Aphrodite: Venus: Goddess of Love and Beauty

Aphrodite (pronounced: af-row-dight-ee) was the goddess of love. She was also called Venus by the Romans. Her parents were Zeus and Dione. Eros (Cupid in the Roman Pantheon) was her son.

Aphrodite and the Trojan War

Aphrodite indirectly started the Trojan War. Eris, the goddess of discord started a quarrel among three of the leading goddesses by throwing a golden apple among them, that bore the inscription, "For the Fairest". They first consulted Zeus, who was not diplomat enough to resolve the argument peaceably, but smart enough to refer it to someone else. In this case, he passed the buck to a mortal, Paris, who was a son of the King of Troy.

The three goddesses went to Paris who was offered power over a great empire by Hera. He was offered fame by Athena, while Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful mortal. He chose the latter and Aphrodite won the apple. Unfortunately, the most beautiful woman was Helen who happened to be married to a powerful Greek king, Menelaus. Paris stole Helen and brought her back to Troy. To redeem the honor of the Greeks and to return Helen to Menelaus the Greek city states banded together and sent an army to retrieve her.

During the Trojan War Aphrodite was hurt twice. The first time, an Argive (or Greek) named Diomedes "wounded" her in the hand. He did this because Athena pointed out which gods were on the side of the Trojans, and that Aphrodite was the most vulnerable of the gods. Athena had also aided Diomedes by uncovering the mist surrounding Aphrodite that had made her invisible. Aphrodite was teased by her two rivals, Hera and Athena. They referred rather slightingly to the scratch she got from dallying with the clasp on her dress. She also got "punched" by Athena who caught her on the battlefield trying to protect her lover Ares (the god of war).

Aphrodite, Hippomenes, and Atlanta

Aphrodite is a minor figure in many stories. For example, she gave Hippomenes three golden apples to help him win the hand of Atlanta. Atlanta was a princess, and a fleet runner. She did not wish to marry. To fend off proposals, she said she would race any man who would have her. If the man lost, he would forfeit his life. If he won, she would consent to marry him. Hippomenes fell in love with Atlanta and the race was set. He brought with him the three apples. As they ran, Atlanta took the lead. Hippomenes threw one of the golden apples where she could see it. She knew she was much faster than Hippomenes, so she swerved aside and retrieved the apple. Hippomenes took the lead, but Atlanta soon caught and passed him. Hippomenes tossed another apple. Atlanta swerved again to retrieve the second apple. Hippomenes rushed ahead and ran for the finish line. Atlanta had the second apple, but her speed allowed her to pass Hippomenes yet again. Not far from the finish Hippomenes tossed the last apple. But Atlanta had caught on to his ruse. She did not swerve and Hippomenes thought he would lose his life, but Aphrodite intervened sending her son, Eros, to fire one of his arrows at Atlanta. She was struck and smitten. Just before reaching the finish line, she turned and retrieved the final apple, allowing Hippomenes to cross the finish ahead of her.

Family Life of Aphrodite

In her relations with the other gods, Aphrodite was somewhat capricious. She married Hephaestus because of an oath she had made that she would marry whomever freed Hera from a trap the god of the forge had set for her. She thought her lover, Ares, would be the only one strong enough for the deed. Her marriage to Hephaestus was not a happy one. She often went off with Ares.

Aphrodite had a magic girdle which had been made for her by her husband (before being caught in her infidelity with Ares). The girdle had the effect of making anyone who wore it irresistible. She once loaned it to Hera to use to distract Zeus from a battle of the Trojan War.

Hesiod relates the birth of Aphrodite as a curious and even lurid story. Uranus, the first god of the sky was overthrown by his son, Cronus. To prevent Uranus from creating any future problems for himself, Cronus, emasculated the old man, casting the severed organ into the sea. The waves began to foam up and Aphrodite rose from the foam. Homer simply says that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

The worship of Aphrodite seems to have been imported from Asia through Cyprus. Homer actually calls her the "Cyprian". Her Roman name, Venus, seems to derive from her association with a minor love goddess of that name. Virgil refers to her by that name in the Aeneid, where she is the mother and protector of Aeneas.

Written by Kate Rayment

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