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Who Was Aphrodite?

Updated on September 8, 2014

Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture, whose Roman equivalent is, of course, Venus. But how much do we actually know about Aphrodite, and how did she get her incredible reputation? The following is a brief overview of one of Greek mythology’s most popular goddesses.

Aphrodite's Birth

Aphrodite was born when Cronus, leader of the Titans, castrated Uranus, the ruler of the Universe and his very own father, and threw his testicles into the sea. Out of the white foam this caused emerged Aphrodite, whose name actually means foam-arisen. She then floated ashore on the shell of a scallop – an image made famous by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus painting of 1485. Aphrodite was born naked, a fully-formed, beautiful and highly desirable young woman. She remained eternally young, with a powerful sexual attraction which she used to the full.

There is an alternative, more prosaic, story, however. Homer wrote in Book Five of The Iliad that her parents were Zeus, the father of Gods and men, and the freshwater nymph Dione, one of the most important gods. But that’s way less interesting.

Several places claim to being Aphrodite’s birthplace, among them the island of Cythera, between Crete and the Peloponnese peninsular of southern Greece, but it’s Cyprus which is really considered (and marketed) to be the spot. On the coastal road between the holiday resorts of Paphos and Limassol you’ll see Aphrodite’s rock, also known as Petra tou Romiou, said to be her birthplace, and north of Paphos you’ll find Aphrodite’s Baths, where the goddess is said to have enjoyed bathing naked in a spring.

Aphrodite's Birthplace
Aphrodite's Birthplace | Source

Aphrodite's Marriage

On her arrival, Aphrodite was considered so beautiful that other gods feared that their rivalry for her affections would result in war, so Zeus married her off to Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths and craftsmen. The steadiest of the gods who happened to be an ugly old man, he was seen to be no threat. Needless to say, Hephaestus was delighted to land himself such a catch. He made her beautiful jewellery, including a lavish jewel-encrusted girdle, woven with golden threads that only made her even more irresistible to other men. Unhappily, not only was he old and ugly, he was also dour and humourless. What was a girl to do? Aphrodite had affairs, of course.

Anemones sprang where Adonis' blood was shed
Anemones sprang where Adonis' blood was shed | Source

Aphrodite's Lovers

Aphrodite had numerous lovers, the best known of whom was Adonis, but there was also the god of war Ares, to whose violent nature she was deeply attracted, and a mere mortal, Anchises, whom she seduced for two weeks.

The story of Aphrodite’s affair with Adonis goes like this: Aphrodite found Adonis as a baby by a myrrh tree which had actually once been his mother, Myrrha. (A long story). Taking pity on the child, she put him in a box and took him to Persephone, the queen of the underworld. Once Adonis had grown into a handsome young man, however, Aphrodite returned for him, picking a fight with Persephone, who wanted him to stay in the underworld. Zeus intervened, declaring that Adonis should spend a third of his time with Persephone, a third with Aphrodite, and a third with whomever he chose. To Persephone’s dismay, he chose Aphrodite. A keen hunter, Adonis came to grief thanks to a wild boar. It actually castrated him, and he bled to death. Aphrodite rushed to his side but was too late to save him, and where his drops of blood fell, anemones sprang up. On his death, Adonis returned to the underworld, where Persephone was delighted to receive him. On realising he was there, Aphrodite rushed over and began bickering with Persephone again, until Zeus decided they should each spend six months at a time with him. The wild boar, incidentally, was thought to be the god Ares, jealous of Aphrodite’s attentions towards her young lover.

Also among her lovers was Poseidon, the god of the sea, Hermes, god of transitions and boundaries, who moved between the worlds of the mortal and divine as a messenger of the gods, and Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest and wine-making.

Anchises was her mortal lover. Aphrodite pretended to be a princess and spent two weeks seducing him, presenting him with a son, Aeneas, nine months later. Aphrodite warned Anchises not to boast of their affair, saying that if he did, he would get blasted by the thunderbolt of Zeus. Sure enough, he boasted, got blasted, and ended up scorched and crippled.

