APHRODITE . Aphrodite's name is closely related to ideas of sex, love, pleasure, and beauty. To evaluate the relevance of this minimal definition in the goddess's own cultural context, it is necessary to investigate both Greek literature carrying myths and Greek cult practice. Even if each of these fields has its own language, they act as mirrors of each other.
Some Literary Evidence
The most ancient Greek texts present two traditions of Aphrodite's birth. According to Hesiod (Theogony 188–206), she was born from the severed genitals of the Sky god, Uranus, which were thrown to the Sea god, Pontos. Aphrodite is the first anthropomorphic goddess to emerge in the cosmogonic process after the first physical entities, such as Earth, Sky, Mountains, and so on. Eros (Love), whose presence at the world's very beginning promotes union and reproduction, submits to the goddess as soon as she appears. Hesiod explains the name Aphrodite by the marine and seminal foam (aphros ) from which she grows, and he defines her divine power as the field of seduction and deception.
According to Homer, Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and she is concerned with the "works of marriage" (Ilias 5, 429). From a cosmogonic point of view, the difference between Hesiod and Homer is important. On the one hand, Aphrodite belongs to the earlier generation of deities, before Zeus himself. On the other hand, she is placed under the paternal authority of Zeus. However, her sphere of intervention remains the same: sexuality legitimated by society (with marriage), as well as its destructive aspect (the rape of Helen by Paris, presented as a reward offered by Aphrodite, is at the core of the Trojan War). The fifth Homeric Hymn offers another example of such ambivalence. The hymn first praises Aphrodite as the goddess who makes all the gods (even Zeus) mingle with mortal women. This uncontrolled power, which confuses divine and human levels, is dangerous for the cosmic order. To avoid this potential disturbance, Zeus makes the goddess lie with a mortal, Anchises, and she gives birth to a child, Aeneas. At this moment of the theogonic process, Aphrodite truly becomes a daughter of Zeus.
On the classical Athenian stage, tragedy illustrates how necessary it is to submit to sexual union—and to what extent the goddess's anger can be disastrous to the human who refuses this destiny. Hippolytos's fate in Euripides's homonymous play perfectly fits this important aspect of the human condition: because he despises sexual union and marriage, the young hero insults a mighty goddess and must die. A fragment of Aeschylus's Danaids (fr. 44 Radt), quoting a monologue of Aphrodite, presents with sexual imagery the sky irrigating the earth to bring forth for mortals the pasturage of sheep and cereals. This watery union is explicitly presented as Aphrodite's work. As goddess of sexuality, her field of manifestation includes fecundity and fertility in close connection, but it would be inadequate to interpret the Greek Aphrodite only as a mother goddess or a fertility goddess. Fertility is part of this field as an extension, of which the cultic manifestations are difficult to discern. From Sappho to Lucrece, poetry celebrates the power of love, the impact of beauty, and the force of desire, closely connecting them with Aphrodite's sphere. Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, Dionysos, and Adonis are at various times given as her lovers.
Aphrodite's cults extend widely over the Greek world, but her temples and festivals cannot compete with those of other great feminine divinities, such as Hera, Demeter, or Artemis. Aphrodite was worshiped above all as presiding over sexuality. Thus, in many cities, girls about to be married made sacrifices to Aphrodite so that their first sexual experience might be propitious (Diod. Sic. 5, 73, 2; Plutarchus Mor. 264b; Pausanias 2, 32, 7; 34, 12). This is the particular sphere of Aphrodite, compared with other goddesses involved in marriage: Hera protects its legal status, Demeter favors reproduction, and Artemis patronizes defloration and pregnancy and protects unborn children and infants.
