She clothed herself with garments which the Graces and Hours had made for her and dyed in flowers of spring – such flowers as the Seasons wear – in crocus and hyacinth and flourishing violet and the rose’s lovely bloom, so sweet and delicious, and heavenly buds, the flowers of the narcissus and lily. In such perfumed garments is Aphrodite clothed at all seasons.
~ from The Cypria, Fragment 6, possibly 750-650 B.C.E.
We are two days from Valentine’s Day, so it seems a perfect time to celebrate the Goddess, Aphrodite.
Often known as “The Golden One,” She is worshiped with gifts and ornaments of gold, which, like Her eternal youth and beauty, never tarnish. Doves and lovebirds are also often associated with Her because of their gentle natures. Aphrodite is also a Goddess of flowers.
There are many incarnations of this Goddess of Love and Physical Beauty. Her power transcends culture and time. She is known as “Aphrodite Marina,” the “Maiden of the Sea,” “Aphrodite Urania,” and simply the “Goddess of Love.”
Although one of the most widely recognized of the Greek Goddesses, She probably did not originate in Greece, but was a Mother Goddess that came from the sea traders of the eastern Mediterranean.
Her chief center of worship was at Paphos in Cyprus, where She is remembered as Kypris-Aphrodite, the Great Goddess of Cyprus. It is believed She had been worshiped there from the earliest Iron Age in the form of Ishtar and Astarte, both of whom were associated with the planet we now call by Aphrodite’s Roman name, Venus.
However, of the Triple Goddess aspects, She is not thought of as a Mother Goddess, but embodies the Maiden Goddess. Bear in mind that the Maiden is not usually an untouched virgin, but instead, is free of ties to marriage or relationship, or is not dependent on a lover or husband for Her power, identity, or security.
In most origin stories, Her birth was the consequence of the Titan Cronus severing Uranus’ genitals and throwing them into the sea (Long story, perhaps for another time!). The Greek poet 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 was Aphrodite, who finally 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, which date back at least to the fourth century B.C.E. She is never depicted as a child or baby, but born fully mature, more indication that She came to the Greeks from older origins.
Aphrodite was so beautiful that Zeus was afraid She would stir up trouble amongst the other Gods and Goddesses. So He married Her off to Hephaestus, God of smithcraft and so unattractive that His mother, Hera, had tried to evict Him from Olympus.
Hephaestus was thrilled to be married to the Goddess of beauty and love, and was often unaware of Her numerous and rather spectacular love affairs with, among others, Ares, Dionysius, Hermes, Poseidon, and the mortal, Adonis. These also resulted in many offspring.
Her birth story makes clear that She was a foreign Goddess from the beginning, and as Goddess scholar Patricia Monaghan, in her essential work, The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines points out, “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.”
As a result, Her later characteristics portray a more petty, less honorable Goddess. Monaghan writes, “In their attempt to assimilate the alien Goddess, the Greeks converted Aphrodite into a personification of physical beauty. But She remained so problematic 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 later Aphrodite who was worshiped at Corinth where the Near Eastern practice of sacramental promiscuity deteriorated into a costly prostitution…”
When the two cultures of Greece and Rome began overlapping, Aphrodite was merged with an ancient Roman kitchen garden Goddess that was a delicate spirit of charm, youthful flirtation, beauty, herbs, and wild strawberries. But Her blending with the Great Goddess of sexuality and beauty has made Her forever intertwined with the Goddess we know today as Venus.
I’ll have some suggestions for celebrating beautiful Aphrodite in your life on Tuesday! Meantime, may Aphrodite grace you with Her love and beauty always.