Aphrodite (Greek: Αφροδίτη, transl.: Aphrodítē) is the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality in ancient Greek religion. Responsible for the perpetuation of life, pleasure and joy. Historically, her cult in Ancient Greece was imported from Asia, influenced by the cult of Astarte, in Phoenicia, and her cognate, the goddess Ishtar of the Akkadians.
Both were goddesses of love, and their attributes and rituals were incorporated into the Greek cult of Aphrodite. In the Roman era, it would be Aphrodite's turn to be the influence, giving rise to her Roman equivalent, the goddess Venus.
In Greek mythology, the most famous version of her birth told by Hesiod, she was born when Kronos cut off the genitals of Uranus and threw them into the sea; out of the foam (aphros) that arose Aphrodite rose. However for Homer, prior to Hesiod, she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.
During Plato's period, the Greeks had resolved this conflict by stating that Aphrodite has two different aspects, without individualizing the cult: the first Aphrodite Urania, would be the celestial Aphrodite, of divine love.
The daughter of Zeus would be the Aphrodite of common love, of the people, called Aphrodite Pandemos from which emanated physical love and lustful desires.
The main myths involving the goddess are the Trojan War saga, where she protected the city of Troy and the lovers Helen and Paris; her persecution of mortals who offended her, like Psyche and Hippolytus; the blessings given to believers like Pygmalion to live with their beloved; and her many love affairs, like Ares and Adonis.
Aphrodite was given various epithets, mainly because her cults varied in each Greek city. She was given the names Citere or Citereia (Cytherea) and Cypria (Cypris) for two places where her cult was celebrated in antiquity, Citera and Cyprus - each claiming to be the birthplace of the goddess.
Aphrodite still received many other local names, such as Acidalia and Cerigo, used in specific regions of Greece. Even with the different cults, the Greeks recognized the general similarity between them all as the one Aphrodite.
Aphrodite, along with Apollo, represents the ancient Greeks' ideal of beauty. She was constantly reproduced in the Arts, from Antiquity to the Contemporary Age, given the opportunity for artists to imagine a divine beauty. Today, her myth continues to exert influence on culture, and many strands of neo-paganism have returned to worship her.
The archaic (Homeric) pronunciation of the name Aφροδίτη was approximately [ˌapʰroˈdiːtɛː]. In Koiné Greek this pronunciation became [ˌafroˈdiːtɛː], later changing to [ˌafroˈditi] in Byzantine Greek, due to the phenomenon of iotacism (a clerical error in Greek manuscripts).
The etymology of the name is not known with certainty. Hesiod associated it with aphrós (ἀφρός), "foam," interpreting it as "raised from foam." This origin, however, has been classified as a folk etymology by several authors, and several other speculative etymologies, many derived from non-Greek languages, have been suggested by other authors.
Indo-Europeanist Michael Janda considers the connection to "foam" genuine, identifying the myth of Aphrodite rising from the waters after Kronos defeats Uranus as a mytheme from the Proto-Indo-European period.
According to this interpretation, the name would be derived from aphrós "foam" and déatai "(she) looks, shines" (unattested infinitive *déasthai), meaning "she who shines from the foam (of the ocean)," a nickname also attributed to the goddess of dawn (Eos). K.T. Witczak also proposed an etymology based on a connection to the Indo-European goddess of dawn, from *abʰor- "very," and *dʰei- "to shine."
Several speculative non-Greek etymologies have been suggested by scholars. The connection with Phoenician religion claimed by Herodotus (I.105, 131) has led to inconclusive attempts to derive the Greek Aphrodite with a Semitic Aštoret, through a hypothetical Hittite transmission.
Another Semitic etymology compares the Assyrian barīrītu, the name of a female demon found in middle and late Babylonian texts. The name would likely mean "she who (comes) at the dawn," which would identify Aphrodite in her personification as the morning star, an important parallel she shares with the Mesopotamian Ishtar.
Another non-Greek etymology suggested by M. Hammarström, points to Etruscan, comparing (e)prϑni "lord," an Etruscan honorific name that passed into Greek in the form pritane (Greek: πρύτανις). This would make the origin of the theonym an honorific expression, "the lady." Swedish linguist Hjalmar Frisk, however, rejects this etymology, considering it "implausible."
The Byzantine Etymologicum magnum presents a medieval pseudo-etimology that would explain the name Aphrodite as derived from the compound habrodiaitos (ἁβροδίαιτος) "she who lives delicately" from habrós (ἁβρός) + díaita (δίαιτα), explaining the alternation between b and ph as a "familiar" feature of Greek, "obviously derived from the Macedonians."
Origins - An Imported Goddess
Aphrodite is a goddess as old as time, belonging to a lineage of female goddesses who represented fertility in antiquity. The cult of Aphrodite was probably based on the cult of Astarte from Phoenicia, who was venerated throughout the Middle East as the ruler of the world.
However, since religious syncretism was very strong at that time, the exact origin of the goddesses is not known. For example, in the Babylonian Empire, Astarte was related to the goddess Ishtar.
She would also be associated with the Syrian goddess Atargatis and the Sumerian love goddess, Inanna. According to Pausanias, the Assyrians were the first civilization to found a cult of Aphrodite, a thesis that makes sense given research that reveals Mesopotamian influence on Greek society and mythology prior to 700 BCE.
