Aphrodite makes an appearance early in Ezra Pound’s Cantos, as the character Odysseus worships her and the other Greek gods through his journey to Hades. Aphrodite’s influence is also present in Cantos II and IV, while Ovid’s Metamorphoses presents a second source rich with examples of godly worship. Aphrodite requires proper rites from the heroic characters in Pound’s Cantos including Odysseus, Acoetes, and Actaeon, but not all of the characters are willing, or able to worship her piously. There are five examples of proper pious worship in the Cantos. In Canto I, Aphrodite requires that proper burial rites be performed by Odysseus. In Canto II, Aphrodite metamorphosizes into the god Dionysis, but still she requires worship and safe passage from the Lycabs, or sailors. Canto IV links with Canto I, as the city-state of Troy lies in ruins and the Greeks are rewarded for their worship of Aphrodite with the spoils of war. As well, in Canto IV Aphrodite transforms into the goddess Diana to test Actaeon’s ability to resit viewing her naked form. This example also appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. A final example of pious worship comes from a secondary sources, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Pentheus is persecuted by Dionysis for barring worship of this Greek god of sexual ecstasy. The Cantos are in the form of a Homeric tradition of epic poetry and the appearance of Aphrodite is necessary to develop its theme of pious worship.
Although Canto I is challenging to decipher, as Pound often jumps between time periods, this first Canto develops an example of godly worship through the Greek king Odysseus. Aphrodite appears “with golden crown” (Pound 18). This is a symbol of her authority over the Greeks and Odysseus. In fact, she demands that Odysseus performs proper burial rites for Elpenor, as required by Greek law, from secondary sources. Odysseus must also seek guidance from Tiresias, a prophet, as recommended by Circe and the other Olympic gods. Odysseus worships the gods appropriately by acting on Aphrodite’s demands and later this heroic figure reaps this goddess’ rewards by finally being allowed to return home, then years after the Trojan War. Still, Aphrodite is a cruel goddess who requires much from her worshipers.
A second example of pious worship appears in Canto II, as Aphrodite appears in the guise of Dionysis, the Greek god of sexual ecstasy, as Pound has Aphrodite appear in each of his early Cantos. The theme of proper pious worship remains, as Dionysis demands safe passage to the Greek city of Naxos from the Lycabs. In Canto II, while in the guise of a young boy, Dionysis ask for safe passage and worship from the Lycabs, but they refuse this request and fail his test. Only Acoetes, the captain of the ship, worships Dionysis properly by following Dionysis’ instructions to sail for Naxos. He is rewarded for his devotion to her with an ability to tame wild animals by, “feed[ing]…grapes to [his] leopards” (Pound 21). However, all the other Lycabs, or pirates are deformed by the gods and destined to face the rest of their lives as primitive animals, for their impiety.
In Canto IV, there is a third example of pious worship, with Troy seen burning, “but a heap of smoldering boundary stones” (Pound 24). Pound’s Cantos I and IV are connected through the similar vision of a destroyed Troy and through the topic of piety. In Canto IV, the entire Greek army must worship Aphrodite, or face a similar fate as the Trojans. The Trojans, who are influenced by the Trojan beast, Argus, have denied Aphrodite for too long and so they are destroyed. The Greeks, who have been devout in the worship of Aphrodite, gain victory over Troy.
Canto IV incorporates a fourth example of godly worship with the appearance of Aphrodite as the chastity goddess Diana. Diana appears in: “a patch…of sunlight,” to test the Theban hero Actaeon and his ability to worship her piously (Pound 25). However, Actaeon breaks a pious rule by viewing the goddess Diana naked. Thus, he has acted impiously and is punished by being changed into a “spotted stag of the wood” (Pound 25). Actaeon is one of many characters who fail to abide by the gods’ and goddesses’ rules. The consequences are cruel as Actaeon is hunted and then killed by his own men: “the dogs leap on Actaeon,” when he is in stag form (Pound 25).
“The Bacchus and Pentheus” writings from Ovid’s Metamorphoses shows readers one final example of the consequences of improper pious worship. The king of Thebes, Pentheus rebuked the Greek god Dionysis, while trying to maintain authority over the city. Worship of Dionysis was prohibited by Pentheus, as both Pentheus and Dionysis were both contestants for the throne of Thebes. However, Pentheus was human and Dionysis was a god. To deny worship of Dionysis or any other Greek god, or goddess equals impiety of the highest order and Pentheu’s fate is to be dismembered by his own mother, Agave. Dionysis human-like qualities of jealousy and revenge causes the death of PEntheus, who, defiantly, will not properly worship this god, nor allow his followers into the city of Thebes. To deny worship of the Greek gods and goddesses, like Aphrodite, or Dionysis often ends in death for these heroic characters.
Odysseus, who provides burial rites for Elpenor, is rewarded by the gods with the ability to find his home. Acoetes is astute enough to identify Dionysis in disguise and then follows this god’s directions. Acoetes receives tribute from Dionysis for his proper pious worship with the ability to tame animals. The Greek army worships Aphrodite, at the Trojan gates, and Aphrodite provides victory to the Grecian forces in the Trojan War, for their correct worship. Actaeon is tested by Aphrodite in the form of Diana and this Greek hero mistakenly gazes upon a naked goddess. This impious act leads to his death, in animal form. Pentheus defies the god Bacchus by denouncing Dionysis’ worship in the city of Thebes. His impiety leads to a horrifying dismemberment at the hands of the enraged Bacchi. Each of these characters and their ability to worship piously are tested by Aphrodite. Those who worship Aphrodite properly receive her favour, but those who do not worship her, are provided with cruel fates. The appearance of Aphrodite in the Cantos is provided by Pound to show the readers the importance of pious worship in Greek mythology, as symbolized by Aphrodite.