|Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality|
Aphrodite Pudica (Roman copy of 2nd century AD), National Archaeological Museum, Athens
|Symbol||Dolphin, Rose, Scallop Shell, Myrtle, Dove, Sparrow, Girdle, Mirror, and Swan|
|Consort||Hephaestus, Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, Dionysus, Adonis, and Anchises|
|Parents||Uranus or Zeus and Dione|
|Siblings||Ares, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Dionysus, Hebe, Hermes, Heracles, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Perseus, Minos, the Muses, the Graces, The Tree Nymphs, The Furies and The Gigantes|
|Children||Eros, Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, Pothos, Anteros, Himeros, Hermaphroditos, Rhode, Eryx, Peitho, Eunomia, The Graces, Priapus, Aeneas and Tyche (possibly)|
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As with many ancient Greek deities, there is more than one story about her origins. According to Hesiod's Theogony, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus's genitals and threw them into the sea, and she arose from the sea foam (aphros). According to Homer's Iliad, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. According to Plato (Symposium, 180e), these two origins were of entirely separate entities: Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos.
Because of her beauty, other gods feared that their rivalry over her would interrupt the peace among them and lead to war, so Zeus married her to Hephaestus, who, because of his ugliness and deformity, was not seen as a threat. Aphrodite had many lovers—both gods, such as Ares, and men, such as Anchises. She played a role in the Eros and Psyche legend, and later was both Adonis's lover and his surrogate mother. Many lesser beings were said to be children of Aphrodite.
Aphrodite is also known as Cytherea (Lady of Cythera) and Cypris (Lady of Cyprus) after the two cult sites, Cythera and Cyprus, which claimed to be her place of birth. Myrtle, doves, sparrows, horses, and swans were said to be sacred to her. The ancient Greeks identified her with the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor.
Aphrodite had many other names, such as Acidalia, Cytherea, and Cerigo, each used by a different local cult of the goddess in Greece. The Greeks recognized all of these names as referring to the single goddess Aphrodite, despite the slight differences in what these local cults believed the goddess demanded of them. The Attic philosophers of the 4th century, however, drew a distinction between a celestial Aphrodite (Aphrodite Urania) of transcendent principles, and a separate, "common" Aphrodite who was the goddess of the people (Aphrodite Pandemos).
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Mythology
- 3 Forms of Aphrodite
- 4 Cult of Aphrodite
- 5 Comparative mythology
- 6 Gallery
- 7 See also
- 8 References and sources
- 9 External links
Aphrodite, perhaps altered after aphrós (ἀφρός) "foam", stems from the more archaic Cretan Aphordíta and Cypriot Aphorodíta, and was probably ultimately borrowed from Cypriot Phoenician. Herodotus and Pausanias recorded that Aphrodite's oldest non-Greek temple lay in the Syrian city of Ascalon where she was known as Ourania, an obvious reference to Astarte. This suggests that Aphrodite's cult located at Cythera-Cyprus came from the Phoenicians. The fact that one of Aphrodite's chief centers of worship remained on the southwestern Cypriot coast settled by Phoenicians, where the goddess had long been worshiped as Ashtart (ʻštrt), points to the transmission of Aphrodite's original cult from Phoenicia to Cyprus then to mainland Greece. So far, however, attempts to derive the name from Aphrodite's Semitic precursor have been inconclusive.
A number of false etymologies have been proposed through the ages. Hesiod derives Aphrodite from aphrós "foam," interpreting the name as "risen from the foam". Janda (2010), accepting this as genuine, claims the foam birth myth as an Indo-European mytheme. Janda intereprets the name as a compound aphrós "foam" and déato "[she] seems, shines", meaning "she who shines from the foam [ocean]", supposedly a byname of Eos, the dawn goddess. Likewise, Mallory and Adams (1997) propose an Indo-European compound *abʰor- "very" and *dʰei- "to shine", also referring to Eos. However, etymologies based on comparison with Eos are unlikely since Aphrodite's attributes are entirely different from those of Eos (or the Vedic deity Ushas). Finally, the medieval Etymologicum Magnum offers a highly contrived etymology, deriving Aphrodite from the compound habrodíaitos (ἁβροδίαιτος), "she who lives delicately", from habrós and díaita. The alteration from b to ph is explained as a "familiar" characteristic of Greek "obvious from the Macedonians", despite the fact that the name cannot be of Macedonian origin.