The cult of Aphrodite in Greece was probably introduced from Syria to the islands of Cyprus, Citera, Corinth and others, from where it spread throughout the Greek region.
So, the goddess of love would have been "born" in the Mediterranean, where the goddesses mentioned were worshipped. Aphrodite is also quite similar to the goddess Hator of Egypt, who was seen as Aphrodite by the Greeks.
It can be seen that Astarte, Ishtar, Inanna, Hator, and Aphrodite were goddesses of common attributes who were generally seen as one goddess, and it is difficult to determine precisely who influenced whom, although historians agree that the cult of Aphrodite is of Eastern origin.In the Roman Empire, another syncretism would occur and Aphrodite would be transformed into Venus.
Despite the efforts of mythographers to "Hellenize" Aphrodite, she always betrayed her Asian origin. Already in the Iliad this is very noticeable. Her protection and predilection for the Trojans living in Asia Minor, and particularly for Aeneas, the fruit of her love affair with Anchises, denote her non-Greek origin.
In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, the Asian character of the goddess is even clearer: in love with the Trojan hero Anachesis, she advances towards Troy, under the name Ida (which would give name to Mount Ida), accompanied by bears, lions and panthers.
Her voluptuous hierophany transforms even the animals that gather in the shade of the valleys, to unite in Aphrodite's overflowing love. This love march of the goddess followed by animals towards Ilium (Troy) clearly shows that she is a Great Mother similar to Astarte, who was represented escorted by animals.
Her lover Adonis takes us equally to Asia, since Adonis is merely a transposition of the Babylonian Tammuz, the favorite of Istar-Astarté, from whom the Greeks modeled their Aphrodite.
As can be seen, from her most important characteristics and myths, Aphrodite points us to Asia. Hellenization transformed her from Great Mother to one of the eleven gods submitted to Zeus and with a role reduced to human passions.
However, when she is sculpted and painted with her dolphins, the goat, the goose, the swan and the dove, one can clearly glimpse her ancient lineage.
In this way the goddess, like her ancestors, is a symbol of the irrepressible forces of fecundity, not exactly in her fruits, but as a function of the burning desire that these same irresistible forces ignite in the bowels of all creatures. This is why the goddess is often represented escorted by ferocious animals.
Attributes and epithets
Ovid's quote shows that Aphrodite was seen as the one responsible for the perpetuation of life, encompassing all of Nature. According to cosmogenic views of Aphrodite's nature, she was the personification of nature's generative powers and the mother of all living things.
A trace of this notion seems to be contained in the tradition in Typhon's contest with the gods, where Aphrodite metamorphosed into a fish, an animal that was considered to possess the greatest generative powers.
But according to the popular belief of the Greeks and their poetic descriptions, she was the goddess of love, who placed passion in the hearts of gods and men, and by this power reigned over all living creation.
It should be noted that because Aphrodite was considered to be born of the sea, she was revered from ancient times as the goddess of the sea and navigation. However, she is not a sea deity in the sense that Poseidon and other sea lords are. The very majesty with which she fills all of nature has made the sea the site of her appearance.
Her advent flatters the waves and makes the surface of the waters glow like a jewel. She is the divine charm of the calm sea and the happy crossing, just as she is the charm of flourishing nature.
She is called the "goddess of the serene sea" and makes sure that ships arrive at port in good time; Hence she was called "goddess of good voyage," Euploia, "who ensures propitious navigation," Acraia (Akraía), "goddess of promontories" (because temples were dedicated to her in places that are clearly visible from the sea), Pontia (Pontía) and Equórea, that is, "maritime," and Nauarca (Nauarkhís), "mistress of ships."
As a goddess of beauty, she represented the ideal female beauty in the Greek imagination, being considered the most beautiful of women-not virginally, like Artemis, nor all decorum, like the married and motherhood goddesses, but rather full of pure feminine beauty and grace, surrounded by the moist glow of pleasure, eternally young, free and happy, as born from the immense sea.
Since Homer, the poets call her "golden" and describe her as the goddess "friend of smiles" ("filomeida"; philommeidés), or "of sweet smiles" ("glycimelicos"; glykymeílikhos). Helen recognizes her by the enchanting beauty of her bosom and breasts and the radiance of her eyes.
The cárites, as well as the hours, who represent kind and beneficent spirits of growth, are her servants and companions. They dance with her, bathe her, anoint her, and weave her robes. The name of the caryrites means "grace and seduction," which are precisely the gifts with which Aphrodite toasts Pandora, the first woman.
Aphrodite's beauty often inspired the talents and genius of ancient artists, who vied to produce the ideal beauty. The works from antiquity that still exist are divided by archaeologists into several classes, according to the depiction of the goddess in the standing and naked position, or bathing, or half-naked, or dressed in a robe, as she was depicted in the temples of Citera, Sparta, and Corinth.
The purity of feelings was very much preserved by the Greeks. Love had to be honorable, and Aphrodite guaranteed the nobility of feelings. This thought seems to be contained in myths such as Anaxarete and Narcissus: several young girls fell in love with Narcissus but he belittled them.
The girls, revolted, asked Aphrodite for revenge, and she made him fall in love with his own reflection. However, as the myth evolved, she came to symbolize not only pure love, but passionate love, unbridled and harmful passion, the madness of feelings.
