Dr. Ruth Westheimer, America’s favorite sex therapist, will be celebrating double on June 4. It’s her 86th birthday and the publication date of her latest book, Myths of Love: Echoes of Ancient Mythology in the Modern Romantic Imagination (Quill Driver Books, June). The book, which analyzes Greek and Roman myths and their relevance to 21st-century relationships, is, says Dr. Ruth, “a departure for me because it’s more learned and more academic, which makes me very happy. And it is academic without being boring.”
The idea for the book was conceived during a visit to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art by Dr. Ruth and her coauthor Jerome E. Singerman, a longtime friend and classical scholar. They were, she remembers, standing in front of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 16th-century work, The Judgment of Paris, which depicts Paris (he of the Trojan War) trying to decide which of three goddesses—Minerva, Venus, or Juno—is the fairest. The painting became the midwife of the book,” Dr. Ruth says.
Myths of Love gives readers a guided tour through 25 stories of Greek and Roman mythology and shows how an ancient myth can inspire fresh thinking about love and romance. Take the myth of Tiresias. Cursed by the goddess Hera to experience life as both a woman and a man, Tiresias was called upon by the gods to settle an otherwise unsolvable question—which gender enjoys sex more? Or Iphis and Ianthe: a girl raised as a boy, Iphis falls in love with the maiden Ianthe. Is their love lesbian or transgender? The lovers’ happiness hangs in the balance until a sex-changing intervention by the goddess Isis.
Dr. Ruth’s favorite myth? Leda and the Swan, in which Zeus takes the form of a swan to seduce Leda, the wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta. “It is because I love swans. Every year when I go to Zurich, I say hi to the swans on Lake Zurich. It reminds me of the years I was a child in an orphanage in Switzerland... and now I am coming back to visit as Dr. Ruth.”
You can wish Dr. Ruth a happy birthday and pick up a signed copy of Myths of Love when she and Jerome Singerman stop by the NBN booth (1125) at 2 p.m. today.