Greek Goddess

Aphrodite

Aphrodite was the sensual Greek goddess of love, desire, and procreation. Both nurturing and destructive, she famously incited the Trojan War by offering Paris the most beautiful mortal woman alive.

By Thomas Apel and Avi KapachLast updated on Dec. 6th, 2021
Aphrodite, Greek Goddess of Love (3:2)
  • How was Aphrodite born?

    There are different versions of Aphrodite’s birth. In some, she emerged from the sea foam created by the severed genitals of the primordial god Uranus; in others, she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

  • Whom did Aphrodite marry?

    Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the god of the forge, but they disliked each other. She therefore took many lovers.

  • Did Aphrodite have children?

    Aphrodite had children with many of her lovers, including minor deities such as Phobos and Deimos, Harmonia, and Eros among others.

The goddess of love, passion, and procreation, sensual Aphrodite was the wellspring of both heterosexual and homosexual erotic desire. A figure both generously nurturing and passionately destructive, she embodied all the possibilities that love and desire had to offer.

Aphrodite was a powerful personality and a force to be reckoned with. Though she was married to Hephaestus, the god of fire and the forge, many lovers flitted through her mythology (most notably, the war god Ares). The symbol of all desire and longing, Aphrodite exerted an immense influence on mortal affairs and played an important role in provoking the Trojan War.

Etymology

In ancient times, the Greeks believed the name “Aphrodite” derived from the Greek word aphros, meaning “sea foam.” In the Theogony, the poet Hesiod described how Aphrodite was born from the foam that bubbled up after Cronus severed the genitalia of his father Uranus and cast it into the sea. He thus interpreted Aphrodite’s name as meaning “born from sea foam.”1 

Nowadays, most scholars regard this derivation as a folk etymology. Some have sought various Indo-European origins for the name, tracing it to words such as *abʰor- (“very”), *dʰei- (“to shine”), or *abrhá- (“cloud”).2 Others, such as Martin West, have searched for a Semitic source.3 Still others have turned to Etruscan for the name’s origin, comparing it to (e)prϑni, an Etruscan honorific meaning “lord” (in this case, Aphrodite’s name would mean “the lady”).4

In short, the etymology of the name “Aphrodite” is highly uncertain and likely originated from a non-Greek language.5 TheThe Indeed, there is no evidence of the goddess during the earliest periods of Greek history (the Bronze Age or Mycenaean period, ca. 1600–1100 BCE); she may have originally been an Eastern goddess later adopted by the Greeks.6

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Aphrodite

    Ἀφροδίτη

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [af-ruh-DAHY-tee]

    /ˌæf rəˈdaɪ ti/

Other Names

Aphrodite had two common alternative names in ancient literature: Cypris and Cytherea, referring to her close association with the islands of Cyprus and Cythera, respectively.

Aphrodite’s Roman equivalent was called Venus.

Epithets

Aphrodite was most commonly described as ourania (“heavenly”) and pandēmos (“of all people”). Many epithets, such as chryseē (“golden”), dia (“brilliant”), or eustephanos (“well-crowned”), related to her attributes or appearance. In other cases, Aphrodite's epithets reflected her duality as a goddess of bliss as well as destruction—she was known as both philommeidēs (“smile-loving”) and skotia (“dark one”).

Attributes

Domains

Aphrodite was worshipped primarily as the goddess of erotic love and women. In these capacities, she was honored in connection with sex, marriage, and childbirth. But her functions also extended into other areas: for example, Aphrodite was a goddess not only of women’s fertility and childbirth, but also of the fertility of the earth—of vegetation and farming. Aphrodite was also seen, naturally enough, as the patron of prostitutes. Perhaps somewhat less naturally, another of her functions was the protection of sailors at sea.

