Anadiomene- Arisen from the Sea. Antheia- the Blooming One. Ourania- the Heavenly One. Philomeides- Laughter-Loving. Aphrogenia- Foam-Born. Pothon Meter- Mother of Desire. Pandemos- Belonging to All. Ambologera- Averter of Old Age. Khrysea- the Golden One.
Kallipugos- She of the Beautiful Bum.
Aphrodite isn’t bothered by people’s dismissal of her as mepre sex queen. From the burrowing of a furry golden bee into the deep crevices of a flower to the inexorable gobbling of light by a black hole, she lies behind all forces that pull things together. Magnet or magnate, none can escape her. What does she care if humans can’t look beyond gyrating genitals?
There are many tales of her vengeance upon those who deny her. Hippolytus, dragged to death by his own horses for vowing celibacy. Pasiphae, inflicted with an insatiable desire for a bull that her husband had neglected to sacrifice. Glaukus, eaten by his flesh-eating mares after refusing to allow them to breed. Six princes of Rhodes denied her entry into their land and became afflicted with unnatural desires, including the gang-rape of their mother. The poor Lemnian women didn’t worship her appropriately and were cursed with a terrible stench. Narcissus, in love with his own reflection after spurning lovers and transformed into a daffodil. Sad Myrrha whose mother boasted that she, Myrrha, was more beautiful than Aphrodite, so the goddess caused the girl to fall in love with and seduce her own father. Beautiful Psykhe found the most terrible mother-in-law ever when she fell in love with Aphrodite’s son Eros. She was given a hellish series of tasks to complete before being grudgingly accepted into the family.
Immortals are not safe from the goddess’s wrath. Eos slept with Aphrodite’s lover Ares and became infatuated with Tithonos, a Trojan prince. She petitioned Zeus to give her sweetheart endless life, but forgot to include eternal youth. He still gibbers pitifully behind a locked door in her palace, ignored and begging for kind death. Aphrodite looks on with a dimpled smile on her hibiscus-red lips. Helios, the sun god, revealed to the Olympians that Aphrodite was cheating with Ares on her husband, Hephaestos. She took her revenge by causing Helios to fall in love with a mortal girl, then unwittingly bring about her death. A young sea god named Nerites loved Aphrodite of the ocean, but when he refused to leave his home and accompany her to Olympos, she turned him into a shellfish. Pan was forced to fall into a doomed love with the nymph Ekho after ruling against Golden Aphrodite in a beauty contest. Zeus himself walks softly around the goddess who routinely plummets him into desires he cannot deny or control.
Why worship such a vengeful, terrible goddess? Should fear underlie the worship of any deity, let alone one of love?
Myths are tools for opening doors, not blueprints. Cautionary tales generally express the hazards of excessive or inappropriate behavior, and in ancient Greek thought were rarely meant to illustrate the literal nature of a god. The phrases inscribed at Apollon’s sanctuary at Delphi, ‘Nothing in excess’ and ‘Know thyself’ apply to mortal relationships with all the gods of Greece, not just He of the Shining Bow.
Listen to most scholars and they tend to minimize the love and emphasize the sex. Why not? It’s titillating, and a great way to get folks into your lectures.
And make no mistake—Aphrodite is all about the scrumping. In Greek mythology all new life comes from sexual generation, so the importance of desire first, followed by union, can’t be overstated. Aphrodite is the tingle, the sucked-in breath, the irresistible pull. She’s the tides, gravity, the stately dance of the stars. She’s the agonized longing as well as the rapture.
But her love encompasses so much more. Aphrodite is the dawn tiptoeing into the sky over a heaving sea. She is the quiet gasp of a mother looking down at her petal-soft baby. She’s the rush of beach feet into the surf at the start of summer. She’s the crouch of the hawk as it readies for flight. She is the lidless black eye of the shark pursuing its prey.
A young man, so desperate to give his child a better life that he tucks her into his shirt and braves a raging river, is hers. He remains a testament to her power when their lifeless bodies wash up on the shore, his daughter’s tiny arm around his neck. They are a Love that is hard to look at.
As a war goddess, she is the primal scream of the berserker, the terrible courage that makes men run bellowing onto the pikes of the enemy. The bone-deep clash when battle is joined is her grunt of triumph. Men who have never met and have no cause to hate their enemy throw themselves into the blood and furor with just as much passion as those whose grievances are long-standing. It is she who takes away reason and replaces it with bright mindless frenzy. Armies have long marched into battle to the rhythm of the drum, her rhythm, pounding and relentless. Orgasm and death-throes sound and look the same.
She is a sea goddess, born from the blood-thrashed foam stirred up when Kronos castrated his father, Ouranos, and threw the severed genitalia into the primordial sea. We’ve whitewashed her birth into that of a doe-eyed nereid arising bashfully on a clam shell, but that’s human prudishness. The fluids of birth, sex, and death are all reminiscent of the sea, her first realm. Sailors prayed to her for protection from the dangers of the ocean, then prayed to her again for safety from dangers of STDs in the harbor brothels. Patronage of harbors was hers, ships bumping their hard prows into snug berths.
She is a goddess of love in all its forms—the patriotic love of a people for their country, the fascination for beauty in all its forms, the irresistible lure of music to a musician, of clay to a potter, of a tilled field to a farmer, of a warm sunspot to a cat. Ourania is the epithet given to her for celestial love, the goddess who causes us to lift our eyes skyward and dream of philosophy and peace and erudition and things greater and more glorious than ourselves. But Aphrodite Pandemos, often vilified as a goddess of low or sensual or earthy pleasures, also refers to the goddess of civilization and practical government, political persuasiveness and social harmony.
And, yes, low and sensual and earthy pleasures.
Finally, the Kallipugos as she’s best known, the beautiful bumcakes, the throaty purr of passion, the splendid curves and warm scented hollows. She who is worshiped by moan and sigh and thrust, and whose vengeance is implacable when denied. Succumb to her. The implied ‘or else’ isn’t about the terrible fates of her detractors as described in the Greek myths. There is an undeniable beauty in asceticism, which is also, in the right context, hers.
It’s simply that she makes everything she touches more rich, strange, and beautiful.
Print in photo from a painting by Lykeia Sanders