This is evident in the myth of her adultery with Ares. The legend carries great symbolism, love and war together in an idyll; passion and hatred; beauty and rudeness; Aphrodite and Ares became fervent and inseparable lovers, causing the goddess to receive the epithet of Sand and be made a goddess of war in Sparta.
On the other hand, she is very clearly distinguished from Eros, whom the myth attributes to her as her son. Eros represents the divine spirit of the desire to procreate and the act of love.
But the world of Aphrodite, as Walter Otto masterfully captured, "is of another order, much broader and richer. In this world, the idea of essence and divine power emanates, as in the case of Eros, not from the desiring subject, but from the beloved.
Aphrodite is not the lover, she is the laughing beauty and grace, which fascinates. In this case, what comes first is not the impulse to possess, but the charm of appearance that leads irresistibly to union.
The secret of the completeness and unity of Aphrodite's world lies in the fact that in attraction there does not act a demonic power by virtue of which an insensitive being grasps his prey. The attractive one wants to give himself up, the lovable one leans toward the one he has sensitized with languid frankness, which makes him even more irresistible."
Aphrodite Urania and Aphrodite Pandemos In the late 5th century BCE, philosophers came to regard Aphrodite as two distinct goddesses, not individualizing her worship: Aphrodite Urania, born of the sea foam after Kronos castrated her father Uranus, and Aphrodite Pandemos (or Pandemic), the common Aphrodite "of all peoples," born to Zeus and Dione.
Among the Neoplatonists and eventually their Christian interpreters, Aphrodite Urania is seen as a celestial Aphrodite, representing love of body and soul, while Aphrodite Pandemos is associated with purely physical love.
The depiction of Aphrodite Urania, with one foot resting on a turtle, was later taken as the emblematic depiction of marital love; the image is credited to Phidias, in a crisislephantine sculpture made for Elis, in a single quote from Pausanias.
Thus, according to the character Pausanias in Plato's Banquet, Aphrodite is two goddesses, one older the other younger. The older one, Urania, is the "heavenly one" and inspires male homosexual love/Eros (and more specifically, the ephebians); the younger one is called Pandemos and all love for women emanates from her. Pandemos is the common Aphrodite.
Representing many visions of love and having such diverse worshippers from virgin girls to prostitutes, many different cults and epithets were given to the goddess in Greece:
In the Hellenistic period, Greek culture dominated Macedonia, Syria, and Egypt. Thus, there is a predominance of Greek arts and sciences in the Western world. Later, with the expansion of Rome, each of the kingdoms in those territories was absorbed into the new Roman power.
Before that, however, the Romans themselves adopted traits of Greek culture, and later Hellenism, hence Greek culture was later perpetuated by the Roman Empire. The Romans appropriated Aphrodite for themselves during the conquest of Greek cities in southern peninsular Italy, such as Pesto, and then in Sicily, where the goddess was worshipped in Syracuse.
Venus may have been the successor goddess to an Etruscan deity at a very early point in Roman history. However, the Roman concept of Venus and her myths are based on the literary works of Greek mythology in relation to Aphrodite. Venus is a Latin noun meaning sexual love or sexual desire.
It was the Romans who made the deity also a military goddess, in addition to beauty, love, fertility and seduction. In Roman mythology, she is the divine mother of Aeneas, the ancestor of Rome's founder, Romulus. In Rome, she was venerated in a temple in the Capitol.
Julius Caesar was one of the emperors who adopted Venus as his protector. Her sacred month was April, because that was when the flowers opened or bloomed. The Veneralia, her festival, began on the first of April, and myrtle and roses were her sacred flowers.
Mount Érix in Sicily was a site of important Venus worship in the Roman period. Pompeii was also an important Venus worship site in this period, and its official name was Colonia Cornelia Veneria of the Pompeans (Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum), indicating the importance of Venus as the city's guardian.
A Roman cult of Venus was established in Carthage during the early stages of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. After the terrible defeat of the Romans at the Battle of Lake Trasimene, the Sibylline oracle suggested that the statue Ericina (Venus) that stood in Erice, still in Carthaginian territory, be taken so as to persuade Erice to change her allegiance from Carthage to Rome.
In 217 BCE, the Romans took Erice and with the city captured an image of the beautiful goddess. As we saw earlier in the myth of the founding of Rome, Venus was a divine protector of her son Aeneas, so the arrival of the statue may have been interpreted a homecoming of sorts. In the Aeneid, Venus takes Aeneas to Latium in her heavenly form, as the most prominent morning star, shining before him in the dawning sky.
Friday, which in Italian is venerdì, is the day of the week consecrated to Venus. Venerdì comes to us from the Latin mora veneris. Venus also came to be identified with the Germanic goddess Freia (Friijo), thus Friday in English.
Aphrodite, according to some versions of her myth, was born near Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, which is why she is called "Cyprian", especially in the poetic works of Sappho. Her main center of worship was exactly in Paphos, where the goddesses Ishtar and Astarte had been worshipped since the early Iron Age.
Other versions of the myth, however, claim that the goddess would have been born near the island of Citera. The island was a commercial and cultural entrepot between Crete and the Peloponnese, so these stories may have preserved traces of the migration of Aphrodite's cult from the Levant to mainland Greece.
