Greek goddess of love, later identified with Roman Venus, who was worshiped in the same way. She belonged to the twelve great Olympian deities, donated beauty and fertility and was portrayed with a lovely, often mocking smile. Their cult was of foreign origin and came to Greece from the Middle East, via Cyprus and Kythera.
There are two different accounts of her birth. According to Homer, she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione and the wife of Hephaestus. Hesiod's account is based on the alleged origin of their name aphros "Foam", after which she rose in perfect form in Paphos on Cyprus or on Kythera: Kronos, the youngest of the Titans, had cut off the genitals of his father Uranos and hurled them into the sea; Foam gathered around them and they turned into a woman. When Aphrodite entered the country, flowers bloomed on her way, and Eros (Cupid) and perhaps other deities served her. They were called Anadyomene (the woman who dived up) and Cypris (the Zyperin).
Aphrodite was not a faithful wife to Hephaestus; it symbolized sensual passion rather than the alliance of a marriage (which was under the protection of Hera) and was considered completely irresponsible in early Greek mythology. In Homer's legend, the sun god Helios let the husband Hephaestus know about her adultery with Ares, whereupon he caught the two naked on the marriage bed and threw an invisible net over them. Then Hephaestus invited the other gods to enjoy the sight until Poseidon proposed a reconciliation. Aphrodite had several children with Ares: Deimos and Phobos ("horror" and "fear"), Harmonia, who married the king's son Kadmos of Thebes, and perhaps also Eros, who combined the qualities of Aphrodite and Ares in himself, but from whom one also claimed that he fathered himself.
Because of her mockery of the immortals, Aphrodite, according to Zeus' will, had to fall in love with a mortal, Anchises, but she also allowed herself to be wooed by the gods; from a union with Dionysus arose Priapus, a phallic deity, and Poseidon was perhaps the father of Eryx. She did not want to give in to Hermes' wooing, but Zeus helped him with his eagle, which stole a sandal from her, and she bore him Hermaphroditos, who was male and female at the same time. Aphrodite had the power to make any deity in love or lustful, with the exception of Athena, Artemis, and Hestia. When Hera wanted Zeus to surrender to her charms and forget the Trojan War, she borrowed a belt from Aphrodite, which made its wearer irresistible.
Aphrodite had a passion for Adonis, about whom she fell out with Persephone. When Adonis was killed by a boar, she let the Adonis flower grow from his blood. Aphrodite loved mortal men, like the hero Anchises to whom she bore Aeneas, and she helped the men who were in love with mortal women. The best-known myth about them relates to the judgment of Paris, which became the cause of the Trojan War. The golden apple that Eris, the goddess of discord, had thrown among the guests at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis was labeled "Most Beautiful." Hera, Athene and Aphrodite all claimed this honor for themselves, and Zeus appointed Paris, the most beautiful of men, to give the verdict. Everyone wanted to bribe him, but he gave the price to Aphrodite, who had promised him the love of the most beautiful woman. Among the mortals whom Aphrodite assisted were Milanion (or Hippomenes), who wanted to win Atalante; Jason, who sought the love of Medea; Paris, to which she assisted in the kidnapping of Helena and in the years that followed, during which he refused to give up her; and her own son Aeneas, with whom she made Dido in love. Aphrodite also punished gods and people who had offended her or who thought they were superior to her. Among them were Myrrha's mother and her three daughters (see Kinyras); Glaukos, who was devoured by his mares because he withheld the stallions from them; Pasiphaë, the wife of King Minos of Crete, who made her love a bull and give birth to the Minotaur; the women of Lemnos, who had neglected their cult and were therefore beaten by her with such a foul smell that their husbands fled and thus humiliated the abandoned women - until finally the Argonauts came and Aphrodite Hephaestus healed the women for the sake of Hephaestus. She was especially cruel to Theseus' son Hippolytus, who thought himself to be above love; for Aphrodite made his stepmother Phaedra in love with him, and when he wanted nothing to do with her, Phaedra accused him of rape with her husband and hanged herself. Theseus exiled and cursed his son, and Hippolytus also died a violent death. Aphrodite also punished the muse Klio, who mocked her passion for the mortal Adonis; for in turn she made Klio in love with a mortal, Pieros. The muse Kalliope, who had decided between Persephones and Aphrodite's rival claims on Adonis, was punished with the death of her son Orpheus. Aphrodite also imposed a punishment on Eos, the goddess of the dawn, for lying with Aphrodite's lover Ares: Aphrodite made her in love with two mortals, Cephalos and Tithonos. Helios, who had told Hephaestus of her relationship with Ares, also felt her retribution: he had to love the mortal Leukothoë. Once, however, a mortal turned the tables; that was when, wounded by the Argonaut king Diomedes, she had to flee from the Trojan battlefield.
While Aphrodite often appears as a cruel or comic figure in early Greek literature, the Romans saw her more serious and benevolent character: Lucretius praised her in his didactic poem "De rerum natura" (The nature of things) as the supreme generating force.
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