Aphrodite was known as the Greek goddess of love, beauty, sexual desire and fertility. According to Hesiod, she was born when Uranus, father of the gods, was castrated and his genitals thrown into the sea. Uranus's genitalia and the sea foam it mingled with are the supposed parents of Aphrodite, who rose from the foam and was carried by waves to Cyprus. This is why she was named Aphrodite, which literally means "foam-born", and is also known as Kypris and Cytherea. The goddess of love is depicted in many different ways; perhaps the most famous image of her is Botticelli's painting of the sea goddess standing naked atop a giant shell. Other paintings have depicted her as Asian, since ancient Greeks tended to agree that Aphrodite was of both Greek and foreign heritage.

The Graces also lived in Cyprus, and they were three sisters representing beauty, love and pleasure who served as attendants for Aphrodite. One version of the story says that the Graces were eternally joined by the hands in a circular dance that could not be broken; this doesn't seem likely, since the Graces were assigned tasks such as bathing and nursing Aphrodite when she was feeling lonely or depressed.

In Homer's version of her birth, Aphrodite is merely the offspring of Zeus and Dione, a minor goddess and one of his many mistresses. In both stories, Zeus quickly marries Aphrodite to the smith god Hephaestus, because Zeus is afraid that the rest of the gods will fight over the stunningly beautiful goddess. Like her father Zeus, Aphrodite was unable to remain faithful to her husband, and had her fair share of infidelities with such characters as Ares, god of war, and the beautiful mortal Adonis. Hephaestus made the mistake of fashioning a magic girdle for his wife, which caused every man she ever encountered to fall madly in love with her. This girdle was later lent to Hera, who wanted to win her god-king husband's affections during the Trojan War.

Because of his level of experience with women, the prince of Troy, Paris, was asked to name which of the Olympian goddesses was the most beautiful. Hera and Athena offered him power and strength in battle in return for his vote, but Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful mortal woman, Helen of Sparta, who later became Helen of Troy when she ran off and eloped with Paris. Obviously, Paris opted for love and voted for Aphrodite. Aphrodite was blamed for making the Trojan War bloodier and more tragic than it needed to be, by meddling in the affairs of battle in order to spare the lives of Paris and her son Aeneas. Aphrodite went so far as to prevent Paris's death by a fatal blow, transporting herself and him to his bedchamber. She then went to Helen and warned her, "If you do not go to Paris, I will hate you as much as I love you now."

Athena hated her "sweetness and light" sister and commanded the warrior Diomedes to stab her. Aphrodite was wounded in the hand, and immediately returned to Mount Olympus to cry to her mother and father. Zeus instructed her to never again become involved in war, and instead to concentrate on the realms of love and marriage.

The affair of Aphrodite and Ares is very famous, and became quite well known to the rest of the gods after Hephaestus caught his wife and her lover in his own marriage bed. He had become suspicious of his wife and fashioned a trap to catch her and Ares the next time they were together. After being caught, Hephaestus demanded the return of the gifts he had given Aphrodite during their time of courtship. She then ran off to Cyprus and Ares left for Thrace. A line out of the Odyssey quotes Hermes saying that he'd suffer three times as much humiliation as Ares did in order to share the bed of the goddess of sex.

Methods of worshipping the goddess of love in ancient Greece included the Aphrodisiac festival. Priestesses representing Aphrodite were appointed, and sexual intercourse with one of them was considered as sacred as praying or making a sacrifice to the goddess herself.

In paintings and throughout literature, Aphrodite is depicted contradictorily. In some artworks she is shown as self-conscious, modest of her obvious good looks. In others she is shown as very self-aware and comfortable with the fact that she is the most beautiful creature in the world.


The goddess of love, identified in Rome with the ancient Italic goddess Venus. There are two different accounts of her birth: sometimes she is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and sometimes a daughter of Uranus (the Sky) whose sexual organs, cut off by Cronos, fell in the sea and begot the goddess, 'she who was born of the sea' or 'she who was born of the god's seed'. Aphrodite had scarcely emerged from the sea when she was carried by the Zephyrs first to Cythera and then to the coast of Cyprus. There she was welcomed by the Seasons (the Horae), dressed and adorned and led by them to the home of the Immortals. Lucian records a legend which has it that she was first brought up by Nereus (compare Hera). Later Plato formulated the idea of there having been two Aphrodites, the daughter of Uranus, Aphrodite Urania and the goddess of pure love, and the daughter of Dione, Aphrodite Pandemia or Aphrodite of the populace, goddess of common love. But this distinction is a late philosophical concept, unknown in the early forms of the myths about the goddess.