In the most famous version of her birth narrated by Hesiod, she is said to have arisen through castration: Kronos would have cut off the genitals of her father Uranus and thrown them into the sea.
The foam that emerged from the fall of the genitals into the water, which some authors have identified as being sperm, would have fertilized Thalassa, personification of the sea, and from this foam came Aphrodite and other beings such as the Meliades and the Erinias.
In Hesiod's words, "the penis there much floated on the plain, around white foam of immortal flesh ejaculated, from it a virgin was created." This virgin became Aphrodite, floating to the shore on a scallop shell.
This image, of a "Venus rising from the waters of the sea" (Venus Anadiomene), already fully mature, was one of the most iconic depictions of Aphrodite, celebrated by a much admired painting by Apeles, now lost but described in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder.
The earliest version of Aphrodite's birth, narrated by Homer and other authors, she would be the daughter of Zeus and Dione, the goddess of nymphs whose oracle was located in Dodona.
Aphrodite herself is sometimes referred to as "Dione," which seems to have been a feminine form of "Dios," the genitive of Zeus in Greek, and could just mean "the goddess," in a generic way. Aphrodite herself would then be an equivalent of Reia, the mother-earth, and which Homer would have moved to Olympus.
Some scholars have hypothesized a Proto-Indo-European pantheon, in which the main male deity (Di-) would represent the sky and thunder, and the main female deity (female form of Di-) would represent the earth, or the fertile soil. After the cult of Zeus took over from the oracle located in the oak grove in Dodona, some poets would have made him into Aphrodite's father.
Aphrodite was never a child, being constantly portrayed as being born as an adult, naked and beautiful. In the myths, she is usually portrayed as vain, seductive, charming, a fervent lover who, when she loved, did so unconditionally.
In the Homeric Hymn number 6 dedicated to Aphrodite, it is recounted that everywhere the goddess steps with her delicate feet flowers are born. Homer also relates a very maternal Aphrodite, even sacrificing herself for her son Aeneas, going into battle to protect him.
In later myths, she came to be portrayed as temperamental and easily offended, taking revenge and punishing mortals like Psyche. Although she is married, Aphrodite is one of the few goddesses in the pantheon who is often unfaithful to her husband.
Marriage to Hephaestus
According to one version of the Aphrodite story, because of her immense beauty, Zeus fears that the other gods would quarrel with each other because of her. To prevent this, he forces her to marry Hephaestus, the ugly, humorless blacksmith god. In another version of the story, Aphrodite marries Hephaestus after his mother, Hera, throws him off Olympus, considering him too ugly and deformed to dwell with the gods.
He takes revenge by imprisoning his mother on a magical throne he has built. In exchange for his release, he asks to be given Aphrodite's hand in marriage.
Hephaestus is happy to be married to the goddess of beauty and forges beautiful jewelry for her, including the cestus, a gold belt that makes her even more irresistible to men. Aphrodite's discontent with her arranged marriage causes her to seek other male companions, most often Ares.
In the tale sung by the bard in Alcino's room, the sun god Helios once spied Ares and Aphrodite secretly loving each other in Hephaestus' room, and he promptly reported the incident to Aphrodite's Olympian spouse.
Hephaestus managed to catch the couple in the act, and to this end he made a special net, thin and strong like diamond to catch the illicit lovers. At the appropriate moment, this net was thrown and trapped Ares and Aphrodite in a passionate embrace.
But Hephaestus was not yet satisfied with his revenge - he invited the gods and goddesses of Olympus to see the unhappy couple. Some commented on Aphrodite's beauty, others opined on eagerly exchanging places with Ares, but all scoffed and laughed at the two. Once the couple was released, Ares, embarrassed, fled to his homeland, Thrace, and Aphrodite, embarrassed, fled to Cyprus.
Homer's story in the Odyssey about Aphrodite's adultery seems to have ended with her divorce from Hephaestus. In fact, at the time of the Trojan War, Homer describes the goddess as consorting with Ares, and Hephaestus' wife being Aglaia.
Hephaestus would not have accepted the goddess' betrayal of Ares peacefully, and some myths report the god pursuing Aphrodite and Ares' daughter Harmonia, who would have been spawned while Hephaestus and Aphrodite were still married.
Hephaestus cursed Harmonia and her descendants by presenting her with a cursed necklace on their wedding day. Harmonia was only able to live in peace with her husband, Cadmos, after the gods took her away to live on an isolated island.
In the stories that report Aphrodite as Ares' consort, Harmonia was the only daughter born during the marriage of Aphrodite and Hephaestus. The others, Eros (or Anteros), Deimos and Phobos seem to have been born later.
The Trial of Paris and the Trojan War
Aphrodite is one of the few gods whose actions are the major cause of the Trojan War: she offers Helen to Paris and is responsible for the two becoming so infatuated, so that Paris ends up kidnapping Helen. The wedding of Peleus and Thetis was a big event and all the gods were invited, except Eris, goddess of discord.
Offended, she threw a golden pommel with the inscription for the most beautiful (kallistei), among the goddesses. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite considered themselves the most beautiful and disputed the possession of the pommel.
They decided to leave the decision with Zeus, who, not wanting to favor any one, left the decision with Paris, son of Priam, prince of Troy. The three goddesses showed off for Paris, but even then he was unable to decide, and they resorted to bribery.
