Saturday 18 April 2015


“But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.” - Arthur Rimbaud

Rusalka”, Op. 114, is an opera (‘lyric fairy tale’) by Antonín Dvořák. A Rusalka is a water sprite from Slavic mythology, usually inhabiting a lake or river. The Czech libretto was written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil (1868–1950) based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová. Rusalka is one of the most successful Czech operas, and represents a cornerstone of the repertoire of Czech opera houses. Rusalka was the ninth opera Dvořák composed.

Dvořák had played viola for many years in pit orchestras in Prague (Estates Theatre from 1857 until 1859 while a student, then from 1862 until 1871 at the Provisional Theatre). He thus had direct experience of a wide range of operas by Mozart, Weber, Rossini, Lortzing, Verdi, Wagner and Smetana. For many years unfamiliarity with Dvořák’s operas outside Czechoslovakia helped reinforce a perception that composition of operas was a marginal activity, and that despite the beauty of its melodies and orchestral timbres Rusalka was not a central part of his output or of international lyric theatre. In recent years it has been performed more regularly by major opera companies.

In the five seasons from 2008 to 2013 it was performed by opera companies worldwide far more than all of Dvořák’s other operas combined. The most popular excerpt from Rusalka is the “Song to the Moon” (‘Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém’) from Act 1 which is often performed in concert and recorded separately. It has also been arranged for violin and used on film sound tracks. It begins at 21 minutes into the video, which is subtitled in Italian.

Song to the Moon

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night send your rays.
This sleeping world you wander by,
Smiling on men’s homes and ways.

Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?
Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?

Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping he may
Think of the love that enfolds him,
May between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.

Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!
Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let my memory wakened be.
Moon, moon, oh do not wane, do not wane,
Moon, oh moon, do not wane....
Jaroslav Kvapil

Here is the whole opera performed in the National Theatre in Prague, with Rusalka: Eva Jenišov; Prince: Vladimir Hrisko; Water King: Peter Nicholas; Witch: Marta Beňačková; Foreign Princess: Anda-Louise Bogza; conductor Jiri Belohlavek.

Friday 17 April 2015


“Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.” - Alice Walker

Let’s have some afternoon tea! First the cucumber sandwiches: Fine white bread with crusts removed and buttered with French Normandy butter, filled with cucumber slices, sliced so thinly you can see through them. Then, some smoked salmon pinwheels and perhaps some raisin scones. Some savoury cake, perhaps? And for the pièce de résistance, how about some apricot shortcake? All washed down with cups of fine, fragrant, oolong tea!


250 g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 and 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1 and 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
400 g apricot conserve
200 g pure almond meal
100 g icing sugar

1 Preheat oven to 180º C.
2. Line base and sides of a 30 x 20 cm lamington tin with baking paper.
3. Using an electric beater, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add egg and beat until well combined. Add flours and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
5. Form 1/3 dough into a sausage shape, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 25 minutes or until firm.
6. Press two-thirds of dough into base of prepared tin. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden.
7. Mix almond meal with the icing sugar and add a little water to form a stiff mixture. Spread evenly over cooked dough in tin.
8. Put apricot conserve in a small pan over a medium heat and stir until smooth and spreadable. Stand conserve for 5 minutes to cool slightly, then spread evenly over almond mixture in tin.
9. Take dough from freezer, remove plastic wrap and grate evenly over conserve.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Stand tin on a wire rack to cool. When cold, cut into squares or fingers.

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Thursday 16 April 2015


“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” - Mark Twain

educate |ˈejəˌkāt| verb [ trans. ] (often be educated)
Give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone, esp. a child), typically at a school or university: She was educated at a boarding school.
• Provide or pay for instruction for (one's child), esp. at a school.
• Give (someone) training in or information on a particular field: [ trans. ] The need to educate people to conserve water | A plan to educate the young on the dangers of drug-taking.

educability |ˌejəkəˈbilitē| noun
educable |-kəbəl| adjective
educative |-ˌkātiv| adjective
educator |-ˌkātər| noun

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin educat- ‘led out,’ from the verb educare, related to educere ‘lead out’

Education is universally regarded as something that all people should have, something all should experience and derive benefit from. While hardly none would disagree with this, the model that is used to educate people at various levels of schooling gives rise to great debate. Different models of education, widely varying in their approach coexist side by side and are more or less effective. Public and privately funded educational systems have their supporters and opponents, and each has its merits and pitfalls.

