In This Article Aphrodite

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources in Translation

Classics Aphrodite
by
Monica S. Cyrino
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0183

Introduction

Aphrodite was a goddess of immense authority and universal significance for the people of the ancient Greek-speaking world. One of the most widely worshipped deities in Antiquity, Aphrodite was venerated in many different cults all around the Mediterranean. Aphrodite was evident in the daily lives of the ancient Greeks: for example, she was an influence on how they negotiated their erotic and nuptial relationships, how they enhanced their physical appearance, and on how they traveled the sea. Aphrodite enjoyed a broad geographic sphere of influence across the ancient civilized world, from the island of Cyprus in the east to the island of Sicily in the west; and she was especially honored in the harbors of great cities, such as Athens, Corinth, Naukratis, and Syracuse. The Greeks knew her by many names, traits, and narratives. She is aphrogenēs, the “foam-born” goddess, born from the sea spume around the severed genitals of Ouranos, the primordial Heaven. She is Dios thugatēr, “daughter of Zeus,” offspring of the Olympian sky god’s union with Dione. Aphrodite’s cultural heritage reveals Near Eastern, Indo-European, and Cypriot features. She is invoked as Cypris, Paphia, Cythereia, and Ourania. Love and sexuality are hers: ta aphrodisia are literally “the things that belong to Aphrodite.” She is the goddess of mixis, the “mingling” of individual bodies in both sexual and martial fusion. She is the divine source of eros, “sexual desire,” himeros, “longing,” and pothos, “yearning,” and she is accompanied by peithō, “persuasion.” Aphrodite was venerated as Pandēmos, “she who belongs to all the people,” and poets describe her as Philommeidēs, “smile-loving.” She was especially revered by prostitutes, magistrates, and seafarers. Aphrodite is the goddess of kosmēsis, “adornment,” and she is intrinsically chruseē, “golden.” Her attributes include jewelry, floral garlands, perfume, and mirrors. The Charites, “Graces,” and Horae, “Hours,” make up Aphrodite’s principal immortal entourage. Among mortals, Aphrodite favors the Trojans: especially her lover Anchises, her son Aeneas, and the infamous couple Helen and Paris. But Aphrodite can also be fierce when scorned, as in the tragic case of Hippolytus. Aphrodite is the Anadyomenē, the goddess who “rises up from the sea,” and her aquatic anodos is linked to her marine cult titles Pontia and Pelagia, “She of the Sea,” Euploia, “She of the Smooth Sailing,” and Limenia, “She of the Harbor.” Aphrodite is worshipped in port towns and on the tops of mountains. Seashells, swans, geese, sparrows, and doves are sacred to her. Aphrodite’s influence extends over the intermingled realms of sky, land, and sea. She is a goddess of love who is not afraid to enter the battlefield and a goddess of adornment who is the first to appear totally nude. She is also a goddess born of the sea who emerges into the open sky. Aphrodite is a polyvalent deity, plural in nature and meaning, but never fragmented.

General Overviews

The works in this section provide overviews and introductions to the fundamental aspects and multiple layers of the goddess Aphrodite as understood by the ancient Greeks. Grigson 1977 and Friedrich 1978 are outstanding early examples of the multidisciplinarity with which studies of Aphrodite were first undertaken and published, as they proficiently bridge the fields of philology, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, and comparative mythology. More recent works continue to incorporate multifaceted approaches to understanding the identities, roles, and functions of Aphrodite. Budin 2003 and Seifert 2009 reach back to Near Eastern and Cypriot sources to trace the origins of the goddess and her appearance into the Greek pantheon, and Breitenberger 2007 examines Aphrodite’s traditional mythological presence in archaic Greece and the development of her counterpart Eros as a separate but parallel love deity. The conference papers collected in Smith and Pickup 2010 take a sweeping and ambitious look at the goddess in an array of diverse manifestations from the ancient Near East to postmodern Europe, while Cyrino 2010 offers an introductory overview that focuses on Aphrodite in ancient Greek and recent popular culture.

  • Breitenberger, Barbara. 2007. Aphrodite and Eros: The development of erotic mythology in early Greek poetry and culture. New York and London: Routledge.

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    In this innovative, interdisciplinary, and revisionist reading of Aphrodite in the poetry, iconography, and cult of the Greek Archaic period, Breitenberger outlines the development of Eros as a male counterpart to the established love goddess. Includes brilliant but challenging philological analyses suitable for advanced graduate students and expert scholars.

  • Budin, Stephanie Lynn. 2003. The origin of Aphrodite. Bethesda, MD: CDL.

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    This is the foremost study of the emergence of Aphrodite into the Greek pantheon and an essential foundation for scholarly research in the field. Budin’s multidisciplinary, comprehensive approach uses philology, archaeology, anthropology, and comparative mythology to trace the path of Aphrodite’s worship from the Near East through Cyprus into Greece and Crete.

  • Cyrino, Monica S. 2010. Aphrodite. New York and London: Routledge.

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    An introductory survey of the myths and meanings of the goddess arranged around a set of key themes: from love, sex, and beauty, to Aphrodite’s afterlife in modern popular culture. Appropriate for both students and scholars, Cyrino’s study accentuates Aphrodite’s appearances in the ancient Greek texts and visual arts.

  • Friedrich, Paul. 1978. The meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The seminal early work on the goddess, Friedrich’s book explores Aphrodite’s origins, dimensions, and literary myths through the critical perspective of contemporary psychology, linguistics, and structural anthropology. An excellent starting point for further research, with evocative (though now somewhat controversial) philological interpretations of early Greek and Near Eastern texts and etymologies.

  • Grigson, Geoffrey. 1977. The goddess of love: The birth, triumph, death and return of Aphrodite. New York: Stein and Day.

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    Noted British poet, editor, and critic Grigson offers an expansive and lyrical overview of Aphrodite’s origins, myths, symbols, temples, cults, statues, and reception in the art and literature of later eras. Intended for nonspecialists, Grigson includes his own new poetic translations of ancient texts.

  • Seifert, Martina, ed. 2009. Aphrodite: Herrin des krieges, Göttin der liebe. Mainz, Germany: Verlag Philipp von Zabern.

    E-mail Citation »

    Seifert’s lavishly illustrated compilation, written in German, considers Aphrodite’s Eastern aspects, ranging from her origins in the Near East and her close relations with Phoenician Astarte, the Cypriot sources of her mythical ties to Hephaistos and Ares, the cult of Adonis, and even her syncretisms with Isis in Hellenistic and Roman times.

  • Smith, Amy C., and Sadie Pickup, eds. 2010. Brill’s companion to Aphrodite. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    E-mail Citation »

    Not a true “companion,” and thus more suitable for experts than students, this wide-ranging and costly volume collects nineteen conference papers, from philologists, archaeologists, and art historians. Arranged thematically around broad interdisciplinary subheadings, chapters dealing with Aphrodite in the visual arts are the most successful in a collection that varies in quality.

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