Aphrodite: 10 Myths About the Goddess of Love & Beauty

The Greek goddess Aphrodite enjoyed dabbling in the love affairs of mortals, whether that was playing matchmaker or falling in love herself.

Feb 23, 2022By Bethany Williams, BA Classics and English, MA Literature
rossetti richmond venus aphrodite painting

 

The goddess Aphrodite, one of the 12 Greek Olympian gods, was born from the ocean waves. Her name is derived from the ancient Greek word aphros, which means “sea foam”. However, the most popular epithet for Aphrodite in Greek myth was “laughter-loving” sometimes, translated as “lover of smiles”.

 

Aphrodite loved to meddle in the romantic lives of mortals; she found this exceedingly delightful. Here are some of the myths in which Aphrodite caused wars in the name of love, caused romantic chaos, and created absurd matches — but they all gave her a good laugh, of course.

 

1. Goddess Aphrodite Married Hephaestus

dicksee goddess aphrodite miranda
Miranda (as Aphrodite), by Thomas Francis Dicksee R.A., private collection, via Sotheby’s

 

Let’s begin with Aphrodite’s own love life. Aphrodite was the goddess of love, pleasure, and beauty. This meant that she enjoyed flirtatious occasions with a number of others. However, her father Zeus decided that she should marry and end her dallying with men.

 

Zeus forced Aphrodite to marry Hephaestus. Now Hephaestus was magnificent at creating wonders for the gods, such as Zeus’ own lightning bolt, the weapons of Artemis, and dazzling jewelry, but he could not win Aphrodite’s heart with his craft. Aphrodite was very much interested in the strapping war god Ares, and not so much in her husband, who is some myths had a disfigured appearance.

 

2. Ares and Other Beaus 

cot springtime painting
Springtime, by Pierre-Auguste Cot, 1873, via Metropolitan Museum, New York

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Ares and Aphrodite would sneak around Hephaestus constantly, which served only to infuriate Hephaestus further. One time, Hephaestus managed to entrap the two lovers in Hephaestus and Aphrodite’s own bed with a golden net. He called on the other gods to witness their humiliation.

 

This did not hinder Aphrodite at all — she continued her affair with Ares, as her relationship with the god of war gave her an exhilaration to satisfy her glee-seeking soul. As the phrase goes, “all is fair in love and war” and so the two were a perfect match for inciting chaos both on the battlefield and in people’s hearts. As an immortal goddess, Aphrodite had a lot of time to fall in and out of love. In various Greek myths, she also has brief affairs with Zeus, Dionysus, Pan, and Hermes.

 

3. The Judgement of Paris, and the Love of Helen

walter crane judgement paris
Judgement of Paris, by Walter Crane, c.1909, Private Collection, via Bonhams

 

The most famous instance of the goddess Aphrodite meddling in love affairs is probably one you know: Paris and Helen. This began when Menelaus, the King of Sparta, promised to sacrifice to Aphrodite a splendid herd of his best cattle, in return for winning the contest for Helen’s hand in marriage. However, after Menelaus successfully won the contest, he did not keep his word and so the goddess plotted her revenge… his wife would elope with another man.

 

The choosing of the man for Helen to elope with came about when Aphrodite was in a beauty contest. Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena were competing to be the owners of a precious golden apple that had “to the fairest” written across it. These goddesses chose the young shepherd (and prince) called Paris to be the judge. When Paris picked Aphrodite as the winner, she rewarded him with Helen as a lover.

 

Aphrodite used her son Eros (also known as Cupid) to fire his magical arrows of love into the heart of Helen so that she would elope with Paris once he came to Sparta. When the two lovers escaped to Paris’ hometown, Troy, Menelaus brought the entire nation of Greece to fight in the Trojan Wars. The Trojans and Greeks battled for just over a decade and many souls were sent to Hades.

 

4. Helping Hippomenes

rossetti goddess aphrodite venus verticordia painting
Venus Verticordia, by Dante Rossetti, 1864-68, via the Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery

 

Aphrodite seemed to enjoy helping young princes win the hearts of women. In another Greek myth, the goddess Aphrodite helped Hippomenes, a prince of Greece, to win the huntress Atalanta’s terrifying marriage contest.

