1902 Encyclopedia > Aphrodite


APHRODITE [VENUS]. From the accepted meaning of the name Aphrodite, " born in the foam of the sea," (âçSpo's), together with Hesiod's (Theog., 187-206) ac-count of her appearing first in the waters round Cythera, and finally landing on Cyprus ; and from the further explanation of her principal title Urania, to the effect that she derived her being from the maimed Uranos, this goddess might appear to have been of pure Greek origin, as indeed would also be gathered from the fact of Homer placing her among the Olympians, and calling her a daughter of Zeus and Dione. But her connection with Cyprus, which even Homer admits, calling her Kypris (Iliad, v. 330, 422, 760), and in the Odyssey (viii 362), speaking of her visit to Cyprus, where were a temple and an altar for her, has provoked an inquiry as to how far her worship may have been based on that of Astarte, the patron goddess of the Phoenician settlers in that island, the more so since the worship of Aphrodite Urania nourished mainly in the track of the Phoenician factories in the islands and in Greece proper. The obvious facts are—first, that Aphrodite was not associated with any of the legendary families of the mainland of Greece, her mortal favourites—Adonis, Pyg-malion, Anchises, ./Eneas, Paris—being all non-Hellenic, and more or less Asiatic in origin; secondly, that her wor-ship in Cyprus, as Herodotus was told (i. 105), had been transplanted from Ascalon, where was the oldest temple of a goddess whom the Greeks translated into Aphrodite Urania, and identified with the Alitta of the Arabians, the Mylitta of the Assyrians, and the Astarte of the Phoenicians; thirdly, that this Astarte or Mylitta was a goddess of the heavens (Urania), or better, of the heavenly bodies, and, though the details are unknown, doubtless personified the harmony of their movements while controlling their sup-posed influence on human affairs, not least their influence on the sea, in which respect her worship would commend itself to a seafaring and trading people like the Phoenicians. As the universal goddess of love, her province embraced every phase of nature. While this, which was the basis of the character of Astarte, was the basis also of the character of Aphrodite; and while, through commercial ascendency, the alphabet of the Phoenicians, and their system of numbers, weights, and measures were adopted by the Greeks, there is nothing in the way of assuming that the idea of their goddess Aphrodite was borrowed under similar circum-stances. If the 15th century B.C. be correctly assigned as the period of the Phoenician settlements in Greece, there would be interval enough before the time of Homer to admit of the new goddess becoming Hellenised and obtain-ing a place in Olympus; and this would be brought about with the greater facility if, as is supposed, the Oriental goddess really supplanted a cruder form of a goddess of love previously existing in the Greek system. How widely the scope of love was interpreted in the last days of Greece, may be seen, on the one hand, from the manner in which the unseemly account of the birth of Aphrodite in Hesiod was elevated into a scene at which all the higher deities were present, as rendered by Phidias on the base of the statue of Zeus at Olympia; and, on the other hand, from the fact that the philosophers, particularly the earlier thinkers in natural philosophy, conceived heaven, earth, and sea as bound into an harmonious whole by the power of love. A very different interpretation was put upon it in later times when sensual indulgence was the master feeling, and Aphrodite became the patroness of hetaerae. For these two different characters she bore the titles of Urania and Pandemus. Under the former title she was not only a goddess of the heavens, in respect of the fertility which they produce on earth, but was also a goddess of victory, either herself armed or occupied with the arms of Ares (Mars). Her power extended to the sea, but only to soothe it, and hence she was worshipped in seaports with the epithet of ewAoia. Where her influence, however, was mostly felt was in the gardens among the flowers in spring-time. It was then that her principal festivals occurred, and in such places and at such a time the full charm of her character as goddess of love was appreciated. The Graces (Otarites) and the Seasons (Horoe) worked her garments with flowers, from which a scent came as in nature. The sweetness of her smile, her persuasive voice, and her entire beauty were then irresistible. From being the goddess of beauty and love throughout nature, she became goddess of love in the hearts of gods and men; either inspiring a passion for herself, as in the case of Pygmalion and Anchises, or herself inflamed with love, as for Adonis and Cinyras, the reputed founder of her worship in Cyprus; or again inspiring a passion between two other persons, as between Paris and Helena, and between Phaon and the women of Lesbos. When the subjects were women, her power was frequently carried to a desperate issue, as in the cases of Medea, Pasiphae, Phaedra, and many others. But she gave also the pleasures of love, and while this led to the degradation of her character finally, it was differently viewed in earlier times, in which she was in this matter simply the goddess of domestic life and of the relations between families, being in some places associated with Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, or elsewhere regarded, like Artemis, as a guardian of children and young maidens. It seems, indeed, as if it had been for the protection of family love that she was made to assume after Solon's time the protection of the institutions for hetaerae. Among the other deities her power and also-—after the rivalry of Hera (Juno) and Athene (Minerva) had been set aside by the judgment of Paris—her surpassing beauty were acknow-ledged. Eros (Cupid), the male personification of love, who at one time is called her son, at another is present at her birth, is the chief of her companions, the others being Himeros, Pothos, Anteros, Peitho, the Graces, and the Seasons. She was the wife of Hephaastos (Vulcan), and if in that capacity she was unfaithful with Ares, as in the ludicrous incident when the two were caught in the cunning net made by her husband, there yet ap-pears some ground for the invention of this myth, in the fact of her being associated in worship with Ares at Thebes. Her connection with Ares may have originated in the character of Areia, which she derived from the Oriental goddess, her prototype. As an armed goddess she appeared at Cythera and in other of the earliest seats of her worship. It was only as Charis, the personifica-tion of grace and refined skill, that she could have been the wife of Hephaestos, and this is the name which in that capacity she bears in the Iliad. In the Trojan war she was opposed to the Greeks, and protected iEneas, Hector, and Paris. The chief seats of her worship were Cyprus, Cythera, Cnidus, Corinth, Thebes, Sicily, and Athens. Her usual symbols were the tortoise, dove, swan, hare, dolphin, and goat. In Paphos, where was the oldest form of her religion, she was worshipped under the image of a ball or pyramid surrounded by burning torches. In the best days of art every charm of beauty was exhausted for her statues, culminating in the Aphrodite at Cnidus by Praxiteles. Of existing statues, the Venus of Milo and the Venus of Capua are the best examples. With regard to the native Roman goddess Venus, as distinguished from the Venus who through contact with the Greeks was after-wards identified with Aphrodite, it is known that her worship did not exist in the time of the kings, and that it was introduced into Rome from Lavinium, Ardea, and Gabii, where she was connected with iEneas and his advent into Italy. But for the rest, whether she was the goddess called Venilia, or a native goddess of gardens, is uncertain. Doubtless her functions were in important instances exchangeable with those of Aphrodite ; and this being so, it was an obvious gain to incorporate with their own goddess another whose relations with Mars and Anchises, the founders of the Roman race, were express and distinct

In her sway over the productivity of the fields Venus was associated with Priapus; in the spring time with its flowers she was sacrificed to by young maidens; in war she was Victrix; in peace, Concordia and Conciliatrix ; on the sea she was Marina; as Libentina(Lubentina) she was goddess of desires; as Libitina, goddess of death; and as Genetrix, the founder of families, especially of the Julian family. The de- rivation of her name given by Cicero (Be Nat. Deor., ii. 27, iii. 24) is Venus quod ad omnes veniat. (A. S. M.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries