According to Hesiod's Theogony, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea, and from the sea foam (aphros) arose Aphrodite. Thus Aphrodite is of an older generation than Zeus.
Because of her beauty, other gods feared that jealousy would interrupt the peace among them and lead to war, and so Zeus married her toHephaestus, who was not viewed as a threat. Aphrodite had many lovers, both gods like Ares, and men like Anchises. Aphrodite also became instrumental in the Eros and Psyche legend, and later was both Adonis' 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 her birth. Myrtles, doves, sparrows, horses, and swans are sacred to her. The Greeks further identified the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor with Aphrodite. Aphrodite also has many other local names, such as Acidalia, Cytherea and Cerigo, used in specific areas of Greece. Each goddess demanded a slightly different cult but Greeks recognized in their overall similarities the one Aphrodite. Attic philosophers of the fourth century separated a celestial Aphrodite (Aprodite Urania) of transcendent principles with the common Aphrodite of the people (Aphrodite Pandemos).
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1485Aphrodite is usually said to have been born near Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, for which reason she is called "Cyprian", especially in the poetic works of Sappho. Her chief center of worship was at Paphos, where the goddess of desire had been worshipped from the early Iron Age in the form of Ishtar and Astarte. However, other versions of her myth have her born near the island of Kythira (Cythera), for which reason she is called "Cytherea". Kythira 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 severedUranus' genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite (for which reason she is called "foam-arisen"), while the Erinyes (furies) emerged from the drops of blood. Hesiodstates that the genitals "were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh; with it a girl grew." This girl became Aphrodite. She floated ashore on a scallop shell. This image of a fully mature "Venus rising from the sea" (Venus Anadyomene) was one of the iconic representations of Aphrodite, made famous in a much-admired painting by Apelles, now lost, but described in the Natural Historyof 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, theEarth Mother, whom Homer relocated to Olympus.
Some scholars have hypothesized an original Proto-Indo-European pantheon, with the chief male god (Di-) represented by the sky and thunder, and the chief female god (feminine form of Di-) represented as the earth or fertile soil. After the worship of Zeus had displaced the oak-grove oracle at Dodona, some poets made Zeus the father of Aphrodite. In some tales, Aphrodite was a daughter of Zeus and Thalassa (the sea).
Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite PandemosEdit
For the Amathusian Aphrodite, see Aphroditus.Petra tou Romiou ("The rock of the Greek"), Aphrodite's legendary birthplace in Paphos,Cyprus.By the late 5th century BC, philosophers might separate Aphrodite into two separate goddesses, not individuated in cult: Aphrodite Ourania, born from the sea foam after Cronus castrated Uranus, and Aphrodite Pandemos, the common Aphrodite "of all the folk," born from Zeus and Dione. Among the neo-Platonists and eventually their Christian interpreters, Aphrodite Ourania figures as the celestial Aphrodite, representing the love of body and soul, while Aphrodite Pandemos is associated with mere physical love. The representation of Aphrodite Ourania, with a foot resting on a tortoise, was read later as emblematic of discretion in conjugal love; the image is credited to Phidias, in a chryselephantine sculpture made for Elis, of which we have only a passing remark by Pausanias.
Thus, according to the character Pausanias in Plato's Symposium, Aphrodite is two goddesses, one older while the other younger. The older, 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).
The Birth of Venus by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, ca. 1879Aphrodite had no childhood: in every image and each reference she is born as an adult, nubile, and infinitely desirable. Aphrodite is often depicted nude in many of the images she is in. Aphrodite, in many of the late anecdotal myths involving her, is characterized as vain, ill-tempered and easily offended. Though she is one of the few gods of the Greek Pantheon to be actually married, she is frequently unfaithful to her husband.
Hephaestus is one of the most even-tempered of the Hellenic deities; in the narrative embedded in the Odyssey Aphrodite seems to prefer Ares, the volatile god of war, as she was attracted to his violent nature. She is one of a few characters who played a major part in the original cause of the Trojan War itself: not only did she offer Helen of Troy to Paris, but the abduction was accomplished when Paris, seeing Helen for the first time, was inflamed with desire to have her—which is Aphrodite's realm.
Due to her immense beauty, Zeus was frightened that she would be the cause of violence between the other gods. He married her off to Hephaestus, the dour, humorless god of smithing. In another version of this story, Hera, Hephaestus' mother, had cast him off Olympus; deeming him ugly and deformed. His revenge was to trap her in a magic throne, and then to demand Aphrodite's hand in return for Hera's release.
Hephaestus was overjoyed at being married to the goddess of beauty and forged her beautiful jewelry, including the cestus, a girdle that made her even more irresistible to men. Her unhappiness with her marriage caused Aphrodite to seek out companionship from others, most frequently Ares, but also Adonis.
Aphrodite and PsycheEdit
Main article: Cupid and PsycheAphrodite figures as a secondary character in the Tale of Eros and Psyche, which first appeared as a digressive story told by an old woman in Lucius Apuleius' novel, The Golden Ass, written in the second century AD. In it Aphrodite was jealous of the beauty of a mortal woman named Psyche. She asked Eros to use his golden arrows to cause Psyche to fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. Eros agreed, but then fell in love with Psyche on his own, by accidentally pricking himself with a golden arrow.
