Aphrodite

Aphrodite

Venus stamp

Aphrodite (in ancient Greek “Αφροδιτη”) is the goddess of beauty, love, pleasure, and procreation, seduction but also fertility in the Greek religion. Aphrodite is a very important character in mythology. She is one of the twelve Olympian gods who sit around Zeus on Mount Olympus. She would be Eros’ mother according to some versions.

She is the equivalent of Venus in the Roman.

 

 

Aphrodite: The Greek Goddess of love

The cult of Aphrodite is most often associated with human sexuality, but it is not the only function of the goddess. She is related to the activities of young girls in general. The details of Theseus’ myth and his love with Ariadne show an Aphrodite involved in extramarital sexual relations, while in the Illiad, Zeus attributes her to “the charming works of marriage”. The Athenian cult, as well as that of other Greek cities, associates her with the fertility.

Venus coming out of the water
Venus coming out of the water

Aphrodite’s attributions might have been modified according to times cities.

In Sparta, the sexuality of young girls is more strictly controlled, it is associated with more severe divinities. At the end of the Ancient Greek period, the authors tried to more strictly separate the attributions of the Olympic deities, and those of Aphrodite were more closely circumscribed. However, at all times, it is mainly girls and women, more than men and boys, who have duties towards the goddess.

Feminine beauty is precious to young girls and courtesans for their marriage, to whom it facilitates harmony with their husbands: It is a necessity for their profession. In gratitude: mirrors decorated with the figure of Aphrodite are sometimes offered to the temple of the goddess when their owners have aged.

Aphrodite sitting on a goose
Aphrodite sitting on a goose (© Boston Museum)

Aphrodite’s symbol

Aphrodite’s symbols are the shell, the mirror, the rose, the apple, the poppy, the myrtle, and its associated animals: the dove, the ram, the goat, the hare, the swan, the turtledove. She wore a magic belt embroidered with gold, Zeus’ wedding gift, which she often lent to Hera to revive her husband’s inconstant love. This belt has the power to provoke desire instantly.

Birth of Aphrodite

There are two different legends about his birth.

For Homer, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Aphrodite had an affair with Ares, her “good brother”. Hephaistos surprises them and then threatens to ask Zeus for the gifts he had given in exchange for his daughter’s hand.

In Hesiodic Theogony and according to the most popular tradition, Aphrodite was born from the sea fertilized by the sex of Ouranos that Cronos had cut off: “all around it, a white foam came out of the divine member. From this foam, a girl was formed. For the Greeks, this legend is inscribed in the very name of the goddess: it was “born of the foam” (ἀφρός / aphrós). However, it is in fact only a popular etymology, without foundation. The Winds pushed her to Kythera, then Cyprus. According to Hesiod, this is how his main nicknames can be explained: “Cypris”, but also his Homeric epithet φιλομμειδής / philommeidếs, which he interprets as meaning “exit from the testicles” (μήδεα / mếdea).

Various post-Homeric and post-Hesiodic traditions give birth to Aphrodite from the blood of Cronos mutilated by Zeus, or from the loves of Cronos and a mysterious Euonymus.

Aphrodite’s loves and her husband

Here too, the myths diverge. For Hesiod, Aphrodite is Ares’ wife, but it is not this version that is the most famous because in general, as Demodocus sings, Aphrodite is married to Hephaestus, whom she deceives with other gods, especially with Ares, and even with simple mortals.

Nerites

Son of Nereus and Doris, Nerites who was of great beauty, was her very first love while she was still living in the sea. She gave him wings to convince him to accompany her but as he refused to leave the sea to go to Olympus, she transformed him into a shell fixed to the rocks for his contempt and gave the wings to Eros. Nerite complained to Poseidon, who gave her back her original appearance.

Hephaestus: Aphrodite’s husband

To fully understand the reasons for the marriage of Hephaestus and Aphrodite, we must remember the birth of the blacksmith and his vengeance.

Hera having precipitated Hephaestus from heaven immediately after his birth, to satisfy his resentment, Hephaestus sent her a throne where there were invisible bonds, and Hera, having sat on it, found herself chained.

Zeus promised the hand of Aphrodite to the one who would bring Hephaestus to Olympus to rescue his wife. Aphrodite agreed because she was convinced that Ares would win.

Dionysus who had all Hephaestus’ confidence, will intoxicate him and bring him back to heaven.

