Cyprus, often called Aphrodite’s island, is the birthplace of the Love Goddess, according to Greek mythology. There, in 1976, just two years after the island was split into a Greek part in the south and a Turkish part in the north, inscribing the division in its heart, an archaic statuette with male and female sexual signs was exhumed. Lisa Paul Streitfeld sees this as a sign that a higher unity, beyond gender, is in the making on this Mediterranean island.
Excavating Beyond the Male Gaze on Aphrodite’s Island: The Global Implications of the Cypriot Art of the Hieros Gamos
“She went to Cyprus, to Paphos, where her precinct is and a fragrant altar, and passed into her—sweet-smelling temple. There she went in and put to the glittering doors.”—Homer1
Ongoing political contentiousness on both sides of the border separating Turkish and Greek Cypriots veils the great mysteries hidden beneath the division of Aphrodite’s Island. The hieros gamos2 iconography, representative of the perfectly symmetrical orbit of Venus, the planet the ancient cultures worshipped as the Goddess of Love, was lost in the Greek appropriation of the indigenous Cypriot goddess.
With the Greeks controlling Cypriot archeology since the island’s independence, the cruciform artifacts3 unique to the island seem to be stylized representations of the distinct axis mundi4 geography of the place. The fact that these—and an even more crucial iconic discovery—have been secreted from transgender theorists (by virtue of the hierarchical structure of archeological exploration and interpretation) explains why continental philosopher Paul B. Preciado was destined to face the insurmountable boundary of the unknown forces guarding the male gaze theoretically smashed in An Apartment on Uranus: Chronicles of the Crossing,5 newly published in English this year.
These astonishing bi-sex artifacts are far from being heralded at the site of their discovery. Their implications for today’s global culture are too huge to be assimilated within the narrow Hellenic6 dictates of the local archeological research under the control of the Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities. Indeed, the politically drawn cultural division denies the island an authentic 21st-century resurrection as the essential site of reconciliation and transformation in Hellenic Studies.7
What could the patriarchy want to conceal by effectively keeping these magnificent icons effectively underground and out of reach for gender theorists? This was my task—to find out the truth.
Crossing into the Third8
Preciado’s high stakes adventure utilized his female body as the object/ive site of an experimental inward journey catalyzed in 2004. The objective was crossing genders by way of an addiction to testosterone chronicled in Testo Junkie.9 A decade later, a prestigious appointment to Documenta 14 as Curator of Public Programs required transporting this fluid gender identity over geographic borders, “transiting a space of gender recognition that is listed between masculine and feminine, between the masculine feminine and the feminine King, experiencing the position now called gender fluid.”10 The inner process“without masculine or feminine face, without fixed name and questionable passport”11 wasexternalized during the move to Athens, “a city hinged between East and West, a city of the crossing,”12 highlighted by severe economic collapse and political confrontation with Neoliberalism. From the Third space that Nietzsche referred to as Tertium quid,13 Preciado asserts: “with an appearance each time more masculine and a feminine identity document, I lost the privilege of social invisibility.”14
As an increasingly visible figure in the international art scene, Preciado’s transitioning body became an apt metaphor of a paradigm shift: “The fluidity of the successive incarnations clashed with the social resistance to accept the existence of a body outside the gender binary.”15 Preciado’s gender transition transcribed in literature is a contemporary journey reflecting the ancient Sumerian myth of Venus’s underworld passage via the inner and outer coniunctio (an alchemical term from the Latin for conjunction, or association, or affinity) with the Sun. The terra firma of ” trans condition as a new form of Uranism”16 for the Third Sex was excavated nearly 900 kilometers east of Athens.
The irony of the Cyprus Problem is that these artifacts crystallize the ongoing struggle for a Cypriot unified identity following a history of invasions that did not end with the 1960 independence from British colonialism. And so, while the ancient artifact is covered up, the Third Space claimed by Preciado for the contemporary body is reflected in the UN-protected Buffer Zone zigzagging through the capital city of Nicosia.
The Buffer Zone became a place of refuge during my north to south border crossings through demonstrations taking place in a tense 2017 summer of reunification negotiations that went nowhere, as usual. The merrymaking of the demonstrators on the Greek side signaled a heart opening to the Green Line signifier on the Cypriot map representing the irresolvable tension between the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey.
Looking south, the once magnificent Ledra Palace Hotel is where the UN peacekeeping force resides across from the sleek modern Home of Cooperation. Beyond the Greek border post is the Golden Triangle of the island’s colonial archeological heritage—the Cyprus Museum, Greek Embassy and Cyprus American Archeological Research Institute (CAARI) offering funding, a library and accommodations to foreign archeologists working in Cyprus. All these institutions are united by willful ignorance about the symbol on the Turkish flag: the ancient worship of the cyclical journey of the Goddess to the Underworld and Return.19
Hidden from the border crossing in a maze of haystacks, silent witnesses to the armed struggle resulting in the August 14, 1974 Turkish invasion, I slept under Venus meeting up with the Crescent Moon17—a crucial marker in the ancient mythological journey of descent and return of Inanna, self-declared Queen of Heaven and Earth, by way of her magnetic bisexual dynamism. The Sumerian myth, the Descent of Inanna(1900-1600 BCE),18 established a narrative for the disappearance of Venus into the in-between: the interior and exterior conjunction with the Sun on either side of the transition between the two faces of[l13] helical rise at dawn and dusk. This symbol—one of the eight stops on the journey—will be the first sign I see at dawn looking North, on the Turkish flag flying over the border station.
At dawn, a flock of shrieking crows creates an ominous whirlpool over my head. Mesmerized, I watch them fly to the castle and make a perfect still line on the roof edge—and time stops. “Crows!” exclaimed a friend when I text her from the Home of Cooperation café, “they are the messengers!” I was at loss to understand what they were telling me—until a crucial disclosure at midnight before returning to the haystacks to retrieve my backpack and exit the Turkish border. There, a waiting cab took me full circle back to Ercan International Airport to catch a flight to Istanbul to view the grandiose statue of a naked Venus with a penis in the local Museum of Archeology.