But sexuality is much broader than marriage. Aphrodite protects all forms of sexual union—in or outside marriage; hetero- or homosexual; or with concubines, courtesans (hetairai), or prostitutes (pornai). These women are well attested in different festivals in honor of Aphrodite, separated or not from "respectable" matrons (Alexis, fr. 253 Kock = Athenaeus 13, 574b–c). The city of Corinth was particularly known for the beauty and luxurious living of its courtesans, who revered the local Aphrodite (Pindar, fr. 122 Snell-Maehler). It is unlikely, however, that her sanctuary on Acrocorinth was the location of an institutionalized form of what is generally called "sacred prostitution." The only source for this practice is the geographer Strabo (first century bce; 8, 6, 21 [C378–379]), but he places it in a vague past time and is certainly influenced by practices of this type that have been documented in Asia Minor, his native country. Herodotus, who mentions a similar practice in several parts of the Mediterranean area, does not say anything in regard to Corinth. Even if the argument ex silentio is always difficult to use, it invites caution. Some indigenous cults that interpretatio graeca translates into Aphrodite cults in Asia Minor (Tralles), in Italy (Gravisca, Locri) or Sicily (Eryx), have been associated with this kind of sacred prostitution. Without systematically rejecting this view, it has to be evaluated with caution.
In Hesiodic Theogony, Harmony is the daughter of Aphrodite (Love) and Ares (War). In the same vein, Aphrodite is closely connected with the Charites, or the "Graces," personifications of charis, (grace and charm). Such symbolic associations encompass the goddess's associations with civic harmony, concord, and order. Since the fifth century bce at least, magistrates honored her in their official capacity at the end of services. Two interpretations, which are not incompatible, can be proposed: on the one hand, these officials thank the goddess for the harmonious performance of their duties; on the other hand, these aphrodisia mark the return from duty to the pleasures of private life. Such dedica-tions can associate the goddess Peitho (Persuasion) with Aphrodite.
This civic aspect of Aphrodite's sphere is also attested to by the epiklesis (cultic qualification) Pandemos. It means "she of all the people" and declares the goddess to be responsible for political concord and civic inclusiveness. In Athens, the goddess was worshiped with Peitho, and her epithet was explained by the myth of Theseus, who had unified all the Attic demes in one city (Pausanias 1, 22, 3). A third-century bce Athenian inscription describes an official procession for Aphrodite Pandemos (where it is tempting to imagine the participation of "all the people") and the cathartic sacrifice of a dove, her sacred animal, in her temple (Inscriptiones Graecae II² 659 = Lois sacrées des cités grecques no. 39). In Plato's Symposium (180 d–e), Aphrodite Pandemos appears in opposition to Aphrodite Urania as the goddess who protects, respectively, vulgar heterosexual love and spiritual love between males. This philosophical fantasy will become very popular, but it contradicts what is documented for both cults. Pandemos does not mean "vulgar love" in the cult (even if comic poets associate the cult's foundation with funds received from public brothels, [Athenaios 13, 569d–e]), and the Athenian cult of Urania is deeply rooted in heterosexual love and marriage (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 41, 182; Pausanias 1, 27, 3).
On the island of Cos, Aphrodite was worshiped as Pandamos (the Doric form of Pandemos), just as in Athens, but also as Pontia (she of the sea). This joint cult is known from two inscriptions referring to the sale of the priesthood (Parker, 2002). Both aspects are reflected in the worshipers' quality and obligations. All women who marry on the island, citizen women, illegitimate women, and metics, have to offer a sacrifice to the goddess within a year: a good summary of sexual and inclusive divine functionality. On the other hand, sea-traders also have to honor the goddess, "she of the sea," with sacrifice or cash payment. Such an association with the sea is widely attested in the Mediterranean era by epithets like Euploia (she who gives good sailing) or Limenia (she of the shore). One way to explain this refers to the peculiar birth of the goddess from the sea foam. Another refers to her general power to calm and to dissolve disorder, be it human or natural.