Preschool and primary school education is regarded as the foundation-building stage, in which basic skills in literacy and numeracy are acquired. The child at this level develops not only the intellectual skills needed to deal with the influx of new fundamental information, but also the motor skills required in the process of writing legibly, social skills that underpin a harmonious co-existence with other people and the beginnings of higher mentative processes, such as those that are needed for ethical/moral discrimination, artistic and musical appreciation, etc.

Secondary schooling allows for the development of a broad acquisition of knowledge in the humanities and sciences. Language and art, history and literature, physical and biological sciences are introduced at suitable levels throughout the school career and training in independent critical thinking processes begins, with logical and analytical skills being honed, especially so in the later years of this educative process. The character development that was begun in primary school is fine-tuned here. Secondary students have to deal with a large variety of issues, including the obvious biological one of puberty that will impinge on their learning.

Tertiary level education involves the student in a journey of self-discovery where thoughts and mentative processes can be examined in detail, where information is not only passively acquired, but where it is analysed, critically evaluated and reprocessed. The world versus the self are contrasted and the student will need to deal with the conflicts that arise therefrom. The tertiary study experience should act as the springboard for original thinking and problem-solving in unfamiliar situations, and should result in creative intellectual activity, and in organised and logical thought.

Having worked as an academic at a University for many years has given me an immense sense of responsibility towards my students, my colleagues and the community. I try to uphold a certain standard of educational experience in a system that has come under a great deal of pressure and stress in the last few years. We have survived various forms of reorganisation, rationalisation and changes of management. We have redesigned the curricula, updated programs and courses, and have had to cope with several changes in the way the students are selected for admission. To be an academic in such an environment is extremely labour-intensive and often frustrating, but at the same time it is infinitely rewarding. One certainly does not persist in being an academic for the pay involved!

One of my concerns in recent years is the declining academic standard of the average university student. The question arises of why this should be so, even if one is aware of the increasing pressures of government, society and family to push more secondary students into the tertiary sector, rather than directly into the workforce. I suspect that the basic problem arises in secondary and primary school level. There are students in secondary schools that have basic literacy and numeracy skill deficiencies. The wife of one of my colleagues teaches in a secondary school (admittedly, it is in a lower socioeconomic class suburb), but she maintains that even children born here, from families of native speakers of English, have immense trouble with basic reading and writing. She complains that when these children come to high school from primary school, some of them can barely read and write.

We live in a society that is increasingly reliant on technology. A society that will depend more and more on an educated population in order to cope with the information revolution that has changed our lives dramatically in the last couple of decades. We require specialised, analytical, quick-thinking, problem-solving educated people in our society and yet we find that we have rather poor raw material in our universities to work with. How can such a problem be resolved?

What is to blame for this deterioration in educational standards that seems to be occurring worldwide? What do you think?

Tuesday 14 April 2015


“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” – Theophrastus

Poetry Jam has prompted its contributors for the final time this week. As this poetry site is having a rest (only for a while, I would like to believe), the parting prompt is all about TIME… I would like to thank especially Mary, Peggy, Gabriella, Alan, Sumana and Brian who have prompted, encouraged and appraised poetical efforts. I would also like to thank all other participants for the fine offerings every week, and also all readers of the poems who have the time to read, ponder and comment on each other’s poems.

My contribution for this week, below is a villanelle, its cyclic nature perhaps the most suitable for the depiction of cycles, things beginning and ending, and above all the inscrutable passage of time as all things change:

The Time of Change

The time of change is here:
Awake, renew, revise,
I feel the freshness near.

There is no need to fear,
Look up with cloudless eyes
The time of change is here.

Smile brightly then, my dear,
Gone are the endless sighs
I feel the freshness near.

Sweet songs again you'll hear,
The truth defeats all lies –
The time of change is here,

Wipe clean the frown and tear.
As darkness ebbs and dies,
I feel the freshness near…

As we defeat night drear,
Our hope will climb and rise;
The time of change is here
I feel the freshness near.

Monday 13 April 2015


“Tragedy is a representation of action that is worthy of serious attention, complete in itself and of some magnitude - bringing about by means of pity and fear the purging of such emotions.” - Aristotle

In its strictest definition, a tragedy is a play dealing with disastrous events that have an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. Furthermore, in these plays, the tragic figure of the protagonist can see the danger and catastrophe looming ahead and is powerless to act, or choose not to act, in order to avert it. Thus, tragically, he or she marches onto the precipice of fate and is hurled down to self-destruction.

