Who is Aphrodite?

Aphrodite (Ἀφροδίτη, Aphrodítē) is a goddess of love, passion, beauty, pleasure and fertility who can often be seen depicted with the god Eros of passion and desire. Wife of the god of blacksmithing Hephaestus, on whom she cheated constantly (even with Ares), in Laconia she is also worshiped as a warrior goddess. According to one version (“Iliad”, Homer), Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, according to another (“Theogony”, Hesiod) Aphrodite was born off the coast of Kythera from the foam (ἀφρός, aphrós) produced by the genitals of Uranus, and according to a third (“Symposium”, Plato) – the two origins are of two separate hypostases: Aphrodite Urania (“Heavenly” Aphrodite) and Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite “for all men”).

Being the goddess of fertility, she was considered the patroness of the most ancient profession (suggested by early scholars with the name: “sacred prostitution”). Numerous dedications to the goddess have survived, from poems to inscriptions on pottery made by courtesans. Corinth, Cyprus, Kythera and Sicily often mention Aphrodite as their patron.

Interesting suggestions for the origin of the goddess can be found in the most unusual conceptions. Such as the comparison of the Assyrian barīrītu, which is the name of a female demon; rejected by most scholars (e)prθni, meaning “lord” and an Etruscan name borrowed into Greek as πρύτανις (“the lady”). Apru (from Greek Aphrō, a cut form of Aphrodite) is another suggestion from the Etruscans, while later in the Middle Ages comes a suggestion from the compound habrodíaitos (ἁβροδίαιτος), “she who lives delicately”.

Aphrodite riding a swan (c. 46-470), found at Kameiros (Rhodes)

The cult of Aphrodite was heavily influenced by the Phoenician goddess Astarte (equivalents: Ishtar and the Sumerian Inanna). A commonality between the goddesses is the highly developed sexuality and symbol of fertility (breeding), and early depictions of Innana/Ishtar are too similar to Aphrodite to pass up. Innana/Ishtar are warrior women, and the warrior characteristic of Aphrodite is attested later confirming the Near Eastern connection. Pausanias argues that the first worshipers of the goddess were the Assyrians, then it was carried to Cyprus and Ascalon by the Phoenicians. Also, Aphrodite’s most famous symbol, the dove (peristerá), is thought to derive from the Semitic phrase “bird of Ishtar” (peraḥ Ištar).

In early Christianity, Aphrodite’s presence in iconography and late Renaissance works can be seen through the depiction of Eve, as well as a strong influence on that of the Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages, fairy tales, legends and traditions dedicated to Aphrodite (Venus) were preserved, and in later centuries she was even considered the queen of an underground kingdom located under Christian Europe (“The Myth of Venusberg”; in French Mont de Vénus, “The Mountain of Venus”).

Aphrodite’s festival was called Aphrodisia, and an extant male equivalent of the goddess was Aphroditis, worshiped in the city of Amathus, Cyprus. It later became a byword for the sexual arousal potion called “aphrodisiac” (1719, Latinized form of aphrodisiakos from Aphrodisios, “sacred to Aphrodite”).

Associations and epithets: A connection is also made between the dawn (Eos) and Aphrodite as derivatives of light; Venus (Roman equivalent), Hathor and Isis (Egyptian goddesses, Greek association), Urania (translated “heavenly”), Aphrodite Pandemos (“of all men”), Peito (Πείθω, “persuasion”), Elemon (epithet of Cyprus, “the gracious”); Melanis (“the black one”), Scotia (Skotia, “the dark one”), Androphonos (“Slayer of Men”), Anosia (“The Filthy”), Tymborychos (“Grave Digger”); rose, dove, swan, sparrow (and other birds associated with flight over water).

Myth of Aphrodite

It is not the job of the gentle, naughty goddess Aphrodite to intervene in bloody battles. She is here only to awaken love in the hearts of gods and mortals. Thanks to this power, she reigns over the whole world.