Two last aspects of Aphrodite's cults are the "black" side and the "armed" side. In some places, Aphrodite bears the epithet Melainis (the black one) (Pausanias 2, 2, 4; 9, 27, 5; 8, 6, 5), which could possibly show her power on the "black earth" and humus, as well as on the shades of the night, the favorite time for sexual relations. According to Pausanias, there were statues showing an armed Aphrodite, particularly in Sparta (3, 15, 10; 3, 23, 1). The Spartan upbringing of girls was very martial, and it is not surprising to see the goddess of femaleness being given male attire there, but the actual examples of this scarcely permit the interpretation of Aphrodite as a war goddess, except in connection with a protective role, such as she had at Corinth.
From a structuralist perspective, her association with Ares has more to do with a wish to bring opposites together than with a similarity of function. But a historical perspective for studying Aphrodite's cults and persona leads to another interpretation. Aphrodite is not attested in the Mycenaean Linear B texts, and the Greeks themselves made the goddess arrive from the Levantine coast, or even Assyria, via Cyprus through the Phoenician agency (Herodotus 1, 105; Pausanias 1, 14, 7). The Sumerian Innana, Akkadian Ishtar, and Phoenician Astarte share many significant characteristics with Aphrodite. Indeed, all are "Queens of Heaven" (Urania), connected with sexuality, birds, war, and, in the case of Astarte, seafaring. As early as Homer, Aphrodite is called Kupris (the Cypriote), and her main sanctuaries belong to the island—in Paphos, where her tripartite shrine dates from the twelfth century bce onward and where she is called Paphia or Wanassa (the Queen) in Myceneaen Greek; in Amathous, where she is called Kupria; and in Kition, with a clearly Phoenician cult.
Today, the theory of Aphrodite's oriental origin, dated early in the first millennium, is largely accepted, and Indo-European or indigenous points of view do not have enough support in the evidence at hand. But the ways of Aphrodite's arrival are very difficult to discern with certainty, in spite of the positive conclusions of Stephanie Lynn Budin (2003). The iconography of the frontally naked "goddess" that reaches Mediterranean sanctuaries in the Geometric and early Archaic periods could have been an important medium for the conceptualization of a goddess concerned with sexuality at a time when local Greek pantheons were in development. The iconography of a nude goddess then disappears for two centuries, returning with the Aphrodite of Praxiteles in the mid-fourth century bce. Such a masterpiece opens the road to the Hellenistic and Roman representations of the nude Aphrodite-Venus that inhabit Western museums and imaginations.
Ammerman, Rebecca Miller. The Sanctuary of Santa Venera at Paestum II: The Votive Terracottas. Ann Arbor, Mich., 2002. See pages 26–98 for a discussion of the "naked goddess."
Boedeker, Deborah Dickmann. Aphrodite's Entry into Greek Epic. Leiden, 1974.
Böhm, Stephanie. Die "Nackte Göttin": Zur Ikonographie und Deutung unbekleideter weiblicher Figuren in der frühgriechischen Kunst. Mainz, Germany, 1990.
Bonnet, Corinne. Astarté: Dossier documentaire et perspectives historiques. Rome, 1996.
Budin, Stephanie Lynn. The Origin of Aphrodite. Bethesda, Md., 2003.
Delivorrias, Angelos. "Aphrodite." In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 2, pp. 2–151. Zurich, 1984.
Farnell, Lewis R. The Cults of the Greek States, vol. 2, pp. 618–761. Oxford, 1896. Still a useful reference work, full of ancient sources.
Flemberg, Johan. Venus Armata: Studien zur bewaffneten Aphrodite in der griechisch-römischen Kunst. Stockholm, 1991.
Friedrich, Paul. The Meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago, 1978.
Graf, Fritz. "Aphrodite." In Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD), edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, pp. 118–125. Leiden, 1995.
Parker, Robert. "The Cult of Aphrodite Pandamos and Pontia at Cos." In Kykeon: Studies in Honour of H.S. Versnel, edited by H. F.J. Horstmanshoff, H. W. Singor, F. T. van Straten, and J. H. M. Strubbe, pp. 143–160. Leiden, 2002.