 

Atalanta was a woman who did not want to marry; she preferred to explore the wild and participate in the hunt. To appease her father, she agreed that she would marry whoever could beat her in a footrace. Those who failed would be killed.

 

Hippomenes prayed to Aphrodite for help, and she pitied his cause. She gave Hippomenes three entrancing golden apples and told him to toss the apples into Atalanta’s path during the footrace. The apples were so beautiful that Atalanta would be compelled to pick them up, which would give Hippomenes a chance to run ahead.

 

The plan worked, and Hippomenes successfully won the race and Atalanta. But the myth does not end there… Hippomenes forgot to thank Aphrodite and so she compelled him to make love to his new wife in a sacred temple. The goddess of that temple was very offended and turned the lovers into lions.

 

5. Eros, a Rebellious Son, and a Secret Romance

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Wounded Cupid, by Williams-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1857, Private Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Aphrodite did not always bestow favor. In the case of her own son’s romance, she may have experienced evil laughter. The goddess Aphrodite had a son named Eros, and he was the god of erotic love. He is often depicted with wings, and a bow and arrow. In Greek myth he was represented as an adolescent, but Roman myths tend to depict him as a baby (Cupid). He would use his magic arrows to shoot people’s hearts and cause them to fall in love, often under the instruction of Aphrodite.

 

When the news spread of a beautiful mortal woman named Psyche who could compete with Aphrodite’s own beauty, the goddess became supremely envious. She commanded her son to shoot his magic arrows and force Psyche to fall in love with a hideous beast.

 

Upon meeting Psyche, Eros himself fell in love with her. He disobeyed Aphrodite and instead took Psyche to his own hidden home to be his wife. When Psyche betrayed his trust one time, Eros abandoned her. Psyche begged Aphrodite for help. Angry at her son for his deceit, and angry at Psyche for her betrayal, Aphrodite ordered Psyche to perform a series of impossible and increasingly dangerous tasks.

 

6. Hippolytus’ Rejection

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Phaedra and Hippolytus, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, 1802, via Harvard Art Museums

 

Another wrathful event that may have been heralded by maniacal laughter occurred in the myth of Hippolytus, the young prince of Troezen, who just wanted to be single his entire life. Hippolytus was a devotee of Artemis, the goddess of the Hunt. He enjoyed worshipping Artemis so much that he vowed to be celibate, just like Artemis.

 

Unfortunately for Hippolytus, young men in ancient Greece were expected to worship Aphrodite during and after puberty because she was the goddess of love and sexual desire. By choosing to worship Artemis only, he rejected Aphrodite and refused to worship her.

 

This enraged Aphrodite, and so she cursed his stepmother Phaedra to burn with lust for Hippolytus. When Phaedra made her feelings known to him, he rejected her. In humiliation, Phaedra took her own life but left a suicide note claiming that Hippolytus had raped her. Hippolytus’ father, Theseus, was distraught at the accusation, and so he cursed Hippolytus, which brought about his death. Aphrodite’s spite had caused the destruction of poor Theseus’ household.

 

7. Pygmalion and the Favor of Goddess Aphrodite

gerome pygmalion galatea goddess aphrodite painting
Pygmalion and Galatea, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, c.1890, via the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago

 

Pygmalion the King of Cyprus was also a talented sculptor. He crafted out of ivory a beautiful woman, who seemed so life-like and perfect, that he fell in love with the statue. Ovid records the myth in his Metamorphoses: “His masterwork fired him with love. It seemed to be alive, its face to be a real girl’s, a girl who wished to move–but modesty forbade. Such art his art concealed. In admiration his heart desired the body he had formed.”

 

Pygmalion was so enamored by his creation that at the festival of Aphrodite, he prayed that Aphrodite would grant him a love in the likeness of the statue. Aphrodite appreciated his worship and so she granted him his wish. When Pygmalion returned to his home, he kissed the statue. At that moment, ivory became flesh and blood. His artwork was now alive and breathing. Pygmalion thanked Aphrodite, and so the goddess blessed him again with a daughter.