A number of improbable non-Greek etymologies have been suggested in scholarship. One Semitic etymology compares Aphrodite to the Assyrian barīrītu, the name of a female demon that appears in Middle Babylonian and Late Babylonian texts. Hammarström (1921) looks to Etruscan, comparing (e)prϑni "lord", an Etruscan honorific loaned into Greek as πρύτανις. This would make the theonym in origin an honorific, "the lady". Hjalmar Frisk and Robert Beekes (2010) rejects this etymology as implausible, especially since Aphrodite actually appears in Etruscan in the borrowed form Apru (from Greek Aphrō, clipped form of Aphrodite).
Aphrodite is usually said to have been born near her chief center of worship, Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, which is why she is sometimes called "Cyprian", especially in the poetic works of Sappho. However, other versions of her myth have her born near the island of Cythera, hence another of her names, "Cytherea". Cythera was a stopping place for trade and culture between Crete and the Peloponesus, so these stories may preserve traces of the migration of Aphrodite's cult from the Middle East to mainland Greece.
In the most famous version of her myth, her birth was the consequence of a castration: Cronus severed Uranus' genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite (hence her name, meaning "foam-arisen"), while the Erinyes (furies), and the Meliae emerged from the drops of his blood. Hesiod states that the genitals "were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh; with it a girl grew." The girl, Aphrodite, floated ashore on a scallop shell. This iconic representation of Aphrodite as a mature "Venus rising from the sea" (Venus Anadyomene) was made famous in a much-admired painting by Apelles, now lost, but described in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder.
In another version of her origin, she was considered a daughter of Zeus and Dione, the mother goddess whose oracle was at Dodona. Aphrodite herself was sometimes also referred to as "Dione". "Dione" seems to be a feminine form of "Dios", "of Zeus", the genitive form case of Zeus, and could be taken to mean simply "(she) that belongs to Zeus" in a generic sense. Aphrodite might, then, be an equivalent of Rhea, the Earth Mother, whom Homer relocated to Olympus.
Aphrodite is consistently portrayed, in every image and story, as having had no childhood, and instead being born as a nubile, infinitely desirable adult. She is often depicted nude. In many of the later myths, she is portrayed as vain, ill-tempered, and easily offended. Although she is married—she is one of the few gods in the Greek Pantheon who is—she is frequently unfaithful to her husband.
According to one version of Aphrodite's story, because of her immense beauty Zeus fears that the other gods will become violent with each other in their rivalry to possess her. To forestall this, he forces her to marry Hephaestus, the dour, humorless god of smithing. In another version of the story, his mother, Hera casts him off Olympus, deeming him too ugly and deformed to inhabit the home of the gods. His revenge is to trap his mother in a magic throne. In return for her release, he demands to be given Aphrodite's hand in marriage.
Hephaestus is overjoyed to be married to the goddess of beauty, and forges her beautiful jewelry, including the cestus, a girdle that makes her even more irresistible to men. Her unhappiness with her marriage causes Aphrodite to seek other male companionship, most often Ares, but also sometimes Adonis.
Aphrodite's husband Hephaestus is one of the most even-tempered of the Hellenic deities, but in the Odyssey, she is portrayed as preferring Ares, the volatile god of war, because she is attracted to his violent nature.
Aphrodite is a major figure in the Trojan War legend. She is a contestant in the "Judgement of Paris" (see below), which leads to the war. She had been the lover of the Trojan Anchises, and mother of his son Aeneas. Later, during the war, she saves Aeneas from Diomedes, who wounds her.
The most prominent lover of Aphrodite is Adonis. He is the child of Myrrha, cursed by Aphrodite with insatiable lust for her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, after Myrrha's mother bragged that her daughter is more beautiful than the goddess. Driven out after becoming pregnant, Myrrha is changed into a myrrh tree, but still gives birth to Adonis.
Aphrodite finds the baby, and takes him to the underworld to be fostered by Persephone. She returns for him when he is grown and strikingly handsome, but Persephone wants to keep him. Zeus decrees that Adonis will spend a third of the year with Aphrodite, a third with Persephone, and a third with whomever he wishes. Adonis chooses Aphrodite, and they are constantly together.
Adonis, who loves hunting, is slain by a wild boar. He bleeds to death, and Aphrodite can only mourn over his body. She causes anemones to grow wherever his blood fell, and decrees a festival on the anniversary of his death.
