Aphrodite in Greek Mythology
Introduction to Aphrodite
As the Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite holds great power over both mortals and immortals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that she is featured in numerous myths, poems, and plays; likewise, there are many representations of Aphrodite in Greek sculpture and vase painting. While several legends of Aphrodite emphasize themes of love and desire, some of most compelling myths deal with the consequences that the goddess herself suffers as a result of being the victim of love.
The story of Aphrodite and her interlude with the human Adonis makes for an interesting study of the double edged sword that passion can be. In this myth, the vulnerability of the goddess is poignant. This vulnerability points to the fact that in Greek mythology even the gods could suffer, and were certainly not immune to the pains and passions that we, as humans, experience.
The Birth of Aphrodite
There are a couple of versions of the birth of Aphrodite, which, although they differ, are not necessarily contradictory. According to Homer (Iliad, Book V, 370), the goddess is simply the daughter of Zeus and Dione (a name that is merely the feminine form of Zeus in Greek). However, the poet Hesiod (Theogony, 188-198) provides a much more elaborate explanation for her birth: he claims that the name Aphrodite is derived from aphros or foam, and thus the goddess was born of this substance.
In the tale, the Titan Kronos castrated his father Ouranos, and then cast the severed genitals into the sea. From the foam that gathered around the member, Aphrodite emerged, fully formed. Hesiod’s description, however gruesome it may seem, does have the advantage of attaching a certain meaning to the birth of the goddess, which I leave to the reader to ascertain. At any rate, this version also lends a poetic quality to Aphrodite’s creation, in that as Anadyomene (”she who emerges”), she was depicted by countless artists.
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