In the end, Paris chose Aphrodite and received help from the goddess to receive his reward for choosing her: the love of the most beautiful of women, Helen, wife of the king of Sparta, Menelaus. Paris in an immature act kidnapped Helen, starting the Trojan War.
In the war, Aphrodite became one of the protecting gods of Troy, along with Ares, Apollo, Artemis, and Leto. She also became the protector of Helen, Hector, and Paris, saving the latter's life in a duel.
In the war, she also protected her mortal son, Aeneas, and because of this she was wounded in battle. Even with Aphrodite's protection, after 10 years of war between the Achaeans and the Trojans, Troy was defeated and destroyed.
Guardian of Rome
At the destruction of Troy, Aphrodite told her son Aeneas to take his father and wife and leave Troy. Aeneas did as his mother said and traveled, guided by Aphrodite with the Roman name of Venus, wandering the Mediterranean until he reached the Italian peninsula, where his descendants built Rome.
This is related in Virgil's epic poem, Aeneid, the greatest work of Latin literature. From this Roman epic on, Venus came to be considered the guardian goddess of Rome. One myth relates that when Juno (Roman Hera) sought to open the gates of Rome to an invading army, Venus sought to thwart her plans by blocking the way with her waters.
Protected by the goddess
Aphrodite, like the other gods, sponsored some characters in mythology; this protection occurred with individuals where love and beauty - Aphrodite's attributes - stood out. The forbidden love of Paris and Helen assured the latter of the goddess' sympathy until after the end of the Trojan War; thanks to Aphrodite, Menelaus forgave Helen for her treachery and they reconciled.
One of her most famous blessed was Pygmalion, a sculptor and king of Cyprus, who fell in love with a statue he had sculpted while trying to reproduce the ideal woman. He had decided to live in celibacy in Cyprus because he disagreed with the libertine attitude of the women there, who had made it famous as a place of courtesans.
Aphrodite, pitying him and granting his request, not finding a woman on the island who would come close to the one Pygmalion had sculpted in beauty and modesty, transformed the statue into a woman of flesh and blood, whom Pygmalion married and, nine months later, had a daughter named Pafos, who gave her name to the island.
In addition to her protection of lovers and lovers, the goddess protected members of her family, even distant ones like her granddaughter Ino, whom she saved from Hera's wrath by turning her into a bird. Aphrodite also granted beauty to the Coronides, two daughters of Orion, after their mother died.
Similarly, she cared for the orphaned daughters of Pandareus, a favorite of Demeter who was turned to stone after trying to steal bronze from Zeus' temple. Her daughters, Cleodora and Mérope, who were also orphaned, were protected by Aphrodite, who cared for them and supported them. However, when Aphrodite went to speak with Zeus to ensure a happy marriage for the girls, they were taken away by the Erinias.
The race was won by Hippomenes, with the help of Aphrodite. The myth was narrated by Pseudo-Apolodorus, Hesiod and others. A prince of Onchestus, in Scotland, named Hippomenes, fell in love with Atalanta. She was a huntress and did not like the idea of getting married and wanted to stay a virgin to be consecrated to Artemis.
Bored by men admiring her beauty as she ran through the forest, he said that whoever wanted to marry her would have to win a foot race (knowing she was an exceptionally fast runner), but on the condition that those who lost would be punished by death.
Atalanta beat all the suitors except Hippomenes, who defeated her by his cunning, not his speed. Hippomenes knew that he could not beat Atalanta in a race and begged Aphrodite for help, who, as the goddess of love, did not like Atalanta's rejection of the sentiment.
So Aphrodite gave him three sacred golden apples from Tammaso, Cyprus, and according to Ovid, from the garden of the Hesperides, telling Hippomenes to drop them in the race to distract Atalanta.
After dropping the first two apples, Atalanta was able to pick them up and continue the race, but when the third apple fell and Atalanta stopped to pick it up, she was unable to recover quickly and Hypomenes won the race and thereby Atalanta's hand.
Wrath of the goddess
Although she is considered the goddess of love, Aphrodite was not very kind to her adversaries, being very vengeful and merciless in her vendettas. One of the common things that angered the goddess was when she favored mortals and they did not honor her, such as Hippomenes, who would not have paid Aphrodite the proper tributes for her helping him in the race.
Aphrodite would have taken revenge by leading Hippomenes to have sex with Atalanta in the temple of Reia, causing this goddess to turn the pair into lions. Another famous case was that of Menelaus, prince of Mycenae and later king of Lacedemonia, who like a hundred other suitors asked for Helen's hand in marriage.
He promised to sacrifice to Aphrodite a hundred head of cattle if he won the contest, but after the wedding he did not honor his promise. The goddess would have taken revenge by making Helen fall in love with Paris and flee with him to Troy.
Another cause for her revenges are personal retaliations: to punish the sun god Helios for warning Hephaestus of his adultery with Ares, she made him fall in love with Leucoteia, a Persian princess, and unwittingly caused his death. She similarly punished the muse Clio, who had criticized her love for Adonis, by making her fall in love with the mortal Pieros.
As the goddess of love, she was the justice of the romantics and hated when someone rejected love. A famous case is that of Narcissus, a handsome young man from Phocida, who was quite proud and insensitive. Narcissus looked down on all the young women who fell in love with him, including a nymph named Echo.
