Roses of Aphrodite
By J. L. Thurston
Aphrodite was not born on a lovely spring day, as one would think. She did not come forth from her mother’s womb, wrapped in warmth and love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, emerged fully grown from the sea as her father’s blood tossed and rolled in the salt water. She first saw the world through a veil of red, with the odor of fish and iron clinging to her hair.
Perhaps it was because of this disfigured first look upon the world that she was graced with such beauty, and given a gift from the universe the moment she kicked sea foam onto the sand. For when she alighted upon the world, there was the first ever bloom of a rose.
The petals were white, as creamy and supple as her skin. Aphrodite inspected the flower closely with newborn eyes. She plucked it from the ground to breathe deep its fragrance, only to be pricked by the thorns. Her blood oozed from her finger and she knew the rose was an omen.
Her heart was exactly like her roses. Perfect at first glance, hiding the bitter sting of love.
For Aphrodite loved, though she was born of blood and pain. She loved deeply everything her eyes saw and her fingers touched. She loved the evergreen myrtles. She loved the doves and sparrows, the grace of the swans. Her capacity to love was her source of happiness, like a great sun burning inside her, and yellow roses grew wherever she danced.
She even loved Eros, though he never left her side and begged her to lay with him. She loved his dedication, his passion, though it was only shallow lust. She loved his wings, the wild look in his eyes.
The young goddess was celebrated in a shallow way. Beneath her smile she grieved to be loved only for her visage. Clothing only soured her flesh, so she remained nude and delighted in the embrace of the sun and touch of the grass.
To any outsider, she was happy and carefree. She had the admiration of the gods and mortals alike. But the thorns of the rose were in her heart, and she longed for someone to remove them.
For a time she believed Ares was the answer. The god of war attracted her in the way fireflies are drawn to torches, and she knew she could easily be set aflame by his wrath. He had blood on him just the same as she.
Were they lovers? He always wanted to know, as if he could not tell by himself. He needed to hear the words from her lips. Lovers. All who knew her wanted to be her lover, but Aphrodite felt love for all.
Yes, she would be Ares’ lover though it felt dishonest. She sought him and gave him smiles and flesh, she knew he could never be enough. And from her longing and her shallow exploits, pink roses began to grow.
Then came Adonis.
Born of a cursed mother, he was raised in the Underworld by Persephone. All who saw him, even as a baby, proclaimed his perfection. And, yes, when Aphrodite first gazed upon him she was stricken by his form. Nude, as she was, he was her match in beauty. But the eyes of Aphrodite — so used to beauty they could no longer appreciate such things- saw deeper than his flawless flesh.
Warm, kind, gentle. Adonis was everything that should have been. No cold sea, streaked with blood. No gifts of pity, no salt or the tang of fish. And Aphrodite forgot many things when she was with him. Eros was left behind, scorned and lonely, with no outlet for his passion besides the pitiful mortals. Her handmaidens were abandoned to their own journey. Even Ares, whom she’d loved for so long, was forgotten.
Wrapped in each other, Aphrodite and Adonis played in the shade of the olive trees. Their love was silk and grapes, wine and firelight. No mortal could behold them, lest they die from the unearthly perfection. No such creatures had ever graced the universe, and never would again.
It was rare that they were separated, but such times were bound to occur. Adonis had gone hunting, a sport he was easily champion. Aphrodite was approached by Ares. She greeted him eagerly, a forgotten treasure she was pleased to have found again. Nothing could be wrong, anymore.
But Ares was grim, more so than ever before. An emotion new to him stirred his innards and he had to vomit the guilt to end the strange pain. Words spewed from his mouth, confessing the crime he’d committed against Adonis.
Out of jealousy, Ares had sent a boar to kill him, enchanted with god-like strength. Adonis had surely perished.
Aphrodite fled to her loveliest of loves. He lay, mortally wounded, bleeding upon a white rosebush. His perfect flesh punctured by the tusks of the boar and by the thousands of thorns that surrounded him.
Aphrodite joined him there, slicing her own perfection in the process. Their blood mingled upon the thorns, upon the green leaves and white petals. She held him long after he’d gone from the world. Tears flooded the roses, spreading the blood like red paint upon the blooms. Her blooms.
And forever afterward, Aphrodite could only grow red roses with cruel thorns, an echo of her ravaged heart. And it was this pain that brought Aphrodite out of the simple comforts in which she’d surrounded herself. She grew to be a frightening goddess, punishing those disloyal with a wrath only Ares could appreciate.
Love had pained her with longing, only to leave her bitter and unfulfilled to the end of days. Red roses were the only roses worth blooming.