Steffi Chang

Aphrodite

Who is Aphrodite?
Aphrodite is one of the most well known Greek goddesses. She is infamous for her uncontrollable desire to be praised, to provide love, and to be loved. She is often associated with beauty, sexuality, pleasure, and love.

Birth of Aphrodite
There are two versions of Aphrodite’s birth: Hesiod’s Theogony and Homer’s Iliad. Hesiod’s Theogony depicts Aphrodite emerging from Uranus, the sky god, alone. Uranus had instructed that none of his offspring should come into the light and become king. As Uranus incessantly tried to bed with Gaia, the earth god, his son Cronus castrated Uranus with a sickle and threw his genitals into the sea reacting out of vengeance and jealousy from his father. From this, a white, sea foam created the well-known Olympian goddess, Aphrodite (Lombardi, 1998). After her creation from sea foam, she was escorted into the island of Cyprus. She was originally intended to be the “sweetness of love”; however, she eventually caused misery and bloodshed for mortals and soon her pure love became corrupted (Stewart, 2005). In the Roman version of Homer’s Iliad, Aphrodite’s Roman name is Venus and was born as the union of Zeus and Dione (Paris, 1998). Regardless of the different versions of Aphrodite’s birth, she still is the well-known Olympian goddess of pleasure, love, beauty, and sexuality.

Legends of Aphrodite
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Three goddesses fighting for the "apple of discordance"

The most famous legend of Aphrodite is known as the Judgment of Paris. In the beginning of the Trojan War, Aphrodite was between two other goddesses, Hera and Athena, who were invited to Zeus’ wedding. The goddess of discord, Eris, was so outraged because she was not invited. Because of this, she threw a golden apple labeled “for the fairest” of all but was originally called the "apple of discordance". All three goddess thought that they were the fairest and fought over it. Since Zeus would not choose the fairest, the goddesses looked upon Paris, the Prince of Troy, to assign the award to one of them. To become the chosen one, each goddess offered Paris a bribe. Aphrodite’s bribe was the one he could not turn down, as she offered him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy. However, Helen was the wife of the Greek king Menelaus; therefore, Paris's abduction and love for Helen led to the Trojan War (Paris, 1998). The Trojan War was a battle between the Trojans and the Achaians, also known as the Greeks. They had agreed that Menelaus and Paris would fight for Helen and the results would state an end to a nine-year quarrel. The Trojan War was not a direct reaction from Aphrodite’s desires but her bribe for Paris caused misery and death for both armies (Stewart, 2005). This legend of Aphrodite represents Aphrodite’s strong power of love and its extreme influence on human actions.

Symbolism of Aphrodite
Aphrodite’s distinctive attribute that separates her from the other gods was her beauty. All the other symbols represent love, whether it may be for her or for others. According to Atsma, some symbols of Aphrodite include a swan, dove, scallop shell, nature, and mirror (2008). It is common to see portraits of Aphrodite surrounded by nature and flowers that represent fertility and femininity. The mirror represents Aphrodite’s depiction of vanity (Paris, 1998). The bird symbolisms (i.e. swan, dove, etc.) portray her status as queen and being an importance to the nature of humans. Lastly, to illustrate the importance of how she was born, the scallop shell signifies her birth from the sea (Lombardi, 1998). Many portraits have Aphrodite standing on a huge scallop shell, as if she was just born from it. There are more objects that are associated to her character but these are the most common symbols.

Aphrodite’s Behavior
Aphrodite’s reputation of sexuality did not come from nowhere. She was known for her promiscuity and liberated sexuality through her uncontrollable nature of frivolity. Her charm and seductive skills made every god and man arouse passion for her. Even the great god of Zeus longed for her as a wife. However, her rejection towards Zeus resulted in being forced to become the wife of Hephaestus, the dull god of blacksmiths (Lombardi, 1998). Of course this did not stop Aphrodite from being unfaithful with one of her most celebrated affairs with Ares, the god of war. Even after being caught in bed with Ares by Hephaestus, she continued to have extramarital affairs with other gods and mortal men. From her extramarital affairs, it resulted in many offspring coming from the union with numerous gods and men. Aphrodite’s bearing of numerous children is proof of her controlling power of love to anyone (Atsma, 2008).

Popular Culture
Lombardi states that popular culture presents Aphrodite as a deity of petty desires (1998). As previously mentioned, Aphrodite’s numerous affairs led her to have multiple children. One of her more admired child is Eros, the god of Love. Eros is depicted as Aphrodite’s little winged child. In today’s culture, Eros is often recognized as Cupid. Cupid is most known to be the Valentine’s Day mascot and to initiate love and desire into other people (Saffer, 2008). He is pictured as a little winged infant equipped with a bow and little darts, which never miss their target of gods and men. The idea of being ‘struck by an arrow’ has meaning because the spirit of Cupid has been brought to modern day life from one of Aphrodite’s affairs.
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Kylie Minogue's album Aphrodite


Also, the word ‘aphrodisiac’ originates from Aphrodite. This beautiful goddess has become the base for a word that is used to reference foods that heighten sexual pleasure (“Natural Aphrodisiacs in Our Culture and History”, n.d.). Aphrodite’s reputation for instigating sexual unions has become an influence for a word describing food that enhances sexual enjoyment. For example, chocolate is known to be an aphrodisiac around the world. However, it is not THE universal aphrodisiac. The sweet smell and its delicious taste are enough to arouse sexual excitement, especially in women. Chocolate is said to release feel-good hormones of serotonin and the release of these hormones can result in satisfying sex.

Kylie Minogue released a new album called Aphrodite in July 2010. This is a perfect example of the representation of Aphrodite. According to Halle, many of Minogue’s songs are about love and sexual interactions (2010). Not only that, but Minogue clearly represents the symbolism of Aphrodite in her open sexuality, beauty, and goddess-like features. Overall, Aphrodite’s well known characteristics have even come to influence the media.

References
“Natural Aphrodisiacs in Our Culture and History” (n.d.). Retrieved from http://carrieanddanielle.com/natural-aphrodisiacs-in-our-culture-and-history/

Atsma, A.J. (2008). Aphrodite. Retrieved from http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Aphrodite.html

Halle, Karina. (2010). Album review: Kylie Minogue – Aphrodite. Retrieved from http://consequenceofsound.net/2010/07/album-review-kylie-minogue-aphrodite/

Lombardi, A.J. (1998). Aphrodite: Her power and her art. Retrieved from http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/lombardiaphrodite/aphrodite.html

Paris, C. (1998). Aphrodite. Retrieved from http://www.arthistory.sbc.edu/imageswomen/papers/parisaphrodite/aphrodite.html

Saffer, A. (2008). History of cupid. Retrieved from http://www.suite101.com/content/battling-social-anxiety-a46955

Steward, M. (2005). Aphrodite. Retrieved from http://messagenetcommresearch.com/myths/bios/aphrodite.html