Goddess of Love and Beauty
Photo: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup from Centennial, CO, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Getty_Villa_-_Collection_%285304590607%29.jpg
Aphrodite, Goddess of Beauty and Love
Roman Name: Venus
God of: Beauty, love and pleasure
Married to: Hephaestus
Children: Aphrodite had no children with her husband Hephaestus, but did have children with her lover Ares, including Eros, the Erotes (the gods of love) and Phobos (the god of terror). She also had a child with Hermes, Hermaphroditus (who was both male and female). She was also said to be mother of Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War and the first founder of Rome.
Symbols: Doves (who pulled her chariot), sparrows, swans, hares, pomegranates, roses, a magical girdle, laughter and myrtle trees.
Location of Story: Temple of Aphrodite Pandemos on the Acropolis
Aphrodite tossed back her hair, flicked her long delicate eyelashes, and laughed. Butterflies and small birds took flight around her, the sound of the fluttering of wings mingling and dancing through the temple with the joy and wonder of her voice.
Delphi stood dumbfounded, her mouth hanging open.
“Well, hello there,” the goddess purred and gave her a perfect smile. It was a smile that many would do anything for.
Delphi opened and closed her mouth a few times.
“I know, I know…” preened Aphrodite. “I know the sight of me must simply take a person’s breath away. Don’t you think my hair is simply divine?” She ran her fingers through it, sending sparkles of light dancing around the room.
“Errr… yeah,” faltered Delphi. “I like your… dress.”
“Oh, that…” Aphrodite replied, waving a graceful hand. “The other girls made it for me. But don’t you think I am the most beautiful, the most radiant, the most perfect being of them all?”
“You are pretty beautiful, I guess,” conceded Delphi. She finally got control of her mouth again. “My dad says I’m beautiful sometimes. Usually when I’ve had a wash. And Plato said I was beautiful once but I think he was joking because he went really red and then ran away and didn’t speak to me all afternoon.”
“Ah, that, my dear,” Aphrodite lifted her perfect chin and looked Delphi in the eye. “Is love.”
“Ewwwww, no it isn’t!”
Aphrodite sighed. The sound would have brought many to their knees, but Delphi was too distracted by what she had said.
“Surely, there must be someone you desire?” Aphrodite asked, smiling again. “What is it your heart wishes for, my child?”
Delphi bit her lip and thought about it. “Dunno really,” she said eventually.
“Don’t you wish to be as beautiful as I?”
Delphi thought about it some more. It was rather hard to imagine.
“Nah, I’m good,” she decided. “If I looked like you then Plato would never talk to me. And I’d probably get in even more trouble. Besides, lots of things are beautiful anyway. You know. Sunrises and paintings and baby animals and stuff. So I’ll stick with them if it’s all the same.” Delphi turned around and walked out the temple.
It was Aphrodite’s turn to have her mouth hanging open.
From the foam
Though some stories had Aphrodite as the daughter of Zeus and Dione (a titaness), the more popular story is much more memorable – and disgusting! The story begins with the early gods, when Kronos killed his father Ouranos to become chief of the gods. For reasons we won’t go into here, he cut off his father’s… most private bits… and hurled them across the sky. They landed in the sea near Cyprus, where the water bubbled and foamed, and from out of that foam came… Aphrodite. Her name is said to mean ‘from the foam’ (though this probably isn’t really true).
Goddess of beauty
Even as she stepped onto land, flowers bloomed, storms retreated and she was bathed in holy light. She is always described as the most beautiful of all the goddesses, adorned in the finest dress and jewellery given to her by other goddesses like the Graces or Seasons. Wherever she went, the sound of laughter could be heard and she was said to bring joy and pleasure to all who saw her.
However, Aphrodite’s laughter was often cruel and her beauty also caused much misery. She was married to Hephaestus, very much against her will, either because Zeus wanted the gods to stop fighting over her, or because Hephaestus trapped his mother Hera on a throne until she agreed to the marriage – depending on which story you prefer! However, she much preferred his brother Ares, with whom she had several children, including Eros. They were caught in their affair and some stories have them separating and remarrying new partners.
There was another who was also said to be Aphrodite’s true love – Adonis, a human who Aphrodite found as a baby and gave to Persephone to look after. When he had grown into a strapping, extremely good-looking man (in fact, the word ‘Adonis’ is still used as a term for a muscular, attractive man today), he was given a choice to stay with Aphrodite or Persephone. He chose Aphrodite, but the story ended tragically. When out hunting, Adonis was killed by a wild boar (some say, sent by a jealous Ares, or possibly by a vengeful Artemis). Aphrodite was left heartbroken. This outpouring of grief was acted out by many Greek women in the Ancient world as part of a special festival. It was even said Aphrodite cut herself on a white rose’s thorn as she rushed to help him, her blood causing the first red roses – still the flower most people think of when it comes to trying to win someone’s attention on Valentine’s day!
The Golden Apple
Aphrodite caused considerable trouble for humankind too. The Trojan War began when Aphrodite, Hera and Athena were arguing about who should have a golden apple, signalling that they were the fairest. The decision was given to Paris, a Prince from the city of Troy. He couldn’t decide, so each goddess offered a bribe – Hera offered power, Athena offered wisdom, and Aphrodite said he could have the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. Unable to resist, Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite. Unfortunately, the woman turned out to be Helen of Sparta – the wife of Menelaus, an enemy Greek king.
Paris took Helen back to Troy, leading the Greeks to go to war to get her back. Aphrodite continued to interfere in the war, trying to protect Ares, and her son Aeneus, as well as reminding Helen to whom she owed her beauty. The war would lead to the destruction of the city and the death of many great Greek heroes. Aeneus survived the war, and would go on to lead a group of Trojans to the banks of the river Tiber, where he founded the city of Rome – which grew into the powerful Roman Empire.