Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus . Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia.
According to Hesiod's Theogony , she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea, and from the sea foam ( aphros ) arose Aphrodite. Thus Aphrodite is of an older generation than Zeus.
Because of her beauty other gods feared that jealousy would interrupt the peace among them and lead to war, and so Zeus married her to Hephaestus, who was not viewed as a threat. Aphrodite had many lovers, both gods like Ares, and men like Anchises. Aphrodite also became instrumental in the Eros and Psyche legend, and later was both Adonis' lover and his surrogate mother. Many lesser beings were said to be children of Aphrodite.
Aphrodite is also known as Cytherea ( Lady of Cythera ) and Cypris ( Lady of Cyprus ) after the two cult-sites, Cythera and Cyprus, which claimed her birth. Myrtles, doves, sparrows, horses, and swans are sacred to her. The Greeks further identified the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor with Aphrodite. Aphrodite also has many other local names, such as Acidalia, Cytherea and Cerigo, used in specific areas of Greece. Each goddess demanded a slightly different cult but Greeks recognized in their overall similarities the one Aphrodite. Attic philosophers of the fourth century separated a celestial Aphrodite (Aprodite Urania) of transcendent principles with the common Aphrodite of the people (Aphrodite Pandemos).
Aphrodite is usually said to have been born near Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, for which reason she is called "Cyprian", especially in the poetic works of Sappho. Her chief center of worship was at Paphos, where the goddess of desire had been worshipped from the early Iron Age in the form of Ishtar and Astarte. However, other versions of her myth have her born near the island of Kythira (Cythera), for which reason she is called "Cytherea". Kythira was a stopping place for trade and culture between Crete and the Peloponesus, so these stories may preserve traces of the migration of Aphrodite's cult from the Middle East to mainland Greece.
In the most famous version of her myth, her birth was the consequence of a castration: Cronus severed Uranus' genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite (for which reason she is called "foam-arisen"), while the Erinyes (furies) emerged from the drops of blood. Hesiod states that the genitals "were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh; with it a girl grew." This girl became Aphrodite. She floated ashore on a scallop shell. This image of a fully mature "Venus rising from the sea" ( Venus Anadyomene ) was one of the iconic representations of Aphrodite, made famous in a much-admired painting by Apelles, now lost, but described in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder.
In another version of her origin,she was considered a daughter of Zeus and Dione, the mother goddess whose oracle was at Dodona. Aphrodite herself was sometimes also referred to as "Dione." "Dione" seems to be a feminine form of "Dios", the genitive form case of Zeus, and could be taken to mean simply "the goddess" in a generic sense. Aphrodite might then be an equivalent of Rhea, the Earth Mother, whom Homer relocated to Olympus. Some scholars have hypothesized an original Proto-Indo-European pantheon, with the chief male god (Di-) represented by the sky and thunder, and the chief female god (feminine form ofDi-) represented as the earth or fertile soil. After the worship of Zeus had displaced the oak-grove oracle at Dodona, some poets made Zeus the father of Aphrodite. In some tales, Aphrodite was a daughter of Zeus and Thalassa (the sea).
In Homer, Aphrodite, venturing into battle to protect her son, Aeneas, is wounded by Diomedes and returns to her mother, to sink down at her knee and be comforted.
Aphrodite had no childhood: in every image and each reference she is born as an adult, nubile, and infinitely desirable. Aphrodite is often depicted nude in many of the images she is in. Aphrodite, in many of the late anecdotal myths involving her, is characterized as vain, ill-tempered and easily offended. Though she is one of the few gods of the Greek Pantheon to be actually married, she is frequently unfaithful to her husband. Hephaestus is one of the most even-tempered of the Hellenic deities; in the narrative embedded in the Odyssey Aphrodite seems to prefer Ares, the volatile god of war, as she was attracted to his violent nature. She is one of a few characters who played a major part in the original cause of the Trojan War itself: not only did she offer Helen of Troy to Paris, but the abduction was accomplished when Paris, seeing Helen for the first time, was inflamed with desire to have herwhich is Aphrodite's realm.
Due to her immense beauty, Zeus was frightened that she would be the cause of violence between the other gods. He married her off to Hephaestus, the dour, humorless god of smithing. In another version of this story, Hera, Hephaestus' mother, had cast him off Olympus; deeming him ugly and deformed. His revenge was to trap her in a magic throne, and then to demand Aphrodite's hand in return for Hera's release. Hephaestus was overjoyed at being married to the goddess of beauty and forged her beautiful jewelry, including the cestus, a girdle that made her even more irresistible to men. Her unhappiness with her marriage caused Aphrodite to seek out companionship from others, most frequently Ares, but also Adonis.
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