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Aphrodite, Goddess of Love

celtic era
by Myth Man (used with permission)

Chapter 1 – Debutante

(This historical retelling is completely "tongue-in-cheek" and should not be copied for your term paper)

My second cousin Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, desire and fertility, and was rumored to be the oldest of the twelve Olympian gods.

How old was she? Hey, I wasn't about to ask her age...are you crazy?

If you thought Athena's birth was rather odd, springing as she did full-grown out of the head of Zeus, wait until you hear about how the proud, gorgeous - and sometimes cruel - Aphrodite came to be!

But first send the little ones to bed - some content may be inappropriate for younger readers.

Titan Cronus was the son of the great god Uranus (Heaven, Sky) and Gaia (Mother Earth). I vaguely remember them, I was so young when they left the scene. The stories I heard say that as his children were born, nasty old Uranus went and imprisoned them so they wouldn't challenge his paranoid rule, causing Mother Earth great grief.

Here's the short version - with his mother's help Cronus got free, scored himself a real sharp sickle, ambushed his father and castrated him.

Ouch! I don't care if you're a god, that's got to hurt!

Cronus threw Uranus' severed parts into the sea, and a host of giants and nymphs arose from the water, including cousin Aphrodite.

I'm not making this stuff up. Seriously. Hesiod told me it's all true.

Man, my cousin always knew how to make an appearance...Aphrodite - "Afros" is Greek for "foam of the sea" - emerged wonderfully naked from the foam and strutted ashore at Cyprus, or Cythera, we're not quite sure.

You see, people were so stunned at her sensuality and beauty, they forgot where they were, or so the story goes.

Incidentally, some say the goddess of desire's connection with water may be one reason seafood has been considered an aphrodisiac throughout the ages. Yummy.

Grass and flowers sprang up wherever her feet touched the earth. The Seasons clothed (bummer!), perfumed and covered her in jewels, and brought her before the Immortals.

It was the hottest ticket in town. "APHRODITE DEBUTANTE!" screamed the headlines of the Mount Olympus Chronicle. Gods and mortals alike were in a tizzy, getting their hair done and ordering spiffy new attire from Niko of Athens and Armani of Patra. Nobody could wait for the coming-out ball.

That's the story of Aphrodite's birth according to Hesiod, circa 800BC. Homer, on the other hand, in the Iliad claims that she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Boring version, dude. Stick to the war stories, will ya?

From these two different origins, my favorite philosopher Plato (man was he cerebral, you asked him what time it was, he told you how to build a sundial) identified two Aphrodites.

One, the daughter of Uranus, also called Urania, was the noble goddess of pure love. The kind of girl you didn't mind sending a dozen roses to on impulse, dinner, candlelight, music, the works.

The other, the daughter of Dione, also called Pandemos, was the goddess of ‘common’ love. Heavy into sex. She could be a real bitch, if you know what I mean, pardon my Greek. Hey, you want me to lie?

Conniving Aphrodite in her Pandemos persona broke up many a decent Hellenic home. My postman Hermes tells me she's now taken up modern residence in a place called Washington, DC. We think it's near Hades.

Which one did I prefer? I enjoyed hanging with Pandemos Aphrodite very much (duh!), but it was Urania Aphrodite I'd bring home to meet mama Nyx. You get the gist.

So who to believe, Homer or Hesiod? In this instance, I prefer Hesiod's version of Aphrodite's origin, it's so much more credible. Besides, Hesiod always told the neatest stories! Sometimes, though, I swear he was making stuff up just to amuse the gullible Greeks.

And talk about a plum job! As a goddess, Aphrodite had only one divine duty: to make love and to inspire others to do so as well. Her primary function was to preside over reproduction, ensuring the survival of the community.

Hard humanitarian work, but hey, someone's got to do it.

Where do I apply?

Aphrodite was desired by all and had her choice of partners. But my beautiful blonde cousin was no mere bimbo. She was also the patroness of smithcraft and the mechanical arts and was married to Hephaestus, the most famous craftsman of all.

(Which begs the question: How on earth did those two ever tie the knot? Here's the most beautiful and desirable goddess, in the form of Aphrodite, married to the only ugly god on Mount Olympus. Hephaestus had a face only a mother could love. Okay, forget that last statement. His mother Hera, the wife of Zeus, was initially disgusted by the sickly child she had delivered, and threw homely Hephaestus from the heights of Mount Olympus, splattering him in the sea. He was brutally ugly, at times ill-tempered, and lame in the legs due to his fall from Olympus. But man, was he gifted! Hephaestus eventually got even with Hera and joined the major gods on Mount Olympus, but that's a delightful story for another day.)