Iconography

In art and literature, Aphrodite’s chief attribute was always her stunning physical beauty. As if this were not enough, she was also said to possess a magical girdle that made the person wearing it irresistible. There is a famous scene in Homer’s Iliad where Hera borrows Aphrodite’s girdle to seduce Zeus.7

Unlike the other Greek goddesses, who were usually depicted as modestly clothed, Aphrodite was almost always represented in various stages of undress. This trend began at the end of the fifth century BCE and quickly caught on, epitomized in Praxiteles’ statue Aphrodite of Cnidos (345/340 BCE) and Apelles of Cos’ painting of Aphrodite rising from the sea (Aphrodite Anadyomenē, or the “Aphrodite of Cos”). These works were endlessly copied throughout antiquity.

Cnidus Aphrodite 4th Century BCE Praxiteles

"Cnidian Aphrodite," Roman copy of 4th-century BCE Greek original by Praxiteles.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Aphrodite Anadyomene 2nd_1st-century BCE statue

"Aphrodite Anadyomene," 2nd/1st-century BCE statue inspired by 4th-century BCE painting by Apelles of Cos.

shakko / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Aphrodite was often depicted in the company of other gods, especially Eros or the other Erotes (gods of love usually said to have been the children of Aphrodite). Other times her entourage included the Graces, the Nereids, or the wild half-goat Pan. 

Finally, Aphrodite was sometimes represented as victorious and armed for war, with helmet, shield, and weapons. This was how she was shown, for example, in Corinth, Cythera, and Sparta.8

Symbols

Aphrodite had various animal and plant symbols that helped distinguish her in antiquity. She was especially closely associated with male goats, but also with doves, sparrows, swallows, and swans, all of which were often imagined as pulling her chariot or serving as her messengers.9 Another one of Aphrodite’s sacred animals was the tortoise.10

Aphrodite’s sacred plants included the apple, rose, myrtle, and poppy.11

Family

Aphrodite’s origins are obscure: she was either the motherless daughter of the primordial god Uranus12 or the love child of Zeus and Dione.13 This would make Aphrodite either a primordial deity herself, born long before any of the other Olympians, or a half-sibling of Zeus’ countless other children, including the gods Apollo, Artemis, Ares, and Hermes and the mortals Heracles, Perseus, and Helen of Troy. There were also later traditions that gave her other parents—for example, Uranus and Hemera (the goddess of the day)1415—but these were not as widely known or accepted in antiquity. 

Though she was usually presented as being married to Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship and metallurgy (and, in some traditions, her half-brother), the bonds of marriage were no barrier to Aphrodite, who desired—and was desired by—many. 

Aphrodite's ongoing affair with Ares produced a number of children whose natures represented the extremes of her own personality. According to Hesiod, these children were Deimos (the god of terror and dread), Phobos (the god of fear), and Harmonia (the goddess of harmony and wellbeing).15 According to other sources, Ares and Aphrodite were also the parents of Eros16 and Anteros,17 two of the Erotes (winged deities associated with love and eroticism).

Terracotta oil jar with Aphrodite and Eros

Lekythos (oil jar) showing Aphrodite and her son Eros standing on either side of an incense burner (5th century BCE).

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

Aphrodite took other lovers among the gods and had children with them as well. With Dionysus, the god of wine, Aphrodite was sometimes said to have mothered Hymenaeus (the god of marriage ceremonies),18 Iacchus and Sabazius (minor gods of ritual),19 Priapus (a god of livestock),20 and the Graces (deities associated with charm, beauty, and fertility).21 With Hermes, the messenger god, Aphrodite had Hermaphroditus (a name formed from “Hermes” and “Aphrodite”), who possessed both male and female genitalia.22

Aphrodite also had several mortal lovers. The most famous of these were the beautiful Adonis, the most lovely of mortal men, and Anchises, a Trojan prince with whom Aphrodite begat the hero Aeneas (later revered as the ancestor of the Romans).