The word is derived from the Greek word “tragos” meaning a he-goat, and “aoidein” meaning to sing, as the first such plays were celebrations to honour Dionysus, god of wine and theatre. Dionysus’s followers were the satyrs, half-goat and half-man creatures and these were imitated by the players on stage in the first “tragic” plays, which were not tragic, but rather more comic! The word comedy in turn is derived from “komos” = revel, and “aoidein” meaning to sing. There was a lot of singing in ancient Greek plays and the Italian opera of 16th century was an attempt to recreate ancient Greek drama on stage.

Greek tragedy reached its apogee in the 5th and 6th century BC with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Of the extant plays of Euripides, “Hippolytus”, which took the first prize at its production in 428 BC, ranks very highly. It is a play of forbidden love, torrents of passion, jealousy, a catty goddess, a chaste youth and, you guessed it, tragedy…

In the prologue, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, declares that she will punish the chaste Hippolytus, son of Theseus, who spurns her by not loving anyone, and who worships Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt. Aphrodite will put into the heart of Phaedra, the wife of Theseus, an immoral love for her stepson. Theseus will learn of this, and then will destroy his son by one of three fatal wishes, which Poseidon (god of the sea) has promised to fulfil. This will involve the ruin of Phaedra too, but that is inconsequential as the goddess cares first for her honour and for herself.

Hippolytus enters the stage and he prays to his protectress, Artemis consecrating to her a garland of flowers. A servant suggests that he should also honour Aphrodite, whose statue stands at the entrance to the palace. Hippolytus, persists in ignoring the goddess of love, and hence his religious offence seals his fate. Phaedra enters the stage with her nurse, to whom, with great difficulty, she is induced confess her love for Hippolytus, declaring to the chorus her wish to die. The nurse tries to comfort her, and advises her to give her love free rein, rather than let herself be consumed by frustration. She promises to support and help her.

“O love! O love! whose shafts of fire
Invade the soul with sweet surprise,
Through the soft dews of young desire
Trembling in beauty’s azure eyes!
Condemn not me the pangs to share
Thy too impassioned votaries bear,
That on the mind their stamp impress,
Indelible and measureless.
For not the sun’s descending dart,
Nor yet the lightning brand of Jove,
Falls like the shaft that strikes the heart,
Thrown by the mightier hand of love.”

Phaedra anxiously asks the nurse not to tell Hippolytus of her love, but the nurse hurries to Hippolytus and she betrays Phaedra’s secret. Hippolytus receives the news with horror and dismay and he chastises the nurse, cursing the female sex. Phaedra sees that the misplaced zeal of the nurse has ruined all; she covers her with reproaches, and again resolves to die. Her resolution is instantly fulfilled.

Theseus enters and is told the news by scurrying servants. He sees the corpse, and in Phaedra’s lifeless hand there is a letter, which represents Hippolytus as the cause of her death, Phaedra an innocent victim of his lust. At once Theseus mutters the fatal wish for his son’s death. Hippolytus now appears and sees what has happened. From his father’s mouth he receives at once a declaration of the suspicion resting on him, and a sentence of exile. Hippolytus is too generous to tell his father the truth and accuse a dead woman, as death rights all wrongs. Theseus mistakes his son’s plain words for artful lies, and thus provokes the tragic retort, that, were he in his place, he should think nothing could expiate such a crime but death.

With an appeal to Artemis, Hippolytus departs into exile. A choral ode intervenes, and then a messenger arrives with news of the disaster that has overtaken Theseus’s son, for he has been dashed to pieces by his own steeds, frightened by the sea-monsters which Poseidon has sent against him at Aphrodite’s request.

“… At last upon a point of rock,
Dashing its wheel, the car was overturned.
Then all was wreck and ruin; from the wheels
The naves, the linchpins from the axles flew,
While hopelessly entangled in their reins,
Was dragged along the luckless charioteer,
Dashing his head against the cruel rocks,
Tearing his flesh and uttering piteous cries.”

The beauty of the whole play is remarkable and the poetic expression near perfect. Euripides is subtle as he avoids delicately any unpleasant confrontation between Hippolytus and Phaedra, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. The hero preserves to the last the charm of his innocence. Instead, the playwright gives free rein to the torment of Phaedra’s struggle with passion, and the shame with which she at length suffers. Her humiliating death is avouchment of her guilt, but together she drags down the honourable youth, Hippolytus.

