Aphrodite

Greek Goddess of Beauty and Love

By Isabel Fitzmaurice

Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of beauty, love and desire. She was also known by the names of Cytherea and Cyprus. The Romans later called her Venus.

There are at least two stories surrounding her creation. One is fairly simple – the ancient Greek poet Homer claims in the Iliad that she was born to the Zeus, the almighty King of the Gods, and Dione.

The other story is more complex and was originally told by Hesiod and is perhaps more ancient. Uranus, the sky God, was castrated by his son Cronus, who was a Titan, and his genitals were thrown into the sea. The sea foam (aphros) then carried Aphrodite to the shore where she walked into Cyprus, or Cytherea (hence her other aliases). Realizing her exceptional beauty, Zeus was worried the other Gods would fight over her hand in marriage, so he married her off to Hephaestus, a renowned blacksmith, the God of work. Hephaestus is known in Greek mythology as the god who, reluctantly following Zeus’ orders, chained Prometheus to the Mount Caucasus for stealing the sun where Prometheus endured having his liver torn at by birds until he was rescued by Hercules. Hephaestus was lame because Zeus cast him out of Heaven and he fell to the island of Lemnos. He was also not the best-looking God but he was reliable and a steady worker. Hephaestus was overjoyed at being married to Aphrodite, and, as he could not believe his luck made all sorts of wonderful precious jewellry for Aphrodite, including her notorious girdle. Hephaestus made it of fine gold and wove magic into it, making Aphrodite more irresistible than she originally was. Gods and mortals alike were drawn to her beauty and many worshipped her.

To this day she is still celebrated in Greek cities, especially Athens and Corinth. This is known as the festival of Aphrodisiac and takes place in June.

Some of the trademarks of Aphrodite are her magical girdle, and sometimes either a dove, a swan, a golden apple or basically anything to symbolise love or beauty. She can also quite often be seen holding a mirror. Her appearance is of a beautiful, exquisite woman with a gorgeous body, usually with red lips, pale skin and long flowing blonde hair.

Aphrodite had an affair with Ares, the God of War. From that union was born Eros, the God of sensual and romantic love. His name is the obvious root of the word ‘erotic’ just as Aphrodite is at the root of the word ‘aphrodisiac.’ Ares was untrustworthy, barbaric and violent but she later married him. Eros helped his mother, Aphrodite, aided by his magic arrows or darts. They would be dipped in a magic potion that would cause the victim to fall madly in love with the next person they saw. Much like the more Roman Cupid. Many great love stories have their origin here. Aphrodite also bore other children to Ares, such as Phobos (panic) and Deimos (fear) – both twins, and Harmonia.

Aphrodite was anything but chaste and faithful and her other lover’s also gave her children: Hermes was the God of mischief, born to Zeus and Maia. He loved Aphrodite, and produced two boys with her, both sexually bizarre. Hermaphroditus ( a combination of the names ‘Hermes’ and ‘Aphrodite’) was the first ever “female boy” (hermaphrodite), and Priapus was renowned for his huge phallus.

Poseidon was the God of the sea, and he reproduced two children with Aphrodite, Rhodus and Herophilus.

Dionysus was said to be the God of wine and celebration, and some mythologists and historians alike will argue that Priapus was born to him, instead of Poseidon.

Hephaestus could not satisfy Aphrodite’s sexual appetite and she would frequently have affairs with gods and mortals behind his back. However, not surprisingly, he did not like being cuckolded and devised a plan to catch Aphrodite after Helius, the God who sees all, saw Aphrodite with Ares one night. Hephaestus hammered out a fine golden net to trap them in and fastened it to his bed. He then told his wife he was leaving for some work in Lemnos. And sure enough, that night, Aphrodite called Ares to bed to spend the night with her. However, as dawn began to break they found that they were both trapped and could not escape. When Hephaestus returned he dragged the two up Mount Olympus, so the Gods could laugh at the humiliated pair.

Mortals alike also loved Aphrodite. One of these was Anchises, who lived in an area near Troy, called Dardania. He was the king of it. Over wine he told of his love for Aphrodite, and it is said that Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt. Aphrodite and Anchises bore two sons, named Lyrus and Aeneas. Aeneas was a famous Trojan hero who fought valiantly there many times. He was killed once however but Aphrodite saved him. However, when Troy lost the Trojan War, Aeneas fled into exile with his father Anchises on his back. Very little is known about Lyrus, other than he died young without bearing any children.

Isabel Fitzmaurice is a student with an interest in mythology.

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