Finally, Aphrodite was commonly called the mother of the Erotes (“Loves”), Pothos (“Desire”), and Peitho (“Persuasion”).23

Family Tree

Mythology

Origins

There were at least two well-known versions of the birth (or creation) of Aphrodite. The first, told by Hesiod in the Theogony, placed the creation of Aphrodite at the beginning of mythical time, when the Titan Cronus, son of Uranus, rose up against his father. 

Uranus was a primordial deity and the ruler of the universe whose union with Gaia, the earth, started all things. According to Hesiod, when Cronus overthrew his father, he cut off Uranus’ genitals and cast them in the sea near the island of Cythera. From Uranus’ blood arose the Erinyes, Giants, and nymphs, and from the foam that swirled around his severed genitals came Aphrodite. Born near Cythera, Aphrodite first came ashore on Cyprus (thus, the story of the goddess’s birth mentions her two most sacred sites).

Birth of Venus Sandro Botticelli 1485 Uffizi Gallery Florence

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli (1483–1485). Uffizi, Florence, Italy.

Google Arts and Culture / Public Domain

Hesiod’s poetry brings the savage scene to life:

Then the son from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father's members and cast them away to fall behind him. And not vainly did they fall from his hand; for all the bloody drops that gushed forth Earth received, and as the seasons moved round she bare the strong Erinyes and the great Giants with gleaming armour, holding long spears in their hands and the Nymphs whom they call Meliae all over the boundless earth. And so soon as he had cut off the members with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, they were swept away over the main a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden. First she drew near holy Cythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Cyprus, and came forth an awful and lovely goddess, and grass grew up about her beneath her shapely feet. Her gods and men call Aphrodite, and the foam-born goddess [Greek: aphrogenea thean] and rich-crowned Cytherea, because she grew amid the foam [Greek: en aphrōi], and Cytherea because she reached Cythera, and Cyprogenes because she was born in billowy Cyprus, and Philommedes because sprang from the members. And with her went Eros, and comely Desire followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. This honour she has from the beginning, and this is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods, -- the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.24

The other version of Aphrodite's origins, told by Homer, presented Aphrodite as the child of Zeus and Dione—a mysterious figure who may have been a Titan or an Oceanid. However, Homer did not narrate her conception or birth; he simply described Aphrodite as the daughter of Dione.2625

The contrasting stories surrounding Aphrodite's origins created some confusion among the ancient Greeks, a situation that Plato attempted to solve in his dialogue the Symposium. Speaking through the character of Pausanias, Plato suggested that Aphrodite Urania (“heavenly Aphrodite”) and Aphrodite Pandemos (“common Aphrodite,” or “Aphrodite of the people”), the most popular epithets for the goddess, were in fact separate deities merged together in the collective consciousness of the Greeks.

According to Plato, Aphrodite Pandemos stood for the “lower” or “common” sort of sexual love between a male and female. Aphrodite Urania, on the other hand, stood for the “higher,” more rarefied kind of love that could only exist between two males—more specifically, between an erastes, an older, wizened man, and an eromenos, a young man or boy blossoming into adulthood.26

Aphrodite the Lover

Many stories of Aphrodite centered on her famous beauty and sexual passions, as well as the passions she inspired in others. 

Ares

Aphrodite was married (at least for a time) to Hephaestus, but took little joy in the crippled and gruff god of the forge. In fact, her most enduring love was for Ares, the god of war.

A famous and amusing myth about Aphrodite’s affair with Ares is told in Homer’s Odyssey. Hephaestus, so the story goes, found out that his wife was sleeping with Ares in his own bed and decided to teach the wayward lovers a lesson. He fashioned a net so fine that it was invisible to the naked eye and placed it on the bed. The next time Aphrodite and Ares made love, they became trapped in the adamantine net. Hephaestus then appeared and exposed the couple, in flagrante, to the ridicule of the other gods.27

Anchises

In one tale, Aphrodite appeared as a beautiful mortal and seduced Anchises, a lonely shepherd from the foothills of Mount Ida, near the legendary city of Troy. The most detailed account of the myth is found in the fifth Homeric Hymn

Anchises was led to believe that Aphrodite was a virgin; subsequently, he became overwhelmed with the desire to sleep with her. After the consummation of their union, Aphrodite revealed her true identity and informed Anchises she was pregnant with a demigod named Aeneas who was to become a Trojan hero (later myths presented him as the ancestor of the Romans).

