Romancing the Nymphs: Of Goddesses and Men
Corinne Ondine Pache.
This paper examines the topos of erotic encounters between gods and mortals. I focus on one particular moment and one particular figure in the poetic representations of love, and analyze how these play out in ancient Greek myth and more recent traditions. That moment is falling in love. The figure is that of a goddess when she falls in love with a mortal man. The mirror image of the goddess falling in love—describing the experience from the male perspective—is found, not in poetry, but in local traditions. A striking example is “nympholepsy." The experience of a man being “seized” by a nymph (who may be defined as a local goddess) is described in sources as diverse as votive inscriptions, Plato’s philosophical dialogues, and modern folk tradition. The goddess’s presence is conceived as a transformative experience, and the encounter with the divine is commemorated with the foundation of a shrine—frequently built within caves or at other such types of locus amoenus where the possession took place. While the shrine commemorates an individual’s close (and often explicitly erotic) encounter with a local divinity, it also becomes a place of pilgrimage where worshippers go in hope of re-living the original symbiotic moment between goddess and man. This paper examines the poetics of the topos of the goddess in love with a mortal by looking at how it evolved from ancient to modern times, and how the traditional landscape is transformed into a new setting that allows for new poetic and human questions.
Corinne Ondine Pache
Department of Classics
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)