No one can escape her power, not even the gods. Only militant Athena, Hestia, and Artemis are not subject to her power. Tall, slender, with delicate features, with soft, wavy golden hair, like a wreath lying on her beautiful head, Aphrodite is the embodiment of divine beauty and unfading youth. When she walks, in the splendor of her beauty, in fragrant clothes, then the sun shines brighter, the flowers bloom more magnificently. Wild forest animals flock to her from the thicket; birds flock to her as she walks through the forest. Lions, panthers, leopards and bears gently lurk around her. Aphrodite, proud of her radiant beauty, moves calmly among the terrible beasts. Her companions, the Hora and the Harites, goddesses of beauty and grace, serve her. They dress the goddess in sumptuous robes, comb her golden hair, crown her head with a shining tiara.

Aphrodite, Uranus’ daughter, was born not far from the island of Kytera (Zitera) from the snow-white foam of the sea waves. A light, caressing breeze brought her to the island of Cyprus. There the young Hori surrounded the goddess of love, who came out of the sea waves. They dressed her in a gold cloth and placed a wreath of fragrant flowers on her. Where Aphrodite set foot, flowers bloomed magnificently. The whole air was soaked with fragrances. Eros and Chimeros took the wonderful goddess to Olympus. The gods greeted her noisily. Since then, the golden Aphrodite, forever young, the most beautiful of the goddesses, has lived forever among the Olympian gods.

Narcissus (as it is in Ovid’s poem “Metamorphoses”)

But whoever does not worship the golden Aphrodite, who rejects her gifts, who resists her authority, the goddess of love punishes him mercilessly. Thus she punished the son of the river god Kefis and the nymph Lavrion, the beautiful but cold and proud Narcissus. He loved no one but himself, he considered only himself worthy of love.

Once, when he was lost in a dense forest while hunting, the nymph Echo saw him. The nymph could not speak to Narcissus alone. The punishment of the goddess Hera was upon her: the nymph Echo was to be silent, but she could answer questions only by repeating the last words of them. Echo watched with admiration the slender handsome young man, hidden by him in the forest thicket. Narcissus looked around, not knowing where to go, and shouted loudly.

“Hey, who’s here?”
“Here!”, Echo’s response echoed.
“Come here!”, Narcissus shouted.
“Here!”, Echo replied.

The beautiful Narcissus looked around in amazement: there was no one in sight. Surprised by this, he shouted loudly:
“Come to me soon!”
And Echo responded happily:
“With me.”

From the forest the nymph ran with open arms, but the beautiful young man angrily pushed her away. He quickly moved away from the nymph and hid in the dark forest.

She hid in the forest impassable thicket and the rejected nymph. Poor Echo suffers from love for Narcissus, is not shown to anyone and only sadly calls at every exclamation.

And Narcissus remained, as before, proud and in love with himself. He rejected everyone’s love. Many nymphs made his pride unhappy. And once one of the rejected nymphs cried out:

“I hope you fall in love, Narcissus! And may the one you love not reciprocate!”

The nymph’s wish came true. The goddess of love Aphrodite was angry that Narcissus rejected her gifts and punished him. Once in the spring, while hunting, Narcissus approached a stream and asked to drink cold water. Neither a shepherd nor a mountain goat had ever touched the waters of this stream; not once had a broken twig fallen into it, not even the wind blew a leaf of lush flowers into the stream. The water was clean and clear. Everything around her it reflected in it like a mirror: the bushes that grew along the shore, the slender cypress trees, and the blue sky. Narcissus leaned over the creek, resting his hands on a rock protruding from the water, and looked around the creek in all its beauty. It was here that Aphrodite’s punishment befell him. He stares in amazement at his reflection in the water and a strong love overwhelms him. He looks at his image in the water with eyes full of love, speaks kindly to him, calls him, holds out his hands to him. Narcissus leans over the water mirror to kiss his reflection, but kisses only the cold clear water of the stream. Narcissus forgot everything; he does not separate from the stream; he stands inseparably and admires himself. He does not eat, drink, sleep. Finally, filled with despair, Narcissus exclaimed, holding out his hands to his reflection.

“Oh, who has suffered so badly! We are not divided by mountains, not by seas, but only by a strip of water, and yet we cannot come together. Come out of the stream!”