It was an arranged marriage, wouldn't you know - Aphrodite was so beautiful that, after her birth, Zeus was afraid that the gods would fight over her hand in marriage, causing discord on Olympus. So he married her off to Hephaestus, the steadiest of the gods

I guess you can call it a shotgun wedding in reverse - a thunderbolt wedding, perhaps. I remember the tantrum cousin Aphrodite threw at Zeus when she found out he had already given Hermes the wedding invitations to mail. The girl flipped!

Even the fact that the event was being catered by Dionysus didn't appease her.

"One of these days, I'm going to turn you into a bull, old man!" I overheard her mutter. Let's just say she wasn't thrilled with Zeus' matchmaking.

Can't blame her...even though Heph wasn't a bad god, man was he homely!

Hephaestus on the other hand could hardly believe his good luck and utilized all his skills to make the most lavish presents and jewels for her. His greatest gift for her was an exquisite girdle of finely wrought gold, and he wove magic in the filigree work to please her.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. How can an Olympian god be so bloody stupid?

You see, whenever Aphrodite wore her magic golden girdle, it caused men and gods to fall hopelessly in love with her. Whoever beheld her would instantly melt with desire. No one could resist her, and she was all too irresistible already!

The girl loved to party and her glamorous and fast-paced lifestyle clashed horribly with that of the lame, sooty and hard-working Hephaestus.

Obviously, for Hephaestus, "marriage" was a word; for Aphrodite, a sentence…

Chapter 2 – Make Love, Not War

The good news was that cousin Aphrodite bore many children during the time she was married to Hephaestus; the bad news was none were his. Three kids were fathered by Ares, the ruthless god of war, with whom Aphrodite maintained an ongoing affair.

Giving the term "Make love, not war" a whole new twist, if you ask me. With Ares, it was more like, "Make love, then war".

Jerk. Never liked Ares. Don't tell him I said so, however, it would mean war.

Cousin Aphrodite's ill-concealed affair with Ares had scandalized gods and mortals alike. The Mount Olympus Enquirer was having a field day. Talk about opposites attracting! What's the goddess of love doing with the god of war, pray tell?

Alas, when the tattletale Helios, the all-seeing sun god, informed Hephaestus what was going on behind his back, the enraged god crafted an invisible trap for the lovers and captured them naked in a net. He then assembled the laughing gods to pass judgment on them.

The amused Olympians refused to punish the trapped lovebirds, much to the chagrin of the cuckold Hephaestus. The female deities declined to take part - what, and be cursed in love the rest of their lives? No thanks! - and the male gods were visibly swayed by Aphrodite's testimony.

Not to mention her lovely golden girdle, which she just happened to slip on.

"Not guilty!"

She "thanked" Hermes for his help by sleeping with him and bearing the child called Hermaphroditus.

(I really liked hanging with second cousin Hermaphroditus, but the poor thing was so confused after he joined up with that clinging Naiad Salmacis. He/she never knew whether she/he should enter the door marked GODS or GODDESSES at the Mount Olympus loo. More on him/her another time.)

Until things cooled down in the tabloids, the embarrassed lovers went on separate vacations to the Greek Islands, but cousin Aphrodite had the last laugh on Helios, that big mouthed tattletale.

She caused him to fall in love with a mortal beauty called Leucothoe, daughter of Orchamus who was king of Persia. The enamored Helios assumed the form of Leuchothoe's mother, dismissed the servants and then revealed his identity and proceeded to seduce the king's daughter.

Man did that tick off the Oceanid Clytia, who had the hots for the sun god and was under the misconception that they were going steady. Burning with jealousy and wrath, she told everyone of Helios' seduction of Leucothoe, making certain that her father, King Orchamus, got all the lurid details.

This so incensed the king that he ordered his daughter Leucothoe buried alive. Poor girl, we all felt so badly for her, but there was nothing we could do. Cousin Aphrodite could be a real meanie sometimes.

Aphrodite would often help young people in love. Atalanta, a virgin huntress, used to force her wooers to race before her, but if she caught them she would put them to death. If anybody survived she would marry him.? (Now that's what I call a "killer date"! Rules like that can really put a damper on a girl's social life...No wonder her phone never rang!)

