From fishing to bean soup

The time grandpa lost his patience with me

My grandpa was a kind and patient man. He was slow to anger and quick to smile with us kids – but there was a time he lost his patience with me, a time with Jeff, and a time his dad lost it with him that I want to share. These stories have continued to be told in our family as the few examples of times when grandpa’s patience wore thin.

I don’t know when my grandpa started to take me fishing by myself. I must have been about my kids’ ages (7-10) when I became a good fishing buddy. We enjoyed fishing the Santa Ana River in Southern California together.

My kids when they were little, at the Santa Ana

I was a city kid. My dad didn’t take me fishing and my mom and stepdad do not fish. It was grandpa that introduced me to the river, that taught me about the currents, and that showed me where to cast my line so it wouldn’t scare the fish, but flow naturally so they would bite.

Grandpa also shared his love for photography with me, specifically black and white photography. One winter day, grandpa thought it would be fun to take me to the aspens to take black and white pictures in the snow and catch a little fishing on the way home.

Like I said, I was a city kid, wearing city clothes. A long sleeve shirt, light jacket, jeans, and tennis shoes. If you are unaware of how to dress for a day in the snow and at the icy river – it is not jeans and certainly not tennis shoes.

The day started out beautifully. The aspens were the perfect subject for our pictures – especially in the snow. Soon however, my feet started to hurt and I wanted to go back to the warm car, but I was a trooper and I didn’t complain. I don’t think I even had gloves on – I was clueless.

We had time to warm up in the car from the aspens to the river. It was a pleasant drive as grandpa told me stories and we watched the snow covered mountains and trees pass the window.

As we walked out to the river, I hesitated. I knew the further we walked out, the further we had to walk back – and I was still cold. But, grandpa loved fishing, he wasn’t going to let a little ice on the creek stop him (he had full waterproof waders on). His enthusiasm was contagious as we got to the river to fish.

It was cold – but it was also very pretty. Until I slipped on one of the icy rocks in the river. I fell – hard – into ice, cold water. That was it, I had enough and wanted to go NOW! Grandpa was concerned but I was okay and we hadn’t fished long. I was crying and making lots of noise – between my splash and noise, he wasn’t catching any fish anyways and we hurried to his green Ford Explorer and cranked up the heater.

It wasn’t major, but I know my grandpa was irritated with me that day. His tone was different, his actions sharper – he has lost his patience with me. I felt like a fussy baby, not the tough oldest grandkid of Jack Jones. I was wet and cold and at that moment couldn’t even enjoy the beauty of the snow – it was the only time I remember grandpa becoming irritated by me.

The time he lost his patience with Uncle Jeff

Grandpa told me a story about a time he lost his patience with my Uncle Jeff when he was just a boy. They were walking the river, fishing. My uncle, being a small boy was lagging behind, I’m sure, and his arm brushed against a purple thistle. If you’ve never touched a thistle, it stings! The sensation is similar to how I imagine a hundred burning pins. There is an easy way to ease the pain – you either hold the affected area in the cold water or put cold river mud on it. At the time, my grandpa was already annoyed with Jeff.

Maybe grandpa didn’t know how bad a thistle sting could be but after seeing why Jeff was crying, my grandpa did something uncharacteristic – he lost his patience and got angry. He told Jeff that those flowers didn’t hurt that much and grabbed the thistle firmly into his hand.

Purple thistle
Illustration by Ben Levitt

Now, I’ve touched thistles plenty of times, but never grabbed it to were the needles would press into my skin. Grandpa told the story about how his anger made him foolish and the pain made his eyes well up with tears. He told me it was one of the worst pains he ever felt and it was even worse because it was a pain he deserved because it came from anger at his hurt son. He told me the story to teach me not to touch thistles but also to warn me not to let the anger win.

The time grandpa made his dad swear

I never knew my great grandparents except through stories, but my great grandfather was a good, kind, and gentle man. He was a farmer that prayed and often shed a tear when he took an animals’ life for food. My grandpa was raised a Quaker and according to him, his father never cussed or swore but did have two ‘Yankee curse words’ and I want to share a time of when my grandpa made his kind and gentle father so mad – he said them both.