There is pity in Euripides’ writing not only for the youth who is needlessly killed, but also for Phaedra, who has been chosen as the instrument of the goddess’s revenge. The final scene where Theseus is absolved of his guilt for Hippolytus’s death through the intercession of Artemis is very touching and the message of the play is manifold: Piety towards all the gods (which action would have prevented the tragedy in the first place), the value of nobleness and honour, and the consequences of trust that is misplaced. Euripides views neither Phaedra nor Hippolytus favourably, but doesn’t condemn them either.

Hippolytus is presented in the play as a misogynist (some would maintain that this is Euripides’s own misogynism finding vent), but at the same time he is showing having honour, a commendable virtue. Phaedra is at once noble in that she dies once her secret is disclosed, but her specious accusation against Hippolytus makes her less heroic in our eyes, becoming rather a weak and vindictive character. This is a complex and fascinating play. The whole of the play is available on the net at the Project Gutenberg site:

The Hippolytus-Phaedra story has been told and re-told several times since Euripides time. Hippolytus was first performed in 428 B.C. Among the most notable re-workings of the mythological material are Seneca’s “Phaedra”, Jean Racine’s “Phèdre”, and Eugene O’Neill’s “Desire under the Elms”. Notable also is the modern retelling of the story in Jules Dassin’s 1962 movie “Phaedra” with Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins.

The painting above is by an artist of the German School, 18th Century, depicting Hippolytus, Phaedra and Theseus. Oil on canvas, 24.43 X 31.12 cm.

Sunday 12 April 2015


“If I had to climb into hell and wrestle the devil himself for one of my films, I would do it.” - Werner Herzog

Eighty years ago if someone contracted pneumonia caused by any one of several types of bacteria, it was quite likely that he or she would die a very rapid and a very unpleasant death. Similarly, at that time, high blood pressure was very poorly controlled and often led to fatal outcomes. Diseases like cancer, which are now controlled by a number of successful drugs, in the recent past quickly killed hundreds of thousands of people a year. Drugs have been developed recently for many common conditions – drugs we take for granted nowadays, and which allow millions of people worldwide to survive potentially lethal diseases. These drugs were only a few decades ago completely unknown. The science of pharmacology (drug discovery, the uses, effects, and modes of action of drugs) has come a long way in the last 50 years or so.

Associated with this immense development of drug therapies is the development of the pharmaceutical industry, a multi-billion dollar industry where multinational companies spend enormous amounts of money to develop, test and market therapeutic drugs. It is a lucrative business and one whose profits have been escalating constantly as more and more new drugs are being discovered and marketed around the world. It is to these multinational drug companies that spend enormous amounts of money to develop and market new drugs that we owe thanks for ridding us of the fatal outcomes associated with many of the killers of the past. We owe them a great deal of gratitude, altruists that they are… Should we really be that grateful? Are they the golden-hearted altruists that they wish us to believe them to be?

Before a new drug is marketed it has to adhere to a set of standards and several safety requirements must be met. Each and every drug has numerous side-effects (some of which are potentially lethal), adverse reactions, risks of causing allergies and other untoward reactions in people who are prescribed the drug. Much research and clinical trials must be carried out in order to test not only the efficacy of a newly developed drug, but also its potential for causing these adverse reactions. Ultimately, the drug must be tested on a human population, as all of the cell culture toxicity trials and animal trials that are carried out will give an indication of how these drugs will work in the human and all favourable preliminary drug trials must be extended to human clinical trials.

The testing of drugs on humans is a thorny area, a veritable minefield of ethical and moral dilemmas, a legally and constitutionally controlled activity, which in most Western countries is regulated to the point of non-viability in many cases. Drug companies that need to develop effective (and profit-making) new drugs spend enormous amounts of money to develop and test these drugs, often taking the clinical trials to developing countries where legislation is laxer and people more willing to “volunteer” take part in the trials (for one another benefit – money, food, or curing of a disease they suffer from). More information on this can be obtained here.

Needless to say that when billions of dollars of profits are involved, some companies are willing to bend a few rules and regulations, some are willing to act illegally and risk thousands of human lives in these clinical trials. People in developing countries are willing to collude with the drug companies, government officials are willing to accept bribes and proper, ethical conduct in drug trials is unlikely to occur under these circumstances. By cutting corners and risking “expendable” lives, profits are increased and the company’s competitiveness in the marketplace is assured. This keeps the shareholders happy and of course, benefits the ultimate end-user of the drug in a Western country who is assured of a cheaper, human-tested drug that can be sold with the pledge of causing few side effects in humans.