Aphrodite punished him for his arrogance by making him fall in love with his own reflection. The boy eventually died looking at his reflection in the lake and was transformed by the goddess into a flower, narcissus.
The death of Hippolytus
Hippolytus was one who earned the wrath of Aphrodite for rejecting love. The son of Theseus and Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, he worshipped Artemis to whom he dedicated his life and took a vow of celibacy. Hippolytus refused to honor or perform rites to Aphrodite, because she was the goddess of love and he despised the feeling.
Aphrodite, in anger, made Phaedra, second wife of Theseus, fall in love with her stepson. Phaedra tried to resist the passion, fought her illicit desire, and became ill. Finally, a servant girl discovered the cause of her misery and spoke to Hippolytus on her behalf.
He was so insulted and horrified at the suggestion of having a romance with his stepmother that he burst into a long, loud speech that she could hear. Rejected and humiliated, Phaedra committed suicide leaving a message for Theseus in which she falsely accused Hippolytus of raping her.
Theseus expelled the boy and invoked the punishment of Posidon, who caused an accident with Hippolytus' chariot. The young man was driving his chariot by the sea when, startled by a sea monster, his horses rushed over the rocks causing his death. While Hippolytus was dying, the voice of Artemis was heard, and she revealed the truth to Theseus. This tragedy was written by Euripides in 428 BC.
According to Pseudo-Apolodorus, Artemis killed Adonis out of revenge. In later myths, Adonis had been related as a favorite of Aphrodite, who was responsible for the death of Hippolytus, who had been a favorite of Artemis. Therefore, Artemis killed Adonis to avenge the death of Hippolytus.
Pursuit of Psyche
Psyche is the most famous of a cycle of three characters in mythology who earned Aphrodite's hatred for being boasted as more beautiful than her. Psyche was a mortal princess whose enormous beauty caused men to abandon their worship of Aphrodite to admire her, angering the goddess, who did not accept that a mere mortal deserved more worship than she did.
Aphrodite ordered her son Eros to make Psyche fall in love with a monster, but the god himself fell in love with her and took her to live with him in a palace in secret. However, Eros hid her true identity and ordered her never to look at his face again.
Psyche was eventually deceived by her jealous sisters and saw the god's face while he was sleeping, and he abandoned her. In her desperation, she looked for help all over the world for her lost love and ended up at Aphrodite's temple.
The goddess, seeing that she had been deceived by her son, ordered Psyche to perform a series of difficult jobs, culminating in a journey to the underworld. In the end, Aphrodite accepted Psyche as her daughter-in-law, when Eros called on Zeus for help, who transformed the girl into an immortal. Psyche and Eros were married in a ceremony attended by the gods.
The other two cases of mortals who had their beauty flaunted, angering Aphrodite, was Achilles, a son of Zeus and Lamia, a boy of extraordinary beauty who challenged Aphrodite to a beauty contest.
The goddess was offended by his arrogance and turned him into an ugly fish. Cencreis, the queen of Cyprus who boasted that her daughter Mirra was more beautiful than Aphrodite, eventually received the goddess' hatred, which gave rise to the myth of Adonis.
Aphrodite was to Adonis both a lover and a surrogate mother. Cyniras, the king of Cyprus, had a very beautiful daughter named Mirra. Mirra's mother, Cencreis, kept boasting that her daughter was more beautiful than Aphrodite. Then Mirra was punished by Aphrodite, who made her desire her own father.
Mirra began to reject her suitors because of her incestuous passion for her father. She confessed her passion to her maidservant, who told Cyniras that a young prostitute wished to lie with him, but secretly, Mirra disguised herself as a prostitute and slept with her father during the night.
Later, Mirra became pregnant and was discovered by Cyniras. In a fit of rage, he chased her out of the house with a knife. Mirra fled from him, praying to the gods for mercy as she ran.
The gods heard her plea and turned her into a myrrh tree so that her father could not kill her. In another version of the myth, Aphrodite, feeling guilty for Myrrh's suffering, turned her into the tree. Later, Cyniras took her own life in an attempt to restore the family's honor.
Myrrh gave birth to a boy named Adonis. Aphrodite passed by the myrrh tree and, seeing him, took pity on the child. She put Adonis in a box and took him to the nether world, so that Hades and Persephone could take care of him. Adonis grew into an extraordinarily handsome young man, and Aphrodite eventually fell in love with him.
Persephone, however, was unwilling to give him up and wanted Adonis to stay with her in the underworld. The two goddesses began to fight and Zeus was forced to interfere.
He decreed that Adonis would spend a third of the year with Aphrodite, a third with Persephone, and a third with whomever he wanted. Adonis, who loved Aphrodite, chose to spend the rest of the year with her.
Adonis began his year on earth with Aphrodite. One of his greatest passions was hunting, and although Aphrodite was not naturally a hunter, she took up the sport just so she could be with him. They spent day and night together, and Aphrodite was enchanted with the young man.
However, she eventually neglected her duties as a goddess, and to make amends she was forced to leave Adonis for a short time. Before leaving, she gave Adonis the warning not to attack an animal that did not show fear. Adonis agreed with her advice, but, because he doubted her skill as a hunter, quickly forgot the warning.
