Aphrodite (Αφροδίτη, "risen from sea-foam") is the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
The epithet Aphrodite Acidalia was occasionally added to her name, after the spring she used to bathe in, located in Boeotia (Virgil I, 720). She was also called Kypris or Cytherea after her alleged birth-places in Cyprus and Cythera, respectively. The island of Cythera was a center of her cult. She was associated with Hesperia and frequently accompanied by the Oreads, nymphs of the mountains.
Aphrodite had a festival of her own, Aphrodisiac, which was celebrated all over Greece but particularly in Athens and Corinth. In Corinth, intercourse with her priestesses was considered a method of worshipping Aphrodite.
Aphrodite was associated with, and often depicted with dolphins, doves, swans, pomegranates and lime trees.
Her Roman analogue is Venus. Her Mesopotamian counterpart was Ishtar and her Syro-Palestinian counterpart was ‘Ashtart (in standard Greek spelling Astarte); her Etruscan equivalent was Turan (goddess).
Venus was often referred to with epithet Venus Erycina ("of the heather") after Mt. Eryx , Sicily, one of the centers of her cult.
"Foam-arisen" Aphrodite was born of the sea foam near Paphos, Cyprus after Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and the elder god's blood and semen dropped on the sea, where they began to foam. Aphrodite was born fully grown out of the foam. Thus Aphrodite is of an older generation than Zeus. Iliad (Book V) expresses another version of her origin, by which she was considered a daughter of Dione, who was the original oracular goddess ("Dione" being simply "the goddess," etymologically an equivalent of "Diana") at Dodona. In Homer, Aphrodite, venturing into battle to protect her favorite Aeneas, has been wounded by Diomedes and returns to her mother, to sink down at her knee and be comforted. "Dione" seems to be an equivalent of Rhea, the Earth Mother, whom Homer has relocated to Olympus. After this story, Aphrodite herself was sometimes referred to as "Dione". Once Zeus had usurped the oak-grove oracle at Dodona, some poets made him out to be the father of Aphrodite.
Aphrodite's chief center of worship remained at Paphos, close to the Syrian coast, where the goddess of desire had long been worshipped as Ishtar and Ashtaroth. It is said that she first tentatively came ashore at Cytherea, a stopping place for trade and culture between Crete and the Peloponesus. Thus perhaps we have hints of the track of Aphrodite's original cult from the Levant to mainland Greece.
Plato considered that Aphrodite had two manifestations, reflecting both stories, Aphrodite Ourania ("heavenly" Aphrodite), and Aphrodite Pandemos ("Common" Aphrodite). According to Plato these two manifestations represented her role in homosexuality and heterosexuality, respectively (homosexuality being more divine for Plato).
Alternatively, Aphrodite was a daughter of Thalassa (for she was born of the Sea) and Zeus.
Due to her immense beauty, Zeus was frightened she would be the cause of violence between the other gods. He married her off to Hephaestus, the dour, humorless god of smithing. Hephaestus was overjoyed at being married to the goddess of beauty and forged her beautiful jewelry, including a girdle that made her even more irresistible to men. Her unhappiness with her marriage caused Aphrodite to seek out companionship from others, most frequently Ares, but also Adonis, Anchises and more. Hephaestus once cleverly caught Ares and Aphrodite in bed with a net, and brought all the other Olympian gods together to mock them. Hephaestus would not free them until they promised to end their affair, but both escaped as soon as the net was lifted and their promise was not kept.
Aphrodite and Psyche
Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of a mortal woman named Psyche. She asked Eros to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. Eros agreed but then fell in love with Psyche on his own, or by accidentally pricking himself with a golden arrow. Meanwhile, Psyche's parents were anxious that their daughter remained unmarried. They consulted an oracle who told them she was destined for no mortal lover, but a monster who lived on top of a particular mountain. Psyche was resigned to her fate and climbed to the top of the mountain. There, Zephyrus, the west wind, gently floated her downwards. She entered a cave on the appointed mountain, surprised to find it full of jewelry and finery. Eros visited her every night in the cave and they made love; he demanded only that she never light any lamps because he did not want her to know who he was (having wings made him distinctive). Her two sisters, jealous of Psyche, convinced her to do so one night and she lit a lamp, recognizing him instantly. A drop of hot lamp oil fell on Eros' chest and he awoke, then fled.
When Psyche told her two jealous elder sisters what had happened; they rejoiced secretly and each separately walked to the top of the mountain and did as Psyche described her entry to the cave, hoping Eros would pick them instead. Zephyrus did not pick them and they fell to their deaths at the base of the mountain.