For Movie Monday today, I am looking at a film that takes as its subject the dirty and corrupt world of drug development and clinical trials and in its scope attempts to raise public awareness of the magnitude of the problem. It is “The ConstantGardener” (2005), Fernando Meirelles’ film of the book by John Le Carré.  It stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz who give good performances in this thriller. The film is also an accusation against big business, corporate corruption and unethical practices in business and government.

I found it to be a disturbing and emotionally challenging film, which contains many images that will stick in any sensitive person’s mind. The depth of the plot of the film is enhanced by several ideas that are also explored: How well do we know our partner in a marriage? How do we express our love in this most special of relationships? Who are our friends and how can we tell? Who can we trust in a difficult situation? How important is our career in our life and where do we place it in our scale of priorities? How active are we prepared to be in the social issues debate and what are we prepared to sacrifice in a quest for justice and fairness on a global level?

Fernando Meirelles has also directed the excellent “City of God” (2002) and he uses a similar documentary-style exposition in this film, and the non-linear plot working works very well, allowing us to delve into the lives of Justin and Tessa slowly, the horrible truth being finally revealed to us as though obscuring curtains are torn down successively. Justin’s journey of discovery and the gaining of wisdom is beautifully recounted and the immensity of his love for his wife is finally affirmed when he follows in her footsteps, realising her own immense love for him. We are challenged by this movie and we are forced to take a stand.

These days, we must realise that nothing remains hidden, no matter which distant part of the world it happens in and we must acknowledge the equal worth of every human life no matter which. We must take responsibility not only for our own actions, but also for the policies and actions of our governments, the ethics of the businesses we patronise and whose products we consume. This film is one that sounds an alarm bell and one that jars our conscience into full alertness and watchfulness…


“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” - Anne Bradstreet

For Art Sunday today a single painting, “La Primavera”, one of my favourite by Botticelli. Sandro Botticelli was born in Florence, in 1445. He spent his whole life there except for a visit to Rome. Botticelli was a member of the Medici clan and his real name was Alessandro Filipepi. He was nicknamed Botticelli (“little barrel”) when he went to be apprenticed by his brother, a goldsmith.

Botticelli had deep-set eyes, flowing fair locks and a prominent nose. His sense of humour was well-known in his times and his pranks were the talk of the town. He was also a very talented draughtsman, something that did not escape the practised eye of his brother. When Botticelli was about 15 he was sent to the great painter, Fra Filippo Lippi. There, as was the custom of the times, he learned how to mix colors and clean brushes in the great artist’s studio. He then moved up in the studio hierarchy by painting grounds and backgrounds, drapery, and finally lesser compositional features. Botticelli was greatly influenced by his teacher in both style and colour. However, as soon as the young artist could decide to paint his own canvases, his themes and iconography became very different from his master’s.

By 1465, Botticelli had his own studio. His family connections ensured that the Medicis commissioned works from him. Sure enough, Botticelli made his living, like any other artist of the time, by painting religious scenes, although his interest was far removed from religion. Behind the walls of the Medici Palace Botticelli listened to philosophical debates and classical legends, discussed amongst Lorenzo de’ Medici’s intellectual friends. Botticelli was inspired, and under the protection of the Medici, he created an entirely new genre of art: That of the mythological allegory. After the age of 56 years no paintings were found that were painted by him. Botticelli died alone and infirm. He lived to be about 65 and died around 1510.

“La Primavera” (1478) is not portrait, not icon nor holy celebration. It is pure fantasy, inspired by poetry, and fuelled by the artist’s fertile imagination. This painting shows Venus, ancient goddess of beauty and fertility, celebrating the arrival of Spring, “la Primavera”. She is surrounded by allegorical figures representing the virtues and gods of the ancient world. It was a subject guaranteed to please Lorenzo de’ Medici, Botticelli's protector, and no detail was overlooked. Even the laurel bushes behind Venus served to represent the rebirth of a golden age, under the patronage of Laurentius - Lorenzo – de’ Medici.  With such a sophisticated understanding of his friends' arcane ideas, Botticelli had successfully developed his own form of visual poetry, peppered with symbolism and private jokes.

