APHRODITE’S SHADOW: Drowning in Beauty

Feb 9, 2023

Arlene Landau is pictured. She has long dark hair, pearl earrings and a necklace. Also a cover of the book Tragic Beauty, showing Aphrodite.
Photo Credit: Arlene Landau

When the goddess Aphrodite claims us too fully, over time, our bodies become abandoned temples of physical perfection, sexual allure, and romantic passion.

Her seductive archetypal power has captivated us for eons, but in today’s world, the enhancements of fashion, beauty, and physical appearance have intensified veneration of this goddess. However, her enchantments can have profound consequences, particularly when it comes to aging and the pressures of perfection.

In this episode, we delve into the mysterious realm of the archetype with guest Arlene Landau, Ph.D. – a Jungian analyst, mythologist, lecturer, and author of Tragic Beauty: The Dark Side of Venus Aphrodite and the Loss and Regeneration of Soul.

An intricate and complicated relationship exists between women and the goddess of love. Arlene fills a gap in Jungian literature from the female gaze, providing a reflective 21st-century examination of the Aphrodite archetype’s dark shadow. When pressured to concretize Aphrodite symbols — pursuing beauty can be a treacherous path, especially for women in the entertainment industry who must always be young, beautiful, sexy, and attractive. In addition, body dysmorphic disorder and anorexia are common challenges among the daughters of Aphrodite.

Arlene shares her Hollywood experiences, including a declined opportunity to date Elvis Presley. In addition, she sheds light on the tragic fate of “dead blondes” like Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith, who over-identified with Aphrodite goddess of love.

Fairytales warn us the aging Aphrodite type may feel bitter and dangerous as her beauty fades. She prompts us to engage in extreme beautification measures leaving us vulnerable to disfigurement or grotesque approximations of her qualities. She can poison our hearts against seeming rivals, leaving us hollow and alienated from love. Men are not immune to her demands for perfection either.

To balance the psyche, we explore embracing the goddesses sisters Athena, Hestia, and Artemis and developing a relationship with them to counteract the hold of Aphrodite. Finally, we explore an alternative to her excesses – to nurture character and embrace the beauty of selfhood and laughter as we age.

Seeking wisdom offers a crucial balance in our appearance-driven, youth-oriented culture. Arlene writes: “I have had to carry powerful Aphrodite energies, along with a numinous yearning to learn—holding both. It is my task to understand Sophia not just from my mind and animus but from my imagination and soul”.

Join us as we embark on a journey of exploration, navigating the perils and pleasures of Aphrodite and discovering the hopeful path toward the regeneration of soul.

Here’s the dream we analyze:

“I’m looking down from the terrace of a house, which could be the house I grew up in as a child. Down in the front garden I see two men cooking something in a bucket. The two men are chit-chatting and mingling with a certain ease. I have this packet of beans with me that I want to cook, and I’m tempted to try to toss the beans down into their bucket without them noticing, but abandon that idea as impractical. In any event, when I finally tear the package of beans open, I realize they are dry beans, not soaked. I’m a bit daunted now. I decide to try to microwave them for ten minutes to soften them up and try to eat them.”


Arlene Diane Landau. Tragic Beauty: The Dark Side of Venus Aphrodite and the Loss and Regeneration of Soul. https://a.co/d/gpcLp5X

Arlene Diane Landau. Professional Website. http://www.arlenelandau.com/

Douglas Stuart. Shuggie Bain: A Novel. https://a.co/d/eREcBvu

Jean Shinoda Bolen. Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives. https://a.co/d/2W66QOj

Walt Whitman. Eidolons: a poem. https://www.bartleby.com/142/256.html


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  1. Lara Ayad

    Thank you for this episode! I found fascinating the question of why the archetype of Aphrodite has become so dominant in recent years for women. In addition to Lisa’s and Arlene’s suggestions for why this is the case, this phenomenon could also be because women have gained relatively more legal rights in the past several decades. In his documentary, “Tough Guise 2” Jackson Katz theorizes that the change in beauty ideals, between the 1950s and 1990s, from fuller-figured to waif-like, thin bodies represents a collective anxiety about women gaining increasing rights over that period of time. I’m wondering if the growing dominance of the Aphrodite archetype could not only explain the increasingly stringent expectations of beauty placed on women today, but also the way our patriarchal society may be compensating for women’s increased freedom and rights (with the exception of Roe v Wade being overturned in the U.S., of course).

  2. Judy G

    In the 1800s, with Hera being a dominant archetype for women, there was the idea that a woman should sacrifice herself for her family. In poorer families, the mother would go without food so her child could eat. Another example, if the mother died, the eldest daughter was expected to take on her role, to take care of the house and raise her siblings. Aphrodite can be seen as the opposite of this Shadow side of Hera. Where the dark Hera is self-sacrificing, Aphrodite is pleasure seeking, putting her own needs first.

    Your guest’s comment on Aphrodite going through many marriages as well as the interconnection between Aphrodite and Ares reminded me that there used to be a stereotype (not sure if it still exists) that military men couldn’t maintain marriages. I’m thinking of old Clint Eastwood movie where he was ex-military and divorced sitting in a bar somewhere.

  3. Rosie

    This is truly a great podcast! I’ve been listening to This Jungian Life for a long time and I was wondering if you ever take suggestions for topics- I would be interested to hear a podcast on Eros and Psyche (or Beauty and the Beast). I believe psyche is the human soul and Eros is love but I’d be interested to hear why Eros is regarded as a monster by the oracle and why love is often depicted as a monster or a beast.

    • Joseph Lee

      That’s a great suggestion. It’s now on the list. ~ Joseph

  4. Durga

    Hello Jungian friends! I am very grateful for your podcasts, especially this one, because it arrived as a synchronicity to confirm the theme of my monograph in Jungian Psychology. As soon as I finished listening, I went looking for Arlene’s book, however, I live in Brazil and it is not available for sale here. I would like to know if there is a PDF version that can be shared so that I can carry out this study. Thank you for everything!

  5. Marion

    Arlene Landau’s statement that it is lethal to have to carry an Aphrodite-Artemis combination stuck with me. From experience, I would say it is lethal to carry any kind of Aphrodite-other-goddess combination. Then you start to approximate the Great Goddess, and your name is Psyche. The king (any person with power regardless of gender) will turn the people who love you against you. Then they will send you to your death, justifying it as being in the interest of the greater good. Each time you survive and return from the Underworld to start over in a new kingdom, the same thing happens all over again.

    I am over 50 now. So, I have cultivated a new goddess each time. Most recently I have cultivated Hestia in an attempt to fly under the radar. But, it is only now thinking about it, I realise that adding another goddess energy just makes me even more attractive and threatening. The other day at work—which is where this always plays out—someone half-fondly, half-in-awe, called me the Mother of Dragons (you can tell that my attempt to fly under the radar was utterly futile). The next day, another colleague who was there at the time said that they think it’s a really cool nickname to have. Then they added that they are also a bit jealous that I was given it. And so it begins, all over again!

    An interesting book to read that I think depicts coping with Aphrodite’s shadow really well is “When we have faces” by C.S. Lewis. I feel like this podcast episode, and the statement I referenced at the start, have really helped me to weave a number of threads together. Thank you<3


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