Before intoxicating him, Dionysus told him that if he intervened quickly to rescue his mother he could get Aphrodite’s hand. This plan pleased Hephaestus, who delivered his mother and claimed the hand of the beautiful Aphrodite. Of course, the future wife was displeased with this, but Zeus had promised.

Such a mismatched union could not be happy, and in Olympus itself, Aphrodite was able to find comforts, including Ares, with whom she was surprised by her husband.

Ares

 

Mars and Venus caught in Vulcan's net
Mars and Venus caught in Vulcan’s net- Marteen Van HEEMSKERK (1536) – Kunsthistorisches Museum

Ares only came to see Aphrodite at night for fear that Helios, who had seen them, would report the facts to Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s legitimate husband. Ares was stationed in front of the door a young ephebe named Alectryon who had to warn them when the day was coming up.

Unfortunately, one morning, the latter forgot the instructions and the two lovers were taken into the marital bed by Hephaestus, who locked them in a magic net that only he was able to control. “Father Zeus, and you happy gods who are still living, come and see shameful and intolerable things. I, who am lame, Zeus’ daughter, Aphrodite, dishonors me, and she loves Ares the pernicious because he is handsome and does not limp.”

He thus exposed them to the ridicule of the Immortals, Hermes admitted that he was indeed going to take the place of Ares, which made the gods laugh twice as hard, except the goddesses who did not want to disobey Aphrodite.

Then he asked Zeus to return all the dowry. The gods have agreed to impose a punishment on Ares. After this unfortunate adventure, Aphrodite first retired to Paphos, then hid in the Caucasus woods.

All the gods had long searched for it in vain when an old lady told them the location of her secret hiding place. The goddess turned her to stone to punish her for talking too much.

They are attributed many other children like Eros and Anteros (Reciprocal Love), Peitho (Seduction), Pothos (Sensual Desire) which are personalized concepts related to love or fear like Phobos (Terror) or Deimos (Fear). However, according to Hesione Eros is from Chaos.

The union of Venus and Bacchus
The union of Venus and Bacchus (1639) – Nicolas CHAPERON – Dallas, Museum of art

Dionysus

She had a short affair with Dionysus that she forgot about because of her adventure with Adonis when Dionysus went on an expedition to India.
On her return, she came to meet him and abandoned him again some time later to give birth to Lampsaque, on the Hellespont, to their son Priape (son of Aphrodite and Adonis). This behavior was very revolting to Hera, who used his power to make Priape ugly. Shamefully, Aphrodite abandoned the child who was taken in and raised by shepherds.

In Roman mythology, Hymen or Hymenaeus, the god of Marriage, is considered to be the son of Bacchus and Venus.

 

Venus and Neptune
Venus asks Neptune to favor Aeneas – François Perrier – © Musee d’Epinal

Poseidon

Poseidon had intervened effectively to have Aphrodite and her lover released, held in her husband’s nets.

Poseidon did not laugh and begged the illustrious Hephaestus to deliver Ares, and he said these winged words to him:
Deliver him, and I promise you that he will satisfy you as you wish and as he should between immortal gods.
Hephaestus answered him: Poseidon, who surrounds the earth, does not ask me that. How could I force you, among the Immortal Gods, if Ares escaped his word and my bonds?
Poseidon shook the earth and replied: Hephaestus, if Ares renounces his debt and flees, I will pay it to you myself.

He would have had two daughters with Aphrodite:

  • Rhodos who was a local goddess of the island of Rhodes and wife of Helios. However, Rhodos is also considered to be the daughter of Poseidon and Halia.
  • Herophile, a sea nymph who may also have been a Delphic Sibyl, but the latter is rather described as a daughter of Zeus.

Later Aphrodite / Venus came to ask Neptune to grant a favorable sea to his son Aeneas on his way to Italy.

Pan

There is no known evidence of love between Aphrodite and Pan, but there is a very beautiful statue discovered in 1904 in Delos and dating from the 1st century BC where Aphrodite, with her sandal, repels the little god with horns, hairy and itphic using a small winged Eros who holds him by the horns.

Hermes

Aphrodite first refused Hermes.
Then the latter went to seek help and comfort from his father and thanks to the intervention of Zeus’ eagle, he stole a sandal from her while she was swimming in Acheloos, and by making her sing, he succeeded in reaching his goal.

They had a son named Hermaphrodite. The child who was born was quite remarkable for his beauty, which later betrayed him.

In the past, in the caves of Mount Ida, the Naiads fed a child born of the love of Aphrodite and Hermes. The author of his time could easily be identified by his features; he took his name from both.

