Aphrodite was an erotic, sexual and persuasive deity who can also be identified as her roman version, Venus. Her general persona as a goddess was that of a sexual and seductive nature. She was an emblem of what women wanted to be, and how they wanted to be perceived by men. She was a popular goddess in antiquity, many women sought help from her when they had issues in the love or sexual aspects of their lives. Aphrodite was complex. She was sweet and golden and desirable, yet conniving, vengeful and deceptive. The concept of Aphrodite seems simple at first but the more you divulge into her as a deity, you find more layers to peel back. Initially, you might think of her as a perfect and feminine being. Eventually you learn unexpected things, like the fact that she had masculine attributes in many of the cults that worshipped her. When you think of her as the goddess of love and sex, you forget that she also had a place in the civic lives of the Greeks that worshipped her. If she was only viewed as a sexual or erotic entity, many aspects of her personality have been left out. Aphrodite is depicted just like every other woman described by a man with power or influence in history. They appear sweet, innocent and lovely and then are depicted as ruthless or crazy when something does not go their way. When someone does them wrong they let their thirst for revenge, jealousy and power overcome them. Aphrodite as a goddess was what every other woman stereotypically was portrayed as being on the inside, emphasized and blown out of proportion and scale.
Aphrodite’s origin and parentage were often debated as there were two stories about her birth. One is that she is the daughter of the mighty Zeus and his consort Dione. The other is that she rose from the foam in the sea after Kronus cut off Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the sea, thus making him her father. Though both Cyprus and Cytherea tried to claim her birth, many cults and worship centres were dedicated to Aphrodite all over Greece. Aphrodite had many lovers but she was married to a very unattractive god, Hephaestus. Her union with him was a tactic by Zeus who thought that if her husband was not a threat, less conflict would arise when people tried to compete for her.
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is a famous work depicting Aphrodite on a shell after her birth. Her nudity is a huge representation of her sexual role as a goddess.
Sites of worship dedicated to Aphrodite were established in the Archaic Period and carried into the Hellenistic Age. The earliest temple to Aphrodite known today is dated to the end of the seventh century BCE, but the cults of Aphrodite would have been established post Bronze Age. Scholars estimate she had around 60 sanctuaries and shrines dedicated to her. Some of them were specific to her worship, and others were shared places of worship to other deities. These places were dispersed all through out mainland Greece. Many of the worship centres dedicated to Aphrodite were close to harbours and bodies of water which suggests a connection between her and water. The supposed origin of her birth from the foam is likely the reason for this. The shrines were diverse as many of them celebrated different traits of Aphrodite. For example; north west of the ancient agora at Athens was the sanctuary for Aphrodite Ourania (Heavenly Aphrodite), near the Acropolis was the sanctuary for Aphrodite Kepois (Aphrodite of the Gardens), and right in Athens was the sanctuary for Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite to/all the people). The sanctuaries dedicated to Aphrodite played many roles. They often held local worship, festivals and so on and so forth. Rituals took place there, like the young girls proceeding from the Athenian Acropolis to Aphrodite’s Sacred Gardens during the Festival of Maidens.
Cults dedicated to Aphrodite functioned at her temples. The cults all varied and worshipped different versions of her. They were dedicated to different roles that the goddess played and they highlighted various attributes about her as a deity. It was believed that prostitution within the cults at the temples and sanctuaries occurred. These events happening and the multitude of female worshippers associated with Aphrodite enhanced her reputation as a very sexual and seductive goddess. The prostitution that allegedly happened at the temple of Corinth, for example, was viewed as just a part of her worship as a sexual deity. It was thought to unite sexuality and fertility; aspects that make up who she is as a goddess.
Her Power and Influence
Aphrodite was a very attractive goddess; her body and desirable appearance was what really gave her the power she held over others. Her beauty was intimidating which enabled her to gain control. Manipulation was easy for her due to all of these factors and therefore she could make men do essentially whatever she wanted. With her power Aphrodite had the ability to punish and reward and it seemed she took advantage of that quite frequently. Her main source of punishment was being able to manipulate and curse people to fall in love with others when she knew it would cause issues in their lives. When she was angry or unhappy with people or their actions she would curse them with heavy and complicated lust in efforts to punish them. An example of this is when she wanted revenge against a man, Hippolytus, because he did not reciprocate her interest in him. In response to this Aphrodite used her power to make Hippolytus’ own stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him. This did not end well. Aphrodite was quite vengeful and ruthless when she did not get her own way.
