The Unsung Goddess: The Story of Aphrodite
Jun 25, 22
The Unsung Goddess: The Story of Aphrodite
The goddess of love, beauty, and desire appears in so many myths as to become somewhat cliché. But what if the objective was not to depict this particular deity but rather to illustrate the essential nature of these traits?
If that’s so, then we’re seeing an example with Aphrodite. She may not be a very well-known goddess, but she is one that all worshipers recognize: she’s the goddess of desire.
And because of her importance to us all—not just New Agers or extraverts—we must think about who she may have been before coming to be known as the Unsung Goddess. Fortunately, some of her earliest depictions are starting to emerge thanks to new research into her origins.
The Mythological Origin of Aphrodite
The earliest representations of Aphrodite can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, where she was known as Inanna’s spouse, Ishtar. As the goddess of love and desire, she naturally became associated with sexual relationships and fertility, and so was often associated with other goddesses.
In Roman myth, she was known as Venus, and her worship was carefully intertwined with the worship of the Roman gods. Both the Mesopotamian and Roman mythologies tell us that Aphrodite was born from the primal ocean god, Uranus after he was castrated by his son Cronus.
Her mother was the goddess of love, Cytherea, and she had six daughters with her husband, Adonis. Aphrodite’s most important mythological role is as a goddess of lust, but she also has a number of other significant roles.
One is a goddess of prostitutes, as she was said to have been born of a poor fisherman’s daughter, whose family did not want her to be a prostitute by giving her away.
Her Greek Roots
Aphrodite is mentioned in the earliest known Greek myth, the story of the union of Uranus and Gaia. She is not herself present, but Uranus is, and the two become lovers.
Later in Greek myth, Aphrodite is seen as the daughter of Zeus and Cytherea. In later versions of the story of Uranus and Gaia, Aphrodite and her sisters were said to be born from the foam created when Gaia and Uranus made love.
In later versions of this story, too, it was said that Zeus had fathered Aphrodite so that she also came from a non-sexual union.
Her Roman Roots
As Venus, Aphrodite was known to be the daughter of Jupiter, born out of a mixture of water, clay, and sunlight. The Romans also recognized that she was related to the Greek Aphrodite, and so incorporated a number of elements from her Greek origins into the Roman version of the goddess.
Venus was not only the goddess of love and lust but also of beauty, so was associated with the idea of physical attractiveness. She was also associated with the arts, so was worshipped as a protector of artists, and she was also said to have created men and women.
Venus was said to have been born on the island of Cyprus, and a number of myths were created to explain how she came to be there. Her father, Caunus, was said to have hidden her there, where she was guarded by a dragon named python.
The two were said to have eventually fallen in love, and the dragon was said to have killed itself after being slain by Venus. Another story was that Venus was brought to Cyprus by Delos as a young girl, and she was said to have later married Vulcan. Vulcan was said to be her second husband, following her marriage to Caunus.
She’s Unwedded to Love and Marriage
Greek and Roman gods are often featured in tales of love and marriage, and Aphrodite is no exception. She was associated with many love affairs, including those of Ares and Aphrodite herself but also many others, including the love affair between Paris and Helen.
Aphrodite was also seen as a goddess of marriage and was occasionally invoked in weddings to bless the bridal couple. This was an important role, as many of the myths associated with Aphrodite—such as the story of her birth and her marriage to Vulcan—implied that she was a goddess who could be invoked to make marriages last.
In Roman mythology, Venus was also seen as the goddess of marriage. This led to her being invoked both in love affairs and in marriages. One custom involved couples pledging to devote an offering to Venus before their union was consummated. This was to ensure that the couple remained faithful to each other, and not to any other relationships.
The Cult of Aphrodite
In the ancient world, the cult of a particular deity did not just focus on worshipping the deity in question. Rather, it was generally seen as a means of integrating the individual deities of the pantheon into a larger whole, or cultus.
The cultus was a system of worship that featured particular sacrifices, festivals, and other rituals, and the religion was supposed to be more effective because of them. Aphrodite was one of the most widely worshipped goddesses in the ancient world, and so the cultus of Aphrodite had a number of elements that were supposed to make it more effective at attracting worshipers.
A number of elements were associated with the cultus of Aphrodite in Greek and Roman culture, including the association of her with prostitutes, her attraction to beauty, her reputation as a goddess of love, and her association with beauty and art.
Other Notable Representations of Aphrodite
Aphrodite was not just a goddess of lust and desire, but also a goddess of war and peace, health, and sexuality, as well as a goddess in charge of childbirth. Because of her influence, she was seen as the ideal goddess for all these areas and others.
Other notable portrayals of Aphrodite include her as a goddess of war who is seeking to bring peace, and as a mother who is both loving toward her children and protective of them. Venus was also sometimes depicted as a bride, either alone or in connection with other goddesses.
Aphrodite was often depicted with her hair flowing down her back, and she was sometimes depicted with a mirror.
Why Is Aphrodite Unsung?
Why is Aphrodite not more widely worshipped, and why is she not better known as the goddess of love and desire?
Several theories have been put forward in an attempt to answer these questions, but no one has been able to provide a satisfactory answer. One theory suggests that the Greek and Roman cultures were so marvellously beautiful that they could not tolerate the thought that their goddesses were anything other than perfect, and so Aphrodite was given the job of making all other goddesses appear as though they could achieve beauty.
Another explanation is that if one looks at all the different elements that Aphrodite was associated with, then it may not have been that surprising that people worshipped her when they did. However, as time went on, there may have been a need to find a more universal goddess, and Aphrodite was quickly replaced.
What Does the Future Hold for Aphrodite?
The emergence of new research into Aphrodite’s origins has begun to shed more light on her. Evidence has been found that she was once worshipped in Egypt, where she was depicted with a scarab beetle, and that she was once thought to be an extrovert, in contrast to the view that she is an introvert.
It seems likely that Aphrodite will re-emerge as a particularly popular goddess in the future, as the nature of desire means that she will always be of great importance to all worshipers. As well as that, Aphrodite is the only goddess who has never been given a male form, and therefore it will be interesting to see how her male counterpart changes over time.
Future research into Aphrodite will hopefully provide more insights into this goddess, who has remained largely unsung throughout history.
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