 

Zeus and Aphrodite
Zeus and Aphrodite – Detail of a bath vase.

Zeus

On the other hand, Zeus did not have the same success and his valiant adventure with Aphrodite when she arrived in Cyprus, short-circuited as Nonnos tells us: “The second variety of Centaurs that had taken up arms was born on the island of Cyprus. When Cypris, fearing to meet in her father an illegitimate husband, was able to avoid, as quickly as the winds, the pursuits of the god to whom she owed her life, the great Jupiter could not reach her, and had to abandon Venus, without submitting her to her union, which was stolen by her lightness and her refusal. The earth then took the place of Cypris, and saw the birth of a new horned race, the result of the fruitful attempts of the son of Saturn, from whom it had just received in its nuptial womb the seed generator.”

Moreover, as it is written in the hymns to Aphrodite, “She deceives the spirit of Zeus, deceives this prudent soul, and unites the god to mortal women.” In revenge, Zeus, in turn, inspired Aphrodite with the sweet desire to unite with a mortal man. Thus the goddess fell in love with an irresistible passion for the Anchises of Troy, whose beauty equalled that of the gods.

However, if she knew how to inspire love to gods and men, only three goddesses resisted her firmly and successfully: Artemis, Athena and Hestia.

But there are three goddesses whose souls she could not bend and whose souls she could not deceive. First, the Virgin Athena with light eyes, daughter of the stormy Zeus. Because she is not satisfied with Aphrodite’s exploits. She was satisfied with the wars, her history with Ares, the battles but also with other great works. She taught the earth’s workers to make battle tanks and carts decorated with bronze. She taught the young virgins, in their homes, to do illustrious work, and she inspired their minds.

Aphrodite, who loved Artemis’ smiles and her golden bow could never tame her. Because Artemis would prefer bows, hunting wild animals in the mountains, Lyres, dances, shouts, dark woods.

Nor did the venerable Virgin Hestia like Aphrodite’s work, who was Cronos’ mother and was courted many times. But she did not want to, and refused firmly, and took a great oath to always remain a virgin and the noblest of goddesses.

Aphrodite’s mortal’s lovers

Venus crying Adonis
Venus crying Adonis – Jean-Faur COURREGE (1753) – Bordeaux BA Museum

Aphrodite’s beauty had troubled all the gods. The master of the gods himself gave in to his power: “She misled the spirit of Zeus, deceived this prudent soul, and united the god with mortal women.”

He was also lent lovers among mortals and some children were the fruit of his love.

But if she knew how to inspire love, she was also a victim because she felt a strong passion for Adonis and cried for a long time about his death. Later she kidnapped Phaeton from Eos and could not resist Cinyras, the king of Cyprus, whom she filled with gifts.

 

Adonis

Venus and Adonis
Venus and Adonis – Abraham BLOEMAERT (1632) – Copenhagen Museum

Aphrodite metamorphoses Smyrna, daughter of King Cyneras, into an incense tree after having inspired her with incestuous love, because she had bragged about being more beautiful than the goddess herself. She entrusted the baby Adonis to Persephone to raise him, but Persephone fell in love with the young man a few years later.

Aphrodite having discovered that Persephone had fallen in love with Adonis, a heated argument between the goddesses began. “She doesn’t even show herself in the sky anymore: she prefers Adonis to heaven. She is attached to his steps, she accompanies him everywhere….. »

Zeus decided that Adonis would stay one third of the year with Persephone, one third with Aphrodite and that he would have the last third at his discretion.
But Aphrodite cheated by wearing her magic belt and asking Adonis to give her some freedom.

Unfortunately, Adonis was killed in a hunt by a wild boar that would have been put in his path by Ares who felt abandoned. A drop of her blood fell to the ground and Aphrodite shed a tear on that drop of blood that gave birth to the anemone.

Venus and Anchise
Venus and Anchise – Benjamin Robert HAYDON

Anchise

In revenge for his rejection, Zeus, in turn, inspired Aphrodite with the sweet desire to unite with a mortal man.
Thus the goddess fell in love with an irresistible passion for the Anchise of Troy, whose beauty equalled that of the gods. One day, while he was grazing his flocks on Mount Ida, Aphrodite went to join him. Before that, she had gone to her sanctuary in Paphos, where the Charites had coated her body with an incorruptible and perfumed oil and adorned it with her most precious jewels. “Her veil was brighter than the glow of the flame; she wore bracelets, earrings, her neck was loaded with gold necklaces, her delicate chest shone like the moon. ”

As she climbed the slopes of the Ida, hairy wolves, bristly lions, agile panthers wandered around her; at this sight, she rejoiced and threw love into their hearts.
When she finally meet in Anchise, the goddess pretended to be the daughter of the king of Phrygia, and expressed her desire to become his wife. Without further ado, Anchise led Aphrodite to a well-prepared layer, covered with bear and lion skins; and there, a mortal, by the will of the gods and fate, slept with an Immortal, without knowing who she was.