For being the goddess of love, Aphrodite’s relationships did not come without complication. They were messy and complex. Her love life was full of betrayal, temporary desire and revenge. Accounts of a long, monogamous love affair involving Aphrodite do not exist. There were constant conflicts between the gods thanks to her. To make matters more complicated, mortal men generally feared having sexual relations with goddesses. They were perceived as dangerous to interact with and typically things did not end well when a man got involved with a deity. In some circumstances even despite her irresistibility, men rejected her. When this would happen she would assert her power by somehow bringing these men to their demise. A specific example of Aphrodite’s involvement with a mortal is in the “love story” of the Homeric Hymn. She falls for a Trojan prince names Anchises to whom she presented herself as a virgin in efforts not to scare him away. She told him she wanted to marry him right before they engaged in sexual relations. Afterward when she revealed herself, Anchise was very frightened to learn that he had been intimate with a goddess. She told him she could not marry him as she earlier had promised, but that she was pregnant. She told Anchise that his son Aeneas would eventually rule the Trojans and be god like. Aeneas does end up as a mythological hero of Troy and Rome, he is a cousin of Hector. He played a big part in defending Troy against the Greeks. After Aphrodite told him of his son, she left and warned Anchise not to speak of what happened to him.
Her Role in Greek Life
Aphrodite was a diverse deity and she served multiple purposes in the lives of the Greeks in antiquity. The gross numbers of sanctuaries and cults dedicated to her showed her popularity. Different sanctuaries with cults associated to them demonstrates that Aphrodite definitely played a role in various aspects of life, especially where in Athens she had five shrines dedicated to her between just the Acropolis and the Agora. Her importance to Greek people was really shown when some of the population was travelling to and settling in Miletus. Cults were established there and it proved that the people wanted Aphrodite present in their lives when they were making a new place home.
Her Aspects of Masculinity
Aphrodite, despite being the goddess of love and sex, is demonstrated as having masculine roles or attributes. Specifically in her romantic relationships with mortals, she held the role of both a woman and a man. This happened because of the hierarchy between her and her lover, she became superior because she was a goddess and men were merely mortal. In Cyprus, the alleged spot of her birth, it was believed by the Greek people that Aphrodite was both male and female. She was depicted carrying a sceptre (masculine object), with a beard but wore a woman’s dress. Cults believed this idea of a dual femininity and masculinity of Aphrodite was because of the origin of her birth. She was created from male genitals and sea foam so there must have been some masculine aspects to her.
Her Involvement in Conflict
Based on her toxic relationships and her frequent quests for vengeance, it is no surprise that Aphrodite was often involved in conflict. In Homer’s Illiad, she seemed to be a contributing factor in the cause of the Trojan War. At a wedding celebration, three goddesses were competing for the title of the most beautiful. The victor claimed a golden apple as their prize. Zeus chose Paris, a Trojan prince to help determine who the most beautiful female deity was. All the goddesses tried to offer him something in efforts to be chosen. Regions in Europe and Asia were offered to him by Hera, powers of invincibility and incredible strength were offered by Athena, but most importantly Helen, the most beautiful woman on earth was offered to him by Aphrodite. Driven by lust (that Aphrodite cleverly takes advantage of), Paris chose Helen. However she was already married to the Spartan king, and when Paris decideded to abduct her for himself that becomes the spark that ignited the flame of the Trojan war. For being known as such a desired and admired goddess, Aphrodite seemed to be somewhat of an antagonist, trouble never trailed far behind her. She threatened Helen, and promised that some form of harm would come to her if she did not go to Paris’ bed. Aphrodite did not give such gifts of beauty and allure to people if they were not going to put them to good use. Many gods and goddesses took sides in the Trojan war and not surprisingly Aphrodite took the side of the Trojans though they were unfortunately defeated by the Greeks.
Anagnostou-Laoutides, E., & Konstan, D. (2008). Daphnis and Aphrodite: A Love Affrair in Theocritus Idyll 1. American Journal of Philology, 129(4), 521. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/223128356?accountid=12599
Bell, S. (1998). Aphrodite of the marketplace: Fetishism, value, and sexual] pragmatism. Rethinking Marxism, 10(4), 134, 135, 136. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/212142497?accountid=12599
Bickerman, E. (1976). Love story in the homeric hymn to aphrodite. Athenaeum, 230, 231, 233, 234, 235. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/1300411055?accountid=12599
Blondell, R. (2010). “Bitch that I am”: Self-blame and self-assertion in the iliad*. Transactions of the American Philological Association, 140(1), 22. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/347853367?accountid=12599
Brown, C. G. (1991). The Power of Aphrodite: Bacchylides 17, 10. Mnemosyne, 44(3), 335. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/1299139539?accountid=12599
Cartright, M. “Aphrodite,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 24, 2012. http://www.ancient.eu /Aphrodite/.
Hagopian, K. A. (2007). Apuleius and gothic narrative in carter’s The Lady of the House of Love. The Explicator, 66(1), 52-55. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/216784318?accountid=12599.
Hutchison, L. (2010). Multivalence in cults and images of aphrodite from five selected greek city-states (Order No. 1486876). Available From ProQuest Central. (759595132). 1-4, 7-8, 11, 18, 30, 32, 37, 41, 44, 48, 53, 55. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/759595132?accountid=12599
Karahashi, F., & López-Ruiz, C. (2006). Love Rejected: Some Notes On The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Greek Myth of Hippolytus. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 58, 99-102. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/216610077?accountid=12599