We all know how a character in a film can linger in our imagination more than the real people we know. So it is with Manon in the movie “Manon des Sources” (Manon of the Spring). We behold in her more than a beautiful young woman. As a goatherd she is Aphrodite. Most of us did not know that the goat is sacred to the goddess of love. But that is the archetype; and that, perhaps, is why goats are evil and sheep are good. The sheep obey the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd King is a time honored symbol of Christ. Aphrodite competes with him for the souls of men.
I cannot forget the lovely Manon and I cannot forget Aphrodite. It is good that I do not live near the Venusberg---or perhaps I am simply too old. Age and its precautionary voice---its proverbial wisdom---ensure my safety. But young men are not safe. Like the scapegoat they will be laden with the omissions of the people who forgot love because, like me, they were too timid to follow the goddess. Venus is a creature of the shadows, and Tannhäuser must enter a dark crevice to find her. Aphrodite rides upon a goat, and like a goat the young men will wander into the wilderness and be lost.
Below: Manon sleeps while goats graze behind her.
A painting by Charles Gleyre, "Aphrodite Pandemos", reproduces a scene that was traditional in ancient Greece and Rome.
In this relief Astarte, the Canaanite goddess of love, dances between two goats. Astarte is the Near-Eastern predecessor of Aphrodite.