In ancient Greek art and literature, the goddess Aphrodite was often surrounded by a group of young, winged male gods. These were the erotes, the gods of love.
These minor gods controlled every aspect of romance and attraction, from flattery through the rites of marriage. They were the servants and followers of the goddess of beauty.
One of these gods of love, Pothos, was the god of desire. He inspired feelings of intense longing for someone who was absent or unattainable.
Pothos controlled whether a man or woman was attracted to another person. While Eros inspired love, Pothos inspired a longing that could be more intense, but also more temporary.
Pothos was a minor god in Greek mythology, but he was one who had major connections. The stories and attributes of the god Pothos showed how serious desire was!
Pothos was one of the erotes, or gods of love, in ancient Greek belief. This group of male gods formed the retinue of Aphrodite and did her bidding.
Each of the erotes represented a different form of love. Eros, the god of romantic love, was the most prominent of them.
Physically, most of the erotes looked almost exactly alike. There were young, handsome men with wings, often shown in the nude or in short tunics.
The love gods sometimes carried symbols that made it possible to tell them apart, but they were just as often shown as almost interchangeable winged male deities. Many images labeled the gods to make the scene more clear.
Pothos, whose name meant “desire,” was one of this group. Along with Himeros (“unrequited love”), Anteros (“love returned”), Hedylogos (“sweet talk”), and Hymenaeus (the god of marriage) he helped Eros spread love.
The erotes were generally said to be the children of Aphrodite. Eros was the eldest, but the other gods of love like Pothos served their mother, as well.
Some later accounts differed, however. Many Greek writers said that Pothos was the son of Zephyrus, the West Wind, and Iris, the goddess of the rainbow.
A few even claimed that he was a son of Eros. The love that Eros controlled led to the feelings of desire that Pothos had domain over.
While Eros spread love, Pothos was the god of desire and longing. The feelings he created could be romantic or purely lustful.
The longing that Pothos created was almost always thought of as a sexual attraction. At some points in time, however, he was obviously interpreted in a more general way.
The white asphodel flower was sometimes called pothos in Greece. It was not associated with romance, however, but with mourning.
White asphodel was used in funeral rites and was said to cover the meadows of the Underworld. The Asphodel Fields were a place where the shades of the deceased wandered without purpose or emotion.
This connection to death would seem to show that Pothos could be a god of longing not only for a romantic partner, but also for someone who was lost forever. While he was most often associated with sexual desire, he could have once been a god of mourning and loss as well.
Pothos could often be distinguished from the other erotes because he carried a vine in many images. This vine helped to make the connection to another of Greek mythology’s important gods and another aspect of desire.
The erotes were most closely associated with Aphrodite. They were both her companions and her servants.
Pothos and the other gods of love were daimones. These were minor gods or spirits who were completely tied to a specific function.
Like other daimones, Pothos was named for his role. He had little mythology of his own and, unlike the Olympians, little personality beyond that given by their function.
As the god of desire, Pothos was described by ancient writers as a tender god, but also as one who was inconsistent.
The unpredictable and often fleeting nature of desire and yearning are likely what led to Pothos being given different parentage by later writers. Zephyrus and Iris were fitting parents for the inconsistent god of love.
The spring wind that Zephyrus represented and Iris’s rainbow were both fleeting things. While they were welcomed and appreciated, they also could not be relied on and could appear or disappear in a moment.
Desire, unlike the other types of love, could be only temporary. Like the wind or a rainbow, it could be strong one minute and gone the next.
A link to Zephyrus also showed one of the more negative attributes of desire.
According to legend, Zephyrus could be a jealous god when he was in love.
Both Zephyrus and Apollo had loved a beautiful young man named Hyacinthus. The Spartan prince chose Apollo.
One day when Apollo and his young lover were playing games together, a discus throw went off course. Apollo’s discus struck Hyancinthus in the head, killing him instantly.
Many writers said that this was a simple accident, but others saw the tragic death differently. They claimed that Zephyrus had been so jealous that he had sent a wind to intentionally blow the discus, killing Hyacinthus rather than letting him be happy with Apollo.
The link that later writers made between Pothos and Zephyrus could, with this story in mind, also indicate the possible dangers of desire. When taken to an extreme, desire could make a person jealous and dangerous.
The god of the West Wind was not the only other one Pothos was linked to. Greek artists also connected Pothos to the god of wine.
The vine that Pothos often carried was a symbol of Dionysus. It was no accident that the two gods shared this symbol.
Dionysus and his band were infamous for the lustful behavior their drunkenness could bring about. Drinking wine could attract Pothos and lead to unchecked desire.
Carrying a vine did not necessarily mean that Pothos was a god of drunkenness, but it did give the impression that he could follow Dionysus at least at some times. More than any other god of love, the god of yearning and desire could appear when a person was under the sway of Dionysus.
In Greek mythology, Pothos was the god of desire and longing. One of the daimones, he was entirely defined by this purpose.
Pothos was most often shown in the company of Aphrodite. As one of the erotes, the gods of love, he was in her service and part of her retinue.
Most ancient sources said that Pothos, like the other gods of love, was a son of Aphrodite. Some, however, gave other explanations.
A few said that he was actually Aphrodite’s grandson. As the son of Eros, he created the yearning that followed love.
The most popular later story was that Pothos had been born to Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, and Zephyrus, one of the wind gods. His connection to these two showed the fleeing, changeable nature of desire.
It could also show its hazards. One of the most famous stories of Zephyrus was of his jealousy over the love of Hyacinthus, showing that desire could be dangerous and even deadly.
In art, Pothos was typically shown carrying a vine. In sharing this attribute with Dionysus, Pothos was linked to the strong desires that could be caused by alcohol consumption.
Finally, there was some indication that the longing caused by Pothos’s influence was not always linked to sexual or romantic feelings. His name was sometimes used for the white asphodel flower that was associated with the Underworld and funerals, seeming to indicate that longing could sometimes be for one who was separated by death.