Psyche searched for her lover across much of Greece, finally stumbling into a temple to Demeter, where the floor was covered with piles of mixed grains. She started sorting the grains into organized piles and, when she finished, Demeter spoke to her, telling her that the best way to find Eros was to find his mother, Aphrodite, and earn her blessing. Psyche found a temple to Aphrodite and entered it. Aphrodite assigned her a similar task to Demeter's temple, but gave her an impossible deadline to finish it by. Eros intervened, for he still loved her, and caused some ants to organize the grains for her. Aphrodite was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. Psyche went to the field and saw the sheep but was stopped by a river-god, whose river she had to cross to enter the field. He told her the sheep were mean and vicious and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Psyche did so and Aphrodite was even more outraged at her survival and success. Finally, Aphrodite claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Persephone, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a black box that Aphrodite gave to Psyche. Psyche walked to a tower, deciding that the quickest way to the underworld would be to die. A voice stopped her at the last moment and told her a route that would allow her to enter and return still living, as well as telling her how to pass Cerberus, Charon and the other dangers of the route. She pacified Cerberus, the three-headed dog, with a sweet honey-cake and paid Charon an obolus to take her into Hades. Once there, Persephone offered her a feast but Psyche refused, knowing it would keep her in the underworld forever.
Psyche left the underworld and decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside was a "Stygian sleep" which overtook her. Eros, who had forgiven her, flew to her body and healed her, then begged Zeus and Aphrodite for their consent to his wedding of Psyche. They agreed and Zeus made her immortal.
Aphrodite was Adonis' lover and had a part in his birth. She urged Myrrha or Smyrna to commit incest with her father, Theias, the King of Assyria. Another version says Myrrha's father was Cinyras of Cyprus. Myrrha's nurse helped with the scheme. When Theias discovered this, he flew into a rage, chasing his daughter with a knife. The gods turned her into a myrrh tree and Adonis eventually sprung from this tree. Alternatively, Aphrodite turned her into a tree and Adonis was born when Theias shot the tree with an arrow or when a boar used its tusks to tear the tree's bark off.
Once Adonis was born, Aphrodite took him under her wing, seducing him with the help of Helene, her friend, and was entranced by his unearthly beauty. She gave him to Persephone to watch over, but Persephone was also amazed at his beauty and refused to give him back. The argument between the two goddess' was settled either by Zeus or Calliope, with Adonis spending four months with Aphrodite, four months with Persephone and four months of the years with whomever he chose. He always chose Aphrodite because Persephone was the cold, unfeeling goddess of the underworld.
Adonis was eventually killed by a jealous Ares. Aphrodite was warned of this jealousy and was told that Adonis would be killed by a bull that Ares transformed into. She tried to persuade Adonis to stay with her at all times, but his love of hunting was his downfall. While Adonis was hunting, Ares found him and gored him to death. Aphrodite arrived just in time to hear his last breath.
The Judgement of Paris
The gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the eventual parents of Achilles). Only the goddess Eris (Discord) was not invited, but she arrived with a golden apple inscribed with the words "to the most beautiful," which she threw among the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed the apple, and the matter was put before Paris, the most handsome mortal. Hera tried to bribe Paris with an earthly kingdom, while Athena offered great military skill, but Aphrodite was judged most beautiful when she offered Paris the most beautiful mortal woman as a wife. This woman was Helen, and her abduction by Paris led to the Trojan War.
Pygmalion and Galatea
Pygmalion was a sculptor who had never found a woman worthy of his love. Aphrodite took pity on him and decided to show him the wonders of love. One day, Pygmalion was inspired by a dream of Aphrodite to make a woman out of ivory resembling her image, and he called her Galatea. He fell in love with the statue and decided he could not live without her. He prayed to Aphrodite, who carried out the final phase of her plan and brought the exquisite sculpture to life. Pygmalion loved Galatea and they were soon married.
In one version of the story of Hippolytus, Aphrodite was the catalyst for his death. He scorned the worship of Aphrodite for Artemis and, in revenge, Aphrodite caused his step-mother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him, knowing Hippolytus would reject her. In the most popular version of the story, Phaedra seeks revenge against Hippolytus by killing herself and, in her suicide note, telling Theseus, her husband and Hippolytus' father, that Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus then murdered his own son before Artemis told him the truth.
King Glaucus of Corinth angered Aphrodite and she made her horses angry during the funeral games of King Pelias. They tore him apart. His ghost supposedly frightened horses during the Isthmian Games.
Aphrodite was often accompanied by the Charites.
In book III of Homer's Iliad, Aphrodite saves Paris when he is about to be killed by Menelaos.
Aphrodite was very protective of her son, Aeneas, who fought in the Trojan War. Diomedes almost killed Aeneas in battle but Aphrodite saved him. Diomedes wounded Aphrodite and she dropped her son, fleeing to Mt. Olympus. Aeneas was then eneveloped in a cloud by Apollo, who took him to Pergamos, a sacred spot in Troy. Artemis healed Aeneas there.
She turned Abas to stone for his pride.
She turned Anaxarete to stone for reacting so dispassionately to Iphis' pleas to love him, even after his suicide.
Aphrodite helps Hippomenes to win a footrace against Atalanta to win Atalanta's hand in marriage, giving him three golden apples to distract her with. However, when the couple fails to thank Aphrodite, she has them turned into lions.
Consorts and children
Anadyomene - the emerging as in Aphrodite Anadyomene, a painting by Apelles
Last updated: 08-04-2005 18:07:34