The fifth Homeric Hymn ends with Aphrodite warning Anchises not to reveal their affair to anybody: “And now because of you,” says Aphrodite, “I shall have great shame among the deathless gods henceforth, continually… But if you tell all and foolishly boast that you lay with rich-crowned Aphrodite, Zeus will smite you in his anger with a smoking thunderbolt. Now I have told you all. Take heed: refrain and name me not, but have regard to the anger of the gods.”28 

According to some traditions, however, Anchises ended up getting drunk and spilling the story to his friends; as promised, Aphrodite immediately had Zeus strike him down with a thunderbolt.29

Adonis

Aphrodite similarly seduced Adonis, the handsome mortal, whom she discovered as a baby and fell in love with as a man. According to some myths, Adonis split his time between Aphrodite and Persephone, who also loved him.30 Eventually, Adonis was murdered by a boar. Different sources assign the responsibility for Adonis’ death to the jealous Ares,31 the vengeful Artemis,32 or even Apollo’s son Erymanthus.33

Fragment of a Relief with Aphrodite and Adonis 3rd_2nd Century BCE MFA Boston

Fragment of a plaster relief with Aphrodite (left) and the young, handsome Adonis (3rd/2nd century BCE).

Museum of Fine Arts / Public Domain

Aphrodite’s grief over Adonis became a focal point of the Adonia, a cultic celebration held in honor of Aphrodite and Adonis that was reserved for women alone.

Aphrodite the Punisher

The Lemnian Women

For all her love, Aphrodite could be as vengeful as any other deity. According to one tale, women on the island of Lemnos attracted her anger by refusing to offer sacrifices in her honor. In response, Aphrodite caused the women to stink so horribly that they became repugnant to their husbands.

Refusing the advances of their malodorous wives, the husbands of Lemnos instead opted to have sex with slaves. The aggrieved women then murdered both their husbands and the slaves. At this point, Jason and the Argonauts happened to visit Lemnos. Seeing that the island's population was in danger, the sailors consented to have sex with the foul-smelling women. The island was thus saved from extinction, and its women learned a valuable lesson about Aphrodite.

Hippolytus

The sad story of Hippolytus once again puts Aphrodite’s jealousy on full display. This myth is best known from Euripides’ fifth-century BCE tragedy Hippolytus, which presents the following story. Hippolytus, a son of the Athenian king Theseus, was devoted to the worship of the virgin goddess Artemis; as a faithful acolyte, he refused to partake in sexual activities. Taking this as a personal affront, Aphrodite promised revenge: she caused Phaedra, Hippolytus’ stepmother, to fall hopelessly in love with the young man.

Aphrodite knew that Hippolytus, a devoted follower of Artemis, would refuse his stepmother's advances. When he did so, the jilted Phaedra committed suicide, leaving a note that accused Hippolytus of trying to rape her.34 

When Hippolytus’ father, Theseus, read the note, he promised vengeance for this imagined act and asked Poseidon to help him murder Hippolytus. Poseidon obliged, sending a wild bull to attack Hippolytus as he was riding his chariot along a rocky shoreline. The bull scared the horses and Hippolytus smashed into the cliffs, becoming mortally wounded in the process. Theseus finally discovered his son’s innocence from Artemis, but it was too late: Hippolytus was dead, and Aphrodite had had her vengeance.

