IX. Aphrodite is an excellent goddess through whom to contemplate some of
the implications of gods who are personifications of natural forces.
A. With this type of god, "belief" is not a matter of debate the way it is in a
1. To ask, "Do you believe in Aphrodite?" is, on one level, as absurd
as asking, "Do you believe that sexual attraction exists?"
2. The question of whether personification is an appropriate way to
represent these forces remains, and some classical authors would
answer that it is not.
... there lies an island, situated directly opposite to the course of those who sail with a North wind. Some call this the island of Achilles; others call it the chariot of Achilles; and others Leuce, from its colour. Thetis is said to have given up this island to her son Achilles, by whom it was inhabited. There are now existing a temple, and a wooden statue of Achilles, of ancient workmanship. It is destitute of inhabitants., and pastured only by a few goats, which those, who touch here, are said to offer to the memory of Achilles. Many offerings are sufpended in this temple, as cups, rings, and the more valuable gems. All these are offerings to the memory of Achilles. Inscriptions are also suspended, written in the Greek and Latin language, in praise of Achilles, and composed in different kinds of metre. Some are in praise of Patroclus, whom those, who are disposed to honour Achilles, treat with equal respect. Many birds inhabit this island, as sea-gulls, divers, and coots innumerable. These birds frequent the temple of Achilles. Every day in the morning they take their ﬂight, and having moistened their wings, ﬂy back again to the temple, and sprinkle it with the moisture; which having performed, they brush and clean the pavement with their wings. This is the account given by some persons. Those, who come on purpose to the island, carry animals proper for sacriﬁce with them in their ships, some of which they immolate, and others they set at liberty in honour of Achilles. Even those, who are compelled by stress of weather to land upon the island, must consult the God himself, whether it would be right and proper for them to select for sacriﬁce any of the animals, which they should ﬁnd feeding there; offering, at the fame time, such a recompense, as to them seems adequate to the value of the animal so selected. But if this should be rejected by the Oracle, for there is an Oracle in this temple, they must then add to their valuation; and if the increased valuation be still rejected, they must increase it again, till they ﬁnd, from the assent of the Oracle, that the price they offer is deemed sufficient. When this is the case, the beast to be sacriﬁced stands still of its own accord, and makes no effort to escape. A conﬁderable treasure is laid up in this temple as the price of these victims. It is said that Achilles has appeared in time of sleep both to those who have approached the coast of this island, and also to such as have been sailing a short distance from it, and instructed them where the island was most lately accessible, and where the ships might best lie at anchor. They even say further, that Achilles has appeared to them not in time of sleep, or a dream, but in a visible form on the mast, or at the extremity of the yards, in the same manner as the Dioscuri have appeared. This distinction however must be made between the appearance of Achilles, and that of the Dioscuri, that the latter appear evidently and clearly to persons, who navigate the sea at large, and when so seen foretell a prosperous voyage; whereas the ﬁgure of Achilles is seen only by such as approach this island. Some also say, that Patroclus has appeared to them during their sleep. I have thus put down what I have heard concerning this island of Achilles, either from persons who had touched there themselves, or from others that had made the same enquiries; and indeed these accounts seem to me to be not unworthy of belief. I am myself persuaded, that Achilles was a hero, if ever man was, being illustrious by his noble birth, by the beauty of his person, by the strength of his mind and understanding, by his untimely death in the ﬂower of youth, by his being the subject of Homer's poetry, and, lastly, by the force of his love, and constancy of his friendship, insomuch that he would even die for his friends.