Well, if you knew cousin Aphrodite at all, you just knew that Atalanta's reluctance to tramp around didn't sit well with her..

'What's that girl doing, killing Calydonian boars and running through woods hunting with the men, when there's such a much better reason to be in the company of males?' Aphrodite wondered.

A man named Melanion (also known as Hippomenes) had a crush on beautiful Atalanta, but was astute enough to know he had no chance to beat her in the race. Aphrodite gave Melanion three golden apples, which he scattered on the ground as he ran. Atalanta could not help but stop to pick up the exquisite fruit, and was thus beaten in the race.

But Aphrodite wasn't all lovey-dovey. She could be harsh to those who defied her, as we saw earlier with poor Leucothoe.

Because the Lemnian women did not honor her, she inflicted a foul smell on them and caused their husbands to consort with Thracian women. The Lemnian women, abandoned by their husbands, killed all the men on the island and established a society of women. Men. Who needs them, I always say.

When Aphrodite caught that idiot Ares in bed with the goddess Eos (Dawn), she cursed his lover with a constant longing for young mortals. You can argue that Eos thus became the first 'cougar'.

When the Sirens refused to yield their virginity to either mortals or gods, Aphrodite turned them into vile birds that tormented sailors. Should I go on?

Her power was immense, and her victims included Helen, Medea, Ariadne, Phaedra and Hippodameia, to name but a few. Everywhere you turned, another beauty had bit the dust, compliments of dear cousin Aphrodite.

Yes, it was wise indeed to respect the goddess of love. I remember Anchiles, one of her mortal lovers, bragging about his conquest of Aphrodite in a tavern while buzzed on cheap wine, causing Zeus to strike him dead with a thunderbolt for his impudence.

Aphrodite most famously set in motion the Trojan War. It goes like this:.

Eris (Discord) was not invited to a wedding, a gala event attended by a veritable who's who.

I mean, no kidding! Who in their right mind would invite mean old Discord to their wedding? Wouldn't that be asking for trouble? She was persona non grata at most civilized functions.

To gain revenge, Discord threw a golden apple among the invited guest, a prize to be given to the most beautiful woman present

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm probably not the first person to bring this up, but what we have here is the first beauty pageant in recorded history..

To nobody's surprise, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite were the three finalists for the golden apple of Eris, and they asked Zeus to make the ultimate selection, but wise Zeus wanted nothing to do with the final decision.

("Talk about a lose-lose proposition," I heard Zeus muttering. "I don't pick my wife Hera, she castrates me! Athena's my favorite child, and she sure is beautiful, so I'd be tempted to award her the apple. But then there's Aphrodite, and wouldn't you know it, she's wearing that darn golden girdle again! What a babe! Oh my... What's a god to do?")

So Zeus assigned the volatile task to a noble young prince from Troy named Paris, who was reputed to be an excellent judge of beauty. (Bob Barker wasn't available, I guess). Not willing to chance defeat, Aphrodite bribed Paris by promising him the hand of gorgeous Helen, never mind that at the time Helen was married to Menelaus, King of Sparta...just a minor inconvenience.

Truth be told, all three goddesses tried to bribe Paris. Athena promised to make him forever victorious on the battlefield, and Hera offered Paris kingship of the universe, complete with palace, subjects and the whole nine yards. Tough choice, yes? What would you do?

The goddess of love's bribe worked, for Paris was stuck on Helen, who was said to be the most beautiful mortal alive (One day I caught a glimpse of Helen as she proudly stood on the walls of Troy, taunting and challenging the enraged Greeks to come and get her…Yes, she was a doll, but man was she ever full of herself. Thousand ships, and all that…)

So Aphrodite got the golden apple of aunt Eris, Paris got the gorgeous Helen, and the ancient world got the Trojan War. The rest is history, the subject of many heroic and marvelous myths. Since I was there, I'll be able to give you an accurate feel for the subject when it comes time to talk of Troy.

I wonder if they invited good old aunty Discord to the next wedding?

Aphrodite also proved instrumental in determining the outcome of the Argonauts' quest for the Golden Fleece. At the request of Hera she made princess Medea fall in love with the hero Jason (he was such a jock!), which led to him getting the Fleece. More on that and the Trojan War another time.

