Tales of Aphrodite


Venus by Henri Piene PicouAphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty. So great were her charms that she was found to be irresistable by both gods and men alike. She is often shown riding in a chariot drawn by swans while being surrounded by the doves and sparrows that were sacred to her.There are conflicting stories surrounding the mysterious birth of this goddess. According to Homer she was the daughter of Zeus and Dione, but Hesiod gives us a totally different version. His tale takes us back to the castration of Uranus by his son Cronus.

It is said that upon removing the genitals Cronus threw them into the sea, and up from the foam that floated around them sprang forth Aphrodite. It was this beginning that gave the goddess her erotic nature.

La Naissance de Venus by Eugene Emmanuel Amaury DuvalA third story tells us that Aphrodite sprang naked from the froth of the sea. She rode a scallop shell to the Island of Cythera, but finding the isle to be very small she left and proceeded to Cyprus where she took up residence in Paphos. There she was met by the four Seasons, who draped her in beautiful robes and adorned her hair with flowers. Aphrodite also had many different sides to her personality. To some she was the sweet laughter loving goddess whom the lonely sought out for help. She was beauty personified, for without her there would be no joy or loveliness. Her every movement filled the air with song. But some saw her as treacherous and malicious. She was known to have a bewitching power over men that more times than not brought about their own destruction.

Ironically, she was wed to Hephaestus, who was lame and considered to be the most unattractive of all the Olympians. This marriage was of no choice of her own, but instead was arranged by Zeus in order to keep Aphrodite out of trouble. The goddess of love did not take her wedding vows very seriously and was accustomed to having many affairs involving both gods and men.

The Forge of Vulcan by Diego Velazquez, 1630A constant companion of Aphrodite was Ares, the god of war. It was common knowledge on Olympus that Aphrodite was anything but faithful to her husband. One night while she was away visiting Ares in his Thracian palace the goddess made the mistake of lingering too long in his bed. As the two enjoyed each others company Helios prepared his steeds for their morning journey. As he rose across the sky in his chariot, the all seeing sun god caught a glimpse of the two unsuspecting lovers. He flew at once to Hephaestus and reported everything he saw.

Feeling very hurt and angry, the god of fire stood before his forge and hammered out a bronze hunting net. This he took and secretly fastened to the posts of his marriage bed.

Aphrodite returned from her liaison with Ares, telling Hephaestus that she had been away in Corinth conducting business. Pretending to believe her, the scorned husband excused himself explaining that he was leaving to tend to his own affairs on his favorite island of Lemnos.

Venus And Mars Surprised By Vulcan by Francois Boucher As soon as Hephaestus was out of sight, Aphrodite sent word to her lover Ares to come and rejoin her for an evening of romance. The two went happily to bed, but when the first hints of dawn appeared in the sky both found themselves hopelessly caught in the net of bronze. Upon his return from his trip to Lemnos, Hephaestus, found the scandalous pair naked and unable to escape his well laid trap. To add to their humiliation, the bitter husband summoned the other gods to come and witness his dishonor. All attended, except for the goddesses, who found the entire matter to be in poor taste. As the Olympians stood and stared at the tangled couple, Apollo nudged Hermes and whispered "I fancy you would not mind being in Ares' position, net and all?" Hermes agreed with a smile and replied that he would not mind even if there were three times as many nets and all the goddesses watched with disapproval. Both gods laughed at the prospect, but Zeus saw no humor in the situation.

Hephaestus insisted that he would not release Aphrodite from the trap unless Zeus restored to him the marriage gifts that were paid for his unfaithful wife. Being older and wiser, the father of the gods refused to get involved in a matrimonial the quarrel, but instead, scolded Hephaestus for being foolish enough to turn a private disagreement into a public scandal.

Poseidon, who was totally captivated by Aphrodite's beauty saw this as an opportunity to acquire some of her attention for himself. He pretended to take pity on Hephaestus and offered to intervene on his behalf. The sea god loudly proclaimed that Ares should be the one to repay the wedding gifts back to Hephaestus, since it was he not Zeus who was caught frolicking with Aphrodite.

