Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and my favorite of all the goddesses. It is said that any man that gazed into her eyes would find himself hopelessly entranced by her elegance and charm.
She is often depicted riding inside of a golden chariot which was drawn by a bevy of lovely white swans. Doves and sparrows were known to be sacred to her as well as roses, pearls, cockle shells and the myrtle tree.
Below please find two well loved tales which feature the goddess Aphrodite and her propensity for mischief. I hope you enjoy them.
The story of Aphrodite's birth is shrouded in a clouded of mystery. While Homer clearly states that she was the daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Dione, Hesiod traces the goddess's beginnings to a much earlier point in time.
To understand Hesiod's interpretation of the lineage of Aphrodite, one must travel far back in antiquity to the hour of the castration of Uranus. It seems that in the earliest of days Uranus of the heavens frequently covered over Gaia of the earth, causing her to conceive many children.
After giving birth to the twelve Titans, Gaia bore to Uranus the Cyclopes, three powerful giants all bearing one large eye in the center of their foreheads.
After her next encounter with Father Sky, Gaia brought forth another trio of behemoths known as the Hecatoncheires. These were enormous creatures who all conveyed upon their person fifty heads and one hundred hands.
Though Uranus felt little affection for any of his children, he found this latest brood to be particularly undesirable. In order to rid himself of these unwanted offspring, he cruelly hid them away deep inside the pit of Tartarus.
With her heart laden with grief, Gaia desperately begged the Titans for help, but sadly only her youngest son Cronus had the courage to come forward and avenge the fate of his siblings.
Gaia supplied her champion with a flint-bladed sickle, and when Cronus was sure Uranus was sound asleep, he quietly entered his father's bedchamber and swiftly sliced off his testicles.
He then tossed the pair into the sea causing a thick layer of foam to bubble on top of the water. It is from this divine spray that the goddess Aphrodite first made her entrance into the world.
A slightly different version tells us that Aphrodite independently rose from the froth of the sea. Sailing atop of a scallop shell, the goddess first rode to the Island of Cythera. But because she found its size to be quite small, continued on 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 was known to have many different sides to her personality. To some she was the sweet laughter-loving goddess whom the forlorn and anguished sought for help. She was beauty personified, for without her the world would be a place without pleasure and joy. Her every movement filled the breeze with song and the scent of sweet perfume.
But there were others who saw Aphrodite in a different light. To those she was nothing more than a scheming vixen who often used her bewitching powers to trick men into doing her bidding.
Ironically, Aphrodite was the wife of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and blacksmiths. The two made a curious couple, for Hephaestus was much older than his bride and was considered to be the most unattractive of all the Olympians.
The unlikely union was initiated by Zeus, who thought it would be a good way of keeping Aphrodite out of trouble. Though Hephaestus considered himself to be quite lucky, one could say that Aphrodite was less than happy with the arrangement and often sought out the company of other suitors.
Aphrodite's most constant companion was Ares, the god of war. One night while visiting her paramour in his Thracian palace, she lost track of time while lingering about in Ares' bed. Now it came to be that Helios happened to catch a glimpse of the two unsuspecting lovers as he was slowly driving the sun chariot across the vast and misty heavens.
Unable to keep quiet, Helios quickly flew to Hephaestus and reported everything he saw. Feeling very hurt and angry, the fire god stood before his forge and hammered out a bronze hunting net, which he then secretly fastened to the posts of his marriage bed.
Unaware that Hephaestus was on to her tricks, Aphrodite blamed her absence on some important business matters that had come to light in the city of Corinth. Pretending not to mind, the scorned god politely excused himself, stating that he had affairs of his own to tend to on the isle of Lemnos.
But as soon as Hephaestus was out of sight, Aphrodite sent word to her beloved Ares to come and join her for another evening of romance.
Unaware of the trap that awaited them, the two sweethearts warmly embraced and then happily climbed into Aphrodite's marriage bed. The evening moved along in its usual fashion, but when the first hints of dawn began to color the early morning sky, it became apparent to the unscrupulous couple that something was very wrong.
For no matter how hard they tried, neither could release themselves from the clutches of the brazen net! Finding the rueful pair naked and unable to escape his finely made snare, Hephaestus invited the other gods to come and witness the injustice that had been done to him.
Considering the matter to be in poor taste, the goddesses politely declined, leaving only the gods to act as enthusiastic spectators.
"I fancy you would not mind being in Ares' position, net and all" Apollo slyly whispered to Hermes. "Even with three hundred nets and all the goddesses as an audience" Hermes replied, and both gods laughed heartily at the prospect.
Hephaestus promised to free his prisoners if and when Zeus returned to him the marriage gifts that were paid to secure the hand of his unfaithful wife. Not wanting to get involved in a matrimonial quarrel, Zeus instead scolded Hephaestus for being foolish enough to turn a private disagreement into a public scandal.
