Friday, November 16, 2012

Twilight of the Goddesses

(I recently discovered that, although it was originally published as a guest post on another blog, this post can no longer be found elsewhere on the Internet.)

Inside every woman there is a goddess archetype, according to the feminist classic Goddesses in Everywoman. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s 1984 book combined the psychology of women with classical Greek mythology to describe seven personality types. These goddess archetypes reoccur in women’s lives and in literature.
The women of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series are deeply in touch with their inner goddesses. Bella Swan, the human (at least until the fourth book) heroine of the series, has been criticized for her passivity, submissiveness and resemblance to a stereotypical damsel in distress. Yet the storybook cliché of the woman in need of rescue has a deeper meaning, a resonance with one of the classical goddesses of Greek mythology. From motherly Esme to the half-breed infant Nessie, the women of Twilight resemble five of Shinoda Bolen’s seven goddesses.

Alice ~ Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena was the warrior-goddess of wisdom. She was the patroness of great heroes including Achilles, Perseus and Jason. Alice Cullen has her own hero: Jasper Cullen, formerly a general in an ambitious vampire’s territory wars. Athena entered the pantheon of Greek deities as a full-grown adult; Alice joined the Cullen vampire coven not as a human but as a fully-formed vampire. Athena’s was also goddess of crafts; Alice has a talent for planning over-the-top, sophisticated parties.

Women who follow the Athena archetype always know what to wear. Alice has a distinctive sense of fashion and helps Bella choose outfits for special occasions. Athena women want to marry powerful, successful men; Alice is inseparable from Jasper. Wise Athena women go through life seeing clearly, but Alice does them one better: she has visions, literally seeing the future clearly.

Rosalie ~ Hera
Hera was the beautiful, regal Greek goddess of marriage. She had large, beautiful eyes and was represented by the peacock. Although widely revered in ancient times, she could be jealous and vindictive. When Zeus first tried to woo her, he appeared to her as a shivering, wounded bird, and she took pity on him. His first attempts to seduce her were unsuccessful; he had to marry her first. As an adolescent, a Hera woman is already planning her wedding. A Hera woman feels incomplete without a partner. She wants to get married more than anything else.

Alice’s adopted sister Rosalie Hale is also regal and beautiful. In the first novel, Bella describes Rosalie as “statuesque,” with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model’s figure. She’s the most beautiful girl at Forks High School.

Like Hera, Rosalie took pity on a wounded creature¾the human Emmett¾when she found him mauled by a bear. Rosalie brought him to Carlisle, her adoptive father, who saved Emmett by turning him into a vampire. Incomplete without a partner, Rosalie fell in love with Emmett. They married, and as Edward reveals to Bella in Breaking Dawn, went through a wildly enthusiastic honeymoon period in which they accidentally damaged several homes with their lovemaking.

Before Rosalie was a vampire, she was a beautiful 18-year-old in 1933. Her beauty was her most important asset, and she enjoyed the attention it got her everywhere she went. Before she even had a beau she was planning the “huge, flowery” wedding of her dreams. Her social climbing parents pushed her into a relationship with Royce King, the son of her town’s wealthiest merchant. Rosalie felt like a princess, until a drunken Royce and his friends attacked Rosalie and left her for dead. After Carlisle turned her into a vampire, a vengeful Rosalie hunted and killed each of them…dressed in her wedding gown.

A Hera woman tends to displaces her anger at her spouse onto others. She devalues her friendships with other women. Rosalie’s treatment of Bella reflects this, as in New Moon when she allows Edward to think Bella is dead. Edward also reveals to Bella that Rosalie is jealous of her because Rosalie wishes she were still human.

Renesmee ~ Artemis
At first glance, the remote and beautiful huntress Rosalie may seem like an Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and the moon. An even better Artemis, though, is Renesmee (Nessie for short), the half-vampire daughter of Edward and Bella. In mythology Artemis travels with a pack of hounds…appropriate for Nessie, the destined mate of wolf shapeshifter Jacob Black.

Artemis was one of a pair of twins born to the nymph Leto. Her twin brother was Apollo. Though the Artemis of Greek mythology never married, she was so close with Apollo that he became jealous of men who attempted to woo her. When an Artemis woman has a husband, she treats him like a brother. They often share an interest in the outdoors. As Nessie grows up, her relationship with Jacob is like sister and brother, and he loves the outdoors.