Grandpa as an adult was mischievous and a bit of a trickster so I can only imagine what sort of fun he must have been as a young boy. One time, he and his friend got the idea to trick his dad. They got a bucket, filled it full of water, and balanced it on the wedged door his dad would be coming through and then, hid and waited.

When great grandpa walked through the door, the bucket did not turn over and instead of having a bucket of water spill out on his head, he had a bucket full of water fall directly, with full force onto his head – and then spill on the floor.

My grandpa said he could still remember the sickening sound of the bucket hitting his father’s head and the extreme sudden remorse he felt. He had only meant to play a joke, not seriously injure him.

Little boy grandpa and his friend stayed hidden out of fear as his father’s face grew red from the neck up and tears rolled out of his eyes down to the floor and he very quietly, but with great anger said “Rats … BEAN SOUP!”

And that is the only time my grandpa said he remembered his father cursing.

I found this image when I typed in rats and bean soup. Kind of funny (it was with a story of a soup company that made rat meatballs which isn’t as funny) but I liked it enough to add as a combo of the swear words – rats and bean soup.

Thanksgiving history

Interesting stuff I learned this morning about thanksgiving:
The ‘original thanksgiving’ between European pilgrims and their Native allies was not ever called thanksgiving or commemorated until much later.
It was a three-day feast of celebration and gratitude that later became associated with the national holiday thanksgiving. This version is sensitive because it often glorifies the moment of harmony before the century of violence that followed. But that’s not how thanksgiving originated and up until this morning, I did not know that.

Thanksgiving, as we know it, was declared by Abraham Lincoln after a 40-year campaign by a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale.
She is very interesting and I want to know even more about her but… it also seems that George Washington declared a day of thanksgiving before Lincoln but his thanksgiving was in February. Washington wanted to celebrate the new nation and dedicate thanks to God for our blessings. A bit of the spirit that has carried on but it wasn’t a nationally recognized holiday.
It wasn’t until the Civil War that the 4th Thursday of November was dedicated as a day to set aside and give thanks by Abraham Lincoln.
It seems that an influential woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, a ‘Martha Stewart’ of her day – editor, writer, mother, and social activist (she wrote Mary had a Little Lamb) – Sarah had been campaigning for a national day of Thanksgiving. It should be noted that she was also a Northerner and abolitionist.
As a writer and activist Sarah successfully got 30 states to celebrate the holiday by 1854. She wrote president Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward to urge them to proclaim the national holiday as a permanent holiday as a way to heal the nation from the wounds of the Civil War in 1863.
It was of mixed success. As a Northern abolitionist that was very vocal and very ‘Yankee’ Hale and the unionist president Lincoln were not the people many southerners wanted to be told to celebrate and give thanks.
For the victorious North, there was much to be thankful for but like Erishkigal and Inanna – for the South – there were hurt feelings and some bitterness towards their northern neighbors. In fact, Texas governor O.M. Roberts refused to recognize the ‘damned Yankee institution’ of thanksgiving from 1879-1882. He also was against the holiday as it mixed religion with government.
Pumpkins and pumpkin pies also became symbols of Yankee thanksgiving which may be why sweet potato and buttermilk are also so popular with the southern states. Me, I’m a Californian, I’d rather have guacamole 🥑

The Descent of Inanna – Part 1

Inanna’s journey into the underworld as it relates to transformative growth

In case you’d rather listen than read.

The Descent of Inanna is a Sumerian poem from over 3,500 years ago that tells the story of Inanna’s journey into her sister’s domain – the underworld. When I first encountered and studied this myth, it was in the context of my dissertation on transformative literacy. The myth was crucial for me in a time when I felt lost and needed to know how to move forward and create a new identity.

Inanna – Queen of Heaven and Earth

As I mentioned, my original research with Inanna was focused towards my work on transformative literacy (for more on this – check out my dissertation link). For this reason, the work I did was deep, but not wide – meaning I went very deep into the focus but did not look into different interpretations or for wider context for the poem. Part 1, this part of the writings on this poem is dedicated to that original, simpler research of the heroine, Inanna. With this research, I will discuss how Inanna is a representation of transformative growth and becoming a “whole person.”

