Ancient Greece Reloaded




Goddess of Love, Beauty and Fertility

APHRODITE (Roman name Venus) was the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. She was also a protectress of sailors.

The poet Hesiod said that Aphrodite was born from sea-foam. Homer, on the other hand, said that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

When the Trojan prince Paris was asked to judge which of three Olympian goddesses was the most beautiful, he chose Aphrodite over Hera and Athena. The latter two had hoped to bribe him with power and victory in battle, but Aphrodite offered the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.

This was Helen of Sparta, who became infamous as Helen of Troy when Paris subsequently eloped with her. In the ensuing Trojan War, Hera and Athena were implacable enemies of Troy while Aphrodite was loyal to Paris and the Trojans.


In his epic of the Trojan War, Homer tells how Aphrodite intervened in battle to save her son Aeneas, a Trojan ally. The Greek hero Diomedes, who had been on the verge of killing Aeneas, attacked the goddess herself, wounding her on the wrist with his spear and causing the ichor to flow. (Ichor is what immortals have in the place of blood).

Aphrodite promptly dropped Aeneas, who was rescued by Apollo, another Olympian sponsor of the Trojans. In pain she sought out her brother Ares, the god of war who stood nearby admiring the carnage, and borrowed his chariot so that she might fly up to Olympus. There she goes crying to her mother Dione, who soothes her and cures her wound. Her father Zeus tells her to leave war to the likes of Ares and Athena, while devoting herself to the business of marriage.

Elsewhere in Homer's Iliad, Aphrodite saves Paris when he is about to be killed in single combat by Menelaus. The goddess wraps him in a mist and spirits him away, setting him down in his own bedroom in Troy. She then appears to Helen in the guise of an elderly handmaiden and tells her that Paris is waiting for her.

Helen recognizes the goddess in disguise and asks if she is being led once more to ruin. For Aphrodite had bewitched her into leaving her husband Menelaus to run off with Paris. She dares to suggest that Aphrodite go to Paris herself.

Suddenly furious, the goddess warns Helen not to go too far, lest she be abandoned to the hatred of Greeks and Trojans alike. "I'll hate you," says the mercurial goddess, "as much as I love you now".

Even though Zeus's queen Hera and Aphrodite are on different sides in the Trojan War, the goddess of love loans Hera her magical girdle in order to distract Zeus from the fray. This garment has the property of causing men (and gods) to fall hopelessly in love with whoever is wearing it.

Homer calls Aphrodite "the Cyprian", and many of her attributes may have come from Asia via Cyprus (and Cythera) in Mycenaean times. These almost certainly mixed with a preexisting Hellenic or Aegean goddess. The ancient Greeks themselves felt that Aphrodite was both Greek and foreign.


Aphrodite involved herself on other occasions in the affairs of mortal heroes. When Jason asked permission of the king of Colchis to remove the Golden Fleece from the grove in which it hung, the king was clearly unwilling. So the goddess Hera, who sponsored Jason's quest, asked her fellow-Olympian Aphrodite to intervene. The love goddess made the king's daughter Medea fall in love with Jason, and Medea proved instrumental in Jason's success.


Another time, Zeus punished Aphrodite for beguiling her fellow gods into inappropriate romances. He caused her to become infatuated with the mortal Anchises. That's how she came to be the mother of Aeneas. She protected this hero during the Trojan War and its aftermath, when Aeneas quested to Italy and became the mythological founder of a line of Roman emperors.

A minor Italic goddess named Venus became identified with Aphrodite, and that's how she got her Roman name. It is as Venus that she appears in the Aeneiad, the poet Virgil's epic of the founding of Rome.


The love goddess was married to the homely craftsman-god Hephaestus. She was unfaithful to him with Ares, and Homer relates in the Odyssey how Hephaestus had his revenge.


Elsewhere in classical art she has no distinctive attributes other than her beauty. Flowers and vegetation motifs suggest her connection to fertility.

Aphrodite was associated with the dove. Another of her sacred birds was the goose, on which she is seen to ride in a vase painting from antiquity.

Hesiod's reference to Aphrodite's having been born from the sea inspired the Renaissance artist Botticelli's famous painting of the goddess on a giant scallop shell. Equally if not better known is the Venus de Milo, a statue which lost its arms in ancient times.


The ancient travel writer Pausanias describes a number of statues of Aphrodite dressed for battle, many of them in Sparta. Given the manner in which the militaristic Spartans raised their girls, it is not surprising that they conceived of a female goddess in military attire. She also would have donned armaments to defend cities, such as Corinth, who adopted her as their patroness. This is not to say that she was a war goddess, although some have seen her as such and find significance in her pairing with the war god Ares in mythology and worship.

The two most recent editions of "The Oxford Classical Dictionary" are at variance over this aspect of the goddess. The 1970 edition sees her as a goddess of war and traces this to her Oriental roots. It is true that she has resemblances to Astarte, who is a goddess of war as well as fertility.