Aphrodite's birthplace taken from the west
Aphrodite's birthplace taken from the west | Source

Aphrodite's Children

Busy girl that she was, Aphrodite had no fewer than twenty children, and quite possibly more, by around nine (or more) different fathers. Among them were the Erotes, a group of winged gods and demi-gods she had by Ares. They are associated with love and sex, and in particular same-sex desire. The most famous of these is Eros, god of love, whose Roman equivalent is Cupid. His mischievous interventions in the affairs of gods and mortals, usually with a bow and arrow, brought lovers together, often illicitly.

There were also the Charites, also known as the Graces, three goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility, whom she had with Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, wine-making and wine.

With Hermes she had four children, most notably Hermaphroditus, a handsome boy who was transformed into an androgynous being, and a symbol of bisexuality and effeminacy.

Surprisingly, she only had one child, a daughter, by Adonis. Her name was Beroe, a nymph of Beirut, and an outstanding beauty who went on to marry Poseidon, god of the sea, and a former lover of Aphrodite’s.

Another view of Aphrodite's Birthplace, also known as Petra tou Romiou.
Another view of Aphrodite's Birthplace, also known as Petra tou Romiou. | Source

Aphrodite's Rivals

As well as Persephone, Aphrodite was jealous of the beautiful mortal princess Psyche. She told Eros to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest creature on earth, but instead, he fell in love with her himself and married her. Psyche's jealous sisters made her betray him, however, and hurt, Eros left his wife. Psyche wandered the earth in search of her lost love, eventually asking Aphrodite for help. Aphrodite imposed a series of tasks on Psyche, which, with a bit of help from the supernatural, she completed. As a result, Aphrodite relented and Psyche became immortal, living with her husband Eros, with whom she had a daughter.

Aphrodite's Role in the Trojan War

Eris, the goddess of discord, annoyed at not being invited to a wedding, threw a golden apple inscribed ‘to the fairest one’ among the goddesses Aphrodite, Hera and Athena. They all squabbled as to who was the fairest, until Zeus asked Paris, a Trojan mortal, to decide. The girls all bathed in a spring and appeared to him naked, but still he couldn’t choose. The goddesses then resorted to bribery: Hera offered him control of Europe and Asia; Athena offered wisdom, fame and victory in battle, and Aphrodite offered him a wife, Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. There was just one snag, though – she just happened to be already married, to a Greek king. Paris chose Aphrodite’s bribe, and took Helen with him to Troy. Thus the Greeks had to get Helen back. After ten years of fighting, they constructed a huge wooden horse, in which they hid a select team of men. They then pretended to sail away, and, considering themselves victorious, the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had by then sailed back. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.

The Cult of Aphrodite

Aphrodite’s festival was Aphrodisia, celebrated at the temple of Aphrodite on the summit of Acrocorinth, which was destroyed in 146 BC. There, intercourse with her priestesses was considered a method of worshipping the goddess herself. One aspect was ritual prostitution in her shrines and temples, with the prostitutes known as ‘sacred slaves’.

The Pomegranate, a symbol of Aphrodite
The Pomegranate, a symbol of Aphrodite | Source

Symbols of Aphrodite

Aphrodite is largely associated with the sea, but also anemones, apples, clams, dolphins, doves, lime trees, myrtle, myrtle, pearls, pomegranates, rose trees, scallop shells, sceptres and swans. There is even a pair of hills on the Greek island of Mykonos known as Aphrodite’s Breasts!

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The Summer of Aphrodite

Viva Jones' erotic novel, The Summer of Aphrodite, is published by House of Erotica and is available on Amazon Kindle.

When free-spirited Nathalie moves to Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite, she is the catalyst for change for three very different women: Cat lover Ginnie is looking for Mr Right but keeps making alcohol-fuelled errors of judgement; expat-wife Anna finds her sex-life lacking and is convinced that her husband is hiding something from her; while estate agent Tanya dreams of marrying someone sexy, rich and preferably famous. As the summer heats up, Nathalie and Anna embark on a passionate affair, Tanya gets drawn into a world of lusty but lucrative hedonism, while Ginnie has to avoid a compromising video from going viral. When Nathalie is troubled by a recurring nightmare, she discovers their neighbour Douglas, a new age guru, meditating in the moonlight. Barred by the Russian mafia who run the sea-front hookers, Douglas is looking for sexual escapism wherever he can get it. Could he be the force behind their sizzling-hot summer, or are they just falling under the spell of Aphrodite?

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