The shade of Adonis is received in the underworld by Persephone. Aphrodite wants to return him to life. Again, she and Persephone bicker. Zeus intervenes again, decreeing that Adonis will spend six months with Aphrodite and six months with Persephone.
The Judgement of Paris
The gods are all invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the eventual parents of Achilles), except Eris, goddess of discord. In revenge, Eris makes a golden Apple of Discord inscribed kallistēi ("to the fairest one"), which she throws among the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claim it.
Zeus delegates the choice to a mortal, Paris. The goddesses offer him bribes. Hera offers him supreme power, and Athena offers him wisdom, fame, and glory in battle. Aphrodite offers him Helen of Troy, the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, as a wife. As the goddess of desire, she causes Paris to become inflamed with desire for Helen at first sight, and he awards the Apple to her. Helen is already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. The other two goddesses are enraged by this, and through Helen's abduction by Paris, they bring about the Trojan War.
Consorts and children
- Adrestia (or Adrasteia (nymph) or Adrasteia (goddess))
- Rhode (possibly)
- Tyche (possibly)
The Charites (Graces)
- Priapus (N.B. Some say that Adonis, not Dionysus was the father of Priapus)
- Tyche (possibly)
Phaethon (son of Eos)
- Meligounis + several more unnamed daughters
In one version of the legend of Hippolytus, Aphrodite is the cause of his death. He scorned the worship of Aphrodite, preferring Artemis. Aphrodite caused his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him, knowing Hippolytus would reject her. This led to Phaedra's suicide, and the death of Hippolytus.
Polyphonte was a young woman who chose virginal life with Artemis instead of marriage and children, as favoured by Aphrodite. Aphrodite cursed her, causing her to have children by a bear. The resulting offspring, Agrius and Oreius, were wild cannibals who incurred the hatred of Zeus. Ultimately the whole family were transformed into birds and more specifically ill portents for mankind.
Forms of Aphrodite
By the late 5th century BC, certain philosophers had begun to draw a distinction between two separate "Aphrodites" (as opposed to a single Aphrodite whose characteristics varied slightly in different local cults of the goddess): Aphrodite Ourania, the celestial Aphrodite, born from the sea foam after Cronus castrated Uranus, and Aphrodite Pandemos, the common Aphrodite "of all the folk", born from the union of Zeus and Dione. Among the neo-Platonists and, later, their Christian interpreters, Aphrodite Ourania is associated with spiritual love, and Aphrodite Pandemos with physical love (desire). A representation of Aphrodite Ourania with her foot resting on a tortoise came to be seen as emblematic of discretion in conjugal love. (We know of this representation, said to have been a chryselephantine sculpture made by Phidias for Elis, only from a parenthetical comment by the geographer Pausanias).
In the Symposium, of Plato, Pausanias (no relation to the geographer Pausanias) describes Aphrodite. He distinguishes two manifestations of Aphrodite, represented by the two stories of her creation. The older one, Aphrodite Ourania ("heavenly" Aphrodite), is the daughter of Uranus, and inspires homosexual male (and more specifically, ephebic) love/eros. The younger, Aphrodite Pandemos ("Common" Aphrodite) is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and all love for women comes from her.
Aphrodite is also known as Areia, showing her connection to Ares, the god of war, whom she had extramarital relations with. As a result, she was, to some extent, made into a goddess of war. This is especially true in Sparta.
Cult of Aphrodite
The epithet Aphrodite Acidalia was occasionally added to her name, after the spring she used for bathing, located in Boeotia (Virgil I, 720). She was also called Kypris or Cytherea after her birth-places in Cyprus and Cythera, respectively, both centers of her cult. She was associated with Hesperia and frequently accompanied by the Oreads, nymphs of the mountains.
Her festival, Aphrodisia, was celebrated across Greece, but particularly in Athens and Corinth. At the temple of Aphrodite on the summit of Acrocorinth (before the Roman destruction of the city in 146 BC), intercourse with her priestesses was considered a method of worshiping Aphrodite. This temple was not rebuilt when the city was re-established under Roman rule in 44 BC, but the fertility rituals likely continued in the main city near the agora.
One aspect of the cult of Aphrodite and her precedents that Thomas Bulfinch's much-reprinted The Age of Fable; or Stories of Gods and Heroes (1855 etc.) elided was the practice of ritual prostitution in her shrines and temples. The euphemism in Greek is hierodoule, "sacred slave." The practice was an inherent part of the rituals owed to Aphrodite's Near Eastern forebears, Sumerian Inanna and Akkadian Ishtar, whose temple priestesses were the "women of Ishtar," ishtaritum.