Hippomenes

In some traditions, Aphrodite also played a role in the myth of the great female heroine Atalanta. When Atalanta had grown into a woman, her father tried to force her to take a husband. But she would only consent to marry the man who could beat her in a footrace. Conquered by her beauty, many tried this challenge and failed. 

Hippomenes (called Melanion in some sources)35 was one of Atalanta’s suitors. He knew he would need to use cunning to beat Atalanta and make her his wife. Thus, he prayed to Aphrodite for help, who gave him three golden apples that he was to drop whenever Atalanta began to gain on him. Hippomenes did as he was told, and Atalanta stopped to pick up each apple; this slowed her down enough for Hippomenes to win the race.

But according to some sources, Hippomenes did not properly thank Aphrodite after winning Atalanta’s hand. She therefore exacted a twisted revenge. Aphrodite caused Hippomenes and Atalanta to be overcome by desire while in a temple; the two began to make love right there on the sacred ground. This offended the gods, who transformed Hippomenes and Atalanta into lions as punishment for their sacrilege.36

Psyche

The story of Psyche, possibly a later invention, is told in Apuleius’ late second-century CE Roman novel The Golden Ass.37 Psyche was a young princess so beautiful that she excited the jealousy of Aphrodite (or Venus) herself. Aphrodite tried to punish the girl by instructing her son Eros (or Amor) to make her fall in love with a monster. Instead, Eros fell in love with Psyche himself; he seduced her and promised they would live happily ever after as long as Psyche never gave in to her curiosity and tried to discover his true identity. 

One night, however, Psyche snuck up on Eros with a candle as he was sleeping to get a look at him. He woke up and, furious at Psyche for her lack of trust, banished her. Psyche spent a long time wandering and searching for her beloved; eventually, she came to the palace of Aphrodite, who treated her as a slave and subjected her to many grueling and humiliating labors. In the end, however, Aphrodite managed to forgive the girl, and Psyche and Eros were reunited.

Myrrha

In another myth, an Eastern princess named Myrrha offended Aphrodite.38 To punish the girl, Aphrodite caused her to fall in love with her own father. Myrrha managed to trick her father into sleeping with her, but when he found out what he had done, he was disgusted and banished his daughter. The devastated Myrrha ran into the wilderness, where she was transformed into the myrrh tree (smyrna in Greek).39 

Aphrodite the Creator

Pandora

According to Hesiod, Aphrodite played an important role in the creation of the first mortal woman, Pandora. She made Pandora beautiful so that she would be desired; she also imbued Pandora with desires of her own, thus ensuring that humankind would be forever tempted.40 In the end, Pandora was enticed to reveal the contents of her pithos (a uterus-shaped jar, often mistranslated as “box" and used colloquially to refer to a womb), an event that unleashed misery and death upon all humans.

Pygmalion

Aphrodite also played an important role in the myth of Pygmalion, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.41 Pygmalion was a sculptor living in Cyprus who made a statue of a woman so beautiful that he fell in love with it; he dressed the statue in fine clothing and even slept with it. Desperate to see his love reciprocated, Pygmalion prayed to Aphrodite, begging her to turn the statue into a real woman. In the end, Aphrodite answered Pygmalion’s prayers and gave life to the beautiful statue.

Aphrodite and the Trojan War

The Greeks liked to blame women for their troubles; such was the case with the Trojan War, the most important and impactful of all mortal conflicts in Greek mythology. According to legend, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite were at fault for inciting the war; it was Aphrodite, however, who bore the heaviest weight of responsibility.

The events leading up to the Trojan War began with a petty disagreement among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite over who was the most beautiful. To resolve the issue once and for all, they decided to have a contest: the winner would receive a golden apple inscribed with the words “to the fairest.” Zeus commissioned Paris, prince of Troy, to make the final decision.

Judgment of Paris by Meester van de Vrouwelijke Halffiguren (1532)

The Judgment of Paris by the Master of the Female Half-Lengths (1532).