The Artemis archetype is independent, a trait Nessie shows from a shockingly early age. Artemis babies are interested in the world from the start. Artemis women have a loving, supportive set of parents, like Bella and Edward.  An Artemis woman’s father gives her a set of gifts that enable her to do as she wants, the way Edward passed some of his vampire traits to Nessie.

Esme ~ Demeter
Demeter, the goddess of grain, was ancient Greece’s nurturer/mother goddess. Demeter was driven to extremes when she lost her only child Persephone, who was abducted and taken to the Underworld by the god of the dead. A Demeter woman’s maternal instincts are not restricted to her own biological children; she is maternal toward everyone. She becomes depressed when she loses her literal or metaphorical children. She is the chosen rather than the chooser in romantic relationships. Her ideal partner is a mature, responsible family man.

Esme Cullen, the matriarch of the coven, is a perfect Demeter. She thrives on being the adoptive mother of Edward, Alice, Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett. Carlisle turned Esme into a vampire only after Esme attempted suicide by jumping off a cliff¾an extreme she was driven to when her baby died shortly after birth. She was fortunate to have been chosen by Carlisle. Though he appears to be only 23, Carlisle was born in the mid-seventeenth century. He’s the ultimate mature family man.

Bella ~ Persephone
Demeter’s only child, the goddess Persephone was the young maiden abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld. By eating the pomegranate seeds (which resemble blood drops) Hades offered her, Persephone became part of the world of the dead and reigned as their queen throughout each winter. Bella Swan, when she fell in love with Edward, was transported from her everyday human life to a secret world of cold, unearthly beings, the walking dead. Through ingesting Edward’s vampire venom, she became one of them.

The Persephone woman may go through bouts of depression where she seems to disappear from the world. Disappearing from the world is how Bella’s father, Charlie describes Bella after Edward leaves in New Moon: “But she was…empty. Her eyes were blank.” Stephenie Meyer symbolizes Bella’s depression with blank pages.

As a young woman, a Persephone archetype doesn’t know who she is. She has a passive, compliant personality and few interests of her own. She adapts herself to please a man. Persephone archetypes rarely have close relationships with their fathers. They don’t choose marriage, but agree to get married to please their partners. Although initially unaware of their own sexuality, Persephone women mature into sensual women. All of these characteristics describe Bella, who only agreed to marry Edward after realizing it was the only way to fulfill her awakening sexual desire for him.

Many readers love the Twilight series precisely because of Bella and Edward’s abstinence before their marriage. In her essay “Bite Me (Or Don’t),” Christine Siefert refers to this as “abstinence porn.” It’s interesting that one of the goddesses not represented in Stephenie Meyer’s pantheon is Aphrodite. According to Goddesses in Everywoman, the Greek goddess of love was the one resident of Mount Olympus who was neither virginal nor vulnerable to the designs of the male gods. Nevertheless, whether consciously or not, Meyer gave each of her vampire women a divine counterpart and a unique set of powers.

Author Biography: Erin O’Riordan is a novelist, avid reader and book reviewer. She adores vampires and never tires of reading about them in all their forms. Visit her at the book blog Pagan Spirits:


Angela. (n.d.) “Beauty and the Bear: Rosalie and Emmett.” Retrieved January 1, 2011

Chung, Daniel. (n.d.) “Twilight Character Guide - Alice Cullen.” Retrieved January 1, 2011.

Chung, Daniel. (n.d.) “Twilight Character Guide - Emmett Cullen.” Retrieved January 1, 2011.

Chung, Daniel. (n.d.) “Twilight Character Guide - Esme Cullen.” Retrieved January 2, 2011.

Chung, Daniel. (n.d.) “Twilight Character Guide - Rosalie Hale.” Retrieved January 2, 2011.

Czech, Jan. July 20, 2009. “Bella Swan - A Feminist’s Nightmare.” Retrieved January 2, 2010.

Kramer Bussel, Rachel (editor). Best Sex Writing 2010. Cleis Press, 2010.

Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. Little, Brown and Co., 2005.

Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. Little, Brown and Co., 2006.

Meyer, Stephenie. Eclipse. Little, Brown and Co., 2007.

Shinoda Bolen, Jean. Goddesses in Everywoman. Harper and Rowe, 1984. 

1 comment:

Wren Doloro said...

This is interesting. I would think the reason why Aphrodite is not represented is because the author of Twilight is Mormon. I doubt respect for female sexual power is really a Mormon thing...not to generalize but I think modesty is more their virtue. And that's not Aphrodite.