The practice has been documented in Babylon, Syria, and Palestine, in Phoenician cities and the Tyrian colony Carthage, and for Hellenic Aphrodite in Cyprus, the center of her cult, Cythera, Corinth, and in Sicily (Marcovich 1996:49); the practice however is not attested in Athens. Aphrodite was everywhere the patroness of the hetaera and courtesan. In Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor, hierodoulai served in the temple of Artemis.
Modern worship of Aphrodite
As one of the Twelve Olympians of the Greek pantheon and thus a major deity, worship of Aphrodite, (or Aphrodíti), as a living goddess is one of the more prominent devotionals in Hellenismos (Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism), the revival of ancient Greek religious practices in the present day.
Worship in the Cult of Aphrodite today differs from the devotional practices of the ancient Greeks in several ways. Among Hellenistic Reconstructionists, views of Aphrodite as a lust or fertility goddess have largely given way to an understanding of her chiefly as a goddess of love and passion. Such things as ritual temple prostitution are thought of as, at best, completely anachronistic outside of ancient Greek society, if not actually outright disapproved of. Instead, modern Hellenistic devotees make offers to her and invoke her name for her blessings and her favor for their romantic relationships, including sexually monogamous ones. Here, ethical convictions of modern Hellenic polytheists are inspired by ancient Greek virtues of self-control and moderation.
Hellenic polytheists of today celebrate their religious devotion to Aphrodite on two annual and monthly festival days. Aphrodisia is her main festival day, which is celebrated on the 4th day of Hekatombaion in the 
Devotional offerings to Aphrodite can include incense, fruit (particularly apples and pomegranates), flowers (particularly fragrant roses), sweet dessert wine (particularly Commandaria wine from Cyprus), and cakes made with honey.
Ancient Near Eastern parallels
The religions of the ancient Near East have a number of love goddesses that may be similar to certain aspects of Aphrodite.
Pausanias states the first to establish a cult of Aphrodite were the Assyrians, after the Assyrians, the Paphians of Cyprus, and then the Phoenicians at Ascalon. The Phoenicians, in turn, taught her worship to the people of Cythera.
An origin of (or significant influence on) the Greek love goddess from Near Eastern traditions was seen with some skepticism in classical 19th century scholarship. Authors such as A. Enmann (Kypros und der Ursprung des Aphroditekultes 1881) attempted to portray the cult of Aphrodite as a native Greek development.
Scholarly opinion on this question has shifted significantly since the 1980s, notably due to Walter Burkert (1984), and the significant influence of the Near East on early Greek religion in general (and on the cult of Aphrodite in particular) is now widely recognized as dating to a period of orientalization during the 8th century BC, when archaic Greece was on the fringes of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
In native Greek tradition, the planet Venus had two names, Hesperos as the evening star and Eosphoros as the morning star. The Greeks adopted the identification of the morning and the evening stars, as well as its identification as Ishtar/Aphrodite, during the 4th century BC, along with other items of Babylonian astrology, such as the zodiac (Eudoxus of Cnidus).
Comparison with the Indo-European dawn goddess
It has long been accepted in comparative mythology that Aphrodite (regardless of possible oriental influences) preserves some aspects of the Indo-European dawn goddess *Hausos (properly Greek Eos, Latin Aurora, Sanskrit Ushas).
Janda (2010) etymologizes her name as "she who rises from the foam [of the ocean]" and points to Hesiod's Theogony account of Aphrodite's birth as an archaic reflex of Indo-European myth. Aphrodite rising out of the waters after Cronus defeats Uranus as a mytheme would then be directly cognate to the Rigvedic myth of Indra defeating Vrtra, liberating Ushas.
The Venus Kallipygos. Aphrodite Kallipygos ("Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks"), is a type of nude female statue of the Hellenistic era. It depicts a partially draped woman raising her light peplos to uncover her hips and buttocks, and looking back and down over her shoulder, perhaps to evaluate them
Fountain of Aphrodite in Mexico City.
The Birth of Venus (1912), by Odilon Redon.
Aphrodite riding a swan: Attic white-ground red-figured kylix, c. 460, found at Kameiros (Rhodes).
