Aphrodite

Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. She was depicted as a beautiful woman often accompanied by the winged godling Eros. Her attributes included a dove, apple, scallop shell and mirror. In classical sculpture and fresco she was usually depicted nude.

Residence: Mount Olympus
Symbols: Dolphin, Rose, Scallop Shell, Myrtle, Dove, Sparrow, Girdle, Mirror, Pearl and Swan
Parents: Uranus’ genitals
Siblings: Titans, the Cyclopes, the Meliae, the Erinyes, the Giants and the Hekatonkheires
Consort: Hephaestus, Ares, Hermes, Poseidon, Dionysus, Anchises and Adonis
Children: With Ares: Eros, Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, Pothos, Anteros, Himeros
With Hermes: Hermaphroditus
With Poseidon: Rhodos, Eryx
With Dionysus: Peitho, The Graces, Priapus
With Anchises: Aeneas
Roman equivalent: Venus

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Aphrodite Pudica (Roman copy of 2nd century AD), National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Birth

The most common version of Aphrodite’s birth comes from Hesiod’s Theogony: Cronus severed Uranus’ genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite (hence her name, which Hesiod interprets as “foam-arisen”), while the Giants, the Erinyes, and the Meliae 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.” 

Marriage

Hephaestus gave his mother Hera a golden throne, but when she sat on it, she became trapped and he refused to let her go until she agreed to give him Aphrodite’s hand in marriage. Hephaestus was overjoyed to be married to the goddess of beauty, and forged her beautiful jewelry. Unfortunately for him, Aphrodite was an unfaithful wife and had many other lovers, including Ares.

Attendants

Aphrodite is almost always accompanied by Eros, the god of lust and sexual desire. Her main attendants were the three Charites, the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, called Aglaea (“Splendor”), Euphrosyne (“Good Cheer”), and Thalia (“Abundance”). Aphrodite’s other set of attendants was the three Horae, the daughters of Zeus and Themis, called Eunomia (“Good Order”), Dike (“Justice”), and Eirene (“Peace”). Aphrodite was also sometimes accompanied by Harmonia, her daughter by Ares, and Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera.

Ares and Aphrodite

The Sun-god Helios once spied Ares and Aphrodite enjoying each other secretly in the hall of Hephaestus, her husband. He reported the incident to Hephaestus. Contriving to catch the illicit couple in the act, Hephaestus fashioned a finely-knitted and nearly invisible net with which to snare them. At the appropriate time, this net was sprung, and trapped Ares and Aphrodite locked in a very private embrace.

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Ares and Aphrodite snared by Hephaestus.

But Hephaestus was not satisfied with his revenge, so he invited the Olympian gods and goddesses to view the unfortunate pair. For the sake of modesty, the goddesses demurred, but the male gods went to witness the sight. Some commented on the beauty of Aphrodite, others remarked that they would eagerly trade places with Ares, but all who were present mocked the two. Once the couple was released, the embarrassed Ares returned to his homeland, Thrace, and Aphrodite went to Paphos.

Anchises

Zeus once became annoyed with Aphrodite for causing deities to fall in love with mortals, so he caused her to fall in love with Anchises, a handsome mortal shepherd who lived in the foothills beneath Mount Ida near the city of Troy.

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Anchises gazes at a seated Aphrodite. Roman relief, Aphrodisias.

Aphrodite appears to Anchises in mortal form but after she educes him, she reveals her true divine form. Anchises is terrified, but Aphrodite consoles him and promises that she will bear him a son. She prophesies that their son will be the demigod Aeneas, who will be raised by the nymphs of the wilderness for five years before going to Troy to become a nobleman like his father.

Adonis

 Adonis was the son of Myrrha, who was cursed by Aphrodite with insatiable lust for her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, after Myrrha’s mother bragged that her daughter was more beautiful than the goddess. Driven out after becoming pregnant, Myrrha was changed into a myrrh tree, but still gave birth to Adonis.

Aphrodite found the baby, and took him to the underworld to be fostered by Persephone. She returned for him once he was grown and discovered him to be strikingly handsome. Persephone wanted to keep Adonis, resulting in a custody battle between the two goddesses over whom should rightly possess Adonis. Zeus settled the dispute by decreeing that Adonis would spend one third of the year with Aphrodite, one third with Persephone, and one third with whomever he chose. Adonis chose to spend that time with Aphrodite. Then, one day, while Adonis was hunting, he was wounded by a wild boar and bled to death in Aphrodite’s arms. In some versions, the boar was Ares in animal form or a boar sent by Ares, who was jealous of his consort’s new lover.

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The death of Adonis.

Hippomenes and Atalanta

Aphrodite aided Hippomenes, a noble youth who wished to marry Atalanta, a maiden who was renowned throughout the land for her beauty, but who refused to marry any man unless he could outrun her in a footrace. Atalanta was an exceedingly swift runner and she beheaded all of the men who lost to her. Aphrodite gave Hippomenes three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides and instructed him to toss them in front of Atalanta as he raced her. Hippomenes obeyed Aphrodite’s order and Atalanta, seeing the beautiful, golden fruits, bent down to pick up each one, allowing Hippomenes to outrun her. However, Hippomenes forgets to repay Aphrodite for her aid, so she causes the couple to become inflamed with lust while they are staying at the temple of Cybele. The couple desecrate the temple by having sex in it, leading Cybele to turn them into lions as punishment.

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The Race between Hippomenes and Atalanta by Noël Hallé (1762-1765) at Louvre Museum, Paris.

Pygmalion

Pygmalion was an exceedingly handsome sculptor from the island of Cyprus, who was so sickened by the immorality of women that he refused to marry. He fell madly and passionately in love with the ivory cult statue he was carving of Aphrodite and longed to marry it. Because Pygmalion was extremely pious and devoted to Aphrodite, the goddess brought the statue to life. Pygmalion married the girl the statue became and they had a son named Paphos, after whom the capital of Cyprus received its name.

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Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean Leon Gerome.

The Women of Lemnos

When the women of the island of Lemnos refused to sacrifice to Aphrodite, the goddess cursed them to stink horribly so that their husbands would never lie with them. Instead, their husbands started seduce their Thracian slave-girls. In anger, the women of Lemnos murdered the entire male population of the island, as well as all the Thracian slaves. When Jason and his crew of Argonauts arrived on Lemnos, they mated with the women under Aphrodite’s approval and repopulated the island. From then on, the women of Lemnos never disrespected Aphrodite again.

The Judgement of Paris

All the gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis and brought many gifts. Only Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited and was stopped at the door by Hermes, on Zeus‘ orders. She was annoyed at this, so she threw from the door a gift of her own: a golden apple inscribed with the word καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, “To the most beautiful”). Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the most beautiful, and thus the rightful owner of the apple.

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The Judgement of Paris by Walter Crane

The goddesses quarreled bitterly over it, and none of the other gods would venture an opinion favoring one, for fear of earning the enmity of the other two. They chose to place the matter before Zeus, who, not wanting to favour one of the goddesses, put the choice into the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. After bathing in the spring of Mount Ida where Troy was situated, they appeared before Paris to have him choose. The goddesses undressed before him, either at his request or for the sake of winning. Still, Paris could not decide, as all three were ideally beautiful, so they resorted to bribes. Hera offered Paris political power and control of all of Asia, 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.