Busy Goddess

Aphrodite's love affair with handsome Adonis was fabled. Adonis was born when King Cinyras bragged that his daughter Smyrna (we used to call her Myrrha) was more beautiful than my cousin Aphrodite. Idiot.

To punish the impudent man, Aphrodite made the king insane and caused him to lie with his daughter. When he regained his sanity and realized what he had done, King Cinyras tried to kill Smyrna..

Now there's a sane thing to do! As if it was his daughter's fault! Oh, those Greeks!

But hang on. Vile rumors circulated around Olympus that Smyrna herself was infatuated with her father, and that with her nanny's assistance they made him drunk and Smyrna had seduced him. Hesiod, Homer and the rest of the gang always quarreled over who was to blame.

(I well remember their animated debates down at  Thanasi's Olympus Greek Restaurant , lasting till Eos (Dawn) showed up to spoil their party, or until the Apelia red wine finally ran out and Orpheus' lyre was stilled…Good times.)

In an attempt to save the young woman from her father's wrath, Aphrodite turned Smyrna into a myrrh tree. Not to be denied, the king sliced this tree in half, and Adonis emerged from the split.

There are cute babies, and then there are gorgeous babies! Adonis was absolutely adorable!

Aphrodite was so moved by his beauty that she concealed the baby boy in a chest and entrusted him to Persephone, who was Queen of Hades, the Underworld.

Bad move, in hindsight.

Adonis grew to be quite the hunk - Hellenic People magazine named him Most Desirable Bachelor for 16 straight years - and eventually Aphrodite and Persephone came to blows over his affections.

You see, Persephone was also enamored by Adonis' beauty, and refused to give him back. I remember Hermes, the messenger god, discreetly showing me the following curt message from Persephone to Aphrodite regarding Adonis:

Dearest Aphro:

You and your damned golden girdle stay away from my Adonis! Surely there are enough gods and mortals on the upper levels to satisfy even a notorious hussy like you.

Me, I'm surrounded by a bunch of stiffs! Besides, I raised my Adonis since he was a baby, remember how you just dumped the poor little darling on my lap one day? So you'd have to be a complete airhead to think that any Olympian court would find for you.

I've already hired Themis to handle the case. If you think you're getting your filthy hands on my babe Adonis, you can go to Hades!

Actually, DO NOT come to Hades! I've instructed Cerberus to bite you!

Sincerely,
Persephone

PS: Any chance Hephaestus can make me one of those golden girdles?

I swore to Hermes that I wouldn't tell anyone that he showed me the note, for at least a couple of thousand years. You can lose your job, you know. That's private mail.

Adieu Adonis

Well, you can't really have two very important goddesses engaged in a very public catfight, now, can you?

"Bring it, bitch!" hissed Aphrodite.

Just as things looked like they were going to reach a climax, Zeus sent the Muse Calliope to decide the issue. Wise Calliope ruled that each woman would have access to Adonis for one third of each year, and the remaining third would be Adonis' to spend alone.

(Giving poor, exhausted Adonis time to recover, I suppose, but he chose to spend his own third with Aphrodite. Must have been that golden girdle.)

Calliope's custody ruling made jealous the god of war Ares, Aphrodite's jilted ex-lover. Ares turned himself into a giant boar and killed Adonis. Shame on him. What a jerk!

Ever since I met him, Ares was - and still is - the least favorite of all my Olympian kin. I have tried hard to like the god of war, and I have failed miserably. He was such a brutish thug!

Don't tell him I said that please.

After Adonis' murder, cousin Aphrodite became enraged, since he was now spending the entire year with Persephone in the underworld. She beseeched Zeus, who ruled that Adonis' year would now be split in half; one part would be spent in the underworld, the other among the Olympians. Take that, Ares, you big boar!

I've often wondered if anyone bothered asking Adonis what he wanted. Not that he had much reason to complain, mind you, but sometimes it's hard being a sex symbol. (Sure, it's nice being built like a Greek god, but do you get any respect? Noooo...I often wanted to ask him how he felt, but he was always so darn tired, what with the hunting and all.)

In some versions overheard late at night at Thanasi's Olympus , Aphrodite tragically loses the love of her life. I forget whose version this one is.

All the time Aphrodite was with Adonis, she sought only to please him. He was an avid huntsman and many times she would leave her swan-drawn chariot, in which she would effortlessly glide through the air, and join him in the forests dressed like a huntress.

