Himerus: The God of Desire
Jun 28, 22
Himerus: The God of Desire
In the Western tradition, desire has been commonly associated with sinfulness. Homero's description of a god called Hímeros is not uncommon in this regard. He is portrayed as a bearded man with a long beard who wears nothing but animal skins.
His female followers are likewise bare-breasted, dressed only in thigh-high skirts and sandals. Many contemporaries took these standards to be evidence of his depravity: “The gods have given them over to shameful lust as soon as they saw them.”
It was no surprise that Hímeros was mocked for being effeminate, and overly interested in food and luxury goods – he was nicknamed “the god of desires”, or “the god of lustful desires”.
But what does it mean to call someone ‘a god of desire’? Does calling him that distinguishes him from other gods who are also characterised by their desire?
In this article I will explore this question, offering an interpretation of the epithet that recognises both its negative connotation, yet also its potential for positive connotations in Homeric contexts.
Hímeros’s name is the first indication that his character will be discussed in different terms from his male counterparts. The epithet “destiny” (ἤνοια) is used to describe him in some contexts, as well as the word ὀκταινε (“beyond,” “on,” or “at the end”) in others.
The word ἤνοια is used to describe Hímeros with reference to his physical characteristics, rather than his nature: he is the man with the long beard, wearing nothing but animal skins.
The word ὀκταινε is used to describe Hímeros with reference to his role in the cosmos, particularly in relation to the death of the gods: “The gods were no longer, but Hímeros announced their end.”
Another example of this naming connotation is provided by Homer’s description of a banquet held in Hímeros’s honour: “They offered him a happy feast, with indescribable delicacies.”
One might wonder whether the epithet ἤνοια is a proper name, like “Achilles,” or if it is a general epithet, like “king.” Some scholars have proposed that ἤνοια is a proper name, perhaps composed of two elements, ἀθάνα, meaning “death” or “end,” and ναι, meaning “to be.”
This would make the name “death-being.” But the epithet ἤνοια is not used with any such meaning in Homer, and is used in other contexts to describe other gods and heroes.
The god of unchaste desire, not lustful desire
A common reading of Hímeros’s epithet is that he is a god of desire, i.e., he desires things that are not attractive. Such an interpretation has been offered by many authors in the past, including Plutarch, Plato, and Lucian.
Plutarch, for example, wrote that Hímeros “was displeased with men’s bodies, and, in order not to be tied to his own, he cursed them by assuming the shape of a god and assuming the name of ‘desire.’
Plato, on the other hand, describes Hímeros as a god of unchaste desire, and a God who desires the unnatural and the unnatural: “The worst of all is that they desire even that which is unnatural.”
Such readings have been challenged in recent years by scholars who have argued that while Hímeros may desire things that are not attractive, he does not desire things that are unnatural or abnormal or things that are abnormal or abnormal.
In fact, Hímeros is said to desire things that are normal and natural, including health and strength, as well as other godly pursuits such as wealth, honour, and authority.
Homeros and Hímeros: Two Views of Desire
One of the most important questions to be raised with regard to Hímeros’s epithet is, what does it mean? What does the word ‘desire’ imply in Homeric contexts, and how does Hímeros’s epithet fit into this?
There are two prominent views on this issue. The first view is that Hímeros’s epithet is used to highlight the difference between male and female desire. For example, Robin Osborne argues that Hímeros’s desire is directed toward “natural” things, while Hera’s desire is unnatural and abnormal.
This view has been upheld by many scholars, including Robin Osborne, John Miles Foley, and Mary T. Kieran. The second view is that Hímeros’s epithet is used to highlight the difference between “immoral” and “moral” desires.
This view has been upheld by many authors, including David A. Campbell, Richard Seaford, and Nicholas de Lange. Campbell, for example, argues that Hímeros is presented as “immoral,” while Hera is presented as “moral,” and thus the epithet “unchaste” reflects the former’s desire for things that are undesirable.
An interpretation that recognises the potential for positive connotations
In the past several decades, scholars have begun to recognise the potential for positive connotations in Hímeros’s epithet. Homeros’s portrayal of Hímeros as the god of unchaste desire is not a constant in Homeric literature. Instead, this portrayal is typically associated with Hímeros in certain contexts, and Hímeros is said to desire different things in each of these contexts.
For example, Hímeros’s desire for food and luxury goods is associated with his role as the judge in the underworld: “[Hímeros] judged the dead according to what was just and good, and he judged over their wealth, dividing everything fairly among them.”
Similarly, Hímeros’s desire for health and strength is associated with his function as the maintainer of the cosmic order: “[Hímeros] governed the holy ordinances of Zeus, and kept the strong-built House of Hades in order.” Thus, according to this view, Hímeros’s desire is portrayed in different ways, depending on the context, and it is only in a particular context that his desire is portrayed as unchaste and non-natural.
Another indication that this interpretation is supported by the evidence is provided by the fact that Hímeros’s epithet is often paired with a negative epithet in Homer, such as “coward”, “fool”, “mortal”, “unworthy”, and “unjust”.
In some cases, the epithet is paired with a positive epithet in the same line, such as “just” paired with “fair”. This indicates that Homer is consistent in his use of these two devices and that they both have a potential for conveying positive or negative connotations, depending on the context.
Conclusion: Desire and the Meaning of Homeros’s Gods
It is important to realise that the term ‘god of desire’ is not a single, uniform concept, but instead is a combination of opposing ideas. Depending on the context, Hímeros may be described as either a god of “immoral” or “natural” desire or as a “coward” or a “hero.”
While the epithet ‘god of desire’ connotes some degree of queerness, it also indicates that Hímeros is not a typical god.
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