The poem opens with the following lines:

“From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below.
My Lady abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.
Inanna abandoned heaven and earth to descend to the underworld.”

For the complete translation of the epic poem click the link below: http://people.uncw.edu/deagona/myth/Descent%20Of%20Inanna.pdf

At first glance, it appears the first three lines are a repetition, but when looked at more closely – it is seen that they go from general to specific.

From the Great above (she, the goddess, Inanna) opened her ear to the Great Below.

Individuation (becoming whole) is initiated by an individual seeking to define themselves and find their place in the world. Transformation is constant, but transformative growth begins with breaking down and creating definition. The first three lines, and then the next two lines help us to understand who Inanna is; they define the central character and action she will take in the story. The Great Above is earth – Inanna’s domain and the Great Below is the underworld – her sister’s domain and the place where none return.

The most important lesson I learned from Inanna was to prepare and the second most important lesson is to have people you can trust and be willing to rely on them. Before Inanna makes her descent into the underworld, she calls her trusted assistant and friend, Ninshubur. Inanna tells Ninshubur of her plan to enter the underworld and gives her instructions of what to do if Inanna does not return. (I won’t detail the plans since it will be revealed as Ninshubur follows the plans later in the poem).

It is only after Inanna makes the necessary plans to secure a return, that she gets all dressed up and leaves her earthly temples to visit her recently widowed sister Erishkigal in the underworld. She intends to attend the funeral for her brother-in-law, the Bull of Heaven, and see her sister.

When Inanna arrives at the gates to the underworld, this is how she appears:

As tall as heaven and as wide as the earth.

On her head she wears the shurgarra, the crown of the steppe.
Across her forehead her dark locks of hair are carefully arranged.
Around her neck she wears the small lapis beads.
At her breast she wears the double strand of beads.
Her body is wrapped in the royal robe.
Her eyes are daubed with the ointment “let him come, let him come.”
Around her chest she wears the breast plate called “come, man, come!”
On her wrist she wears the gold ring.
In her hand she carries the lapis measuring rod and line.”

When Erishkigal hears that her sister is there to visit her in her finery, she is not pleased and she instructs the gate keeper to close the seven gates and allow Inanna to enter each gate, one at a time. At each gate, Inanna is to be stripped of one of the items she is wearing (each colored line represents one of the items that was removed) and not until she is completely stripped and humbled will she be allowed entrance.

The dark and light goddesses unite

This part is all a bit severe when looked at in the context of the poem alone. My research explained that Inanna is the light side and Erishkigal is the dark – that what benefits Inanna usually hurts Erishkigal and it is for this reason that Erishkigal is angry. However, the research also had other interpretations – like Inanna represented the conscious, known self that is metaphorically diving into her unconscious where she faces her inner demons to become a more complete and better version of herself. I don’t know what it really means or represents at this point – I just know Erishkigal makes her sister humble before she will see her and when she does see her, she unleashes her judgement and wrath and turns her into a disgusting piece of rotting meat which she then leaves to hang on a hook. HARSH!

At the time, the way I understood this part of the story is that it represented how when you face your inner self – it’s often painful and humbling because there are things we bury because we don’t want to face them or admit that they are a part of ourselves. When you are honest with yourself (really honest) and see yourself for your weaknesses and faults – you can become crushed by the shame, crushed by regret, or simply just crushed and feel like your insides are ripped out until you are nothing but meat – rotting away on a hook. (I was going through a painful time in my life and the image of rotting meat on a hook related heavily to how I felt inside.)

Inanna would have stayed on the hook if it had not been for planning and the loyalty of Ninshubur to follow through with Inanna’s plans.

After three days, when Inanna did not return, Ninshubur openly went into mourning (as instructed), but also began to aid Inanna in her return. Ninshubur goes to Inanna’s father, then grandfather, and finally to her other grandfather seeking assistance for bringing Inanna out of the underworld. The first two refuse to help Inanna and say that she basically got what she deserved (again HARSH), but the third has sympathy for Inanna and sends two creatures to Erishkigal. He instructs the creatures with how to bring Inanna back to life and back to her place on earth.