Pirenne-Delforge, Vinciane. L'Aphrodite grecque. Contribution à l'étude de ses cultes et de sa personnalité dans le panthéon archaïque et classique. Liège, Belgium, 1994.
Pirenne-Delforge, Vinciane. "La genèse de l'Aphrodite grecque: le dossier crétois." In La questione delle influenze vicino-orientali sulla religione greca, edited by Sergio Ribichini, Maria Rocchi, and Paolo Xella, pp. 169–187. Rome, 2001.
Rudhardt, Jean. Le rôle d'Eros et d'Aphrodite dans les cosmogonies grecques. Paris, 1986.
Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge (2005)
The Greek goddess Aphrodite calls to mind ideas of sex, love, pleasure, and beauty. In the Greek language her name has generated the expression ta aphrodisia. The semantic field of this word points to what is called "sexuality"—that is, the set practices and imagery associated with sex. Aphrodite is the only Greek divinity whose name generates a word that designates her sphere of intervention. Two fields have to be investigated to understand this divine representation of sexuality: Greek literature carrying myths on the one hand and Greek cult practice on the other.
The first important myth with Aphrodite is the Hesiodic tradition of her birth. According to the Theogony (conventionally dated from the early seventh century bce), the first creatures emerging in the cosmos are the physical entities: earth (Gaia), sky (Uranus), mountains, and so on. Amongst these cosmic gods appears also Eros, whose name in Greek means more or less "Love," the sexual impulse that promotes union and reproduction. Aphrodite emerges as the first anthropomorphic goddess from the genitals of the sky god, Uranus, severed by his son Cronos and thrown into the sea god, Pontos. The poet explains the name "Aphrodite" by the marine and seminal foam (aphros) from which she grows. At this moment Eros becomes the goddess's powerful agent. Her sphere of honor and of intervention in the human world will be "virgins' whisperings, smiles, deceits, pleasure and sexual relationship." The deep ambivalence of sexuality, expressed as "works of Aphrodite," is rooted in the description of her sudden epiphany, a subtle mixture of desire and violence, tension and appeasement (Theogony, 188-206).
In Homer's Iliad (conventionally dated from the eighth century bce), Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and concerned with the "works of marriage" or "works of sex," according to the translation chosen for the Greek word gamos (Iliad 5, 429). Aphrodite's genealogy is not the same as in the Theogony, but her sphere of intervention remains unchanged: the sexuality legitimated by society (with marriage), as well as its destructive aspect (the rape of Helen by Paris, presented as a reward offered by Aphrodite, is the core of the Trojan war narrated by the Homeric Iliad). This ambivalence is exemplified by many other Greek texts, mainly in the classical Athenian tragedies of the fifth century bce, which illustrate how necessary it is to submit to sexual union and to what extent the goddess's anger can be disastrous to the human, male or female, refusing this destiny. The young Hippolytus, son of Theseus and an Amazon, despises sexual union and marriage, just as do the fifty daughters of Danaos, the Danaides. Hippolytus must die, and the Danaides must each kill her husband during the wedding night (forty-nine do). On the Athenian stage, the contempt of sexuality breeds an outburst of violence and fury. This tradition intersects the theme of submission to sexuality with that of the production of children to assure the survival of the community. As goddess of sexuality, Aphrodite's field of manifestation includes fecundity and fertility in close connection, but it would be inadequate to interpret the Greek Aphrodite only as a "mother-goddess" or a "fertility-goddess." From Sappho to Lucretius, poetry celebrates the power of love, the impact of beauty, the force of desire and its violence, closely connecting them with Aphrodite's sphere.