In an attempt to obtain some of Aphrodite's attention for himself, the sea god Poseidon pretended to take pity on Hephaestus and offered to intervene on his behalf. He loudly proclaimed that Ares should be responsible for paying back the wedding gifts, since it was he not Zeus who was caught frolicking with the goddess.
Hepheastus agreed, but only under the condition that if for any reason Ares failed to comply, Poseidon would step in and replace him under the net. Not wanting to appear overly eager, Poseidon slyly stated that he fully trusted Ares to keep his word.
Then, in a loud and overly dramatic voice he added "If in the slim chance that he does not, I will marry Aphrodite myself."
This brought about more laughter from Hermes and Apollo who were having no problems seeing through Poseidon's shallow scheme.
Ares was set free and promptly returned back to his home in Thrace, while Aphrodite traveled back to Paphos and performed a sea ritual to restore her virginity.
Hermes' flattering remarks did not go unnoticed. Aphrodite consented to spend the night with him and together they produced Hermaphroditus, a child having both male and female reproductive organs.
Poseidon was also rewarded with a night of love from whence came the birth of two sons; Rhodus and Herophilus. The debt of the marriage gifts was never repaid, as Ares felt he was no more obligated to the calamity than Zeus.
In the end Hephaestus forgave Aphrodite and the entire ordeal was forgotten. In truth, Hephaestus was just one of many who could not break free from the magical spell of the goddess of love.
The Trojan War is one of the best known stories of ancient Greece. It is a tale full of mighty warriors and exciting battles, but its origins lie far from the Plain of Troy. To find its true beginnings one must look deep into the realm of love and jealousy.
It all began with the wedding of Peleus and the nymph Thetis. It seems that all of the Olympians had received an invitation except for the war god Ares and his sister Eris, the goddess of discord.
Eris took this insult very much to heart, and in order to teach the couple a lesson devised a plan that would bring ruin and misery to their happy day. The spiteful goddess hid herself amongst the shadows, and just as the wedding feast was about to begin, quietly rolled a small golden apple into the hall.
The brilliant sparkle emanating from the fruit kept the guests mesmerized until finally one of the wedding attendants picked it up and read what was inscribed across its gilded middle.
"To The Fairest" he called aloud as he raised the apple high above his head. Naturally all of the goddesses deemed themselves worthy of the prize and to the delight of Eris a large squabble soon broke out amongst the group. After a good deal of discussion the choices were narrowed down to three; Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.
The goddesses demanded that Zeus act as judge and award the coveted prize to the most deserving of the bunch. Being too wise to place himself in such a risky predicament, Zeus quickly suggested the trio travel to the city of Troy where Paris, the son of King Priam could be found tending his sheep.
According to the legend, when Queen Hecuba of Troy was very heavy with child, she began to dream of giving birth to a flaming sword.
Knowing that her stepson Aesacus was blessed with the gift of second sight, she invited him into her bedchamber to interpret the meaning of her vision.
Aesacus warned the queen that the images clearly indicated the city of Troy was destined to fall at the hands of her unborn child. However when Paris was born neither Priam nor Hecuba found themselves able to take the life of their new son.
Instead they called forth their best herdsman Agelaus and instructed him to carry out the grizzly deed. When Agelaus realized that he too was incapable of raising his sword against an infant, he carried the babe to the top of Mount Ida and left him there to die.
Luckily for Paris a lactating bear happened to cross his path and allowed the hungry lad to fill his belly with her milk. When Agelaus returned a few days later he was surprised to find the boy very much alive and in fine condition.
Vowing to keep the secret to himself, Agelaus brought the child home and raised him as his own. However as the boy began to grow his good looks and acute sensibilities clearly indicated that he was of noble birth.
Whether Priam and Hecuba forgot Agelaus' foreboding prophecy or just simply chose to ignore it we will never know, but I can tell you that the boy was returned to his birth parents and took up residence inside of his father's palace.
Paris grew to manhood and spent his days working as a shepherd along the cliffs of Mount Ida. One day as he was busy tending his flocks, he turned to find the three bickering goddesses and Zeus' herald Hermes standing before him on the mountain.
As the rivals paraded about in circles, Hermes requested that Paris award the apple to the fairest of the three. Each goddess, in order to improve her chances of winning offered the impressionable young man a bribe.
Hera promised that if he chose her she would make him lord over all of Europe. Athena promised that if he gave her the apple she would raise Troy up in victory against the Greeks, leaving their homeland in shambles and ruins.
However Aphrodite, who was familiar with the wants and desires of young men, promised to give Paris the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife.
Without hesitation Paris eagerly placed the apple into the hands of Aphrodite, who then promptly whisked the young man off to the city of Sparta.
It was here that King Menelaus lived with his alluring wife Helen. Fair Helen, radiant as the sun and more lovely than the dawn was regrettably Paris' promised treasure.