When the beings find Erishkigal, she is alone and in labor with a child from her recently deceased husband. Erishkigal moans with pain and the beings moan with her in sympathy, she cries in pain, and the beings cry with her. In this way, by being present and showing empathy for Erishkigal, the beings eased her suffering and gave her some solace in a difficult time. For their actions, Erishkigal grants them anything they ask for – which of course, they ask for the rotting corpse of Inanna, as instructed.

Once the little creatures get Inanna’s corpse, they sprinkle the water and food of life on her and she is again Inanna and has the ability to return home. But it isn’t that simple – Inanna can’t just leave – Inanna was judged and sentenced, she can’t just leave without payment – Inanna is allowed to go but she has to send someone to take her place in the underworld.

With my research at the time, I saw this story as transformation – Inanna is stripped (broken down and defined), she faces challenges and reaches a final “rock bottom,” and then she rises after a final struggle and triumph but she is different because she has demons with her – these demons are called gallas.

When I went through my difficult time, I felt stripped of my identity, stripped of the things I held dear, stripped of my possessions, my security, and basically I felt like I had lost my life. Believe me, it was painful and I felt the full weight of my judgements on my self, I felt shame and regret. I was angry and hurt, but when I didn’t feel pain, confusion, loss, and millions of other feeling I associated with Inanna’s experience to becoming a corpse on a hook, deep down, I had faith and I actually felt a bit of relief at being fully stripped and taken to my lowest point – I knew I would be like Inanna and rise again. I knew it had to get better – it really couldn’t get worse, could it?

Inanna rose – with her gallas. She met Ninshubur who cried with joy to see Inanna. The gallas were hungry – like when we have suffered, we often feel the need to unleash the pain. The gallas wanted to take Ninshubur into the underworld in Inanna’s place and Inanna refused.

Inanna next meets her son, then another son, and finally her beautician – all three were in mourning at Inanna’s death and rejoice when they see her. The gallas want to take them in Inanna’s place and Inanna refuses again and again because they are loyal.

Finally, Inanna sees her lover Dumuzi. Dumuzi is not in mourning, on the contrary – he is dressed finely and seated upon his throne. Inanna takes one look at him and her gallas descend on him. She not only returns from the underworld, she is more powerful than before because she uses her gallas (her experience) not to harm just anyone around her, but she guides them to punish the one that is disloyal to her. She is not controlled by her gallas – she controls them and aims them at her lover.

I wanted to be like Inanna – I wanted my pain, my experiences to give me strength, and to do that, I needed to learn control. From Inanna, I learned how to take something painful and through planning, help from others, and some hard work – it is possible to rise and return with more strength and power.

Thank you for reading – please leave me your feedback – I look forward to reading what you think.

Part 2 will look at the poem in the larger cultural context that includes the story – The Epic of Gilgamesh.

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Among Snakes and Clovers

Growing up in Southern California, to me, Saint Patrick’s Day meant wearing green, pinching people, drinking excessively, being Irish, and people eating corned beef and cabbage.  It wasn’t a big deal but now that I am older, I really like Saint Patrick’s Day.  It is a day of metaphor and stories.  Saint Patrick was a real person that died on or around March 17, 461.  He was born in Britain to a wealthy family.  At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by pirates and spent the next six years as a slave in Ireland.

During his captivity, he was a lonely shepherd and became a devout Christian.  Because Patrick was a writer, we know that he had visions, heard voices, and was guided by his dreams.   God spoke to Patrick in a dream and told him it was time to escape Ireland.  In a second dream, an angel told him he should return to Ireland as a missionary.  Following this guidance, Patrick entered religious studies for the next fifteen years.  He did not actually introduce Christianity to Ireland but he did popularize it.

Saint Patrick is not only falsely credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland, he is also credited with driving out the snakes.  Ireland is one of the few countries were snakes have never been native.  During the Ice Age, the island was too cold for snakes and later it was too far for snakes to swim. This myth was most likely a metaphor for what Saint Patrick really did, he helped Christianity to prevail over paganism in Ireland.  Metaphorically, for Christians, serpents are evil creatures.  They are low, they slither on the ground, and of course, it is the serpent that tricked Eve into eating the apple and introducing evil and suffering into the world.  In reality, the biggest obstacle to Christianity in Ireland was the established Celtic and pagan religions and celebrations.  Instead of trying to eradicate these traditions, Patrick decided to incorporate them into his lessons on Christianity.  By doing this, he helped popularize Christianity and thus banished the snakes (paganism) from Ireland.