Meanwhile, Psyche's parents were anxious that their daughter remained unmarried. They consulted an oracle who told them she was destined for no mortal lover, but a creature that lived on top of a particular mountain, that even the gods themselves feared. Eros had arranged for the oracle to say this. Psyche was resigned to her fate and climbed to the top of the mountain. She told the townsfolk that followed her to leave and let her face her fate on her own.
There, Zephyrus, the west wind, gently floated her downwards. She entered a cave on the appointed mountain, surprised to find it full of jewelry and finery. Eros visited her every night in the cave and they made passionate love; he demanded only that she never light any lamps because he did not want her to know who he was (having wings made him distinctive). Her two sisters, jealous of Psyche, convinced her that her husband was a monster, and she should strike him with a dagger. So one night she lit a lamp, but recognizing Eros instantly, she dropped her dagger. Oil spilled from the lamp onto his shoulder, awaking him, and he fled, saying "Love cannot live where there is no trust!" Aphrodite Ourania, draped rather thannude, and with her foot resting on a tortoise (Musée du Louvre).When Psyche told her two jealous elder sisters what had happened, they rejoiced secretly and each separately walked to the top of the mountain and did as Psyche described her entry to the cave, hoping Eros would pick them instead. Eros was still heart broken and did not pick them and they fell to their deaths at the base of the mountain.
Psyche searched for her love across much of Greece, finally stumbling into a temple to Demeter, where the floor was covered with piles of mixed grains. She started sorting the grains into organized piles and, when she finished, Demeter spoke to her, telling her that the best way to find Eros was to find his mother, Aphrodite, and earn her blessing. Psyche found a temple to Aphrodite and entered it.
Aphrodite assigned her a similar task to Demeter's temple, but gave her an impossible deadline to finish it by. Eros intervened, for he still loved her, and caused some ants to organize the grains for her. Aphrodite was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where deadly golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool.
Psyche went to the field and saw the sheep but was stopped by a river-god, whose river she had to cross to enter the field. He told her the sheep were mean and vicious and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go into the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Psyche did so and Aphrodite was even more outraged at her survival and success.
Finally, Aphrodite claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Persephone, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a black box that Aphrodite gave to Psyche. Psyche walked to a tower, deciding that the quickest way to the underworld would be to die. A voice stopped her at the last moment and told her a route that would allow her to enter and return still living, as well as telling her how to pass the three-headed dogCerberus, Charon and the other dangers of the route. She was to not lend a hand to anyone in need.
She baked two barley cakes for Cerberus, and took two coins for Charon. She pacified Cerberus with the barley cake and paid Charon to take her to Hades. On the way there, she saw hands reaching out of the water. A voice told her to toss a barley cake to them. She refused. Once there, Persephone said she would be glad to do Aphrodite a favor. She once more paid Charon, and gave the other barley cake to Cerberus.
Psyche left the underworld and decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself, thinking that if she did so, Eros would surely love her. Inside was a "Stygian sleep," which overtook her. Eros, who had forgiven her, flew to her body and wiped the sleep from her eyes, then begged Zeus and Aphrodite for their consent to his wedding of Psyche. They agreed and Zeus made her immortal. Aphrodite danced at the wedding of Eros and Psyche, and their subsequent child was named Hedone, or Voluptas in Roman mythology.
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 Hubrisagainst 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 toHades so that 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 that 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 Adonis. 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 who 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 that 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 that 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 ParisEdit
Main article: Judgement of ParisThis painting shows Paris surveying Aphrodite naked, with the other two goddesses watching nearby. This is one of the numerous works that depict the event. (El Juicio de Paris by Enrique Simonet, ca. 1904)The gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus andThetis (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 (whereTroy was situated), the goddesses appeared before Paris. Paris, having been given permission by Zeus to set any conditions he saw fit, required that the goddesses disrobe and allow him to see them naked. (Another version of the myth says that the goddesses themselves chose to undress to show all their beauty.) Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so they 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.
Pygmalion and GalateaEdit
Pygmalion was a sculptor who had never found a woman worthy of his love. Aphrodite took pity on him and decided to show him the wonders of love. One day, Pygmalion was inspired by a dream of Aphrodite to make a woman out of ivory resembling her image, and he called herGalatea. He fell in love with the statue and decided he could not live without her. He prayed to Aphrodite, who carried out the final phase of her plan and brought the exquisite sculpture to life. Pygmalion loved Galatea and they were soon married.
Another version of this myth tells that the women of the village where Pygmalion lived grew angry that he had not married. They asked Aphrodite to force him to marry. Aphrodite agreed and went that very night to Pygmalion, and asked him to pick a woman to marry. She told him that if he did not pick one, she would do so for him. Not wanting to be married, he begged her for more time, asking that he be allowed to make a sulcpture of Aphrodite flattered she agreeed.
Pygmalion spent a lot of time making small clay sculptures of the goddess, claiming it was needed so he could pick the right pose. As he started making the actual sculpture he was shocked to discover he actually wanted to finish, even though he knew he would have to marry someone when he finished. The reason he wanted to finish it was that he had fallen in love with the sculpture. The more he worked on it, the more it changed, until it no longer resembled Aphrodite at all.