Unaware of Paris' true motives, Menelaus kindly welcomed the young visitor into his home. The two men felt such a strong kinship to each other that Menelaus insisted they swear a bond of allegiance to celebrate their newly founded friendship.
A few days later, Menelaus received word that he was needed on the island of Crete. Confident that his new associate could be trusted to watch over Helen during his absence, the king naively assembled a crew and calmly commenced upon his journey.
With Menelaus safely out of the way, Paris boarded Helen upon his ship and without giving the matter another thought quietly disappeared into the stillness of the evening.
When Menelaus returned home he found both his wife and houseguest to be suspiciously missing from the palace. Feeling angry and humiliated he called upon his brother Agamemnon to help him return Helen back to Sparta.
Because Agamemnon was considered to be the most powerful leader in the ancient world, none of the other city-states dared challenge his bid for assistance in resolving the unfortunate plight of his brother.
Word spread quickly, and in a short amount of time a huge brigade containing the bravest warriors in Greece formed itself inside of the harbor of Aulis to prepare for their journey.
The Greeks waged war upon the Trojans for ten long years. Believing that the battle would never end, Odysseus shrewdly devised a plan that would dissolve the stalemate and grant the Greek troops the victory they so desired.
Under the supervision of the architect Epeius the Greeks fashioned a colossal wooden horse complete with a hollow belly and a trap door on its side.
It was then inscribed with the words "For their return home the Achaeans dedicate this thank-offering to the goddess Athena" and placed atop of a wheeled platform.
After its completion, thirty of the best Greek soldiers climbed inside and strategically hid themselves within the confines of the massive stomach. The mock peace offering was then pushed forward and quietly left standing outside of the gates of Troy.
Leaving one man behind to act as a sentry, the rest of the army set fire to their tents and then sailed off on an imaginary retreat back to their homelands.
Overjoyed to see the Greek ships drifting away from their shoreline, the curious Trojans peered through the city gates at the strange object they found standing upon the sand. According to some accounts, the priest Laocoon tried his best to dissuade the Trojan people from accepting this highly unusual peace offering.
When he saw that his words of warning were being ignored, he picked up a spear and began to strike it heavily against the belly of the horse.
His interference in the matter so angered the god Poseidon (or sometimes Athena, as the circumstances seem to change from story to story) that a slew of tremendously large serpents were sent to strangle the life out of him and his two sons. Cassandra, the daughter of King Priam also begged her father not to have any interaction with the mysterious gift, but as usual her advice was not taken seriously.
It seems that many years before the war between Greece and Troy, the god Apollo found himself to be very attracted to Cassandra and vowed to bless the young princess with the gift of prophecy in exchange for sharing her bed with him.
However, when it came time to pay up her part of the bargain, Cassandra refused to follow through. In return for her fickle behavior, Apollo cursed the unfortunate maiden by refusing to allow her accurate predictions of future events to ever be taken to heart.
Because the Trojan people thought Cassandra to be nothing more than a firebrand, they instinctively turned a deaf ear to her hysterical rantings and recklessly wheeled the massive token inside of the city gates.
The aura of sadness and despair that once hung heavy over the land of Troy seemed to vanish as quickly as their enemies. The sounds of celebration and merriment rung out loudly throughout the crowds of delighted spectators and the fragrant smell of burnt offerings filled the air.
With the approaching shadows of night at hand, the weary Trojans ended the day's festivities and sleepily retired back to their homes.
Then, when all was determined to be still, the Greek soldiers climbed out of the belly of the horse and quietly opened the gates, allowing their comrades to enter and take the city by surprise. Once inside, the men were free to attack the unsuspecting Trojans and turn the inattentive city into a fortress of death.
It was as if ten years of anger and frustration had all come together at this one moment, empowering the Greeks to wage an unrelenting assault against their unsuspecting victims.
When all was said and done, all that remained of the great city were large piles of rubble heaped randomly upon the earth. Those who had not been slaughtered were readily gathered up and distributed between the men.
Included amongst the spoils of war was none other than the Princess Cassandra, whom Agamemnon publicly claimed as his concubine. And so, with the once great empire of Troy left in ruins, the victorious Greeks had nothing more to do than reclaim Helen and happily set sail for home.
The story of the Judgement of Paris is but just a small glimpse into the complex tale of the Trojan War. For a few more details please see my page dedicated to the lives of Agamemnon and Menelaus.
If you are wondering what became of Paris, he was killed by Philoctetes some time before Greece waged its final assault upon Troy.
Menelaus chose to forgive Helen of her infidelities and together the pair returned home to Sparta. As for Aphrodite, she returned to Mount Olympus and kept the golden apple for herself.
To read another of my favorites stories featuring the goddess Aphrodite, please see my page dedicated to The Tale of Cupid and Psyche.
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