What can we learn from Saint Patrick?

Saint Patrick’s most popular stories are false but his true history has much to teach us today.  Patrick listened to his inner voice and followed his dreams.  As a shepherd and slave, he dreamed of his escape, return, and conversion of the Irish people to the Christian faith.  He knew the importance of his dreams and he not only recorded them but he allowed his life to be guided by them.

Saint Patrick’s true success came from his ability to compromise.  His goal was to bring the Christian faith to the people of Ireland. He was not the first missionary to attempt this goal but he was the most successful because he knew the Irish culture.  Instead of just trying to convince others to believe the way he believed, he learned about their beliefs and incorporated them into his own.  These incorporation made the Christian beliefs more acceptable to the pagans of the day but also more interesting and rich for those of us that celebrate these holidays today.  Think about Easter without the eggs, Christmas without the tree, or Saint Patty’s Day without the green beer (our modern day compromise of turning a religious holiday into a secular drinking event).  I like to think that it was Saint Patrick’s example of incorporation that led to these other rich traditions of merged cultures that have become our new cultural traditions and old historical rituals to discover.

America has often been called a melting pot.  In a melting pot, all of the original ingredients are melted down into one new creation.  This new substance is usually most characterized by whatever element is most prevalent within the mix.  America isn’t and shouldn’t be a melting pot.  We can take our example from Saint Patrick and instead make a nice hearty stew of incorporation.  In a stew, all the elements retain their unique characteristics adding to the flavor, complexity, and beauty of the whole.  Carrots on their own taste great but when cooked in stew, the flavor remains but it is enhanced by the savory warmth and flavor of the meat and gravy.  Our country is great because it is not a melting pot, it is a hearty and ever changing stew.

The lack of Aphrodite in “The Sopranos”

The Sopranos was a series directed by David Chase about a fictional character named Tony Soprano played by James Gandolfini.  In the show, Tony is the head of the New Jersey crime family.  His position should make him Zeus, the boss and in control but the series shows that Tony is really a broken Zeus.   In the first episode, he suddenly passes out while bar-b-quing making a dramatic explosion which leads him to go to the hospital for a series of tests (19:00-19:45).  This event also coincides with the loss of the ducks that will be discussed later in the paper.  When the tests conclude that nothing is physically wrong with Tony, he secretly begins therapy to attempt to end the panic attacks and regain control in his life.

For Tony, therapy is complicated.  He doesn’t see himself as needing therapy and he is resistant to the idea of therapy.  “They said it was a panic attack ’cause the blood work and neurological work came back negative. And they sent me here” (2:55-3:05). He is reluctant to seek therapy not only because in his line of work, therapy can be seen as a betrayal of confidence within the organization but also because he sees therapy as a crutch for weak minded people.  He thinks that talking about feelings makes him unmanly.  For a man that not only wants to but needs to represent Zeus, being weak and unmanly is unacceptable and leads to self-loathing. Therapy is not the cure for Tony, he needs Aphrodite to give him control and ease his sadness.  Even though he is Zeus and he has a Hera, he needs Aphrodite, especially in his business where he makes his money off of thievery, the selling of sex and pleasure, and gambling.  These trades need Aphrodite to balance the brutality, without beauty, a strip club is an ugly, sad place.  Without something beautiful to protect, violence is also ugly and only for the gain of power.  Tony is desperately seeking to have some beauty, something to protect, something to civilize his rage but as he seeks for his Aphrodite, he becomes more and more depressed with the frustration that he will not ever attain her.

Tony is diagnosed with depression; rage turned inward, and begins the combination of Prozac and therapy.  Even though the show spans several years, for this paper, the focus will be primarily the first episode.  The first episode is crucial to any television series because it is when the audience first “meets” the characters.  Traditionally, mafia shows focus on the men, the mobsters, but “The Sopranos” also includes a strong female presence.  However, as strong as the female presence is in the show, the lack of Aphrodite is just as strong.

