The Greek goddess Aphrodite, one of the 12 Olympian deities, was associated with love, beauty, and fertility. Myths about Aphrodite probably originated in West Asia and reached Greece by way of the island of Cyprus. The Romans later incorporated her into their pantheon and renamed her Venus.

Major Myths. According to one account, Aphrodite was born when the Titan Cronus cut off the sex organs of his father, Uranus, and threw them into the sea. Aphrodite emerged from the foam (her name comes from aphros, the Greek word for foam) that gathered on the surface of the water. Some sources say that she washed ashore in Cyprus, an important center of her worship.

Aphrodite's connection with love is reflected in the numerous stories about her romantic affairs. She was married to Hephaestus (Vulcan), the lame god of metalworking. However, her frequent relationships and the children she had with various other gods—including Ares*, Hermes*, Poseidon*, and Dionysus* — angered her husband. After learning about Aphrodite's love for Ares, Hephaestus created a fine metal mesh to catch the lovers in bed. When the indignant husband called the other gods to see the guilty pair, most of them laughed with him. Among Aphrodite's many children were Deimos (terror) and Phobos (fear), fathered by Ares, and Eryx, the son of Poseidon.

The handsome youth Adonis was another of Aphrodite's great loves. Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, also developed a passion for Adonis, leading to a bitter dispute between the two goddesses. Zeus* resolved the conflict by instructing the youth to divide his time between them.

Aphrodite's role as the goddess of beauty was one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the Trojan War*. Zeus forced the Trojan prince Paris to decide which of three goddesses—Hera*, Athena*, or Aphrodite—was the fairest. Each goddess tried to bribe Paris with generous gifts, but he found Aphrodite's offer to give him the most beautiful woman in the world the best. Paris declared Aphrodite the fairest of the goddesses, and she kept her promise by helping him gain the love of Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Paris took Helen to Troy with him, and the Greeks' attempts to reclaim her resulted in the Trojan War.

Aphrodite continued to influence events during the ten years of the war. At various stages during the conflict, she assisted the Trojan soldiers, particularly Paris. Meanwhile, Hera and Athena—still offended by Paris's choice of Aphrodite as the fairest—came to the aid of the Greeks. Aphrodite was also closely linked with the Trojan cause through her son, the brave leader Aeneas. His birth resulted from Aphrodite's love for the Trojan Anchises.

Depictions in Literature and Art. Aphrodite appears in the works of many ancient writers. The legend of her birth is recounted in Hesiod's* Theogony. Aphrodite and her son Aeneas are central to the action of Virgil's* epic poem, the Aeneid. Euripides* included the story of the judgment of Paris in his play The Trojan Women, and Homer* described her role in the Trojan War in the Iliad.

deity god or goddess

pantheon all the gods of a particular culture

Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus

underworld land of the dead

Aphrodite was also the subject of the most famous work by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles, who completed the Aphrodite of Cnidos in about 350 B . C . Although this statue is now lost, it is known through the many copies made of it during Roman times. Aphrodite has also been portrayed as the Roman goddess Venus in

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

works such as Venus de Milo from around 200 B . C . and The Birth of Venus, painted by Italian artist Sandro Botticelli about 1482.

See also Adonis ; Aeneas ; Aeneid, the ; Ares ; Cronus ; Greek Mythology ; Paris ; Trojan War ; Venus ; Vulcan .

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