Aphrodite (Listeni/æfrəˈdaɪti/ af-rə-dy-tee; Greek: Ἀφροδίτη) is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus. She is identified with the planet Venus.
As with many ancient Greek deities, there is more than one story about her origins. According to Hesiod's Theogony, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus's genitals and threw them into the sea, and she arose from the sea foam (aphros). According to Homer's Iliad, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. According to Plato (Symposium, 180e), these two origins were of entirely separate entities: Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos.
Because of her beauty, other gods feared that their rivalry over her would interrupt the peace among them and lead to war, so Zeus married her to Hephaestus, who, because of his ugliness and deformity, was not seen as a threat. Aphrodite had many lovers—both gods, such as Ares, and men, such as Anchises. She played a role in the Eros and Psyche legend, and later was both Adonis's 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 to be her place of birth. Myrtle, doves, sparrows, horses, and swans were said to be sacred to her. The ancient Greeks identified her with the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor.
Aphrodite had many other names, such as Acidalia, Cytherea, and Cerigo, each used by a different local cult of the goddess in Greece. The Greeks recognized all of these names as referring to the single goddess Aphrodite, despite the slight differences in what these local cults believed the goddess demanded of them. The Attic philosophers of the 4th century, however, drew a distinction between a celestial Aphrodite (Aphrodite Urania) of transcendent principles, and a separate, "common" Aphrodite who was the goddess of the people (Aphrodite Pandemos).
The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485.
Aphrodite is usually said to have been born near her chief center of worship, Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, which is why she is sometimes called "Cyprian", especially in the poetic works of Sappho. However, other versions of her myth have her born near the island of Cythera, hence another of her names, "Cytherea". Cythera 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 (hence her name, meaning "foam-arisen"), while the Erinyes (furies), and the Meliae emerged from the drops of his 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." The girl, Aphrodite, floated ashore on a scallop shell. This iconic representation of Aphrodite as a mature "Venus rising from the sea" (Venus Anadyomene) was 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", "of Zeus", the genitive form case of Zeus, and could be taken to mean simply "(she) that belongs to Zeus" in a generic sense. Aphrodite might, then, be an equivalent of Rhea, the Earth Mother, whom Homer relocated to Olympus.
Aphrodite is consistently portrayed, in every image and story, as having had no childhood, and instead being born as a nubile, infinitely desirable adult. She is often depicted nude. In many of the later myths, she is portrayed as vain, ill-tempered, and easily offended. Although she is married—she is one of the few gods in the Greek Pantheon who is—she is frequently unfaithful to her husband.
According to one version of Aphrodite's story, because of her immense beauty Zeus fears that the other gods will become violent with each other in their rivalry to possess her. To forestall this, he forces her to marry Hephaestus, the dour, humorless god of smithing. In another version of the story, his mother, Hera casts him off Olympus, deeming him too ugly and deformed to inhabit the home of the gods. His revenge is to trap his mother in a magic throne. In return for her release, he demands to be given Aphrodite's hand in marriage.
Hephaestus is overjoyed to be married to the goddess of beauty, and forges her beautiful jewelry, including the cestus, a girdle (more properly a strophion, an undergarment which accentuated the breast) that makes her even more irresistible to men. Her unhappiness with her marriage causes Aphrodite to seek other male companionship, most often Ares, but also sometimes Adonis.
Aphrodite's husband Hephaestus is one of the most even-tempered of the Hellenic deities, but in the Odyssey, she is portrayed as preferring Ares, the volatile god of war, because she is attracted to his violent nature.
Aphrodite is a major figure in the Trojan War legend. She is a contestant in the "Judgement of Paris" (see below), which leads to the war. She had been the lover of the Trojan Anchises, and mother of his son Aeneas. Later, during the war, she saves Aeneas from Diomedes, who wounds her.
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