In the series, Tony is surrounded by women: his wife, mother, daughter, sisters, strippers, girlfriends, and therapist.   With all of the women that appear in the series over the years, Aphrodite does try to make an appearance but she is always just out of reach for Tony. After discussing some of the women in the show, I will use four points about the nature of Aphrodite that Dr. Paris makes in her book “Pagan Grace” to show that while Tony’s profession does not lend itself to happiness and well-being, it seems that Tony’s biggest problem is the lack of Aphrodite in his life.  Dr. Paris explains in detail in writing how the loss of Aphrodite leads to depression but I liked this quote from class.  “She is the smile personified” (Paris lecture). Aphrodite is connected to civilization, flowers, and of course, sex and its purpose.  By showing how these four elements are represented, depression, civilized nature, flowers, and sex in the episode, I plan to show Aphrodite is not only absent but it is made a point of the show to demonstrate her absence.

Lots of women but no Aphrodites

After opening credits, the series begins with a shot of a naked female statue in the therapist’s office.  She is metal, hard and cold, not in the least bit sexual and Tony appears uncomfortable. Next, the first female in the series is Dr. Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco; Tony’s therapist enters the scene.  She is attractive but she is not Aphrodisiac, more Athenian.  She is wearing a tan pantsuit and puts her glasses on to show she is in therapist mode. She keeps her arms and legs crossed while they speak, further distancing herself from Tony and Aphrodite (1:40-3:50).  Of the important women in Tony’s life, Dr. Melfi is the closest to Aphrodite.  He does experience a longing for her but she rebuffs his attentions.  Even in her personal life, Dr. Melfi struggles in the realm of Aphrodite. She is not in touch with the Aphrodite inside herself; she is always in the realm of the mind.  She needs Aphrodite as much as Tony.

The second and third women are Tony’s daughter and wife, respectively.  In a scene at the Soprano home, Tony is excited about a family of ducks that made their home in the family pool.  This is one place Tony shows real joy but it is a break from his archetype, he walks into the pool wearing his robe, the reaction from the others shows how it is out of his character (5:15-6:04).  It seems to make them uncomfortable.  Also, as we see by the end of the episode, the ducks, just like Aphrodite are impermanent.  As they walk into the house, his daughter and wife want things from him.  His daughter, Meadow Soprano, played by Jamie Spiegler, informs him that she and her friend are late for school.  Next, after a brief exchange to his young son, we meet Tony’s wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco.  Together, Tony and Carmela make an excellent representation of Zeus and Hera.  In the first shot we get of Carmela with Tony, her body posture is tense, almost aggressive.  She talks to him about familial, social obligations and makes a cutting remark about his extramarital affairs that is so subtle, it can almost be overlooked  (6:50-7:16) but later in the episode, the extramarital affairs and loss of love is shown very clearly when Tony is in the hospital for tests (20:25-21:45).  In many of the scenes with Carmela in this episode her priest is also in the scene (18:30-18:40).  Carmela while not unfaithful like Tony has an unnaturally close relationship with her young, attractive priest that Tony insinuates may be seen as inappropriate.  She wears fine clothes and jewelry but she is fierce in her ability to protect her position as Hera.  She protects her family but is not loving toward her husband.  When she hears a noise outside, she does not cower or look for help from the priest who is at her house watching movies, she grabs a large gun and walks outside to confront the cause of the noise, the daughter, Meadow (25:00-25:21).

In this first episode Meadow’s character is still not clearly defined because she is still figuring out her own place in the world.  She is young and she battles with her mother for independence.  Later in the series, we see Meadow try to find herself by trying on a variety of archetypes.  She eventually becomes a college student interested first in pediatric medicine, then finally law. Eventually, in the series she does bring Tony some glimpse of the goddess and mild joy but in the first episode, she is moody and causes tension within the family.