Rijksmuseum / Public Domain

Eager to settle the matter, the goddesses appeared before Paris (in some versions, unclothed), but he was reluctant to choose. The goddesses then resorted to bribes—Hera promised political power, while Athena promised wisdom and military glory. It was Aphrodite, however, who offered Paris the most beautiful mortal woman alive. Paris chose the latter gift, which happened to be Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. In fulfillment of her promise, Aphrodite helped Paris abduct Helen and bring her to Troy; it was this act that ultimately sparked the conflict.

During the war, Aphrodite consistently defended the Trojans and personally watched over the fortunes of Paris and Helen. In Homer’s Iliad, for example, she intervened to rescue Paris after he challenged the mighty king Menelaus to hand-to-hand combat.42 Later, she returned to save her son, the Trojan hero Aeneas, from the Greek warrior Diomedes. But Diomedes immediately turned on Aphrodite and wounded her in the arm.43 According to some traditions, Aphrodite eventually punished Diomedes by turning his wife against him and causing him to be exiled from his home.44

Aphrodite’s son Aeneas managed to escape from Troy after it was finally conquered by the Greeks. She then helped him find his way to Italy, where he founded the city of Lavinium and became the ancestor of the Romans. Naturally, this myth was far more prevalent in Roman literature than in Greek mythology.

Worship

Aphrodite’s most sacred sites were the islands of Cyprus and Cythera, both intimately linked with her mythology. However, as one of the Twelve Olympians, Aphrodite was widely worshipped throughout the Greek world. Her priesthood was composed of both women and men (depending on the location). She regularly received animals, especially goats, as sacrifices.

Festivals

The festivals of Aphrodite were usually called Aphrodisia. Large annual festivals to the goddess were held in the cities of Paphos and Amathus in Cyprus, as well as in other major cities such as Athens and Corinth. Some Aphrodisia festivals seem to have involved symposia (dinner parties) held in the company of courtesans.45

Aphrodite was also celebrated privately. In many Greek cities and towns, for example, girls would sacrifice to Aphrodite on the night before their wedding so that their first sexual encounter would be favorable.46

Temples

Aphrodite’s most splendid temples were located in Cyprus, especially in the cities of Paphos and Amathus. The temple of Aphrodite at Amathus was even said to house the mythical Necklace of Harmonia, which gave its wearer eternal youth but also bore a terrible curse.47

Aphrodite had important temples throughout Greece, including at Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Cythera, but her worship also penetrated deep into the Mediterranean: there are temples of Aphrodite in Italy, Sicily, and Asia Minor.

The Temple of Aphrodite in Aphrodisias, Turkey

Temple of Aphrodite in Aphrodisias, Turkey (1st century BCE). The presence of Aphrodite's temple in western Turkey reveals the extent of her worship (and Hellenic influence) throughout the Mediterranean.

Carole Raddato / CC BY-SA 2.0

Aphrodite sometimes played a surprising role in local cults. At some temples in northern Greece, such as those at Cassope, Epirus, and Metropolis, she appears to have been worshipped primarily as a goddess of the polis (the city-state). In others, such as Corinth, Sparta, and Cythera, she was worshipped as a war goddess associated with Ares (“Aphrodite Areia”).

In the Hellenistic period (323–31 BCE), Aphrodite was increasingly identified with Egyptian goddesses such as Hathor and Isis. She also had numerous temples throughout Greek Egypt, from Alexandria in the north to Philae in the south.

The Romans worshipped Aphrodite as Venus. According to the Roman historian Livy, this identification was first officially instituted at the end of the third century BCE when the cult of Venus Erycina—that is, Venus of Mount Eryx in Sicily—was imported to Rome.48 

Later, as the Romans increasingly adopted Aphrodite’s son Aeneas as their ancestor, Venus became even more important, and numerous temples to her were built across the Roman world. In this function, the goddess came to be known as Venus Genetrix (“Mother Venus”). Indeed, one of Venus’ most important temples was the temple of Venus Genetrix that Julius Caesar built on the Roman Forum shortly before his death in 44 BCE.

