Most of the minor gods and goddesses were created relatively late in the culture’s history. They personified domains ranging from emotions to the state of society.
Peitho, however, was different. Although she personified an action, there is evidence that her cult existed long before those of many other daimones.
Historians believe that Peitho’s role was so important that she was personified early in history. Her influence on both private and public life made her essential to the Greek worldview.
Peitho was the goddess of persuasion. In ancient Greece, this power took many forms.
She is most likely linked to Aphrodite as a goddess of seduction and marriage. She facilitated the circumstances and agreements needed to bring a couple together.
Peitho also facilitated agreements on a much larger scale. In much of Greece, her importance as a goddess of civic unification was far greater than her role in people’s personal affairs.
In Greek mythology, Peitho was the goddess of persuasion and seduction.
Like many of the minor gods and goddesses in Greek mythology, Peitho is named for her domain. She personifies the act of persuasion and has little distinguishing mythology or characterization otherwise.
Peitho was said to be one of the Oceanids, the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys. Usually regarded as nymphs, the Oceanids included many of the older goddesses of the Greek pantheon.
Like many minor deities, Peitho was also closely associated with a more prominent and powerful Olympian. She was often shown alongside Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Peitho’s powers of persuasion were most often depicted in terms of love, romance, and sexuality. Most of her appearances in both art and mythology emphasize this aspect of her domain.
In the story of Pandora, for example, Peitho joins the Charites (Graces) in adorning the newly-made woman with jeweled necklaces and rings. Such accessories were seen in the ancient world as a tool of seduction that made women more beautiful in the eyes of men.
Peitho also appeared in many depictions of marriage.
In one story, for instance, she appeared to the hero Cadmus as he wandered in search of his sister Europa. Disguised as a servant, Peitho led him through thick mist to the palace of Electra, where he would meet Harmonia.
In this role, Peitho served as a facilitator of love. By persuading Cadmus to meet Harmonia, she put the two of them in a position to be struck by Eros’s arrow and fall in love with each other.
Greek writers also gave a more tangible role for the goddess of persuasion in preparations for marriage.
Marriage, particularly among the upper classes, were typically arranged by the bride’s parents. When a particularly attractive or wealthy young woman reached the age of marriage, it was common for many suitors to vie for her father’s favor.
Peitho’s persuasive powers were vital for a man wishing to convince a young woman’s father that he was the best choice to be her husband.
Peitho was so closely associated with marriage that Plutarch included her on his list of five deities that new couples should pray to for a happy and prosperous life together. The others were more powerful Olympians – Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, and Artemis.
One of the most common scenes involving Peitho in art was not of marriage, but of abduction. In the 5th century BC she became a common figure in scenes of the elopement of Paris and Helen.
Historians believe that Peitho may have needed to influence both of the lovers to convince them to run away together. Paris may have needed to be convinced to abduct Helen, but at the time the question of Helen’s agency in her elopement was also a topic of debate.
Peitho’s role as the goddess of persuasion and seduction occasionally led to her being associated with women who practiced those skills regularly. In Corinth, one writer referred to prostitutes as the “servants of Peitho.”
More commonly, however, Peitho was linked to more socially-approved and virtuous forms of persuasion. Not only was she associated with marriage, but in many parts of Greece she was a companion of a virginal goddess.
While Peitho and Aphrodite were often shown together as goddesses of sexuality, she often shared her temple with Artemis instead.
The goddess of the hunt was an avowed virgin, but she was also the protectress of young women and girls. Historians believe that Artemis and Peitho were linked in the transition between youth and marriage for their young female worshipers.
Most often, however, seduction and beauty were the most closely associated powers. Peitho worked with Aphrodite to persuade men to fall in love with a woman’s beauty so closely that the two goddesses were often conflated.
In many parts of Greece, however, seduction and marriage were not the only parts of life that Peitho had influence over.
While seduction was the most often-used form of persuasion in many myths, in daily life there were many other instances in which the goddess was invoked. The difference between her mythological function and her role in civic life was immense.
In Greek cities, particularly Athens and Argos, Peitho was seen as a unifying force. Without her, society would not be able to function.
In the local legends of Argos, Peitho played a role that was similar to that of Harmonia in Thebes. She was linked to the city’s founders, for whom unified the factions of the state into a peaceful whole.
The people of Thebes credited the goddess of harmony with this accomplishment, but the residents of Argos believed that negotiations and agreements were what had unified their city. Peitho did not inspire harmony, she persuaded people to come to agreements and work together.
Similarly, the people of Athens believed that Peitho and Aphrodite had convinced the city’s early residents to unite under the rule of Theseus. The unification of the city was possible because the people were persuaded to follow Aegeus’s son.
Peitho therefore had a major cult presence in these cities. As a minor patroness, she continued to influence people to work together to keep their society running smoothly and efficiently.
As greek traditions of law and oration developed, Peitho became even more important in the functioning of society.
Rhetoricians viewed Peitho as the dominant goddess in their field. Rhetoric and oration were devoted to persuading people toward the speaker’s beliefs, so Peitho was thought to inspire their words.
Persuasive speech was not only an academic pursuit, it was also an important part of law and leadership.
In the story of Orestes, for example, Peitho is thanked for making words more persuasive. Without her influence, Athena would not have been able to convince the Furies to accept the judgement of the court.
The first experiment with Athenian jury cases nearly ended in a fight because the Furies refused to accept the court’s judgement. Through persuasive rhetoric, however, Athena was able to convince them to embrace the new system.
As the goddess of persuasive speech, Peitho was central in the workings of Athenian law and democracy. Politicians invoked her to persuade people to their side, lawyers spoke persuasive words to sway juries, and authorities convinced opposing groups to negotiate rather than fight one another.
Peitho was therefore considered essential in both public life and private affairs. She was responsible for unification, whether in marriage or under law.
Peitho was the Greek goddess of persuasion and seduction.
She was often linked to Aphrodite, as beauty and seduction went hand in hand. When couples were attracted to one another, Peitho persuaded them to move forward in the relationship.
This made her a goddess of marriage as well. She not only influenced the couple’s feelings toward each other, but also played a role in the negotiations between families that were necessary to arrange a marriage.
In art and literature, Peitho is most often shown in the role of Aphrodite’s aid in seduction and marriage. In daily life, however, her role was much broader.
In much of Greece, Peitho was also worshiped as an important civic goddess. Her persuasive abilities were as necessary for bringing people together as citizens of a state as they were in making people fall in love.
Several cities credited Peitho with their early unification and the continued functionality of society. If people were not persuaded to come together, find common ground, and work collectively, civic life would be impossible.
As the patroness of rhetoric, Peitho was a powerful figure in law and order. Persuasive words influenced juries and swayed people toward political positions.
Although sometimes described as a minor daimone, Peitho’s influence on Greek culture far outstripped her position among the Olympians. She was a source of harmony and unification on both a personal and state level.