link]
Hesiod, Theogony 176 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
“Eros (Love), and comely Himeros (Desire) followed her [Aphrodite] at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods.”
[Hesiod may be suggesting that Eros and Aphrodite were born of Aphrodite at her birth. Indeed, according to Sappho, Ouranos was the father of Eros by Aphrodite, which suggests she was imagined born pregnant with the god. Nonnus says this explicitly.]

This is one of those areas where translations of Hesiod differ, even if the “suggestion” that some readers see is one that seems corroborated by other sources. In the Second Edition (1983, 2004) translation of Hesiod: Theogeny, Works & Days, Shield by Apostolos N. Athanassakis (a chairholder in Hellenic Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara) translates things differently from the manner afforded by H.G. Evelyn-White (a 1914 translation) in a manner that I feel can be telling:

[line 195]… Both gods and men
call her Aphrodite, foam-born goddess, and fair-wreathed Kythereia;
Aphrodite because she grew out of aphros, foam, that is,
and Kythereia because she touched land at Kythera.
She is called Kyprogenes, because she was born
[line 200]in sea-grit Cyprus, and Philommedes, fond of a man’s genitals,
because to them she owed her birth. Fair Himeros and Eros
became her companions when she was born and when she joined the gods.

I find this “telling” because in Evelyn-White’s translation, he says that Eros and Himereos followed Aphrodite, which definitely could imply parentage to one who has only read that translation. Athanassakis, on the other hand, simply states that They became Her companions, without any implication of parentage.

Of course, it can also be “telling” that the Athanassakis translation is the first translation of Theogeny that I ever read.

Regardless, I do find the celebration of the Athanassakis translations of Hesiod and the Orphic hymns by both scholars of Hellenic studies and Hellenic polytheists alike to be the most significant aspect in determining if the Hellenic pantheon really does have Two Eros. I have concluded that there are not; where Himeros came from matters less to me than the fact that He simply exists, and that, like Aphrodite and Eros, He presides over another aspect of Love and its creative force. Though my cultus is paid more-directly to Eros than to Aphrodite, in the grand cosmological scale, I see Them as generally equals in regard to the interactive love between mortals, and to interpret this line from Theogeny as one of implied parentage not only confuses the reader as to why Hesiod decided that either a) there were two Theoi of the same name (something that he never did of any other name) or b) Eros was somehow re-born of Aphrodite without explanation, but it also relegates Eros to a lesser position, one that is ultimately subservient to Aphrodite despite being made, by the same author, to be a Pretty Big Deity only a few dozen lines previous.

Now, in Orphic cosmology, the idea of Two Eros seems, at first, to be one that is a non-issue — Phanes (Protogonos, in the Athanassakis translation of the Orphic hymns, ©1977, out-of-print) “is” the “Elder Eros” and “Eros” is the “Younger Eros”, so this keeps things easy, yes? I’d be inclined to agree with that, if not for the fact that The Orphic Hymn to Eros (#58) seems to be to a Theos oddly reminiscent of the one who is mentioned in The Orphic Hymn to Protogonos (#6) with less details.

If you, gentle reader, still prefer to conclude that there are Two Eros, or that Phanes is a separate Theos and not merely a title of Eros under His epithet Protogenos (something I mentally insert to make heads or tails of conversations with Neo-Orphics), then by all means, believe so, as such is entirely within your rights. This is merely where my gnosis has led me: There is only One Eros, but He is a complex Theos, to say the least, and that all worship to Eros or whatever name He will answer to (which may or may not include Phanes) ultimately goes to Eros.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for almost a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros most of that time. He also paints, makes music, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival subculture of the early 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.
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