The Greek goddess Aphrodite has made her mark on many famous poems, sculptures, paintings and even movies and television programs. But who was she really? While some consider her to be one of the less powerful Olympian gods, closer examination will reveal that because she had reign over the most powerful of human emotions, she could prove to be more influential in human affairs than many of her Olympian cohorts.
Thought to be one of the oldest Greek gods in existence, Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty and sexual bliss. She was attended by the Three Graces, Charm, Beauty and Joy and is often represented by a dolphin, dove, or swan. She came into being when Cranus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea. They began to churn and bubble and from the sea foam (or aphros) raised Aphrodite, born as an adult.
As to be expected of the most beautiful woman on earth or in the heavens, Aphrodite’s love life could have inspired many soap opera plots. Zeus married her to the lame smith-god Hephaestus (the Olympian version of a dependable, blue-collar guy), and he was so ecstatic to have her as his wife that he lavished her with beautiful jewels and gifts. He even crafted her a girdle of woven, filigreed gold called the cestus. The trouble was, this magic girdle made Aphrodite irresistible to any man or God, and so the young couple’s marital troubles began. Aphrodite, bored with her steady, solid husband, began dating many lovers. A few of them were mortal, such as Adonis and Anchises, who would later become the founder of Italy and the mythical ancestor of Rome. But she also had an ongoing affair with Ares, the god of war. Aphrodite even had children with him: Phobos, Deimos, Anteros, and Harmonia. She passed off these children as belonging to her husband until the lovers Ares and Aphrodite slept in one morning and were discovered in bed together by Helios, the sun, who finally broke the news to the clueless Hephaestus.
Aphrodite also had many other children. Eros was perhaps the most famous, sired by Zeus and more commonly called by his Roman name Cupid. With Hermes she had Hermaphroditus, whose body had both male and female parts, and with Dionysus she had Hymen, the god of marriage, and Priapus, who represented human lust.
There are many stories and myths involving Aphrodite, and she is often depicted as vain, impetuous and bad-tempered. But many of these stories show a softer side full of pity and love for humankind. However her temperament is depicted in these stories, she influence over matters of the heart and human emotion always had great impact on the lives of the men and women she came into contact with. For example, what started out as a seemingly friendly beauty contest between Athena, Aphrodite and Hera ended up spurring the decade-long Trojan War. There are many other myths and legends associated with Aphrodite:
Aphrodite, much like humankind, was both virtuous and sinful, capable of vast acts of love or incomparable hate and revenge. She was at times an unfaithful wife, but was a devoted mother. Maybe her idiosyncrasies and complexities are what make it so easy for us to identify with her thousands of years after her reign.
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