The last and most dynamic woman to be introduced in the episode is Livia, Tony’s elderly mother.  Dr. Melfi says that Tony describes her as a helpless old lady but also as a larger than life character.  While she is Tony’s mother, there is nothing of Demeter in Livia and definitely an absence of Aphrodite.  Her house is old fashioned, Tony has to knock several times before we hear the half fearful, half angry response from inside and she unlocks the locks to allow Tony entrance to his childhood home. She tries to feed him and when he refuses, she gives him food anyway.  The conflict between Tony and his mother arises that he wants to have her move to a retirement community and she doesn’t want anything to do with it.  She is completely resistant to any kind of change and shows major signs of depression herself.  Her house is dark and stuffy.  All the windows and doors are closed and locked.  Her hair is disheveled, her robe is misbuttoned, and she is wearing worn, old styled slippers.  She seems to be a Hestia figure but she is losing her capabilities for living in her own home.  She rejects change and has an extreme fear of the outside world (14:46-18:30).  Now to contradict the picture of helpless, fearful old woman, we learn that Livia also embodies another archetype.  She reveals herself as one of the puppet masters of the mafia family.  To most, she seems like just another elderly woman but it is her cunning that makes things happen within the family.  Her cunning and position are only introduced in this episode but it is already clear to the audience that while she appears to be a Hestia, she is actually Athena in disguise.  While she can no longer manage to make herself a meal without a catastrophe, she is able to plot and scheme all the way to trying to have her own son murdered.   She is a major player and skillful manipulator.  If any person in the series would benefit from Aphrodite, it would be Livia.  It would go against everything she is to have Aphrodite in her life – she is the complete opposite and absence of Aphrodite.  In fact, the archetype that Livia fits is that of the anti-Aphrodite, she is angry, loveless, depressed, and cruel.

The important women in Tony’s life are lacking Aphrodite but even the setting lacks the goddess.  Tony works out of two places, an Italian meat market/deli and a strip club, The Bada Bing.  In this episode there is a scene where the guys are having an informal type meeting in the club.  It is bright outside and not busy in the club.  The men are seated at a small table drinking; they are not in the same room as the dancers.  They have a view of the dancers but they are turned away from them, they don’t notice them.  When the waitress does come by with drinks, she is seen as an interruption and nuisance.  For Tony and his crew, these women are not beautiful or even worth looking at; they are simply another form of income.  The women are topless and dancing but their movements seem somewhat mechanic and out of tune with the music, like they are bored or drugged.  Also, they are not really attractive but all this doesn’t matter because no one in the room is looking at any of the dancers anyway.  Even in a place where the goal is to arouse men, the focus is not on the beauty or sexual attractiveness, it is about profit. This is a place of commerce, not beauty or grace.

The Unattainable Aphrodites

Aphrodite does attempt to enter the show.  In episode twelve, we get a glimpse of hope for happiness for Tony.  His life seems like it is adjusting with the therapy.  Tony has encounters with a beautiful, Aphrodisiac woman named Isabella.  In the episode, we learn that she is visiting from Italy and staying with the neighbors.  She is graceful and attractive and Tony enjoys her company.  The problem with this Aphrodite is that she turns out to not be real; she only existed in Tony’s mind.   Dr. Melfi and Tony conclude that Isabella is the result of the need to alter Tony’s medication.  It is interesting that Aphrodite appears here as not only fictional but a result of anti-depression medication. She is beautiful and graceful and just like a flower, impermanent.

Another brush Tony has in the series is Adriana, is Tony’s nephew, Christopher’s, fiancé.  She is completely unattainable to Tony because of her relationship to his nephew.  In episode fifty-seven, Tony talks about his desire to be with the young, pretty Adriana to Dr. Melfi.  In the end, Tony recognizes that his desires can’t be acted on as it would destroy his relationship with his nephew and wouldn’t actually be possible.  In the end, it is just like Isabella, the Aphrodisiac experience only exists in the mind.  For a twist, Tony and Adriana end up in a car accident under questionable circumstances.  The nephew and other members of the crew believe there may have been a sexual encounter and Tony has to deal with fallout from an unrequited encounter with Aphrodite, the closest he ever comes to the elusive goddess.

