Aphrodite, one of the most beloved, adored, worshiped and well known of the Greek pantheon. A goddess representing the extreme feminine, Aphrodite was worshiped by men and women alike throughout the ancient world. Indeed adoration of the beautiful, sensual goddess has been seen throughout the classical ages in the form of poetry and artworks dedicated to this lovely youthful goddess.
The goddess of femininity in its most pure form, Aphrodite was considered the goddess of love, beauty, fertility and sexual desire. She represented the rebellious and unreliable nature of love and feminine thought. She could be called the first feminist.Though the true origins of the worship of this goddess are unknown, they can be traced back to ancient Cyprus and then to ancient Asia. She is thought by some scholars to be one of the many embodiments of the fundamentally agnostic traditional goddesses Sophia, the feminine aspect of the divine according to ancient Jewish traditional lore.
The ancient Greeks worshiped her in many aspects and they also deferred to the belief that Aphrodite was of foreign origin. She was adored by the ancient Greeks and played many roles as the protectress of young lovers, patron protector of sailors, a goddess of war, the granter of fertility, the goddess of pleasure, the goddess of procreation, one of the goddesses of marriage, the goddess of gracefulness, flirting, attraction of mates, the avenger of spurned lovers to name a few. She is sometimes known as a goddess of peace due to her influence over Ares the god of war as one of her lovers. Se was also the supreme goddess of love poetry and song, residing over these venues along with the muses.
Aphrodite was the Olympian goddess to whom young maidens prayed to find true love, widows prayed to be given offers of marriage, young men prayed to her before embarking on the courtship of a new love. Mothers prayed to her when their daughters entered into marriage to give their daughters a loving and fruitful marriage. Young brides prayed for fertility. Perverse and immoral love was looked upon as a punishment from Aphrodite for neglecting her worship or denying her all encompassing power over nature as the goddess of creation.
Her symbols include the dove, sparrow, swan, the tortoise, the ram, the cockle shell and the mirror. Other animals considered sacred to her were the cow, hare, and the goat. Most commonly worshipers sacrificed burning incense and garlands of flowers to her during worship. She is often depicted in artwork as naked or partially nude or bathing. She is sometimes represented as a victorious goddess and in places such as Sparta can be found depicted wearing a helmet and shield with a war lance. Perhaps a symbolic example of the saying “love conquers all”.
She was incorporated into the Roman pantheon in the form of the Goddess of love Venus and the planet Venus as well as the month of April is designated as sacred to her. Other symbols connected to the goddess are the goose, the shellfish (regarded as an aphrodisiac), the pearl, the fish, the apple, the pomegranate, lettuce, myrtle and myrrh, the anemone flower and the rose.
The ancient world was rife with stories of Aphrodite’s exploits and antics. Seen as an amorous and fun loving goddess, her influence was blamed for much mischief among the gods and immortals alike. Scandalous tales tell of her numerous affairs with the Olympian gods as well as her part in inspiring so many immortals to pursue love relationships with mortals causing chaos and disruption. Often her interference in mortal affairs started wars, like the famous Trojan War. In order to calm down her overly ambitious libido, Zeus the leader of the Olympian Gods forced her to marry the homely Hephaestus, lame and ugly the god of metal working and only son of Zeus and Hera the Queen of the gods. But her marriage did little to disrupt her amorous pursuit of various lovers both mortal and divine.
The story of the birth of Aphrodite varies in mythology. The most common and well known being that she rose from the foam of the sea after the Greek God Chronos (father of Zeus) dismembered his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea. Another story of her birth depicts her as the daughter of Zeus and Dionne an archaic goddess whom most scholars believe is synonymous with the mother earth goddess Gia or possibly the feminine form of Zeus.
The trade of prostitution is attributed to Aphrodite. There is conflicting evidence as to the reason for this. One tradition claims that prostitution was actually brought about as a curse from the goddess upon a group known as the Propotides for having denied her divinity, she cursed them with the desire to prostitute their bodies. Thus Aphrodite shows the wanton side of her nature and of love by corrupting desire into an impure form. Another depiction of Aphrodite as the patron of prostitutes presents itself by evidence of the priestesses of Aphrodite whom entering into the service of Aphrodite exchanged prostitution for sacrifices to the goddess and used prostitution as a form of worship. These priestesses were often of high birth and entered into the service of the temple for a short time before leaving to rejoin their communities. Though they had sexual relations with many men during their service to the temple, they were considered holy virgins in the eyes of the community and thus were acceptable to enter into marriage even though they had previous sexual liaisons.
Aphrodite was also closely associated with death. Death being the end of creation, Metaphors surrounding death became synonymous with sexual gratification. Though her association with death is a lesser known attribute of the goddess, it played an important role in the rites and rituals of her worship. The festival of Adonia marked the passing of her lover Adonis and was a celebration of death and mourning. The festival of the dead celebrated at the end of October was marked with worship to the goddess Aphrodite, celebrating the end of fertility and the culmination of life.
Often depicted in the myths of Aphrodite, her magical golden girdle plays a significant role in various plots to undermine the immortal world and throw plans into chaos. The girdle had the power to induce unrequited love in the target of whoever was wearing it. Though Aphrodite and Hera are known enemies, Hera often borrows the girdle to divert the attention of her husband Zeus elsewhere when she is trying to keep her meddling in human affairs secret. Aphrodite uses the girdle to beguile several of her fellow immortals creating immeasurable confusion and petty spats between them.
Through her many liaisons, Aphrodite plays a significant role as the mother of many offspring from gods and mortals. The list of her many progeny include: Anteros, the god of reciprocal or unrequited love, Eros the winged boy god of love also well known as Cupid, Harmonia, the goddess of civic and marital harmony, and several princes and kings in the mortal world. There are many other progeny attributed to Aphrodite as well.
The Goddess was attended constantly by a barage of various gods and goddesses representing all the aspects of love and her many other attributes. Her entourage included Eros, the winged god of love, the Genytellis, the spirit of procreation and childbirth, Eudiamonia, the goddess of happiness, Harmonia, the goddess of marital harmony, Hebe, the goddess of youth, Hedelogos, the god of sweet talk, Himeros, the god of desire, The Horai, the goddesses of the seasons, The Kharites or the Graces representing good cheer, beauty, mirth and merriment, Pandasia, goddess of the banquet, Pothos, the god of sexual longing, and a host of other minor gods and goddesses as well as Nymphi and Neriedes (sea nymphs).