The Pearls Of Aphrodite by Herbert James DraperHephaestus agreed, but under the condition that should Ares default Poseidon should have to take his place under the net. Not wanting to appear too eager, Poseidon proclaimed nobly that he trusted Ares to keep his word. "If in the slim chance that he does not" the sea god swore, "I will then marry Aphrodite myself." This brought about more laughter from Hermes and Apollo who were having no problems seeing through Poseidon's scheme. Ares was set free and returned to his home in Thrace, while Aphrodite returned to Paphos where she performed a sea ritual to restore her virginity. Because of Hermes' flattering remarks, Aphrodite consented to spend the night with him and together they produced Hermaphroditus, a child having both male and female reproductive organs. She also favored Poseidon with a night of love as a reward for all of his help. She bore him two sons, Rhodus and Herophilus. The marriage gifts were never repaid to Hephaestus, for Ares decided if Zeus was not obligated to pay than neither was he.

Hephaestus soon forgot the whole ordeal, as he was madly in love with Aphrodite and like so many others he too was blinded by her intriguing beauty.


The Judgement Of Paris

The Judgement of Paris by Hendrick van BalenAphrodite usually carries the blame for bringing about the start of the Trojan War. It seems that all the Olympians were invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis except Eris, the goddess of discord and her brother Ares. Taking this insult to heart, Eris set out to bring turmoil to the couple's happy day. She waited for the wedding feast to begin and then rolled a golden apple into the hall. The beautiful fruit sparkled brightly and it was not long before all eyes were upon it. One of the wedding attendents picked it up and read outloud "To The Fairest", which had been inscribed across the center of the golden orb. Naturally all the goddesses thought themselves worthy of the prize and before long a giant squabble broke out among the guests. Soon the choices were narrowed down to just three; Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.

The goddesses paraded before Zeus, requesting that he should be the judge of their contest and award the apple to the one most deserving of the title. Zeus, being too wise to involve himself in such a thing, quickly suggested they journey to Troy where Paris, the son of King Priam could be found tending sheep on Mount Ida.

The Awakening Of Venus by Charles NatoireBecause of a prophecy warning the King that Paris would one day bring about the ruin of Troy, Priam decided to send the boy away to live as a shepherd. Paris took for his wife a nymph named Oenone and together the two enjoyed living a simple and happy life. One day as Paris was busy tending to the flocks, before his eyes appeared the three goddesses accompanied by the god's herald Hermes. Paris was told by Zeus' messenger that he was to award the apple to the fairest of the Olympian trio. To try and better her chances at winning, each goddess offered Paris a bribe. Hera promised if he picked her she would make him lord over all Europe.

Athena promised if he picked her she would raise Troy up in victory against the Greeks, thus leaving all Greece in ruins. But Aphrodite, understanding the desires of young men, promised that if Paris picked her she would give to him the most beautiful woman in the world to have as his wife.

Paris and Helen by Louis David Jacques, 1788Without hesitation Paris handed the apple to Aphrodite, totally unaware that he was condemning Troy to death and ruin. For the most beautiful woman in the world was Helen of Greece and she was already bethrothed to Menelaus, the King of Sparta. Never giving Oenone another thought, Aphrodite whisked Paris off to Sparta to claim his new bride. At first the unsuspecting Menelaus welcomed Paris as his guest, and soon the two swore a bond of allegiance to each other. Trusting the situation, Menelaus left on a journey to Crete, leaving Paris alone in the palace with his wife. When the King returned, both Paris and Helen were gone. The betrayal pierced the heart of Menelaus like a sword, and he at once called upon his brother King Agamemnon of Mycenae to come to his aid. The two vowed to bring the Queen of Sparta home but not without first the painting the earth red with the blood of Paris.

The Procession Of The Trojan Horse In Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1773Word spread throughout Greece, and soon an envoy of vessels were assembled and ready to sail upon Troy. The battle raged for ten years and cost both sides many lives, but strangly the end finally came in the shape of a wooden horse. The Greeks fashioned a giant horse of wood and stood it upon a wheeled platform. A group of Spartan soldiers climbed inside and hid in the hollow stomach while the horse was left outside the city gates.

The Greek army hoped the people of Troy would view the gift as a peace offering and wheel it inside their fortress. This proved to be a good idea for that is exactly what the Trojans did. During the night when the city was asleep, the Spartans climbed out of the belly and opened the gates of Troy allowing their comrades to enter.

The Burning of Troy by Simon de Vlieger The unsuspecting Trojans were taken by surprise, and the once powerful city was burnt to the ground. Her men were slaughtered and her women taken as slaves. Only a pile of rubble remained of the great empire of Troy. Paris was killed and Helen was returned to Menelaus, who forgave her and brought her back to Sparta as his wife. So ended the Greek's ten year seige on Troy, which started with the vanity of a goddess and ended with the pride of a King.


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