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Other names: Venus

Location: Greece

Notes from Hrana

Goddesses & Heroines text

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Hrana's Notes

I painted Aphrodite in 1996 for the Goddess Oracle.

from Goddesses and Heroines
  Exerpt from Goddess & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
[Used by permission. This text is NOT included in the Goddess Oracle]

One of the most familiar of Greek goddesses, Aphrodite was not originally Greek at all. She was the ancient mother goddess of the eastern Mediterranean who established herself first on the islands off Greece before entering the country itself. There, her journey with the sea traders who brought her across the waters was expressed in a symbolic tale.

In the ancient days, it was said, the old heaven-god Uranus was castrated by his children, the Titans; his penis fell into the ocean and ejaculated a final divine squirt. The sea reddened where it fell, and then the foam gathered itself into a figure: the long-haired Aphrodite riding on a mussel shell. (Whence the epithet Anadyomene, "she who rises from the waves.") She shook the seawater from her locks and watched drops fall, instantly turning to pearls, at her feet. She floated to the islands off Greece, for which she is sometimes named Cytherea or Cypris. She landed at Cyprus and was greeted by the lovely Horae, who provided attire worthy of her beauty and who became her constant companions.

The story of her birth is an obvious description of the journey of this Near Eastern goddess to her new home in Greece. It is also allegorical: the sky impregnates the great sea womb with dynamic life, a story that the Greeks reiterated in the alternate version of Aphrodite's birth by the sea sprite Dione and the sky god Zeus.

Once she arrived, the Greeks provided Aphrodite with a husband: Hephaestus, the crippled god of smithcraft. Aphrodite could not be contained in a single relationship, though, and spread her favors liberally among divine and mortal males. She bore children by half a dozen mates, none her husband. In many of these unions, the allegory is glaringly obvious, as when Aphrodite (sexuality) mates with Dionysus (wine) to produce Priapus (permanent erection).

The most famous-or notorious-of Aphrodite's affairs were those with Ares and with the beautiful young Adonis. She carried on scandalously and publicly with the god of war; their union was a fascinating symbol of the relationship of female carnality and male competitiveness. All heaven knew of their assignations, the Greeks said, before someone finally tattled to the husband. Furious at Aphrodite's unfaithfulness (although in her homeland such behavior would have been expected), the cuckolded Hephaestus fashioned a mesh of gold in which he caught the lovers. Ares and Aphrodite were the laughingstock of heaven then, naked and damp, their limbs entangled in each other's and in the golden web that held them.

As for Adonis, it was said that Aphrodite fell in love with his youthful beauty and hid him in a chest that she gave to Persephone for safekeeping. The queen of the underworld, however, peeked inside to see what treasure she was guarding and, smitten, refused to give Adonis back to Aphrodite. Zeus was called in to arbitrate, and he ruled that Adonis could live one-third of each year by himself, one-third with Persephone, and the remaining one-third with Aphrodite. Each year thereafter Adonis was killed while hunting a wild boar, and his spilled blood turned the Lebanese river named for him red.

The energy that Aphrodite represented, however humanly true, was almost incompatible with Greek culture. The Great Goddess of impersonal, indiscriminate lust meshed poorly with the emerging Greek intellectualism. Thus the tale of the goddess's love for the everdying god ceased to be central to her legend and became that of just another casual attraction to a pretty face. The rather smutty little tale is a far cry from those masterpieces of theological understanding, the stories of Ishtar, Inanna, and Cybele, with their symbolic description of the hopeless love of the earth herself for the life she continually produces and inevitably consumes.

In their attempt to assimilate the alien goddess, the Greeks converted Aphrodite into a personification of physical beauty. But she remained so problematical that Plato distinguished her by two titles: Urania, who ruled spiritualized (platonic, if you will) love; and Aphrodite Pandemos, the Aphrodite of the commoners, who retained her original character in debased form. In this form she was called Porne, the "titillator." It was this latter Aphrodite who was worshiped at Corinth, where the Near Eastern practice of sacramental promiscuity deteriorated into a costly prostitution about which the Greeks warned travelers, "The voyage to Corinth is not for everyone." However degraded the practice became in a patriarchal context, the "hospitable women" (Pindar) who engaged in it were highly valued, serving as priestesses in public festivals, and of such rank and importance that at state occasions as many hetaerae as possible were required to attend.

Back to TOP Text from Patricia Monaghan's The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines
Published by Llewellyn, copyright 1997.   Used by permission of the author.