Aphrodite

An Introduction to Aphrodite

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess associated with love and beauty.

Like all the gods, there is much more to her; for example, in some areas she was also known as a friend to sailors, her image taken to sea as a token of good luck. She’s best known as a goddess of romantic love, but she is also concerned with love between friends and family and unity in community.

Myths and Stories

There are several versions of the story of Aphrodite’s birth, including one where she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. In a rather more interesting tale, when Kronos overthrew his father Ouranos by castrating him, his testicles fell into the sea, and Aphrodite was created from the foam, drifting until she landed on Cyprus. Thus Aphrodite is an older god than even Zeus and his siblings.

Sometimes Aphrodite is said to be married to Hephaistos; in one such story, when Hephaistos went off to work, her lover Ares came to her. When Hephaistos learned of this, he invented a cunning net to trap the lovers, making them immobile. Once they were trapped, he called all the gods to see them and make fun of them. Hermes, however, said that he would gladly be restrained as Ares was if only he could lie beside the beautiful Aphrodite, and the other gods agreed. This story appears in the Odyssey; in the Iliad and in other sources, Hephaistos has an entirely different spouse.

Aphrodite’s love affair with the mortal Anchises is also well known. In this story, she appears to Anchises, disguised as a mortal woman, offering to become his wife. Anchises wants to consummate the marriage immediately, and Aphrodite is agreeable. Afterward she reveals herself to him as a goddess, and he is terrified; she tells him that he must never tell who the true mother is of their child Aeneas, who of course grows to become a great hero.

Aphrodite is also famed for aiding mortals in their love affairs, as in the story of Pygmalion and Galatea, in which the sculptor Pygmalion creates and falls in love with a beautiful statue; Aphrodite, taking pity on the smitten man, brings the statue to life and they–we hope–live happily ever after.

Names and Epithets

Like many of the gods, Aphrodite was addressed under different names or epithets at different times and under different circumstances.

Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite of All People). While some contrast Aphrodite Pandemos with Aphrodite Urania as embodying a personal physical rather than a spiritual love, pandemos also refers to Aphrodite’s role in uniting the various people of the city.

Aphrodite Urania (Aphrodite of the Heavens). This epithet can refer to a spiritual rather than a physical love, and also references Aphrodite’s birth at sea from the testicles of Uranos.

Aphrodite Cypris (Aphrodite of Cyprus). Refers to Aphrodite’s important worship center on the island of Cyprus, as well as to the story of the sea-born goddess’s landing on that isle.

Aphrodite Areia. This epithet refers both to her relationship with the war-god Ares and to her own worship in the context of war, particularly in Sparta.

Festivals

While Aphrodite was honored in fewer festivals than, say, Athena, Apollo or Dionysos (who together made up a great part of the Athenian festival calendar), she was an important deity with many temples. Her best-known festival was the Aphrodisia, which was celebrated in a number of cities including Athens, where it honored her as Aphrodite Pandemos or Aphrodite of All People.

She was traditionally honored on the fourth day of each month, along with Hermes and Eros.

Symbols

Some of Aphrodite’s better-known symbols are the dove, the myrtle and the rose, and the cockle-shell which has so often been depicted in images of her birth. She is also associated with the apple; in the tale of the fall of Troy, she was the one given Eris’ golden apple marked “to the fairest.”

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