Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus. She is identified with the planet Venus.
As with many ancient Greek deities, there is more than one story about her origins. 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. According to Homer's Iliad, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. According to Plato, these two origins were of separate entities: Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos.
Because of her beauty, other gods feared that their rivalry over her would interrupt the peace among them and lead to war, to 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 and Cypris 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 wi the the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor.
Aphrodite had man 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 reerring 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 (Aphrodite Urania) of transcendent principles, and a separate, "common" Aphrodite who was the goddess of the people (Aphrodite Pandemos).
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's genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite, while 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." The girl, Aphrodite, floated ashore on a scallop shell. The iconic representation of Aphrodite as a mature "Venus rising from the sea" 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".
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.
According to one version of Aphrodite's story, because of her immense beauty Zeus feared that the other gods would 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, his mother, Hera casts him off Olympus, deeming him to ugly and deformed to inhabit the home of the gods. HIs revenge was 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, moth often Ares, but also sometimes Adonis.
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 a major figure in the Trojan War legend. She is a contestant in the Judgement of Paris, which leads to the war. She had been the lover of the Trojan Anchises and mother of his son Aeneas. Later, during the war, she saves Aeneas from Diomedes, who wounds her.
The most prominent lover of Aphrodite is Adonis. He is the child of Myrrha, cursed by Aphrodite with insatiable lust for her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, after Myrrha's mother bragged that her daughter is more beautiful the goddess. Driven out after becoming pregnant, Myrrha is changed into a myrrh tree, but still gives birth to Adonis.
Aphrodite finds the baby and takes him to the underworld to be fostered by Persephone. She returns for him when he is grown and strikingly handsome, but Persephone wants to keep him. Zeus decrees that Adonis will spend a third of the year with Aphrodite, a third with Persephone, and a third with whomever he wishes, Adonis chooses Aphrodite and they are constantly together.
Adonis, who loved hunting, is slain by a wild boar. He bleeds to death and Aphrodite can only mourn over his body. She causes anemones to grow wherever his blood fell and decrees a festival on the anniversary of his death.
The shade of Adonis is received in the underworld by Persephone. Aphrodite wanted to return him to life. Again, she and Persephone bicker. Zeus intervenes again, decreeing that Adonis will spend six months with Aphrodite and six months with Persephone.
The Judgement of Paris
The gods were all invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, except Eris, goddess of discord. In revenge, Eris makes a golden Apple of Discord inscribed with "to the fairest one", which she throws among the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claim it.
Zeus delegates the choice to be made to a mortal, Paris. The goddesses offered him bribes. Hera offered him supreme power and Athena offered him wisdom, fame, and glory in battle. Aphrodite, however, offered him Helen of Troy, the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, as a wife. As the goddess of desire, she caused Paris to become inflamed with desire for Helen at first sight and he awarded the apple to her. Helen was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. The other two goddesses were enraged by this and through Helen's abduction by Paris, they bring about the Trojan War.
Consorts and Children
- Rhode (possibly)
- Tyche (possibly)
- Tyche (possibly)
- Unknown father
In one version of the legend of Hippolytus, Aphrodite is the cause of his death. He scorned the worship of Aphrodite, preferring Artemis. Aphrodite caused his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him, knowing Hippolytus would reject her. This led to Phaedra's suicide and the death of Hippolytus.
Glaucus of Corinth angered Aphrodite during the chariot race at the funeral games of King Pelias. She drove his horses mad and they tore him apart.
Polyphonte was a young woman who chose virginal life with Artemis instead of marriage and children, as favored by Aphrodite. Aphrodite cursed her, causing her to have children by a bear. The resulting offpsirng, Agrius and Oreius, were wild cannibals who incurred the hatred of Zeus. Ultimately, the whole family was transformed into birds and more specifically ill portents for mankind.