Ancient Greece and the Asteroids of Passionate Love: Eros and Anteros
Unrequited love absolutely and totally sucks. There is possibly nothing more humiliating than rejection of your deepest feelings by someone you crave with inexplicable longing.
The Ancient Greeks knew this, so when they devised Aphrodite’s helper-bees, the Erotes, they imagined them as a group of comely, naked, winged youths, each with a role to play in the act of courtship.
Of the seven original Erotes from Classical Antiquity, only Eros (Asteroid 433) and Anteros (Asteroid 1943) are represented (so far) by an astral body. Personally, I could wish these names had been given to planets, rather than asteroids, but my wishes have never dictated the IAU’s decisions.
The seven Erotes, all Aphrodite’s illegitimate children from her union with Ares, god of war, were:
|ANTEROS The god of mutual love, or love returned. He was sometimes also the god who avenged unrequited love.|
|EROS (1) The ancient god of love and the agent of natural procreation. He was the eldest of the Erotes born at the creation of the universe.|
|EROS (2) The god of love. He was the most mischievous of the Erotes, who randomly shot out love-inducing darts from his golden bow.|
|HEDYLOGOS The god of sweet-talk and flattery.|
|HERMAPHRODITOS The hermaphroditic god. He was once a handsome winged youth, like the other Erotes, but his form was merged with that of the Nymphe Salmakis in answer to her prayers that the two should never be apart.|
|HIMEROS The god of sexual desire who accompanied Aphrodite from the moment of her birth.|
|HYMENAIOS The god of the wedding ceremony.|
|POTHOS The god of passionate longing.|
Some of their roles are titillating; some sincere; some are downright perverse. To make sense of why the Greeks liked messing with each other’s heads when it came to love, though, you have to unravel the many forms of love the Ancients believed in, and put yourself in their place.
There were forms of love they didn’t take terribly seriously, since, from the perspective of the philosophers, erotic love, as one example, has a way of burning out rather quickly (as it does today, otherwise there would be little interest in deciphering any potential meaning behind the asteroids Anteros and Eros in the chart, especially the synastry chart).
To comprehend the spirit in which the Erotes were created, it helps to put romantic love into historical perspective. There were two kinds of institutionalized, sanctioned social relationships possible amongst free citizens in Greece, but only one of them was unequivocally passionate in its fevered pursuit of the object of desire.
The first was an arranged marriage between a man, usually 15 to 20 years older than the girl in question, who was often approximately 13 to 16. Right off the bat, you can see that this is not automatically about passionate love, now is it? Arranged marriages, which follow a certain proscribed set of behaviors, lack the drama and thrill of falling in love and wondering if your beloved feels the same.
Not only that, but conjugal love and happiness was under the purview of Hera and Demeter. If you wanted to inspire your new husband sexually, you were going to need to sacrifice at Aphrodite’s altar, for it was the goddess of sensual love’s approval that ensured a man’s erotic interest.
The second type of relationship sanctioned by society was the intense erotic love an older man was encouraged to feel for a younger man. This is where the spirit of what we think of as erotic love stems from: the initiatory sexual relationship between an older, more learned man, and his young apprentice. This kind of relationship wasn’t intended to endure; it was meant to provide a transition from childhood to adulthood, and was based on religious beliefs and social mores that spread throughout the Ancient world (in other words, although we associate these behaviors with Ancient Greece, in fact, their origins, in terms of cultures, are varied).
Socially-sanctioned, especially for the Ancient Greek aristocracy, for whom it functioned as a socio-sexual and religious initiation not only into adulthood, but also complicated civic roles, both girls and boys were encouraged to develop amorous feelings for same-sex lovers, prior to marriage. Once married, however, same-sex relationships were discouraged.
In addition, since the Greeks were constantly at war, the lack of permanence in their political and social worlds created a fair amount of cynicism in their society.
The behavior of their gods reflected that cynicism. So don’t be surprised if your pink-and-red-heart romantic notions of love do not square with Ancient Greek ideals, since Hallmark wasn’t around in those days, and no one sent Valentine’s day cards. This doesn’t mean romantic love didn’t exist—of course it did.
However, the demigod offspring of Aphrodite and Ares have an odd sense of humor at times. When Eros’ arrows go astray it often leads to unrequited love, represented by Himeros, not Anteros, as is often thought. This is a common misunderstanding, based on a misreading of the Greek language itself.