 

8. Medea’s Madness From Aphrodite’s Spell

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An Episode from the Story of Jason and Medea, by John Downman, between 1750-1824, via Wolverhampton Art Gallery, via Art UK

 

Medea was a princess of Colchis, which was on the outskirts of ancient Greece, near the Black Sea. When Jason from Iolcus came with his band of Argonauts on a quest to Colchis, the Greek goddesses thought that Jason’s only hope of succeeding was to acquire Medea as an ally.

 

The goddesses were Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. They supported Jason on his quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis because it would mean the end of an evil and greedy king in Greece whom they did not favor.

 

Aphrodite put a powerful love spell on Medea so that she would fall in love with Jason on sight and be compelled to help him in any way she could. Unfortunately, the love turned Medea quite insane. She did indeed help Jason survive his tasks and retrieve the Fleece, which was guarded by a dragon, but this also came at a terrible cost.

 

In some versions of the myth, Medea murdered her own brother or allowed Jason to ambush and murder him so that they could chop his body up and spread the parts about. The King who was pursuing the lovers after they had fled Colchis would then be delayed because he wanted to collect all the pieces of his son.

 

After that, Medea later murdered her two sons by Jason, because he betrayed her to marry another woman. Medea also murdered Jason’s new love interest and her father. Medea’s love warped into hate, and she responded violently.

 

9. Anchises and His Divine Beauty

richmond venus anchises painting
Venus (Aphrodite) and Anchises, by Williams Blake Richmond, 1889/1890, via Google Arts & Culture

 

One of Goddess Aphrodite’s own loves was Anchises, a shepherd who Aphrodite deemed as beautiful as the gods. At first, she concealed her identity from Anchises and presented herself to him as a Phrygian princess. Anchises on sight was enthralled by her beauty, to which Aphrodite was very appreciative. The lovers spent two weeks together wrapped up in an embrace, in secret.

 

The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite retells the story of Anchises and Aphrodite. In the myth, Anchises professed that he would die happy if he could sleep with her.

 

“O lady who looks like the gods, I would willingly, once I have been in your bed, go down into the palace of Hades below.” So saying, he took her by the hand. And Aphrodite, lover of smiles, went along.”

 

Aphrodite soon discovered that she was pregnant, and so she revealed her true identity to Anchises. She warned him that he should not tell anyone about their relationship, but Anchises was too astonished. He excitedly told many people about his affair with Aphrodite. Not many mortals could say such a thing. In punishment for his boasting, Zeus the king of the Greek gods sent a lightning bolt to injure Anchises’ foot. From that moment, Anchises was crippled.

 

10. Aeneas and His Mother, the Greek Goddess Aphrodite

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Venus (Aphrodite) Directing Aeneas and Achates to Carthage, by Angelica Kauffman, 1807, via National Trust Images, Saltram Collection

 

When Aphrodite’s child was born, she named him Aeneas and gave him to Anchises to raise. The gods did not raise mortal children. However, Aphrodite supported Aeneas throughout his entire life. During the Trojan War, the goddess Aphrodite protected Aeneas from death many times, using her own body as a shield at one point.

 

Aeneas managed to escape Troy and he carried Anchises on his back out of the burning city. On his travels afterward, which are retold in the Aeneid, Aeneas came across Queen Dido in Carthage. Aphrodite and Hera (although this story is from a Roman myth and therefore, they are known as Venus and Juno) conspired to bring together Aeneas and Dido in a sexual union. Aphrodite’s intention was that Dido would offer Aeneas and his company protection on their travels.

 

The goddess caused a storm and Dido and Aeneas took shelter in a cave. There, the two lovers were united. Therefore, the plan worked, but the ultimate outcome brought a curse in Aeneas’ future. When Aeneas eventually decided to leave Dido to continue his quest, Dido cursed Aeneas, which later caused the Punic Wars with Carthage. The goddess Aphrodite’s meddling caused untold chaos for her son’s progeny.



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By Bethany WilliamsBA Classics and English, MA LiteratureBethany is a Masters student, currently studying the adaptation of Greek myth in modern literature. She is a graduate of Classics and English (BA), during which she studied Ancient Greek language, classical reception within its own time and throughout history, as well as Greek and Roman history. Apart from her studies, she has an appreciation for art, philosophy, and travel. She may be based in England, but her heart is in Greece.