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Aphrodite  (a-fro-DYE-tee)

Roman name Venus. See The Olympians for more information and another picture; also this picture.

Aphrodite was the goddess of love. The Romans called her Venus (hence the famous armless statue known as the Venus de Milo). Aphrodite lived on Mount Olympus with the other supreme deities and was married to the homely craftsman-god, Hephaestus. She was said to have been born from the foam of the sea (hence Botticelli's much-reproduced painting of the goddess floating on a seashell).

Aphrodite involved herself on several noteworthy occasions with the affairs of mortal heroes. When Jason asked permission of the king of Colchis to remove the Golden Fleece from the grove in which it hung, the king was clearly unwilling. So the goddess Hera, who sponsored Jason's quest, asked Aphrodite to intervene. The love goddess made the king's daughter Medea fall in love with Jason, and Medea proved instrumental in Jason's success.

Aphrodite can also be said to have caused the Trojan War. This came about in the following fashion. When the hero Peleus was married to the sea-nymph Thetis, all the gods were invited to the ceremony -- all but one that is. The slighted goddess happened to a specialist in sowing discord, so she maliciously deposited a golden apple on the banquet table. The fruit was inscribed with the legend, "For the fairest". Immediately all the goddesses began to argue about whose beauty entitled her to be the rightful possesor of this prize.

Finally it was decided to put the dispute to arbitration. Reasonably enough, the designated judge was to be the most handsome mortal in the world. This turned out to be a noble Trojan youth named Paris, who was serving as a shepherd at the time. So the three finalists -- Aphrodite, Hera and Athena -- sought him out in the meadow where he was tending his flocks.

Not content to leave the outcome to the judge's discernment, the three goddesses proceeded to offer bribes. Hera, Queen of Olympus, took Paris aside and told him she would help him rule the world. Athena, goddess of war, said she would make him victorious in battle. Aphrodite sized Paris up and decided he would be more impressed with the guaranteed love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen, who happened to be married to the king of Sparta.

Paris promptly awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, who in turn enabled him to elope with Helen, who thenceforth became notorious as Helen of Troy. Helen's husband and his brother raised a Greek army to retrieve his wife, and this was the inception of the Trojan War.

Another occasion in which the goddess of love came to the aid of a mortal hero also happened to involve golden apples. When the mighty heroine Atalanta agreed to wed whatever suitor managed to best her in a foot race, Aphrodite favored one of the contestants with a peck of golden fruit. By strewing these enchanted apples on the race course, the young lad caused Atalanta to become distracted and she lost the race.


Venus de Milo and Mars. (Aphrodite's Roman name was Venus.) (zoom)

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