Susan Rowland, Author
Aphrodite in Detective Fiction!
While the erotic body can be an organ of knowing for the detective as we will see, the body is also the primal site of the mystery. In fact, a corpse might be doubly crafted for Aphrodite. It is both corporeal matter requiring animation by the sleuth’s connecting to its injuries as meaningful, and, additionally, may have fallen foul of Aphrodite’s powers more directly. Its death may represent the darkness of this frequently dazzling goddess.
With lust and lucre as frequent motives for murder, a corpse is likely to be scrutinized for sexual clues as to its demise. Aphrodite as inspiration for sexual desire can also be goddess of death, as her affair with Ares, god of war, indicates. Sex can be deadly. Aphrodite’s bright divinity has a shadow aspect of the demonic in such underworlds as sex addiction, pornography, domestic violence, rape and the desperation engendered in those abandoned.
Mythically, the fate of those who reject Aphrodite is a warning of sexuality’s potency in human agency. Hippolytus, moon and Artemis worshipper, spurns Aphrodite by turning away his stepmother Phaedra’s advances. Falsely accused by her, Hippolytus dies at the hand of his father, Theseus; a murder pre-figuring many domestic sacrifices to Aphrodite. Those who refuse sexual desire refuse Aphrodite. They do not fare well because they are ignoring an aspect of the psyche that is essential to life. On the other hand, Aphrodite alone is no haven. In choosing Aphrodite as the fairest who will receive the golden apple, Paris accepts her offer of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. The consequence is ten years of war and the destruction of his city of Troy.
Aphrodite rejected or despised wreaks vengeance in sexually driving us into the dark. Alone, Aphrodite offers neither peace nor permanence. So other goddesses and gods are essential to mediate and weave Aphrodite’s radiance into something more nurturing for the psyche and the community to survive. Aphrodite’s beauty requires Athena’s reason and necessity, and the wild ecology of Artemis, as well as Hestian centering, in order for a relationship to endure beyond this goddess’s native spontaneity and irresistibility.
And yet Aphrodite inhabits mysteries because her dazzling erotic energy is fundamental to desires that both destroy and restore. The goddess who kills for, or because of, sexual love is also the drive to know the beloved in healing, restorative Eros. Since solving murder is often motivated by the desire to redeem individuals or a community, Aphrodite inspires the sleuth as much as she may tragically or demonically inhabit the sexuality that kills. Here Aphrodite is the drive to animate the dead matter of the corpse into meaning, clues, the connection of completing an-other’s story that the sleuth embodies. Aphrodite is the Eros of knowing that drives detecting.
Therefore above all Aphrodite gives us embodiment as erotic knowing and sexual connecting. She is the orgasmic energy of life that intimately knows extinction. For Aphrodite, orgasm is sacred, and if not respected it can be an initiation into hell.
So yet another precise aspect of this goddess in mysteries is their pivotal axis around murder itself. Aphrodite in detective fiction reminds us that a murdered person is a violated body. Whether or not sex was part of the murder, the corpse has suffered death inflicted by another, rather than life ending according to the necessity of nature. Corpses are not beautiful, or at least are destined to lose their appeal in decay. Although capable of exciting desire in some who have a torturous connection to this goddess, the dead body is of itself an offence to Aphrodite in its premature loss of carnal pleasure. Hence the re-reading of the body marked by unnatural death is to take violated matter, such as blood on a floor, and animate it into meaning as a service to this goddess.