The common thread that runs through the cult worship of Aphrodite in the Greek cities is her patronage of the sphere of sexuality, in all its complexity. Thus in many cities, girls about to be married sacrificed to Aphrodite so that their first sexual experience might be propitious. Boys, too, may have worshiped her, but the evidence is not so well attested. Widows prayed to the goddess for another marriage. But sexuality is much broader than marriage; Aphrodite protected all forms of sexual union: in or outside marriage, heterosexual or homosexual, with concubines, courtesans, or prostitutes. The city of Corinth was particularly known for the beauty and luxurious living of its courtesans, who revered the local Aphrodite. It is unlikely, however, that her sanctuary on Acrocorinth was the location of an institutionalized form of what is generally called "sacred prostitution" a strictly modern term that associates prostitution with sanctuaries: Girls or women dedicated to a goddess, temporarily or for life, would have sold their bodies inside the sacred place at the financial advantage of the temple. This practice is not documented in ancient Greece. This term amalgamates the Greek practice of manumission of slaves by consecration to a god and some doubtful evidence of prostitution inside sanctuaries in Mesopotamia.
The field of sexuality for the Greeks includes charis, "grace" and "charm." As soon as young people become full of active charis, Aphrodite is present. In mythology, Harmony is daughter of Aphrodite and Ares, "Love" and "War." Such symbolic associations encompass the goddess's associations with civic harmony, concord, and order. Since the fifth century bce at least, magistrates honored her in their official capacity at the end of service. Two interpretations, which are not incompatible, have been proposed: on the one hand, these officials thank the goddess for the harmonious performance of their duties; on the other hand, these aphrodisia mark the return from duty to the pleasures of private life and the release of tension. This "civic" aspect of Aphrodite's sphere is an extension of her patronage of sexuality: Her powerful ability to rouse up the vital impulse, to unite beings and to mingle their bodies, is connected with social cohesion. Aphrodite is often called Aphrodite Pandemos ("she of all the people"), a qualification that declares the goddess responsible for political concord and civic inclusiveness.
Plato in his Symposium (180d-e) opposes Aphrodite Pandemos with Aphrodite Urania ("celestial Aphrodite"). They represent, respectively, vulgar heterosexual love and spiritual love between males. This philosophical fantasy became very popular in antiquity, but it contradicts the evidence for both cults. Pandemos does not mean "vulgar love" in the cult (even if comic poets associate the cult's foundation and funds received from public brothels), and the Athenian cult of Urania is deeply rooted in heterosexual love and marriage. On the island of Cos, Aphrodite was worshipped as Pandamos (Doric form of Pandemos), just like in Athens, but also as Pontia, "she of the sea." Both aspects are reflected in the worshippers' quality and obligations. All women who marry on the island—citizen women, illegitimate women, and metics (free non-citizens)—have to offer a sacrifice to the goddess within a year: a good summary of sexual and inclusive divine functionality. On the other hand, sea-traders also have to honor the goddess, "she of the sea." Such an association with the sea is widely attested in the Mediterranean by epithets like Euploia ("she who gives good sailing") or Limenia ("she of the shore"). One way to explain this refers to the peculiar birth of the goddess from the sea foam. Another refers to her general power to provoke but also to calm and to dissolve disorder, be it human or natural.
Another prerogative of the goddess is the martial dimension that characterizes some of her cults. In myth and cult, her relationship with Ares is well attested. A priori, the goddess has little concern for such matters. Once more, one has to engage with the notion of "sexuality": In literature, the martial imagery is used to describe the sexual union itself and the tremendous impulse that it provokes in human beings. Inversely, sexual imagery is used in epic descriptions of the battlefield. Sexuality is an ambiguous force, and Aphrodite's connections with war belong to this ambivalence.
A last prerogative is the connection with the black earth when the goddess is worshiped as Melainis, "the black one." One way of interpreting the name is to refer to the blackness of night and the nocturnal sexuality. However the web of mythical imagery comes to support and makes another interpretation possible: Fertilizing moisture and the growth of vegetation are conceived on the model of the sexual union between the sky and the earth. Aphrodite's patronage of vital humors fits well in this context.
