Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of Love

Statue of Aphrodite, Santorini, Greece
Statue of Aphrodite, Santorini, Greece. Hiroshi Higuchi / Getty Images

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and is honored by many Pagans today. Her equivalent in Roman mythology is the goddess Venus. She is sometimes referred to as Lady of Cytherea or Lady of Cyrpus, because of her cult locations and place of origin. 

Origins and Birth

According to one legend, she was born fully formed from the white sea form that arose when the god Uranus was castrated.

She came ashore on the island of Cyprus, and later was married off by Zeus to Hephaistos, the deformed craftsman of Olympus. Despite being married to Hephaistos, Aphrodite took her job as a goddess of sexuality seriously, and had a multitude of lovers, but one of her favorites was the warrior god Ares. At one point, Helios, the sun god, caught Ares and Aphrodite romping around, and told Hephaistos what he had seen. Hephaistos caught the two of them in a net, and invited all the other gods and goddesses to laugh at their shame... but they had none whatsoever. In fact, Aphrodite and Ares had a good laugh about the whole thing, and didn't particularly care what anyone thought. In the end, Ares ended up paying Hephaistos a fine for his inconvenience, and the whole matter was dropped.

At one point, Aphrodite had a fling with Adonis, the young hunter god. He was killed by a wild boar one day, and some tales indicate that the boar might have been a jealous Ares in disguise.

Aphrodite had several sons, including Priapus, Eros, and Hermaphroditus.

In many myths and legends, Aphrodite is portrayed as self-absorbed and cranky. It would seem that like many of the other Greek gods, she spent a lot of time meddling in the affairs of mortals, mostly for her own amusement. She was instrumental in the cause of the Trojan War; Aphrodite offered Helen of Sparta to Paris, the prince of Troy, and then when he saw Helen for the first time, Aphrodite made sure he was inflamed with lust, thus leading to Helen's abduction and a decade of war.

The Wrath of Aphrodite

Despite her image as a goddess of love and beautiful things, Aphrodite also has a vengeful side. Euripides describes her taking revenge upon Hippolytus, a young man who scorned her. Hippolytus was pledged to the goddess Artemis, and thus refused to pay tribute to Aphrodite. In fact, he refused to have anything to do with women whatsoever, so Aphrodites caused Phaedra, Hippolytus' stepmother, to fall in love with him. As is typical in Greek legend, this led to tragic results.

Hippolytus wasn't Aphrodite's only victim. A queen of Crete named Pasiphae bragged about how lovely she was - in fact, she made the mistake of claiming to be more beautiful than Aphrodite herself. Aphrodite got her vengeance by causing Pasiphae to fall in love with King Minos' champion white bull. This would have all worked out just fine, except that in Greek mythology, nothing goes as planned. Pasiphae became pregnant and gave birth to a hideously deformed creature with hooves and horns. Pasiphae's offspring eventually became known as the Minotaur, and features prominently in the legend of Theseus.

Celebration and Festival

A festival was held regularly to honor Aphrodite, appropriately called the Aphrodisia.

At her temple in Corinth, revelers often paid tribute to Aphrodite by having rambunctious sex with her priestesses. The temple was later destroyed by the Romans, and not rebuilt, but fertility rites appear to have continued in the area.

In addition to her association with the sea and shells, Aphrodite is connected with dolphins and swans, apples and pomegranates, and roses.