|Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality|
|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||The Tree Nymphs, The Furies and The Gigantes|
|Children||Eros, Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, Pothos, Anteros, Himeros, Hermaphroditos, Rhode, Eryx, Peitho, Tyche, Eunomia, The Graces, Priapus and Aeneas|
Ancient Greek religion
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.
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 (Aprodite Urania) of transcendent principles, and a separate, "common" Aphrodite who was the goddess of the people (Aphrodite Pandemos).
The archaic (Homeric) pronunciation of the name Ἀφροδίτη was approximately [apʰrodíːtɛː]. In Koine Greek, this became [afroˈdiːteː], changing further to [afroˈðiti] in Byzantine Greek by iotacism. The most common English pronunciation of Aphrodite is //.
The etymology of Greek Ἀφροδίτη is unknown.
Other possible etymologies, many of them not Greek, have been suggested in scholarship. However, Janda (2010) considers the connection with "foam" genuine, and points to the story of Aphrodite's birth, in which she arises from the sea foam after Cronus defeats Uranus, as a mytheme of Proto-Indo-European age.
According to this interpretation, the name is from aphrós "foam" and déatai "[she] seems" or "shines" (infinitive form *déasthai), meaning "she who shines from the foam [ocean]", a byname of the dawn goddess (Eos). J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams (1997) have also proposed an etymology based on the connection with the Indo-European dawn goddess, from *abhor- "very" and *dhei "to shine".
A number of possible non-Greek etymologies have been suggested in scholarship.
The connection to Phoenician religion claimed by Herodotus (I.105,131) has inspired attempts to show that the Greek Aphrodite is derived from a Semitic word, Aštoret, by way of a hypothetical Hittite transmission, but these attempts have been inconclusive.
Another proposed Semitic etymology compares Aphrodite to the Assyrian barīrītu, the name of a female demon that appears in Middle Babylonian and Late Babylonian texts.
The name probably means "she who (comes) at dusk," which would be an appropriate appellation for Aphrodite, given her role as the personification of the evening star—a role that, significantly, she shares with a parallell Mesopotamian goddess, Ishtar.
Another non-Greek etymology, suggested by M. Hammarström, looks to Etruscan, comparing (e)pruni "lord", an Etruscan honorific loaned into Greek as πρύτανις. This would make the theonym in origin an honorific, "the lady". Hjalmar Frisk rejects this etymology as implausible.
The learned medieval work Etymologicum Magnum offers a pseudoetymology claiming that "Aphrodite" is derived from the compound ἁβροδίαιτος habrodiaitos ("she who lives delicately" from ἁβρός habros + δίαιτα diaita). The alteration from b to ph is explained as a "familiar" characteristic of Greek "obvious from the Macedonians".
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) 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", the genitive form case of Zeus, and could be taken to mean simply "the goddess" 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.
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 one of a few characters in the Odyssey whose actions are a major contributing cause of the Trojan War: she offers Helen of Troy to Paris, and as the goddess of desire, she is responsible for Paris becoming so inflamed with desire for Helen at first sight that he is moved to abduct her.
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, Aphrodite marries Hephaestus after 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 was Adonis' lover and a surrogate mother to him. Cinyras, the King of Cyprus, had an intoxicatingly beautiful daughter named Myrrha. When Myrrha's mother commits hubris against Aphrodite by claiming her daughter is more beautiful than the famed goddess, Myrrha is punished with a never-ending lust for her own father. Cinyras is repulsed by this, but Myrrha disguises herself as a prostitute, and secretly sleeps with her father at night.
Eventually, Myrrha becomes pregnant and is discovered by Cinyras. In a rage, he chases her out of the house with a knife. Myrrha flees from him, praying to the gods for mercy as she runs. The gods hear her plea, and change her into a myrrh tree so her father cannot kill her. Eventually, Cinyras takes his own life in an attempt to restore the family's honor.
Myrrha gives birth to a baby boy named Adonis. Aphrodite happens by the myrrh tree and, seeing him, takes pity on the infant. She places Adonis in a box, and takes him down to Hades so Persephone can care for him. Adonis grows into a strikingly handsome young man, and Aphrodite eventually returns for him. Persephone, however, is loath to give him up, and wishes Adonis would stay with her in the underworld. The two goddesses begin such a quarrel, Zeus is forced to intercede. He decrees that Adonis will spend a third of the year with Aphrodite, a third of the year with Persephone, and a third of the year with whomever he wishes. Adonis, of course, chooses Aphrodite.
Adonis begins his year on the earth with Aphrodite. One of his greatest passions is hunting, and although Aphrodite is not naturally a hunter, she takes up the sport just so she can be with him. They spend every waking hour with one another, and Aphrodite is enraptured with him. However, her anxiety begins to grow over her neglected duties, and she is forced to leave him for a short time. Before she leaves, she gives Adonis one warning: do not attack an animal which shows no fear. Adonis agrees to her advice, but, secretly doubting her skills as a huntress, quickly forgets her warning.
Not long after Aphrodite leaves, Adonis comes across an enormous wild boar, much larger than any he has ever seen. It is suggested that the boar is the god Ares, one of Aphrodite's lovers made jealous through her constant doting on Adonis. Although boars are dangerous and will charge a hunter if provoked, Adonis disregards Aphrodite's warning and pursues the giant creature. Soon, however, Adonis is the one being pursued; he is no match for the giant boar.
In the attack, Adonis is castrated by the boar, and dies from a loss of blood. Aphrodite rushes back to his side, but she is too late to save him and can only mourn over his body. Wherever Adonis' blood falls, Aphrodite causes anemones to grow in his memory. She vows that on the anniversary of his death, every year there will be a festival held in his honor.
On his death, Adonis goes back to the underworld, and Persephone is delighted to see him again. Eventually, Aphrodite realizes he is there, and rushes back to retrieve him. Again, she and Persephone bicker over who is allowed to keep Adonis until Zeus intervenes. This time, he says Adonis must spend six months with Aphrodite and six months with Persephone, the way it should have been in the first place.
The Judgement of Paris
The gods and goddesses, as well as various mortals, were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the eventual parents of Achilles). Only the goddess Eris (Discord) was not invited, but she arrived with a golden apple inscribed with the word kallistēi ("to the fairest one"), which she threw among the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the fairest, and thus the rightful owner of the apple.
The goddesses chose to place the matter before Zeus, who, not wanting to favor one of the goddesses, put the choice into the hands of Paris. After bathing in the spring of Mount Ida (where Troy was situated), the goddesses appeared before Paris. Having been given permission by Zeus to set any conditions he saw fit, Paris required the goddesses to undress before him to be evaluated. (Alternatively, the goddesses themselves chose to disrobe.) Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so the goddesses resorted to bribes.
Hera tried to bribe Paris with control over all Asia and Europe, while Athena offered wisdom, fame, and glory in battle, and Aphrodite offered the most beautiful mortal woman in the world as a wife, and he accordingly chose her. This woman was Helen, who was, unfortunately for Paris, already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. The other two goddesses were enraged by this, and through Helen's abduction by Paris, they brought about the Trojan War.
Consorts and children
- Phaethon (son of Eos)
- unknown father
- Meligounis + several more unnamed daughters
In one version of the story of Hippolytus, she was the catalyst for his death. He scorned the worship of Aphrodite for Artemis and, in revenge, Aphrodite caused his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him, knowing Hippolytus would reject her.
In the most popular version of the story, as told in the play Hippolytus by Euripides, Phaedra seeks revenge against Hippolytus by killing herself and, in her suicide note, tells Theseus, her husband and Hippolytus' father, that Hippolytus had raped her. Hippolytus was oath-bound not to mention Phaedra's love for him and nobly refused to defend himself despite the consequences.
Theseus then cursed his son, a curse Poseidon was bound to fulfill, so Hippolytus was laid low by a bull from the sea that caused his chariot-team to panic and wreck his vehicle. Hippolytus forgives his father before he dies and Artemis reveals the truth to Theseus before vowing to kill the one Aphrodite loves (Adonis) for revenge.
Glaucus of Corinth angered Aphrodite. When he was competing in the chariot race at the funeral games of King Pelias she drove his horses mad and they tore him apart. His ghost was said to frighten horses during the Isthmian Games.
In one Greek myth, Aphrodite placed the curse of snakes for hair and the stone-gaze upon Medusa and her sisters. Aphrodite was jealous of the three sisters' beauty, and she grew so jealous, she cursed them.
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).
Plato, in his Symposium, has one of his characters, an Athenian named Pausanias (no relation to the geographer Pausanias), describe Aphrodite as two goddesses, one older, the other younger. The older one, Urania, is the daughter of Uranus, and inspires homosexual male (and more specifically, ephebic) love/eros; the younger is named Pandemos, the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and all love for women comes from her. The speech of Pausanias distinguishes two manifestations of Aphrodite, represented by the two stories: Aphrodite Ourania ("heavenly" Aphrodite), and Aphrodite Pandemos ("Common" Aphrodite).
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.
Ancient Near Eastern parallels
The religions of the ancient Near East have a number of love goddesses that can be argued to 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 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.
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.
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).
- C. Kerényi (1951). The Gods of the Greeks.
- Walter Burkert (1985). Greek Religion (Harvard University Press).
- 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
- Reginald Eldred Witt, Isis in the ancient world (Johns Hopkins University Press) 1997:125. ISBN 0-8018-5642-6
- Hesiod, Theogony, 176ff.
- Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary (2002)
Oxford Grammar Of Classical Greek (2001)
- Janda, Michael, Die Musik nach dem Chaos, Innsbruck 2010, p. 65
- Mallory, J.P. and D.Q. Adams. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1997.
- see Chicago Assyrian Dictionary vol. 2 p. 111
- In Glotta: Zeitschrift für griechische und lateinische Sprache 11, 21 5f.
- Etymologicum Magnum, Ἀφροδίτη
- 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
- 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 Andrea Alciato, Emblemata / Les emblemes (1584).
- 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.
- 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
- "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.
- 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 of 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.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Aphrodite|
- 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`