As explained in Anteros: A Forgotten Myth by Craig E. Stephenson (New York: Routledge, 2011), it’s a common misunderstanding of the Greek prefix “ant-” to assume it equals the Latin “anti.” Instead, Stephenson shows that in the use of the prefix ‘ant-’ the Greeks were trying to convey the idea of opposition, without negation.
The difficult thing about Ancient Greek is that a single word often has multiple, clever layers of meaning that do not easily translate into modern usage. Therefore, when the Greeks tried to convey the idea that Anteros is the ‘opposite’ of Eros (the prefix ‘ant-’ meaning ‘opposite’ or ‘against’), their usage did not have the same either/or meaning that we have today.
Instead, what they meant was that, as with the concept of yin and yang, ‘opposites’ are not negations of each other, that instead they complement each other. You really can’t understand one without the other, since they were created to complement each other.
This concept, of complementarity, rather than black-and-white opposition, gives depth of meaning to the ‘opposite’ houses in the astrological chart, at the same time that it gives greater meaning to the use of these two asteroids in synastry. In other words, where you see one, you should also be looking for the other, since they functioned dually for the Greeks, from whom we still have a lot to learn, in spite of the distance of 2,500+ years.
One way of understanding the Greek concept of duality is to say that for every poison there is an antidote—even in love. The love that is offered by Eros is answered by Anteros, no matter the consequences. Remember that the two in conjunction do not promise ‘forever after.’ Very few Greek myths involve permanency or sexual fidelity, for that matter.
In Antiquity, Eros was proposed by Hesiod, Greece’s earliest source of cosmological mythos, to have been one of the three forces that took shape from the dark void of chaos; the other two were first Gaia, the Earth, then Tartarus, the empty void beneath the earth, and finally, Eros, the principle of love.
It was only later that Eros was ‘reduced’ to his current image as Aphrodite’s child. His power as a force of nature is undeniable, although seeing Eros reduced to a cherubic cupid baby angel is pretty weird, when you consider how powerful a god he started out as for Ancient Greeks.
Astrologically, although I’ve seen discussions that are fairly cogent about how Anteros and Eros can be used, it’s pretty clear that most people are misunderstanding Anteros, which we can’t help, since we’re trying to fit ancient ideas into our modern worldview. Although we’d like to see it as an astrological indicator of the way we return someone’s love, you know by now that love is far too complicated an emotional force to be reduced to something as simplistic as a point in the astrological chart.
If you are going to look to Anteros for answers, though, my hope is that you will not use it for easy answers. Instead, try to use Eros and Anteros in tandem. Try to think like the Greeks did, and ask yourself, in what way do you send out signals, shoot your arrows of love, or fall in love? Look at the house location for clues, and most especially, look at aspects to Eros.
Then look to see where your Anteros is located, and consider that its meaning stems from the idea of returning love, love reciprocated. This is not ‘how’ you love; how you love is complicated. But it might show the type of person you respond to (rather than the one you think you want), and the way in which you will reciprocate if someone shoots his arrows at you.
Depending on the sign and house placement, for example, your Eros might not be the type to fall in love at first sight, no matter what the myth says. Further, the location of your Anteros can give you a better idea of why you’re returning someone’s love. Some types of people attract you more than others, so check the synastry of these asteroids. You might be extremely surprised to find out what of theirs affects your Eros/Anteros.
Even then, be cautious in your interpretation. In pursuit of a better understanding of this subject, I took a look at the charts of famous lovers. One famous pairing, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, had no significant contacts between their Eros and Anteros (or their planets and these asteroids).
The most significant contact in their charts is her Moon in Scorpio exactly conjuncting his Sun/Saturn conjunction, indicating the profound nature of their connection, one that went much deeper than mere erotic passion, no matter how ‘romantic’ they might have appeared on the surface.
Remember: for the Greeks, romance was not the apotheosis of what love was about. It was only one phase in the pederastic process of seducing a young man, and was not considered a prominent concern of heterosexual relationships, since ‘falling in love’ the way we do today was relatively rare, given the social expectations of the day. Love affairs were not intended to be the one major relationship of your life.
In other words, if you’re looking for passion, Eros and Anteros are strong indicators of those feelings, but if you want a life-long love that lasts, look elsewhere in the chart. Cupid’s darts are all well and good, but they do not predict lasting love, or even ‘true’ love.