References and sources
- Hesiod, Theogony, 188
- Homer, Iliad 5.370.
- Eros is usually mentioned as the son of Aphrodite but in other versions he is born out of Chaos
- Larousse Desk Reference Encyclopedia, The Book People, Haydock, 1995, p. 215.
- Reginald Eldred Witt, Isis in the ancient world (Johns Hopkins University Press) 1997:125. ISBN 0-8018-5642-6
- Robert Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 179.
- Pausanias 1.14.6-7, W.S. Jones (trans.), Pausianas: Descriptions of Greece (London, 1931).
- Hesiod, Theogony, 176ff.
- Kretschmer KZ 33 (1895): 267.
- Janda, Michael, Die Musik nach dem Chaos, Innsbruck 2010, p. 65
- Mallory, J.P., and Adams, D.Q. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1997.
- Charles Penglase, Greek Myths and Mesopotamia: Parallels and Influence in the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod (Routledge, 1997), 164; citing Deborah Boedeker, Aphrodite's Entry into Greek Epic (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 15-6.
- Etymologicum Magnum, Ἀφροδίτη
- see Chicago Assyrian Dictionary vol. 2 p. 111
- M. Hammarström, Glotta: Zeitschrift für griechische und lateinische Sprache 11 (1921): 215f.
- Homer, Odyssey viii. 288; Herodotus i. 105; Pausanias iii. 23. § 1; Anacreon v. 9; Horace, Carmina i. 4. 5.
- Αναδυόμενη (Anadyómenē), "rising up".
- Iliad (Book V)
- Hesychius of Alexandria s. v. Μελιγουνίς: "Meligounis: this is what the island Lipara was called. Also one of the daughters of Aphrodite."
- Hyginus, Fabulae 250.3, 273.11; Pausanias, Guide to Greece 6.20.19
- Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses, 21
- E.g. Plato, Symposium 181a-d.
- Pausanias, Periegesis vi.25.1; Aphrodite Pandemos was represented in the same temple riding on a goat, symbol of purely carnal rut: "The meaning of the tortoise and of the he-goat I leave to those who care to guess," Pausanias remarks. The image was taken up again after the Renaissance: see (1584)Emblemata / Les emblemesAndrea Alciato, .
- Plato, Symposium 180e.
- Richard L. Hunter, Plato's Symposium, Oxford University Press: 2004, p. 44
- T.T. Kroon, art. Areia (1), in T.T. Kroon, Mythologisch Woordenboek, ’s Gravenshage, 1875.
- "Our work is not for the learned, nor for the theologian, nor for the philosopher, but for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets, and those which occur in polite conversation." Bulfinch's obituary in the Boston Evening Standard noted that the contents were "expurgated of all that would be offensive".
- Miroslav Marcovich, "From Ishtar to Aphrodite" Journal of Aesthetic Education 30.2, Special Issue: Distinguished Humanities Lectures II (Summer 1996) p 49.
- BBC News - The Greeks who worship the ancient gods
- Hellenic Polytheism: Following the Ways of the Ancient Greeks
- Aphrodite - www.HellenicGods.org
- Offerings to the Gods
- Aphrodite | Sacred Haven Coven
- Wunderlich (R. Winston, tr.).The secret of Crete (1987:134)
- C.L. Whitcombe.Minoan snake goddess.8.Snakes, Egypt magic and women.Minoan Snake Goddess
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, I. XIV.7
- see Burkert in his introduction to The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (1992), especially in pp 1-6.
- Dumézil, Ouranos-Vàruna:Ètude de mythologie compáree indo-européene. Paris: Maisonneuve. 1934
- The word callipygian is defined as "having shapely buttocks" by Merriam-Webster.
- Conventionally presumed to be Venus, though it may equally be a portrait of a mortal woman, such as a hetaira, or an image of the goddess modeled on one such
- The gesture of Aphrodite/Venus lifting the robe symbolized religious initiation and the ancient Greeks worshiped the woman's "rich" buttocks to obtain great wealth on earth as the two Syracusan sisters who inspired the Kallipygos idea had accomplished.
- C. Kerényi (1951). The Gods of the Greeks.
- Walter Burkert (1985). Greek Religion (Harvard University Press).
- Theoi Project, Aphrodite information from classical literature, Greek and Roman art
- The Glory which Was Greece from a Female Perspective
- Sappho's Hymn to Aphrodite, with a brief explanation`