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The goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite (known as Venus in Roman mythology) is one of the most recognizable names in Greek myth. Aphrodite is portrayed as a woman of stunning appearance, with whom mortals and gods alike fell in love.
Who Is Aphrodite?
A few scholars believe that the worship of Aphrodite came from the East as many of the attributes given to her recall those of goddesses from the ancient Middle East – Astarte and Ishtar. Although Aphrodite was mainly considered “Cyprian”, she was already Hellenized by Homer’s time. She was worshipped by everyone, and was called Pandemos, meaning of all the people.
According to Hesiod’s Theogeny, Aphrodite was ‘born’ on the island of Cyprus, but there’s some debate about how she actually came into being. Some accounts state that she sprang from the foam in the waters of Paphos, from the genitals of Uranus thrown into the sea by his own son, Cronus. The very name Aphrodite comes from the Ancient Greek word aphros, meaning sea foam, which aligns with this story.
Another version written by Homer in Iliad says that Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and Dione. This would make her the daughter of a god and a goddess, similar to most of the Olympians.
Aphrodite was so beautiful that the gods feared that there would be a rivalry amongst them because of her beauty. To solve this issue, Zeus had her married off to Hephaestus, considered the ugliest of the gods. The god of metalworking, fire, and stone masonry, Hephaestus had not even been considered a serious contender for Aphrodite because of how he looked. The plan, however, backfired – Aphrodite wasn’t loyal to Hephaestus as she did not love him.
Although she was bound to Hephaestus through marriage, Aphrodite took on many lovers, both gods and mortals.
Aphrodite and Ares
Aphrodite had an affair with Ares, the god of war. Helios caught the lovers and informed Hephaestus of their tryst. Angered, Hephaestus designed a fine bronze net that would trap them within it when they next lay together. The lovers were only freed after the other gods laughed at them and Poseidon paid for their release.
Aphrodite and Poseidon
It is said that Poseidon saw Aphrodite naked and he fell in love with her. Aphrodite and Poseidon had one daughter together, Rhode.
Aphrodite and Hermes
Hermes is a god who doesn’t have a lot of consorts, but he was with Aphrodite and they had an offspring named Hermaphroditos.
Aphrodite and Adonis
Aphrodite once found a baby boy that she took to the underworld. She asked Persephone to take care of him and after some time she visited the boy who had grown up to become a handsome man, Adonis. Aphrodite asked if she could take him back, but Persephone wouldn’t allow it.
Zeus decided to settle the dispute by dividing Adonis’ time between the goddesses, but it was ultimately Aphrodite that Adonis would choose. He paid for it with his life, dying in her arms after either Ares or Artemis sent a wild boar to kill him. As the story goes, anemones sprang from where the blood of Adonis fell.
Aphrodite and Paris
Paris was tasked by Zeus to judge who was the most beautiful amongst Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite. The latter won the contest by promising Paris the most beautiful girl in the world, Helen, the Spartan queen. This triggered the bloody war between Troy and Sparta that lasted a decade.
Aphrodite and Anchises
Anchises was a mortal shepherd who Aphrodite fell in love with. The goddess pretended to be a mortal virgin, seduced him, slept with him, and bore him a son, Aeneas. He paid for this affair with his sight when Zeus struck him with a thunderbolt.
Aphrodite: The Unforgiving
Aphrodite was a generous and kind goddess to those who respected and revered her, but like the other gods, she didn’t take slights lightly. There are several myths that outline her anger and vengeance against those who slighted her.
- Hippolytus, son of Theseus, preferred to worship only the goddess Artemis and in her honor, swore to remain celibate, which angered Aphrodite. She made Hippolytus’ stepmother fall in love with him, which resulted in both their deaths.
- The Titaness Eos had a brief affair with Ares, even though Ares was Aphrodite’s lover. In retaliation, Aphrodite cursed Eos to be perpetually in love with an insatiable sexual desire. This caused Eos to abduct many men.