The desiring impulse is the very image of life and of its drive, creative and potentially destructive. This impulse and its fulfillment in sexual union constitute the frame on which mythical discourse and cultic performances are woven, the imagery of myths and cults concerned with Aphrodite and her aphrodisia are woven. The myths and cults of Aphrodite are closely connected to this imagery.
Budin, Stephanie Lynn. 2003. The Origin of Aphrodite. Bethesda, MD: CDL Press.
Delivorrias, Angelos. 1984. "Aphrodite." Vol 2 of Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. Zürich.
Dillon, Matthew. 2002. Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion. London: Routledge.
Farnell, Lewis Richard. 1896–1909. The Cults of the Greek States. Vol 2. Oxford, UK: Clarendon.
Friedrich, Paul. 1978. The Meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Graf, Fritz. 1995. "Aphrodite." In Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Leiden: 118-125.
Halperin, David M.; John J. Winkler; and Froma I. Zeitlin, eds. 1990. Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Parker, Robert. 2002. "The Cult of Aphrodite Pandamos and Pontia at Cos." In Kykeon: Studies in Honour of H.S. Versnel, ed. H.F.J. Horstmanshoff, et al. Leiden: Brill.
Pirenne-Delforge, Vinciane. 1994. Kernos Supplément 4: L'Aphrodite grecque: Contribution à l'étude de ses cultes et de sa personnalité dans le panthéon archaïque et classique. Liège: Centre international d'étude de la religion grecque antique.
Pirenne-Delforge, Vinciane. 2006. "'Something to do with Aphrodite': Ta aphrodisia and the Sacred." In Blackwell Companion to Greek Religion, ed. D. Ogden. London: Blackwell.
Pironti, Gabriella. 2005. "Entre ciel et guerre: Figures d'Aphrodite en Grèce ancienne." PhD diss., École Pratique des Hautes Études.
Rudhardt, Jean. 1986. Le rôle d'Eros et d'Aphrodite dans les cosmogonies grecques. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Hesiod's Theogony, Homer's Iliad, Virgil's Aeneid
Born of Uranus and the
The Greek goddess Aphrodite (pronounced af-ro-DYE-tee), one of the twelve Olympian deities, was associated with love, beauty, and fertility. The Romans later incorporated her into their pantheon, or collection of recognized gods and goddesses, and renamed her Venus.
According to one account, Aphrodite was born when the Titan Cronus cut off the sex organs of his father, Uranus (pronounced YOOR-uh-nuhs), and threw them into the sea. Aphrodite emerged fully grown from the foam (her name comes from aphros, the Greek word for foam) that gathered on the surface of the water. A different account of her birth makes her the daughter of the ruler of the gods, Zeus (pronounced ZOOS), and a minor goddess named Dione.
Aphrodite's connection with love is reflected in the numerous stories about her romantic affairs. She was married to Hephaestus (pronounced hi-FES-tuhs), the god of fire and blacksmiths. She had frequent love affairs and children with various other gods, including Ares (pronounced AIR-eez), Hermes (pronounced HUR-meez), Poseidon (pronounced poh-SYE-dun), and Dionysus (pronounced dye-uh-NYE-suhs), which angered her jealous husband. Among Aphrodite's many children were Deimos (pronounced DYE-mos; Greek for “terror”); Phobos (pronounced FOH-bos; Greek for “fear”), fathered by Ares; and Eryx (pronounced ERR-iks), the son of Poseidon. She was also the mother of the Roman hero Aeneas , whom she had with the shepherd Anchises.
The handsome youth Adonis (pronounced uh-DON-is) was another of Aphrodite's great loves. Persephone (pronounced per-SEF-uh-nee), the goddess of the underworld , also developed a passion for Adonis when he entered the underworld after being killed by a boar. Adonis' death did not dull Aphrodite's affection for him, and a bitter feud between the two goddesses erupted. Zeus resolved the conflict by instructing the youth to divide his time between them.
