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Aphrodite



One of the chief divinities of the ancient Greeks, the goddess of love and beauty, so called because she sprang from the foam (Greek aphros) of the sea. Aphrodite was the wife of Hephaestus, but she also loved, among gods, Ares and Dionysus, and among mortals, Anchises and Adonis. The main places where she was worshipped were Cyprus and Cythera.

Aphrodite was not only more beautiful than all other goddesses, but she also had the power of granting irresistible beauty and attractiveness to others, especially to wearers of her magic girdle. The sparrow, the down, and the swan were sacred to her, as also were the myrtle, the rose, and the poppy. According to later poets, Eros is her son and constant companion. Only such sacrifices as flowers and incense were made to her. In earlier times the patroness of marriage and maternity, she later became the ideal of graceful womanhood, and was spiritualized by Plato as Aphrodite Urania. By others she was degraded in aphrodite Pandemos to be the patroness of mere sensual love. Mysteries of an impure kind formed part of the ceremonial of the aphrodisia, or festivals held in her honor.

The worship of Aphrodite was undoubtedly of Eastern, and she was originally a symbol of the fruitfulness of nature. Her cult was introduced by the Phoenicians into Cyprus, and soon spread all over Greece. She was originally identified with Astarte, the Ahtoreth of the Hebrews. By the Romans she was identified with Venus, hitherto one of the least important Roman divinities.

Aphrodite holds an important place in the history of art as the Greek ideal of feminine grace and beauty. Her most famous statue in antiquity was that of Praxiteles at Cnidus; her most famous picture, the Aphrodite Anadyomene at Apelles. The finest states of the goddess that still exist are those of Melos (Milo) at Paris, of Capua at Naples, and of the Medici at Florence.