In this enormous painting (203 x 314 cm) Sandro Botticelli paints a rich tapestry of allegory, celebrating Spring, Nature’s favourite season. Spring in her flowered dress enters the scene from the right, attended by Chloris (Flora), who is the goddess of vegetation and flowers. Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind, who was believed to live in a cave in Thrace. He is the one who abducted the goddess Chloris and gave her dominion over flowers. Botticelli captures the moment of the abduction here, and Zephyrus’s gift of flowers is seen to grace Chloris’ face, as she seeks the protection of Spring. La Primavera seems to be serene and impassive, unwilling to interfere in the abduction. Her enigmatic smile and eyes that look away, towards us (almost complicitly) as if to tell us that none should stand in the way of such passion. Spring ushers in love and the male force, unstoppable and impetuous overwhelms the female force, which seemingly is overcome, but will emerge the winner.

Counterbalancing this scene, the Charites, or three Graces, are depicted on the left. These are the goddesses that personify charm and beauty in nature and in human life. They protect all things beautiful and bestow talent upon mortals. Together with the Muses they serve as sources of inspiration in poetry and the arts. Originally, they were goddesses of fertility and nature, closely associated with the underworld and the Eleusinian mysteries. As classical civilisation became more sophisticated, their fertility associations waned and their artistic sympathies became their prime patronage.

Aglaëa (“Splendour”) is the youngest of the Graces and is sometimes represented as the wife of Hephaestus. The other Graces are Euphrosyne (“Mirth”) and Thalia (“Good Cheer”). They are usually considered the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, or Dionysus and Aphrodite. According to Homer the Graces belonged to the retinue of Aphrodite. The Romans knew them under the collective name of the Gratiae. Botticelli paints them intertwined in a delicate dance, their gossamer pepla counterpointing their delicate and beautiful features.

On the extreme left is the only other male figure in the painting, Hermes (Mercury), the herald of the gods. He was the god of communication, commerce and patron of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, and known for his cunning and shrewdness. It was one of his main duties to guide the souls of the dead down to the underworld, for which he is known as a psychopomp (“soul sender”). He was also closely connected with bringing dreams to mortals. Hermes is usually depicted with a broad-brimmed hat or a winged cap, winged sandals and the herald’s staff.

One of his older manifestations was as a fertility god of vegetation and animal generation. He was invoked for good fortune, and he was also a patron of roads and boundaries. In this role he was commemorated by “herms”. A herm is a square or rectangular pillar in either stone or bronze, with the head of Hermes (usually with a beard), which adorned the top of the pillar, and male genitals near to the base of the pillar. These were used for road and boundary markers. In Athens they also stood outside houses to help fend off evil.

Central in the painting is the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) and above her flies her son, Eros (Cupid). Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture. According to Hesiod, she was born when Uranus (the father of the gods) was castrated by his son Cronus. Cronus threw the severed genitals into the ocean, which began to churn and foam about them. From the aphros (“sea foam”) arose Aphrodite, and the sea carried her to either Cyprus or Cythera. Hence she is often referred to as Kypris and Cytherea. Homer calls her a daughter of Zeus and Dione.

After her birth, Zeus was afraid that the gods would fight over Aphrodite’s hand in marriage so he married her off to the god Hephaestus, the smith of the gods. He could hardly believe his good luck and used all his skills to make the most lavish jewels for her. He made her a girdle of finely wrought gold and wove magic into the filigree work. That was not very wise of him, for when she wore her magic girdle no one could resist her, and she was all too irresistible already. She loved gaiety and glamour and was not at all pleased at being the wife of sooty, hard-working Hephaestus, and cuckolded him many a time.

Aphrodite loved and was loved by many gods and mortals. Among her mortal lovers, the most famous was perhaps Adonis. Some of her sons are Eros, Anteros, Hymenaios and Aeneas (with her Trojan lover Anchises). She is accompanied by the Graces. Eros is usually depicted as a young winged boy, with his bow and arrows at the ready, to either shoot into the hearts of gods or mortals which would rouse them to desire. His arrows came in two types: Golden with dove feathers which aroused love; or leaden arrows which had owl feathers that caused indifference. Sappho the poet summarised Eros as being bitter sweet, and cruel to his victims, yet he was also charming and very beautiful. Being unscrupulous, and a danger to those around him, Eros would make as much mischief as he possibly could by wounding the hearts of all.