Aphrodite's role as the goddess of beauty was one of the factors that led to the start of the Trojan War. Zeus forced the Trojan prince Paris to decide which of three goddesses—Hera, Athena , or Aphrodite—was the fairest. Each goddess tried to bribe Paris with generous gifts, but he found Aphrodite's offer—to give him the most beautiful woman in the world—the best. Paris declared Aphrodite the fairest of the goddesses, and she kept her promise by helping him gain the love of Helen , the wife of King Menelaus (pronounced men-uh-LAY-uhs) of Sparta. Paris took Helen to Troy with him, and the Greeks' attempts to reclaim her resulted in the Trojan War.
Aphrodite continued to influence events during the ten years of the war. At various stages during the conflict she assisted the Trojan soldiers, particularly Paris. Meanwhile, Hera and Athena, who were still offended by Paris's choice of Aphrodite as the fairest, came to the aid of the Greeks.
Aphrodite in Context
The Greeks added Aphrodite to their pantheon later than the other gods. It is likely that the Greeks adopted Aphrodite from Eastern cultures with similar goddesses, such as the goddess Innana in ancient Sumer, the goddess Ishtar in ancient Babylonia, and the Canaanite goddess Astarte from ancient Syria. Aphrodite and Astarte both share similar myths regarding their attachment to a handsome young lover (Adonis in the Greek tradition, and Tammuz in the Canaanite tradition) who dies young but is allowed to divide his time between the underworld and the world of the living. This story connects Aphrodite as a fertility goddess with a vegetation god, whose cycle in and out of the world of the living represents the cycle of crops.
The ancient Greeks placed great importance on physical beauty because they believed the physical body to be a reflection of the mind and spirit. A beautiful person, according to the ancient Greeks, was more likely to have more desirable mental skills and personality traits. This is very different from more modern views on beauty, and shows that the ancient Greek focus of physical appearance was not quite as superficial as it appears.
Key Themes and Symbols
Throughout the Western world, Aphrodite is recognized as the symbol of love and beauty. But there are different interpretations of Aphrodite based on two different versions of her birth: as Aphrodite Urania—born from the sky god Uranus—she is a celestial figure, a goddess of spiritual love; as Aphrodite Pandemos—born from the union of Zeus and the goddess Dione—she is a goddess of love, lust, and pure physical satisfaction. Aphrodite is often associated with seafoam and seashells because of her origins, but she is also linked with doves, roses, swans, dolphins, and sparrows.
Aphrodite in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Aphrodite appears in the works of many ancient writers. The legend of her birth is told in Hesiod's Theogony. Aphrodite and her son Aeneas (pronounced i-NEE-uhs) are central to the action of Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid. The Greek playwright Euripides (pronounced yoo-RIP-i-deez) included the story of the judgment of Paris in his play The Trojan Women, and the Greek poet Homer described her role in the Trojan War in the Iliad.
Aphrodite was the subject of the most famous work by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles (pronounced prak-SIT-uh-leez), who completed the Aphrodite ofCnidos in about 350 bce. Although this statue is now lost, it is known through the many copies that were made during Roman times. Aphrodite was also the focus of one of Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli's most famous creations, The Birth of Venus (1482-1486).
Aphrodite and her Roman counterpart Venus continue to represent the ideals of feminine beauty in modern Western culture; the name “Venus” is even used to market a brand of razors for women. She has appeared as a character in films, such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), and on television as a character on the series Xena: Warrior Princess (1995— 2001) and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999).
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The ancient Greeks believed that physical beauty was important because it reflected an inner beauty. How do you think modern views on beauty compare to the ancient Greek perspective? In the modern world, are people who are considered beautiful also generally thought to be smart, friendly, or spiritual?
The name is Greek, and means literally ‘foam-born’, from aphros ‘foam’.