It was once fashionable for scholars to suggest that the temples of Aphrodite practiced “sacred prostitution” or “temple prostitution,” meaning prostitutes would come to the temple and sleep with the men who arrived seeking companionship. Sacred prostituiton does seem to have existed in parts of the Middle East, especially in the temples of Ishtar or Astarte, the Semitic goddess of love.49 Most scholars today, however, admit that there is no substantial reason to think that sacred prostitution was practiced in connection with Aphrodite.50

Pop Culture

Aphrodite has often appeared in popular culture as a symbol of beauty and love. During the Renaissance and early modern periods, she was frequently depicted in art as the embodiment of feminine beauty.

In more recent times, Aphrodite has maintained a lively presence. In the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, for example, Aphrodite is a gossipy, love-obsessed character, appearing in anachronistic pink lingerie. She is also an important character in the Rick Riordan book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which was later adapted for film, stage, and television.

The ancient goddess's name has also been appropriated by the beauty company Aphrodite Skin Care, whose products promise “the secret of natural beauty.”

Further Reading

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Homer: Aphrodite appears in the Iliad and the Odyssey (eighth century BCE) as an ally of the Trojans and the patron of Paris.

  • Hesiod: Aphrodite’s origins and mythology are detailed in the seventh-century BCE epics of Hesiod, including the Theogony and the Works and Days. Unlike her Homeric counterpart, Hesiod’s Aphrodite is born from Uranus’ severed genitalia.

  • Homeric Hymns: The fifth Homeric Hymn (seventh to sixth century BCE)—one of the longer ones—is dedicated to Aphrodite and tells the story of her affair with the mortal Anchises. The shorter sixth Hymn is also dedicated to Aphrodite.

  • Sappho: Aphrodite was extremely prominent in the love poems of Sappho (late seventh to early sixth century BCE), which unfortunately survive mostly in fragments.

  • Pindar: Aphrodite appears in some of Pindar’s surviving poems (fifth century BCE). For example, in Pythian Ode 4 (462 BCE), Aphrodite helps Jason win the love of the witch Medea.

  • Euripides: Aphrodite plays a central role in the tragedy Hippolytus (428 BCE). She is also important to the plots of other tragedies, such as Trojan Women (ca. 415 BCE) and Helen (412 BCE), where she operates “behind the scenes” as one of the instigators of the Trojan War.

  • Plato: The philosopher Plato extensively discussed the nature of love (and the true meaning of the goddess Aphrodite) in his dialogues, especially the Symposium (ca. 385–370 BCE).

  • Apollonius of Rhodes: In Book 3 of the third-century BCE epic Argonautica, Aphrodite causes Medea to fall in love with Jason so that she will agree to help him on his quest to steal the Golden Fleece.

  • Orphic Hymns: The Orphics were a Greek cult that believed a blissful afterlife could be attained by living an ascetic life. The fifty-fourth Orphic Hymn (ca. third century BCE to second century CE) is dedicated to Aphrodite.

  • Bion: Aphrodite features in some of the early first-century BCE poems of Bion, especially Ode 1 (the so-called “Lament for Adonis”).

  • Strabo, Geography: A late first-century BCE geographical treatise and an important source for many local Greek myths, institutions, and religious practices from antiquity.

  • Lucian: Aphrodite features in a number of Lucian’s satirical writings (late first to early second century CE), including the Dialogues of the Gods.

  • Pausanias, Description of Greece: A second-century CE travelogue; like Strabo’s Geography, an important source for local myths and customs.

  • Quintus of Smyrna: In the fourth-century CE epic Posthomerica, Aphrodite is an ally of the Trojans in the Trojan War (as in the Homeric poems).

  • Nonnus: Aphrodite appears a few times in the epic poem Dionysiaca (fifth century CE), which relates the travels of the young god Dionysus.