Not long after Aphrodite left, Adonis came across a huge boar, much larger than any he had ever seen. In some myths this boar was the god Ares, one of Aphrodite's lovers who was jealous of her love for Adonis. Although wild boars are dangerous when provoked, Adonis ignored Aphrodite's warning and chased the giant creature. Soon, however, Adonis was the one being chased; he was no match for the giant boar.
In the attack, Adonis was castrated by the boar and died of blood loss. Aphrodite was warned, in some versions, by the winds or the nymphs and ran back to Adonis, but it was too late to save him and she could only mourn over his body. Where Adonis' blood fell, Aphrodite grew anemones in his memory. She vowed that on the anniversary of his death, each year there would be a festival held in his honor.
On his death, Adonis returned to the underworld and Persephone had the pleasure of seeing him again. Later, Aphrodite realized he was there and ran to retrieve him. Once again, she and Persephone argued over who should get Adonis and Zeus intervened. This time, he said that Adonis should spend six months with Aphrodite and six months with Persephone, the way it should have been in the first place.
The death of Adonis, the Eastern god of vegetation, of the seed cycle, who dies and resurrects, hence his catabasis to Persephone and the consequent anabasis in search of Aphrodite, was solemnly commemorated in the West and East. In Greece of Hellenistic times, dead Adonis was laid on a silver bed, covered with purple.
The sacred offerings were fruits, roses, anemones, perfumes and foliage, presented in silver baskets. The women screamed, sobbed, and made themselves unhappy. The next day, they threw it into the sea with all the offerings. Joyful chants were echoed, since Adonis, with the rains of the next season, should rise again.
It was precisely to perpetuate the memory of her great Eastern love that Aphrodite instituted a funeral feast in Syria, which the women celebrated annually at the entrance of spring. To symbolize "so little" that Adonis lived, rose bush seedlings were planted in pots and crates and watered with warm water so that they would grow faster.
Relationships and children
The most important myths of the goddess, like Ares and Adonis, revolve around love, which was Aphrodite's main attribute. Her first love is said to have been Nérites, a young ocean god whom she loved while still living in the sea.
When Aphrodite left the ocean and went to live on Olympus, she returned to the sea to seek out Nerites for him to live with her. However, the god refused to go with Aphrodite. She, angry and betrayed, turned Nerites into a mollusk.
Zeus reportedly tried to seduce the goddess as soon as she came out of the sea in Cyprus. However, the latter, frightened by the advances of the god of Olympus, ran away.
Later, she would have given herself to Zeus of her own free will, earning the eternal hatred of Hera, his wife; when she learned that Aphrodite was pregnant with Zeus' child, she maliciously put her hand on her belly and gave birth to a deformed child. This child was to be the god Priapo. However, other myths say that Priapo is the son of Dionysus or Adonis.
Other divine loves include Hephaestus, who was her husband, Dionysus, with whom she had a short affair and their son Iaco. Hermes, enchanted by her beauty fell in love with Aphrodite but she rejected him. He was extremely sad and Zeus, feeling sorry for him, caused an eagle to take Aphrodite's slippers while she was bathing in the Achelous River.
The eagle carried them to Hermes, and Aphrodite, in her search for the slippers, came to him and loved him and then had Hermaphroditus. In the case of Posidon, it was she who was delighted and grateful that he did not laugh at her and Ares when Hephaestus caught the two of them together and still convinced him to let them go. With Posidon she had Rode and Herofile.
Her main consort and longest romance was Ares, being since the Iliad portrayed as his companion. They had seven children: Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, and the Erotes: Eros, Anteros, Himeros, and Photos, although most myths portray Aphrodite begetting Eros alone.
Among her mortal loves, the most famous was Adonis, who was thought to be her great love and with whom she had Golgos and Béroe, after whom the capital of Lebanon was named.
Anchises, prince of Troy, was another famous love, and some versions of the myth say that Aphrodite fell in love with him as punishment from Zeus for making the gods fall in love with mortal women. With Anchises she had Aeneas and Liros, and soon after the birth of her children, her passion for Anchises faded, though she continued to protect him and his children.
Among other less famous mortal loves is Phaethon, a lord of Athens who became a guard of her temple, whom she loved and with whom she had Ashtinoo. Butes, one of the Argonauts, was saved by Aphrodite, who took him to a secluded island where they made love; she had Erix with him.
There is also a daimon, Breast, who personified desire, a constant companion of Aphrodite, and who was seen in some myths as the goddess' daughter. However, the authors of this myth do not say who Peito's father with Aphrodite would be.
The center of the cult of Aphrodite was Cyprus. Aphrodite was worshipped in most cities in Cyprus, as well as in Citera, Sparta, Thebes, Delos, and Elis, and her oldest temple was in Paphos.Homer refers to the goddess as the Cyprian in the 8th century B.C. and she was called the Paphia in the 6th century B. C. Inscriptions on her shrine at Palea Pafos refer to her simply as Wanassa ("the lady").
Aphrodite's temple was on a hill about two kilometers inland, overlooking the sea. The city of Palea soon sprang up around the temple. Its symbols included the myrtle, dolphin, pigeon, swan, rose, pomegranate, lime tree, pearls, and jewels.
Its main festival was called Aphrodisia and was celebrated throughout Greece. The festival took place during the month of Hekatombaion, which we recognize as from the third week of June to the third week of July in the Gregorian calendar.