Narcissus thought, staring at the image in the water. Suddenly a terrible thought came to his mind, and he bent over the water, began to whisper softly:

“Oh, grief! I’m scared, am I not in love with myself! You are me! I love myself. I feel that I have little left to live. Barely blossomed, I will wither and descend into the dark realm of shadows. Death does not frighten me; death will put an end to the torments of love.”

The forces leave Narcissus, he pales and already feels the approach of death, but still can not detach himself from his image. Narcissus cries. His tears fall into the clear waters of the stream. Circles form on the mirror water surface and the beautiful image disappears. Narcissus exclaims in horror:

“Narcissus”, Michelangelo da Caravaggio

“Oh, where are you? Come back! Stay! Don’t leave me, this is cruel. Oh, at least let me watch you!”

But here the water is calm again, the image appears again, Narcissus looks at it again, without breaking away. It disappears like dew under the scorching sun. The unfortunate nymph Echo also sees Narcissus suffering. She loves him as before; her heart shrinks in pain at Narcissus’ suffering.

“Oh, grief,” Narcissus shouted.
“Sorrow,” Echo replied.
Finally, exhausted, Narcissus moaned in a low voice, looking at his reflected image.
And even quieter, barely audible, was the voice of the nymph Echo:

Narcissus’s head rested on the green coastal lawn, and the darkness of death covered his eyes. Narcissus died. The young nymphs mourned him in the forest, and Echo mourned him. And the nymphs prepared a grave for the young Narcissus, but when they came for his body, they did not find him. A white, fragrant flower, the flower of death, had sprouted where the Narcissus head had perched on the grass; it is called a narcissus.

Adonis (as it is in Ovid’s poem “Metamorphoses”)

But the goddess of love, who punished Narcissus, personally experienced the torments of love; and she happened to complain to her beloved Adonis. She loved the son of the Cypriot king, Adonis. None of the mortals could compare with him in beauty; he was even better than the Olympian gods. Because of him, Aphrodite forgot both Patmos and the blossoming Kythera. Adonis was even more dear to her than the bright Olympus. She spent all her time with young Adonis. With him she went hunting in the mountains and forests of Cyprus like the virgin Artemis. Aphrodite forgot her gold jewelry, she forgot her beauty. Under the scorching rays of the sun and in bad weather she went hunting for rabbits, timid deer and roe deer, but avoided hunting terrible lions and wild boars. And she begged Adonis to avoid the dangers of hunting lions, bears and wild boars, so that no misfortune would befall him. The goddess seldom left the king’s son alone, and every time she left him she reminded him not to forget her prayers.

Once, in Aphrodite’s absence, Adonis’s dogs came across the tracks of a huge boar while hunting. They drove the animal out of its lair and chased it furiously. Adonis enjoyed this rich hunt; he had no idea that this would be his last hunt. The barking of the dogs could be heard closer and closer, and here the huge boar appeared among the bushes. Adonis was about to pierce the enraged boar with his spear, but the boar suddenly lunged at Aphrodite’s lover and fatally wounded him with its huge protruding teeth. Adonis died from the terrible wound.

When Aphrodite learned of Adonis’ death, overwhelmed with inexpressible grief, she went alone to the mountains of Cyprus to look for the body of her beloved young man. She walked on steep mountain slopes, through gloomy gorges, along deep precipices. The sharp stones and thorns of the thorn wounded the tender feet of the goddess. Drops of blood fell on the ground and left traces wherever it passed. Aphrodite finally found Adonis’ body. She wept bitterly over the beautiful young man who had died without time. In order to preserve the memory of Adonis forever, the goddess ordered a delicate pine to grow from his blood. And wherever drops of blood fell from Aphrodite’s wounded feet, magnificent roses grew, scarlet as the blood of the goddess. The thunderer Zeus took pity on the grief of the goddess of love. He ordered his brother Hades and his wife Persephone to release Adonis to earth each year from the dark realm of the shadows of the dead. Since then, Adonis has remained in the kingdom of Hades for half a year, and for half a year he has lived on earth with the goddess Aphrodite. All nature rejoices when Adonis, the young, beautiful lover of golden Aphrodite, returns to earth in the bright rays of the sun.

Venus / Aphrodite and Cupid over the dead Adonis, 1656 Cornelis Holsteyn