Upon awakening, Aphrodite appeared to Anchise in her splendour as a goddess and, as the shepherd was afraid, fearing the premature old age of the man who had united with the immortal goddesses, she reassured him and promised him a son, who would be like a god. She only asked him not to reveal the name of his mother to his child, who was later the pious Aeneas, Prince of Dardanos, better known in the myths of Rome.
She would have had another child from Anchise, Lyros, who became Prince of Dardanos next to Troy.

Phaethon

Aphrodite kidnapped Phaethon, son of Cephalus and Eos, to make him the night guardian of his sanctuary in Syria. And she found herself the mother of little Astynoos who later became Prince of Syria.
Phaon may be another name for Phaethon

Boutes

Boutes was the son of Teleon and Zeuxippe, daughter of the river god Eridan. He was one of the Argonauts who went to Colchis to get the Golden Fleece. As he passed through the Sirens’ area and despite Orpheus’ efforts to mask their songs, he jumped into the water to join them. On the point of drowning, he was saved by Aphrodite who led him to Lilybaeum on the western tip of Sicily. She reportedly gave him a son, Eryx, who was king of Sicily and was killed in a wrestling match by Heracles.
However, according to Apollodore Eryx, he was a son of Poseidon.

Aphrodite at the origin of the Trojan War

Wounded Venus
Wounded Venus returns to Olympus – INGRES (1800) – Kunstmuseum Basel Switzerland

Perhaps the most famous legend about Aphrodite is the one that tells she is the mythical cause of the Trojan War. Eris, the only goddess not invited to the wedding of King Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis, throws a golden apple into the banquet hall with the inscription “To the most beautiful”. Zeus refuses to choose between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, the three goddesses he believes deserve the apple. They ask Paris, Prince of Troy, to be the judge. All three of them are trying to bribe him. Hera promised him royal power, Athena, military glory, and Aphrodite, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris chose Aphrodite and asked for a reward: Helen of Troy, wife of the Greek king Menelaus. Paris’ kidnapping of Helen triggered the Trojan War. During this war, the Greek hero Diomedes slightly wounded the goddess as she rescued her son Aeneas.

The Judgment of Paris
The Judgment of Paris – (1808) – Virginia Museum of Art, Richmond

Aphrodite was wounded during the Trojan War and her blood flowed when she tore her beloved son Aeneas from a hand-to-hand battle. Saved by Ares and Iris who took her in a chariot on Olympus, she went to complain to Zeus about the cruel wound inflicted by Diomedes. It didn’t take more than that for Hera and Athena to make fun of her. Biting, the light-eyed goddess gave her version of the incident: Aphrodite had to hurt her delicate hand with a gold clip, then Zeus gave Aphrodite advice: “My daughter, the work of war is not entrusted to you, but to the impetuous Ares and Athena. Just think of the sweet joys of Hymenaeus.”

The two Aphrodite

Venus as a huntress
Venus as a huntress appears at Aeneas – by P. de Cortone

In Plato’s Banquet, as the discussion begins, the character of Pausanias declares: “Everyone knows well that Love is inseparable from Aphrodite. This being said, if Aphrodite were unique, unique too would be Love. But since there are two Aphrodite, there are also two loves. (…)”

One, undoubtedly the oldest, which has no mother and is the daughter of Heaven, is the one we call Celestial. But there is another, less ancient one, which is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the very one we call Popular.

This influences those who, in love, aim “only at the accomplishment of the act”; the first inspires those who “turn precisely to the male sex”, especially young boys “when they have already begun to have intelligence, which happens around the time when the beard grows”, in order to “prepare themselves to spend their entire existence together, in a complete community”. After political and moral considerations on love, the character of Pausanias stops, without having clarified further the question of the duality of Aphrodite, which will serve throughout the rest of the discussion that runs through the different kinds of love, for which the ancient Greek language knew several terms. Xenophon, in his Banquet, also speaks of a Vulgar Aphrodite and a Celestial Aphrodite.