  • Colluthus: Aphrodite and the Judgment of Paris appear in the fifth- or sixth-century CE poem Rape of Helen.

Roman

  • Lucretius: Lucretius’ philosophical epic On the Nature of Things begins with an invocation of Aphrodite’s Roman counterpart, Venus, as the embodiment of the power of love.

  • Virgil: Venus/Aphrodite plays an important role in the Aeneid (19 BCE) as the mother of Aeneas, the ancestor of the Romans.

  • Propertius: Venus/Aphrodite appears often in Propertius’ Elegies (first century BCE).

  • Tibullus: Venus/Aphrodite makes many appearances in the poetry of Tibullus (first century BCE).

  • Ovid: Venus/Aphrodite is central to much of Ovid’s poetry, including the mythical poems the Heroides (especially Heroides 4, ca. 25–16 BCE), the Metamorphoses (ca. 8 CE), and the Fasti (ca. 8 CE), but also love poems such as the Amores (ca. 16 BCE).

  • Seneca: Venus/Aphrodite is important to the plot of the tragedy Phaedra (first century BCE or first century CE), based on Euripides’ Hippolytus, though she is not a character.

  • Valerius Flaccus: In the epic Argonautica (first century CE), as in Apollonius’ earlier Greek work of the same name, Venus/Aphrodite causes Medea to fall in love with Jason.

  • Statius: Venus/Aphrodite intervenes a few times in the epic Thebaid (first century CE), which tells the story of the Seven against Thebes.

  • Silius Italicus: In the Punica, a first-century CE epic about Hannibal’s war against the Romans, Venus/Aphrodite is an ally of the Romans.

  • Apuleius: Books 4–6 of the novel The Golden Ass (late second century CE) include a long tangent relating the story of Psyche, in which Venus/Aphrodite plays a role.

Mythological Handbooks (Greek and Roman)

  • Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History: A work of universal history, covering events from the creation of the cosmos to Diodorus’ own time (mid-first century BCE). Contains many references to Aphrodite.

  • Apollodorus, Library: A mythological handbook from the first century BCE or the first few centuries CE with references to Aphrodite.

  • Hyginus, Fabulae: A Latin mythological handbook (first or second century CE) that includes sections on the myths of Venus/Aphrodite.

  • Fulgentius, Mythologies: A Latin mythological handbook (fifth or sixth century CE) with sections on the myths of Venus/Aphrodite.

Secondary Sources

  • Breitenberger, Barbara. Aphrodite and Eros: The Development of Erotic Mythology in Early Greek Poetry and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2007.

  • Budin, Stephanie Lynn. The Origin of Aphrodite. Bethesda, MD: CDL, 2007.

  • Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

  • Cartwright, Mark. “Aphrodite.” World History Encyclopedia. Published online 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/Aphrodite/.

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

  • Friedrich, Paul. The Meaning of Aphrodite. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

  • Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Grigson, Geoffrey. The Goddess of Love: The Birth, Triumph, Death and Return of Aphrodite. New York: Stein and Day, 1977.

  • Guthrie, W. K. G. The Greeks and Their Gods. London: Methuen, 1962.

  • Kerényi, Károly. The Gods of the Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1951.

  • Kondoleon, Christine, ed. Aphrodite and the Gods of Love. With Phoebe C. Segal. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2011.

  • Long, C. R. The Twelve Gods of Greece and Rome. Leiden: Brill, 1987.

  • Pirenne-Delforge, Vinciane, and Anne Ley. “Aphrodite.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e127370.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Rosenzweig, Rachel. Worshipping Aphrodite: Art and Cult in Classical Athens. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

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

  • Smith, William. “Aphrodite.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed March 30, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DA%3Aentry+group%3D31%3Aentry%3Daphrodite-bio-1

  • Theoi Project. “Aphrodite.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Aphrodite.html.