Textual sources explicitly mention the festival in Corinth and Athens, where the many prostitutes who resided in the city celebrated the festival as a means of worshiping their patron goddess.
At the temple of Aphrodite on the summit of Corinth's Acropolis (before the Roman destruction of the city in 146 BCE), having sexual relations with its priestesses was considered a method of worshipping Aphrodite. This ritual is known as sacred prostitution, and the priestesses used the money collected to maintain the temples of Aphrodite.
The temple on the Acropolis of Corinth was not rebuilt when the city was re-established under Roman rule in 44 BC, but fertility rituals probably continued in the main city near the agora. The euphemism in Greek is hierodula (hierodoule), "sacred slave." The practice was an inherent part of the rituals due to Aphrodite's ancestors in the East, the Sumerian Inanna and Akkadian Ishtar, in whose temple the priestesses were the "women of Ishtar," ishtaritum.
The practice has been documented in Babylonia, Syria, and Palestine, in Phoenician cities, and in Aphrodite worship centers in Greece, Cyprus, Citera, Corinth, and Sicily; the practice, however, is not attested in Athens.
Because of sacred prostitution, Aphrodite was everywhere seen as the patron goddess of the courtesan. There was a case of a nobleman who won a match in the Olympics and, as a way of thanking Aphrodite for helping him, donated to her temple more than a hundred prostitutes.
The poet Sappho, one of the most famous women in Ancient Greece and supposedly a lesbian, usually referred to Aphrodite as her protective goddess, which has led some authors to see that Aphrodite could also be seen as the patroness of lesbians.
But this is somewhat difficult to determine, because there are few accounts in Greek society of female homosexuality, which was relegated to obscurity, unlike male homosexuality. In the case of homosexual men, Aphrodite was probably seen as their patroness: her sons, Erotes, were symbols of homoeroticism and protected homosexual love; and Plato cites Aphrodite Urania as being the goddess of divine love and homosexual love.
During the spring festivals dedicated to Aphrodite and Adonis, separate processions of men and women would walk along the Via Crucis from New Paphos to the shrine of Aphrodite in Old Paphos, where there were games and contests of music and poetry.
This tradition survives (except for prostitution) in the modern spring festival, Antistiria (Anthistiria), which is especially popular in Ctíma Pafos. The shrine to Aphrodite in Old Paphos continued to flourish in Roman times. Several Roman emperors honored it, and it was visited by Titus in 69 AD, when the future emperor was on his way to Egypt.
He consulted the oracle of Aphrodite, who stated that he would have a great future. The shrine was rebuilt by the Romans after the earthquake of 76 or 77 AD, in a design that preserved the oriental architecture of the original.
The cult of Aphrodite survived in Old Paphos until the 4th century, when the emperor Theodosius (r. 378-395) outlawed paganism. It is not known when the cult of Aphrodite was suppressed or whether the local population resisted the ban.
Aphrodisias was a small town in Cary, now part of Turkey. Located near a marble quarry, Aphrodisias became a center of sculpture production in Hellenistic and Roman times. The city's sculpture school was popular, and many statues have been found intact in the agora area.
The focal point of the city, as the name suggests, was a huge Temple of Aphrodite, enriched with many sculptures, sarcophagi, and stones illustrating mythological passages. Among the notable sculptures is a Mycenaean statue of a fertility goddess who has been identified as being a predecessor of Aphrodite, or Aphrodite herself, worshipped in the region.
Few aspects of the original temple building survive, as the temple was later converted into a basilica by the Byzantines. The city initially refused, but gave in and it was abandoned in the 14th century. Today it is an archaeological site full of notable buildings, including the athletic stadium, which is said to be probably the best preserved of its kind in the Mediterranean.
Modern cult of Aphrodite
As one of the goddesses of Olympus, she is an important deity, and the worship of Aphrodite (or Aphroditi) as a living goddess is one of the most prominent devotions in modern Hellenism. Hellenists revive the religious practices of Ancient Greece today.
Worship of Aphrodite today differs from the devotional practices of the ancient Greeks in several ways. Among modern Hellenes, the view of Aphrodite as a goddess of fertility and desire has largely given way to a softer view of her as a goddess of love and passion.
Things like ritual prostitution are thought of as, at best, completely anachronistic. Instead, modern Hellenistic devotees make offerings to her and invoke her name and blessings for loving relationships, including sexually monogamous ones. Here, the ethical convictions of modern Hellenes are inspired by ancient Greek virtues of self-control and moderation.
Hellenes in the present day celebrate their religious devotion to Aphrodite during three main feast days. Aphrodisia is their main feast day and is celebrated with the Attic calendar on the 4th of Hecatombéon, falling into the Gregorian calendar between the months of July and August, depending on the year.
Adonia, a joint festival of Aphrodite and her partner Adonis, is celebrated on the first full moon after the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, often the same week as the Christian Easter. The fourth day of each month is considered a day sacred to Aphrodite and her son Eros.
Offerings to Aphrodite for devotional purposes may include incense, fruits (especially apples and pomegranates), flowers, scented roses, sweet desert wine (particularly Commandaria wine from Cyprus), and cakes made with honey. In Wicca, Aphrodite is also worshipped as the goddess of love and personification of the mother goddess.