Various legends formed round Aphrodite, consisting not of a coherent story but of different episodes in which the goddess played a part. Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the lame god of Lemnos, but she loved Ares the god of war. Homer tells how the two lovers were caught by surprise one morning by the Sun, who told Hephaestus of their affair. The latter set a secret trap in the form of a magic net which only he could handle. One night when the two lovers were both in Aphrodite's bed, Hephaestus closed the net over them and summoned all the Olympian gods, which caused them to rejoice exceedingly. At Poseidon's earnest request, Hephaestus agreed to draw the net back and Aphrodite, covered with shame, fled to Cyprus. The love affair between Aphrodite and Ares resulted in the birth of Eros and Anterus, Deimos and Phobos (Terror and Fear) and Harmonia (who later became the wife of Cadmus at Thebes). To these names is sometimes added Priapus, the god of Lampsacus (the protecting deity of gardens), for some traditions describe Aphrodite as the goddess of gardens, but this is true principally of her Italian character Venus.

The love affairs of Aphrodite were not confined to Ares. When Myrrha, who had become a tree, had given birth to Adonis, Aphrodite gave shelter to the child, who was very beautiful, and put him in the care of Persephone. But the latter would not give him back. The matter was submitted to Zeus to adjudicate and he decided that the youth should spend a third of the year with Persephone, a third with Aphrodite and a third where he wanted. But Adonis actually spent a third of the year with Persephone and two-thirds with Aphrodite. Soon afterwards Adonis was wounded by a wild boar and died, possibly a victim of the jealousy of Ares.

Aphrodite also had a love affair with Anchises, on Mount Ida in the Troad, and by him she had two sons, Aeneas and, according to some traditions, Lyrnus.

Aphrodite's outbursts of anger and her curses were famous. It was she who inspired Eos (the Dawn) with an irresistible love for Orion, in order to punish her for having yielded to Ares, and she vented her anger on the women of Lemnos for not honouring her by making them smell so horribly that their husbands abandoned them for Thracian slave girls. The women of Lemnos in their turn then killed all the men on the island and established a community of women, until the day came when the Argonauts arrived to enable them to beget sons (see Thoas). Aphrodite also punished the daughters of Cinyras in Paphos by compelling them to become prostitutes for strangers (see also Phaedra, Pasiphae, etc).

It was equally dangerous to be in Aphrodite's favour. One day Discord threw an apple intended to be given to whichever of the three goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, was the most beautiful. Zeus bade Hermes lead all three up to Mount Ida in the Troad, where they were to be judged by Alexander (known later as Paris). The three goddesses began to argue in his presence, each boasting of her beauty and promising him gifts. Hera offered him worldwide sovereignty; Athena offered to make him invincible in war; Aphrodite promised him the hand of Helen. He chose Aphrodite and thus it was that she was the underlying cause of the Trojan War. Throughout the war she granted her protection to the Trojans, and to Paris in particular. When Paris took on Menelaus in single combat and was about to yield, it was she who snatched him from danger and so caused the incident which reopened the general fighting. Later she similarly protected Aeneas when he was on the point of being killed by Diomedes, who actually wounded her. But the protection offered by Aphrodite could not avert the fall of Troy and the death of Paris. Nevertheless she succeeded in preserving the Trojan race and it was thanks to her that Aeneas, with his father and son and bearing the Penates of Troy, managed to escape from the burning city and seek a country where he could acquire a new fatherland. This was how Aphrodite-Venus became the special protectress of Rome. She was regarded as the ancestress of the Julii, who claimed descent from Iulus, his father Aeneas, and consequently the goddess. For this reason Ceasar built a temple in her honour under the protection of Mother Venus or Venus Genetrix.

Her favourite creatures were doves, a flock of which drew her chariot. Her plants were rose and myrtle.


Table of Sources:
- Hom. Od. 8, 266ff.; Il. 2, 819ff.; 3, 15ff.; 4, 10ff.; 5, 1ff.; 311ff.; 330
- Hesiod, Theog. 190ff.
- Antonius Liberalis, Met. 34
- Apollod. Bibl. 1, 9, 17; 1, 4, 4; 3, 2, 2; 3, 12, 2; 3, 14, 4; Epit. 4, 1
- Lucian, Podagra 87ff.

Aph`ro*di"te (#), n. [Gr. .]

1. Classic Myth.

The Greek goddess of love, corresponding to the Venus of the Romans.

2. Zool.

A large marine annelid, covered with long, lustrous, golden, hairlike setae; the sea mouse.

3. Zool.

A beautiful butterfly (Argunnis Aphrodite) of the United States.


© Webster 1913.

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