Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Archetypes: Aphrodite vs. Athena and Angelica vs. Bradamante

I began reading Greek mythology as a child. My elementary school classroom had a few books with those stories and I became entranced by the drama, spectacle, and tragedy that were larger than life.

I didn't know about psychology or archetypes then, all I knew was that there were some gods and goddesses that I liked and others who I didn't.

I liked Athena and didn't care much for Aphrodite.

As an adult, I can understand that Athena, goddess of wisdom and victory, demonstrates a woman having confidence in herself and being praised for her intellect. Intellect is something one can work on to improve over life. You can feed your brain with books, classes, asking questions, etc.

Aphrodite, on the other hand represents a far different kind of archetype. She represents love and beauty. Aphrodite is seen as such a beautiful woman that all men will be overcome with desire for her, and lose their wits in order to possess her. While anyone can make themselves look more presentable and attractive by having good grooming and dressing well, there is a limit to improving your looks just as there is a limit in changing your height.

That was something I inherently knew as a child and so I never felt any interest in aspiring to be like Aphrodite. To me, she seemed selfish, vain and self-centered. Those are qualities that I do not find appealing.

In the epic poems Orlando innamorato and Orlando furioso, those two archetypes are best represented by the characters Bradamante and Angelica.

The Athena archetype is represented by Bradamante who is a warrior and renowned for her battle strategies. She is unmarried and unbetrothed because men are intimidated by her military prowess. She is a powerful woman and a character who I liked immediately. I may not be tall or interested in swinging a sword, but I enjoy reading about a strong female character who is not content to wait passively for anything. She is an active participant in Life and wants to be the master of her own fate.

Angelica, on the other hand, represents the Aphrodite archetype as a beauty who appears at the beginning of Boiardo's poem Orlando innamorato and disrupts Charlemagne's tournament banquet. She offers herself up as a prize for anyone who can best her brother in a joust. All men burn for her, and every knight - even the married ones - vie for the opportunity to possess her.

They are struck by the power of her pretty face and pleasing figure. She is described as the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen. Fights break out and later a war is fought over her.

She is a medieval equivalent of Helen of Troy whose face launched a thousand ships.

I simply could not identify with Angelica as a character.

As a woman, I cannot (and do not wish to) identify with Angelica's incomparable beauty and power over men. I would feel uncomfortable to have every man looking at me as if I was something to devour.

It should come as no surprise that in my novel, Quest of the Warrior Maid, that Bradamante is my heroine and Angelica plays a minor role.

In another installment I will compare the characters of Ruggiero and Orlando.

In the meantime, I am now off to Italy. The home of poets Boiardo and Ariosto who penned these magnificent stories.

Ciao!

Linda
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