The Vain Beauty
Love, Beauty, Sexuality, Pleasure, Grace
Rose, Scallop Shell, Myrtle, Dove, Girdle, Mirror
"Men thought that you had come with a gift from golden Aphrodite. But the gift … becomes a most painful burden for men to bear, if she does not grant release from the pain."
Theognis, lyric poet
Aphrodite is the oldest of the Olympians and is Zeus' aunt. After Cronus cut off Uranus' testicles he threw them into the sea near Cyprus. The surf's thrashing and the orb's power mixed with the fertile sea. Such was the power of Uranus that a giant scallop shell formed and washed up on the Cypriot shore, opening to reveal an adult Aphrodite. Beautiful and graceful, she took dominion over love, beauty and passion.
Aphrodite rejected the absolute rule of Cronus arguing that all should be free to do as their hearts pleased. Barred from the court and exiled she wandered the mortal realm, revelling in the freedom it gave her. Travelling far she attracted a huge number of followers, her influence reaching even to the distant east.
When the Olympians rebelled against Cronus and his Titans, Aphrodite joined their cause and earned a place on Olympus. However, Zeus suspected the goddess' passion and demanded she choose a god to marry. Aphrodite accepted the condition but subverted Zeus' will by delaying her choice as long as possible. When the King of the Gods' patience finally ran out he forced her to choose, but once again Aphrodite's cunning came to the fore. She selected the newly arrived Hephaestus although the smith-god did not meet her standards of beauty, choosing him to annoy the rest of the pantheon.
Hephaestus, delighted with his bride, made her a magnificent girdle which did the impossible and enhanced the already beautiful goddess' looks. Sadly, Aphrodite became bored with the smith. Her frequent dalliances with mortals and Ares forced Hephaestus to accept the divorce she wanted.
Aphrodite inspired many loves between mortals and gods whose unions produced numerous demigod heroes including Herakles and Bellerophon. Each time a demigod was born her power grew and Zeus became worried. He forbade the mating of gods and mortals, signalling the withdrawal of the gods from the mortal world.
The vanity of Aphrodite has been the ruin of many and she fiercely guards her reputation. She became enraged when the mother of Myrrha declared her daughter to be more beautiful than Aphrodite. The goddess cursed the young woman with an indecent lust for her father, King Cinyras of Cyprus. Disgusted by his daughter the King threw her out, but Myrrha sneaked back into his bed chamber disguised as a prostitute. After consummating her love her father discovered the truth, forcing her to flee into a forest pursued by the King’s men. Demeter took pity on Myrrha and changed her into a tree, while King Cinryas took his own life to erase the stain of sin on his family. Nine months later, a baby boy fell out of the heart of the tree. Aphrodite discovered the child and gave him to Persephone to tend.
The baby grew up to be Adonis, whose handsome features captivated both Persephone and Aphrodite. Zeus intervened to quell the continual fighting between the goddesses. His decree placed Adonis with Aphrodite one third of the year, one third with Persephone and one third as Adonis chose. Much to Persephone’s displeasure Adonis spent his third of a year with Aphrodite, but the goddess became so besotted that she neglected her duties. Zeus forced her to attend court and she left Adonis with a warning not to hunt any animal that shows no fear. Arrogant Adonis ignored her, finding a great boar which stood its ground and mortally wounded him. Aphrodite returned to find Adonis dying. Persephone, however, was overjoyed to have Adonis arriving at her home in Hades. Aphrodite refused to give him up and the two goddess resumed their bickering. Zeus was forced to intervene again and now the soul of Adonis spends half a year with each goddess. Persephone and Aphrodite have talked little since Zeus' decision.
Aphrodite is capable of mercy and is moved by expressions of true love. The sculptor Pygmalion declared he could not find a woman beautiful enough to take as a wife. Insulted, the women of his city prayed to Aphrodite to make him marry. She went to him and they struck a deal: if she modelled for a statue of herself, he would find a wife after finishing it. Pygmalion intended to cheat and never complete the statue but fell in love with his creation and could not help but finish it. Aphrodite returned and asked him to choose his wife. Pygmalion choose the statue and when Aphrodite would not assent, he begged to be turned to stone. In pity, Aphrodite relented and brought the statue to life, naming her Galatea.
Aphrodite opposes the return of Cronus' rule of absolute law and is fearful for what the Titans might do to her. Her champions are directed to work against the Titans and to promote her personal goal of free love. Her champions also aid her in instilling love or lust in mortals she wishes to bless or curse.
She appears as a beautiful young woman in her prime, flawless and awesome. Often going about naked, she sometimes wears a simple robe and her girdle. Though generally pleasant when in a good mood, those who cross her discover someone vain, ill-tempered and easily offended. Aphrodite uses her physical attributes to get what she wants, adores the worship of her beauty by mortals and is swift to punish any who deny it.
Aphrodite’s most important festival celebrates spring's arrival in April and is held throughout Greece. Major temples can be found on the islands of Cythera and Cyprus. Her largest temple is in the city of Corinth. The temples are known for the beauty of their priests and priestess, many of whom engage in ritual sex in worship of their goddess. Votive offerings are commonly a garland of flowers, incense, or goats, hares and young cows (but never pigs) during festivals.