Aphrodite is a bit of a handful, to say the least, and I might love her for it. Her birth story kicks things off with a bang: she rises out of the foam on the waves of the sea (said foam produced when Cronus, father of Zeus, cuts off his father Uranus’ genitals and tosses them into the sea, Greek mythology goes from 0 to 100 baby real quick). With antecedents like that, it’s no wonder she is the goddess of love and procreation (not, you’ll notice, of marriage). She’s also the goddess of beauty and pleasure, particularly sexual pleasure. Her beauty is so overwhelming that the other gods become jealous and decide to marry her off to Hephaestus, the ugly and deformed god of the forge and fire, thinking that will make her less of a threat to other divine unions (this is such weird reasoning and not a good plan, gods). This “precaution” is for naught, as Aphrodite takes many lovers, both mortals and gods.
Some of Aphrodite’s best-known gentleman callers are Ares, the handsome god of war and father of her child Eros (Cupid or Amor in the Roman tradition), as well as Adonis, a mortal man of staggering beauty. Aphrodite finds Adonis as a baby and gives him to Queen Persephone to protect in the Underworld, which…is that really the best place for a baby, Aphrodite? When Adonis is grown (and super handsome) Aphrodite returns to claim him, but Queen Persephone wants to keep the gorgeous dude for herself. Zeus decrees that Adonis shall spend one-third of the year in the Underworld, one-third of the year with Aphrodite, and one-third of the year with a woman of his choosing (Adonis immediately chooses Aphrodite, he knows what’s up). When Adonis is later killed hunting a boar Aphrodite travels again to the Underworld to beg for his return, and again Zeus intervenes. In a parallel with Persephone’s own story, Adonis is allowed to spend half the year above ground with Aphrodite and half the year below it with Persephone and the dead.
Aphrodite is typically depicted as dangerously vain and temperamental, because of course the most beautiful goddess in the world has to be silly and self-obsessed, because patriarchy! That whole Trojan War thing is kiiiiind of partially her fault: she’s hanging out at a wedding with Hera (queen of the gods, goddess of women and marriage) and Athena (goddess of wisdom and war) when a golden apple is tossed into their midst with a note that reads “to the fairest”. The three goddesses begin arguing about which of them is the most beautiful, and they call upon a mortal man, Paris, to cast his judgment.
These divine beings, each of whom is notably more badass than some random dude and thus shouldn’t care about what he has to say ANYWAY, offer him bribes if he’ll award the prize to them: Hera promises him power, Athena offers wisdom and glory on the battlefield, and Aphrodite, who knows her man, offers him Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman, and while she’s at it she fires up his lust until his desire for Helen outweighs his reason. He awards the Golden Apple to Aphrodite, kidnaps Helen from her husband, the King of Greece, and flees back to Troy, and we all know how well that turned out. Aphrodite is on the side of the Trojans and their heroes, and she even enters a battle on their behalf only to be extremely mildly wounded a hot second later and have to be carried dramatically off the field.
Speaking of the Trojans! Long before the Judgment of Paris, Aphrodite seduces a mortal Trojan man named Anchises, and then their son Aeneas fights in the Trojan War and manages to escape Troy as it falls and then he goes on a journey you might have heard of in this book called the Aeneid, and then this OTHER dude named Julius Caesar claimed Aeneas was his ancestor, so Aphrodite is kind of a big deal all over.
Both Aphrodite and her son Eros have the ability to conjure up love and desire in both mortals and gods, and her consort Hephaestus forges a powerful bow with special arrows for Eros. A single prick from one of these arrows causes the victim to fall powerfully in love with the first creature they see, although of course Aphrodite and Eros each manage to injure themselves with their own weapons at one time or another, and then cue romantic shenanigans!
Despite being pretty excellent in areas of romance, personal beauty, and founding the bloodline that led to the Roman Empire (allegedly), Aphrodite is not super terrific about lifting up other women. She’s hugely prone to jealousy, she’s quick to offend, and she’s capricious. Among her human casualties are Hippolytus (devotes himself to Artemis instead, so Aphrodite makes his stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him, disaster ensues), Cretan queen Pasiphae (according to some myths she promises to worship Aphrodite, breaks promise, Aphrodite makes her fall in love with a bull, Minotaur ensues), and Psyche (breaks a promise to Aphrodite’s son Eros, so Aphrodite forces her to perform a series of impossible tasks, heartache ensues). While jealousy, volatility, and caprice are pretty par for the course among (male) Greek gods, writers both ancient and modern tend to get reeeal judgmental whenever Aphrodite is involved, whereas those same qualities are signs of power and agency when the god in question is, say, Zeus, the ultimate frat boy.
Let us all learn from Aphrodite: be gloriously confident in your overwhelming beauty and majesty, own your power, but maybe don’t be a dick, even if someone mildly offends you.
Also for your enjoyment: Dirtbag Aphrodite at The Toast.
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LINGERIE: ‘Goddess‘ bra and knickers by Buttress & Snatch (c/o). Buttress & Snatch is an independent label from the UK specializing in bold, playful lingerie and swimwear. I did not know what style they planned to send when they offered me a set, and honestly I cried when I opened the box. Previously: review of the Curvy Maria collection.
CAPE: ‘Natalie‘ by The Giving Bride (borrowed), also soon to be available at Sugar Cookies. The cape is available with and without Swarovski embellishment, and there is SO MUCH SILK in it y’all, wheeeeee! It is glorious. It’s also available in ivory as well as in black, and HELLO the black version would be the most amazing thing to wear to a party where you plan to throw a drink in someone’s face and stir up trouble, Aphrodite would totally approve.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Michi Rezin