Depression and the lack of Aphrodite

Tony suffers from depression; he is a broken Zeus.  His world is filled with ugliness and violence. He lacks beauty, civilized nature, and love.  Through the series, Tony battles depression and the fallout from being a mob boss with the perceived weakness of having a mental illness.  Even though Tony is depicted in scenarios where he enjoys being extremely violent and cruel (10:50-11:00); in reality the audience is made to have sympathy for him. The lack of Aphrodite, the lack of beauty and civilization causes Tony to continue to pursue the goddess but he never seems to reach her. This frustration causes him to have more and more sadness and self-pity.

Aphrodite, the civilizer

The world in which Tony lives is untamed.  It is crude and uncivilized.  Men settle conflicts with force and laws are regularly broken, not only as a rule of business but just in everyday situations.  When Aphrodite is present, she must be protected.  In order for Aphrodite to be protected, we must have rules and we must follow those rules.  Tony is quick to anger; he uses violence to resolve issues in most situations.  He is fierce and dangerous; he is arguably an Ares outside of the family setting.  Ares seduces Aphrodite and protects her but Tony is an Ares without an Aphrodite to protect.  Instead of being civilized and living in a way to protect the beauty of the world, Tony and his crew cause violence and destruction in almost every episode.

The Garden State

It is interesting that the setting for the show is New Jersey, the Garden State.  Gardens are cultivated and organized.  They are the safe version of Aphrodite.  This combines the beauty and impermanence of flowers with the civilizing nature of Aphrodite.  This is not Tony’s New Jersey.  Tony’s New Jersey is not safe, it is not civilized, and it is not beautiful; it is hard and gritty.  His New Jersey is introduced in the opening credits of the series.

The show starts with the view from inside the car.  The car is crossing the bridge into city.  Everything is hard and industrial.  The scenery is old, dirty and dilapidated.  Tony is driving the car.  He is smoking a cigar and we see the progression from the New Jersey turnpike to Tony’s home.  “The New Jersey Turnpike, at least the northern part, is an adventure. Its abstract expressionist shapes, strange lines and angles, concentration of various transport, kinetic energy and tumult, wildlife and history, the things you see from it, its concrete and iron and rubber, its noise and smells and speed, make it a thing of gritty beauty.” (HBO)  This is a good description for Tony’s New Jersey.  It is also most certainly a place that lacks Aphrodite.  It lacks her beauty, it lacks her grace, and it lacks her civilizing nature (0:00-1:39).

Sex in Sopranos

The last important connection with the series and Aphrodite’s absence is with the representation of sex in the series.  As I have previously discussed, Tony works out of a strip club.  The women are treated as objects for sexual gratification but none of them are in any way Aphrodite.  The sexual acts with the strippers are for commerce, they aren’t joyful, graceful, and certainly are not portrayed as beautiful or loving.  The characters do not contain Aphrodite so neither does their sex.  Carmela, Hera, has sexual obligations to Tony but that is not aphrodisiac, it is more out of duty than love or passion.  When we see Tony in sexual encounters outside the marriage they are usually more violent than beautiful.  Every woman he dates is psychologically damaged and depressed.  The women all lack Aphrodite and end up doing Tony more damage than good, leaving him more depressed and further from the goddess.

This wraps up Tony’s sad state through the series, there is no love, no beauty, no grace, no compassion, no tenderness; basically no Aphrodite for Tony.  While telling the story of a New Jersey crime boss we also learn what it means to lose a goddess.  Her absence is felt through the entire series.  The audience, while maybe unable to verbalize it as such root for the violent, sad man to have some Aphrodite in his life; an ease to his suffering.  Tony can’t attain his goal of attaining Aphrodite, if Aphrodite appeared, things would be righted and there wouldn’t be a show.  The only way the story could continue would be for the goddess to keep alluding Tony.  As Tony would say, there is no happy ending for a mob boss.

Works Cited

Paris, Ginette. “Aphrodite, Ares, and Athena.” First Session. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpentaria, Ca. 4 Jan. 2015. Lecture.

Paris, Ginette. Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia. Dallas, Tex.: Spring Publications, 1986. Print.

The Sopranos. Perf. James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, and Lorraine Bracco. HBO Home Video, 2001. DVD.

Page, Jeffrey. “The Sopranos.” HBO: Homepage. HBO. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.hbo.com/the-sopranos#/&gt;.