I can tell you she looked stunning in her fluorescent orange hunting tunic.

Aphrodite lived in constant fear of losing her Adonis, and had repeatedly warned him to stick to safer game when hunting.

"Let those fools Perseus and Heracles play the macho games with the boars and the monsters, sweetie," I'd hear her say to him. "Now go out and bag us a couple of rabbits for dinner to go with this Ambrosia. And keep your darn dogs out of my temple until they become domesticated!"

Sadly one day she wasn't with him and he tracked down a mighty boar (boars always got a bad rap in Greek mythology, for some ungodly reason).

For hours Adonis pursued the terrifying behemoth throughout the forests, reveling in the intense pleasure of the hunt. Eventually he brought the exhausted beast to bay with his hunting dogs and hurled his spear at it, but only wounded the animal.

Before Adonis could spring away, the boar, mad with pain, rushed at him and gored him with its great tusks.

High over the earth in her winged chariot, Aphrodite heard her lover's groans and flew to him. She kissed and cried to him as life softly left him, dark blood flowing down his skin of snow and his eyes growing heavy and dim. She sprinkled nectar on the drops of blood as it painted the earth deep crimson.

And for the first time the goddess of love, who indiscriminately pierces the hearts of gods and men alike, knew how it felt to be herself wounded in the heart, a wound worse than even his.

"You die, O thrice desired,
And my desire has flown like a dream,
Gone with you is the girdle of my beauty,

But I myself must live who am a goddess
And may not follow you.
Kiss me once again, the last, long kiss,
Until I draw your soul within my lips
And drink down all your love."

The mountains all were calling and the oak tree answering,
Oh, woe, woe for Adonis. He is dead.
And Echo cried in answer, Oh, woe, woe for Adonis.
And all the Loves wept for him, and all the Muses too.

A crimson flower sprang up where each drop of his blood had stained the earth. Every year the Greek maidens mourned for him and every spring they rejoiced when his flower, the blood-red anemone, the windflower, was seen blooming again.

Aphrodite's entourage included my second favorite cousins, the Charites, or Graces, who were the personifications of charm and beauty in nature and in human life.

The Graces loved all things beautiful and bestowed talent upon mortals. Together with my beloved favorite cousins, the Muses, they served as sources of inspiration in poetry and the arts.

Their names were Aglaia (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth) and Thalia (Good Cheer), but to me they were cousins Aggi, Efi and Talli.

What a pleasure it was just being with them. They are usually considered the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, or Dionysus and Aphrodite, leading to more late night Apelia wine debates down at Thanasi's.

Either way, you can bet my cousin Aphrodite and her retinue turned a few heads when they entered the room!

Aphrodite's partner in crime was her darling son Eros (Love, Cupid), a very wicked and mischievous boy some say, lacking all manners. The brat amused himself by running all night from building to building, and with his love arrows breaking up respectable homes.

Nobody was immune to his capricious nature, not even Zeus, in whom Eros often inspired sexual desires. (And how!)

Aphrodite's festival was the Aphrodisiac which was celebrated in various centers of Greece and especially in Athens and Corinth, the city that adopted her as their patroness.

"Fellow Corinthian noblemen, after months of strenuous research, we have narrowed down our Patron search to two candidates, the great gods Hephaestus and Aphrodite. Every year we will hold a month-long festival worshiping and honoring all that our Patron stands for.

We asked both gods to appear here today to state their case, and we are delighted that Aphrodite was able to make it. Hermes just delivered word that Hephaestus is still on his way, says he can only walk so fast.

By the way, nice girdle, your majesty."

Can you say "mismatch"? Does "blowout" ring any bells? It wasnãt a pretty sight, poor Hephaestus had no chance. I can vouch to the authenticity of the Corinthian transcripts, I was there in disguise at her request, and I cast a vote for my cousin. Not that she needed it, but you know Aphro, she always covers her butt, in a manner of speaking.

Speaking of which, Aphrodite asked me to make it clear that her priestesses were not prostitutes but women who represented the goddess, and sexual intercourse with them was considered just one of the methods of worship.

(Yeah, sure, tell it to the judge, lady…)

My cousin Aphrodite's attributes are the dolphin, the dove, the swan, the pomegranate and the lime tree. In classical art, her connection to fertility is suggested through flowers and vegetation motifs. Those shameless Roman plagiarists called her Venus.


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