The 1996 edition of "The Oxford Classical Dictionary", on the other hand, offers several counterarguments. It sees her being paired with Ares, for instance, not because they are similarly warlike but precisely because love and war are opposites.

In any case, Aphrodite's primary function was to preside over reproduction, since this was essential for the survival of the community.

The myrtle is her tree, the dove, the swan, and the sparrow are her birds.

Love affairs

Divine lovers

Because of her beauty and uncontrollable desire, she was seen as a threat to interrupt peace between gods because of jealousy. Zeus married Aphrodite to Hephaestus, when the god demanded her in order to release Hera from a magical trap. Zeus also saw this marriage as a solution to prevent others from their rivalry to possess the goddess of beauty. This, however, didn't stop Aphrodite to have her affairs.

Most notably and most desirable was the one with Ares with whom Aphrodite was having a passionate, but secret love affair. The fruits of this affair were Phobos(god of fear) and Deimos(god of terror).

They usually accompanied Ares into the battle, causing fear and terror before destruction. And there were Erotes which include Eros (love), Anteros(counter-love), Himeros(sexual-desire), Pothos(yearning) and Harmonia(harmony).

However, for each of these, there are many sources connecting them to other origins and bloodline. For example, according to Hesiod, Eros is primeval god and there are no reference to him by Homer. Aphrodite is also noted for having affair with Poseidon who showed her support, when Aphrodite and Ares were chained on the bed by Hephaestus for having an affair in his chambers. She was grateful to Poseidon who managed to get them released from the chains and she mated with the god of the Sea. Allegedly, she bore him a daughter Rhodos, sea-nymph of the island Rhodes. She was also having a short affair with Dionysus, the god of wine and pleasure.

They fell into having the pleasures of love under the influence of wine and Aphrodite then allegedly gave birth to Priapus(minor god of fertility). She was also seduced by Hermes and gave birth to Hermaphroditus(minor god of bisexuality and effeminacy). Unlike other gods, except Ares, Aphrodite was the one who made her move, when it came to Nerites, a young sea-god. She was trying to seduce him and was on the right course, until she asked him to join her at Olympus. When the god refused, she in revenge transformed him into a shell-fish.

Mortal lovers

Most notable among mortals was Adonis, the mortal god of beauty and desire, who was loved by the goddess. He was a god of ever-cycling rebirth and his cycle was annual in which he lived, died and was reborn and therefore never aged. When Adonis was born for the first time, he was taken by Aphrodite who became so obsessed with the him when he reached boyhood that she began neglecting her duties of the goddess. Therefore, she had given him to Persephone in the underworld to be taken care of and hidden from the rest of the goddesses and women.

Persephone, however, also fell in love with Adonis and refused to give him back when Aphrodite came for him. Their quarrel became so fierce that Zeus had to intervene and find a compromise. Adonis was to spend four months with Persephone and four months with Aphrodite and the for rest of the months, he was free from the clasps of the goddesses. One day when Adonis was spending his time in Aphrodite's care, he went into the forest where he was killed by Ares who had transformed himself into a wild boar and out of jealousy pierced Adonis with his tusks.

Adonis then passed into the realm of the dead, where Persephone welcomed him with open arms. But Aphrodite went after him and another heated quarrel began between the goddesses over who has the rightful possession over him in this case. Zeus once again had to interviene and after long patient period, they agreed that he would spend half year with Aphrodite and half year with Persephone. Aphrodite also threw her eyes on a semi-god Phaethon, the Athenian lord. He was carried to Syria by the goddess who made him guardian of her temple and bore him a son Astynoos.

Another of her lovers was an Argonaut called Boutes. She saved him on their voyage for the golden fleece, when he had fallen asleep and into the water. She carried him off to Italy as her lover and bore him a son Eryx. She was also interested in Anchises, prince of Dardania, where the goddess seduced him by transforming herself into Phrygian princess and making him to love with her for two weeks straight. Aphrodite bore him two sons Aeneas and Lyrus.

Aphrodite as the main cause for the Trojan War

Aphrodite was also responsible for Trojan war. It all started when Eris, goddess of discord and rivalry, appeared in wedding of king Peleus and sea-nymph Thetis. Because of her discovery that she has not been invited to a wedding she threw the golden apple, a fruit of temptation, to the banquet table.

The apple should go to "the fairest one". The problem appeared when Aphrodite, Hera and Athena all started arguing that their existence suits the entitlement of the golden apple. Zeus couldn't decide himself, because all three were very dear to him and therefore passed the decision to a handsome mortal man called Paris.

Athena and Hera promised him power and glory, while Aphrodite promised him eternal love from the most beautiful mortal woman on the earth. That appeared to be the Helen of Sparta. Paris chose Aphrodite and set the things in motion as Helen traveled to Troy with Paris and became Helen of Troy. Aphrodite then naturally supported Paris during the war and convinced her lover Ares to side with her and the Trojans.



[1] "MythWeb"

[2] "Greek Gods"

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