- As the Trojan war raged, Diomedes wounded Aphrodite in the Trojan War by cutting her wrist. Zeus warns Aphrodite not to join the war. Aphrodite took her vengeance by causing Diomedes’ wife to start sleeping around with his enemies.
Aphrodite is often depicted with her symbols, which include:
- Scallop shell – Aphrodite is said to have been born in a shell
- Pomegranate – The seeds of the pomegranate have always been associated with sexuality. However, in ancient times, it was also used for birth control.
- Dove – Possibly a symbol from her precursor Inanna-Ishtar
- Sparrow – Aphrodite supposedly rides in a chariot pulled by sparrows, but why this symbol is important to her isn’t clear
- Swan – This could be because of Aphrodite’s connection to the sea
- Dolphin – Again, possibly due to her connection to the sea
- Pearl – Perhaps due to her association with shells
- Rose – A symbol of love and passion
- Apple – A symbol of desire, lust, sexuality and romance, Aphrodite was gifted a golden apple by Paris when she won the contest of being the fairest
Aphrodite herself remains a powerful symbol of passion, romance, lust and sex. Today, her name is synonymous with these concepts and to call someone an Aphrodite is to suggest that they are irresistible, gorgeous and have uncontrollable desire.
The English word aphrodisiac, meaning a food, drink or object that stimulates sexual desire, comes from the name Aphrodite.
Aphrodite in Art and Literature
Aphrodite is well represented in art throughout the ages. She was most famously captured in Sandro Botticelli’s 1486 CE, the Birth of Venus, prominently displayed in the National Museum in Rome. The judgment of Paris is also a popular subject in ancient Greek art.
Aphrodite is usually depicted clothed in Archaic and Classical Art with an embroidered band or girdle across her chest, which supposedly held her powers of seductive allure, desire, and love. It was only later during the 4th century BCE when artists started depicting her naked or semi-naked.
Aphrodite has been referenced in many important literary works, most notably Venus and Adonis by Shakespeare. More recently, Isabel Allende published the book Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses.
Aphrodite in Modern Culture
Aphrodite is one of the most popular of the Greek goddesses referenced in modern culture. Kylie Minogue named her eleventh studio album Aphrodite and the tour for the aforementioned album also displayed countless images tied to the goddess of beauty.
Katy Perry in her song “Dark Horse”, asks her lover to “make me your Aphrodite.” Lady Gaga has a song titled “Venus” with lyrics referencing the famous painting The Birth of Venus which shows the goddess covering herself while standing over a seashell.
In the mid-20th century, a neo-pagan religion was founded with Aphrodite at its center. It’s known as the Church of Aphrodite. In addition, Aphrodite is an important goddess in Wicca and is often invoked in the name of love and romance.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring Aphrodite goddess statue.
Zeus and Dione or Uranus’ severed genitals.
Aphrodite’s list of siblings and half-siblings is long, and includes the likes of Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Helen of Troy, Heracles, Hermes and even the Erinyes (Furies).
The most notable are Poseidon, Ares, Adonis, Dionysus and Hephaestus.
Yes, she was married off to Hephaestus, but did not love him.
She was immortal and could cause mortals and gods to fall in love. She owned a belt which, when worn, caused others to fall in love with the wearer.
Aphrodite is known as the goddess of love, marriage and fertility. She was also known as the goddess of the sea and seafarers.
Aphrodite was portrayed as a stunning woman of breathtaking beauty. She was often depicted nude in artwork.
She wasn’t a fighter and this is clear during the Trojan War when she is asked by Zeus to sit it out due to getting hurt. However, she is a schemer and with great power in controlling others.
She was often jealous of beautiful and attractive women and didn’t take slights lying down. She also cheated on her husband and didn’t respect him.
Alluring and beautiful, Aphrodite remains a symbol of a stunning woman who understands her beauty and knows how to use it get what she desires. She continues to be a significant figure in neo-Paganism and modern pop culture. Her name is among the most popular of all the figures of Greek mythology.