The vindictive character of Aphrodite

Aphrodite’s revenge is terrible. For her revenge, Hera pursues women only out of jealousy, Aphrodite hits them only when they serve her badly or refuse to serve her. Women are then both her victims and her instruments for men, more rarely out of jealousy, sometimes inspiring them with very difficult loves:

Out of jealousy, she condemns Eos to erotomania;
To punish Hippolyte, who only respects Artemis, she provokes Phedre’s passion;
At Poseidon’s request, it arouses Pasiphae’s monstrous desire for a bull;
the daughters of the King of Cyprus refuse to honor her: she forces them to prostitute themselves;
For the same fault, she afflicts the women of Lemnos with a terrible smell that makes all men flee;
She also tries to make Psyche fall in love with an evil man, but Eros, in charge of throwing the fatal arrow, disobeys and decides to marry the girl.
His proteges are no better off. Helen complains bitterly of the goddess’ favor: “Unfortunate that I am, she said to him, here you are again at my side, full of treacherous designs”!

Cult of Aphrodite

 

Venus and Mars
Venus and Mars – Paris BORDONE

Today we admit that this cult comes from Asia, where a lunar divinity (Astarte)  was venerated for the principle of fertility; it was brought, in several parts of the Greek world, by the Phoenicians, and it is there that its most frequented sanctuaries were located, as on the island of Cyprus in Paphos, Amathonte, on the island of Kythera… But the goddess also had temples in most Greek cities, such as Athens, Thebes, and Corinth, where a thousand hetaires were waiting for pilgrims. This cult developed further in the Alexandrian period, then in the Roman period when Aphrodite / Venus was considered thanks to her son Aeneas, as the mother of the Roman people.

The main centers of worship of Aphrodite were Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, and Kythera, on Crete; among its most famous shrines, mention should be made of the temple of Cnidus, in Carie, and that of the island of Cos.

 

Birth of Aphrodite
Birth of Aphrodite – in the presence of Hermes, Eros and Poseidon

The Aphrodite Pandemos was venerated in Thebes, where a statue of the goddess was seen, made, it was said, with the spurs of the ships that had brought Cadmos to Greece;
– in Athens, where there was a temple of Aphrodite hetaera and the goddess was represented sitting on a goatee;
– in Abydos, Ephesus and especially in Corinth, where the courtesans of the city were his true priestesses;
the Genetrix Aphrodite was worshipped in Sparta and Naupacte, in Phocide;
the Aphrodite Ourania had temples in Sicyone, Argos, Athens;
finally, the Aphrodite Pelagie, or marine, was particularly honored in Hermione.
In Thessaly, an Aphrodite Anosia (the godless) was worshipped in memory of the murder of the courtesan Laity by the women of the country.
In Sicily, Aphrodite had a famous temple on Mount Eryx

 

Aphrodite in arts:

Aphrodite
Aphrodite and the swan – British Museum

Aphrodite’s representations varied according to the aspect under which she was viewed. Aphrodite is usually depicted as naked or half-dressed with a thin veil that molds her body. However, in archaic art and on pottery, Aphrodite is more generally represented dressed. It was only later, during the classical period, that she appeared totally or partially naked.

In Sicyone a chryselephantine statue of Canachos was venerated, where the goddess was represented. Nobility and decency characterized this statue, which obviously included the Aphrodite Ourania or the Aphrodite Genetrix.

But later, sensuality dominated Aphrodite’s effigies: courtesans were used as models, such as Cratine, Phryne or Campaspe, Alexander’s mistress. These were the naked aphrodites of Praxiteles, who frightened, it is said, the piety of the inhabitants of Cos. The one honored at Cnide was particularly voluptuous.

Aphrodite and Ares
Aphrodite and Ares during the Titanomachy

The myth of Hesiod of the birth of Aphrodite inspired the different types like those emerging from the water, such as the famous Aphrodite or Venus Medicis, or the Aphrodite in the bath, so complacently treated by statuary.

A type quite different from the previous ones is that of the warrior Aphrodite, represented armed and wearing a helmet. It was the one that was particularly venerated in Sparta. It is permissible to see a reminder of the warrior Ishtar of the Babylonians. The Venus de Milo was a warrior Aphrodite. Aphrodite symbolizes feminine beauty and charm, it is the divinity of Greek mythology most frequently depicted. Aphrodite Ourania was depicted dressed, sometimes crowned, and her foot resting on a turtle.

Aphrodite
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