(Ἀφροδίτη; Lat. Venus). The Greek goddess of love. Her attributes combine, with Hellenic conceptions, a great many features of Eastern, especially Phnician, origin, which the Greeks must have grafted upon their native notions in very old times. This double nature appears immediately in the contradictory tales of her origin. To the oldest Greeks she was the daughter of Zeus and Dion (and is sometimes called by that name herself); yet from a very early time she appears as Aphrogenia, the foam-born (see Uranus), as Anadyomen, she who rises out of the sea, and steps ashore on Cyprus, which had been colonized by Phnicians time out of mind; even as far back as Homer she is Cypris, the Cyprian. (See Cyprus.) [p. 96]
The same transmarine and Eastern origin of her worship is evidenced by the legend of the island of Cythera, on which she was supposed to have first landed from a sea-shell. Other names applied to her are Pelagia (from Πέλαγος), Anadyomen (as having risen from the water), Erycina (from Mount Eryx in Sicily), Paphia, and Cypris, besides those mentioned below.
Again, the common conception of her as goddess of love limited her agency to the sphere of human life. But she was, at the same time, a power of nature, living and working in the three elements of air, earth, and water. As goddess of the shifting gale and changeful sky, she was Aphrodit Urania (Οὐρανία), the heavenly, and at many places in Greece and Asia her temples crowned the heights and headlands; for instance, the citadels of Thebes and Corinth, and Mount Eryx in Sicily. As goddess of storm and lightning, she was represented armed, as at Sparta and Cythera; and this, perhaps, explains why she was associated with Ares both in worship and in legend, and worshipped as a goddess of victory.
The moral conception of Aphrodit Urania as goddess of the higher and purer love, especially wedded love and fruitfulness, as opposed to mere sensual lust, was but slowly developed in the course of ages.
As goddess of the sea and maritime traffic, especially of calm seas and prosperous voyages, she was widely worshipped by sailors and fishermen at ports and on sea-coasts, often as the goddess of calm, while Poseidon was the god of disturbance. Next, as regards the life of the earth, she was the goddess of gardens and groves, of spring and its bounties, especially tender plants and flowers, as the rose and myrtle; hence, as the fruitful and bountiful, she was worshipped most of all at that season of the year in which her birth from the sea was celebrated at Paphos in Cyprus. But to this, her time of joyful action, was opposed a season of sorrow, when her creations wither and diea sentiment expressed in her inconsolable grief for her beloved Adonis (q.v.), the symbol of vegetation perishing in its prime, a myth derived by the Greeks from the Babylonian worship of Adon or Thammuz, and akin to those of Linus , Hyacinthus, and Narcissus. (See Mannhardt Wald- und Feldkulte, 274 [Berlin, 1886].) In the life of gods and men, she showed her power as the golden, sweetly smiling goddess of beauty and love, which she knew how to kindle or to keep away. She outshone all the goddesses in grace and loveliness; in her girdle she wore united all the magic charms that could bewitch the wisest man and subdue the very gods. (See Cestus.) Her retinue consisted of Eros (Cupid), the Hours, the Graces, Peitho (Persuasion), Pothos and Himeros (personifications of longing and yearning). By uniting the generations in the bond of love, she became a goddess of marriage and family life, and the consequent kinship of the whole community. As such she had formerly been worshipped at Athens under the name of Pandemos (=all the people's), as being a goddess of the whole country. By a regulation of Solon, the name acquired a very different sense, branding her as goddess of prostitution; and then it was that the new and higher meaning was imported into the word Urania. See Meretrix.
In later times, the worship of Aphrodit as the goddess of mere sensual love made rapid strides, and in particular districts assumed forms more and more immoral, in imitation of the services performed to love-goddesses in the East, especially at Corinth, where large bands of girls were consecrated as slaves to the service of the gods and the practice of prostitution. And later still, the worship of Astart (Star), the Syrian Aphrodit, performed by eunuchs, spread all over Greece. See Aphrodisia; Meretrix.
In the Greek myths Aphrodit appears occasionally as the wife of Hephaestus. Her love adventures with Ares are notorious. From these sprang Eros and Anteros, Harmonia, the wife of Cadmus, and Deinos and Phobos (Fear and Alarm), attendants on their father. By Anchises she was the mother of Aeneas. The chief seats of her worship were Paphos, Amathus, and Idalion (all in Cyprus), Cnidus in Dorian Asia Minor, Corinth, the island of Cythera, and Eryx in Sicily. As mother of Harmonia, she was a guardian deity of Thebes. Among plants, the myrtle, the rose, and the apple were specially sacred to her as goddess of love; among animals, the ram, he-goat, hare, dove, sparrow, and other creatures of amorous nature (the ram and dove being widely current symbols of great antiquity); as sea-goddess, the swan, mussel, and dolphin; as Urania, the tortoise.
The various myths connected with the name of Aphrodit have inspired many exquisite poems in modern literature. In recent English verse reference may be made to the magnificent Chorus to Aphrodit in Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon; Hake's Birth of Venus; Morris's Aphrodit in his Epic of Hades; and Rossetti's Ve- [figure in text: Aphrodit of Melos. (Louvre.)] nus Verticordia and Venus Victrix.
In ancient art, in which Aphrodit is one of the favourite subjects, she is represented in a higher or lower aspect, according as the artist's aim was to exhibit Urania or the popular goddess of love. In the earlier works of art she usually appears clothed, but in later ones more or less undrapedeither as rising from the sea or leaving the bath, or (as in still later times) merely as an ideal of female beauty. In the course of time the divine element disappeared, and the presentation became more and more ordinary. While the older sculptures show the sturdier forms, the taste of later times leans more and more to softer, weaker outlines. Most renowned in ancient times [p. 97]
were the statue at Cnidus by Praxiteles (a copy of which is now at Munich), and the painting of Aphrodit Anadyomen by Apelles. Of original statues preserved to us, the most famous are the Aphrodit of Melos (see illustration), now at Paris, and that of Capua at Naples, both of which bring out the loftier aspect of the goddess; and the Medicean Venus at Florence, the work of a late Attic sculptor, Cleomenes, in the delicate forms of face and body that pleased a younger age. On the identification of Aphrodit with the Roman goddess of love, see Venus.