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Greek Mythology: Aphrodite (Venus)

Ancient Greek Mythology, Religion, Art

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Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty, fertility, procreation, sexuality, seduction, and harmony. These are exceptionally important aspects of human life, human relationships, and human society. It's only to be expected that most societies would have a god or goddess responsible for such matters and this makes it even more surprising that some religions - Christianity in particular - would to go such lengths to suppress pretty much all forms of sexuality and sensuality.

Aphrodite's seductions and temptations were a constant source of pleasure and danger for both gods and mortals. Those who fell under her spell were robbed of their wits and enticed into actions they would not normally take when in full possession of their rational faculties. This combination of pleasure and danger was crucial to the nature of Aphrodite as a goddess. It may also be a reason why Greek and Roman conceptions of seduction were treated in such a negative light by early Christian leaders.

For the Greeks, however, this contradictory nature of seduction and love were simply a part of the nature of life. Aphrodite's dominion over harmony was, in part, because the expression of sexuality was necessary for both domestic and social harmony. Cults dedicated to Aphrodite could be found all over Greece, and for the most part local cults honored her role in the process of human reproduction, a vital aspect of any community. Whereas the Christians attempted to suppress sexuality as much as possible, the ancient Greeks accepted it for what it was and sought to integrate it into their belief system.

Of course, not all human sexuality need be fruitful - on the contrary, despite the need for human reproduction in order for a community to survive, sometimes reproduction is something that needs to be avoided. Aphrodite was thus honored in the context of non-reproductive sexuality as well. A good example of this would be in the professions of prostitutes and courtesans. They, too, worshipped Aphrodite for her role over seduction and physical pleasure, though without the attending fruitfulness. Under Christian rule, such professions were eliminated entirely because the very concept of sex without reproduction was anathema.

It is precisely that which Christianity later found so abhorrent: sex and sexuality without procreation. Gods and goddesses like Aphrodite were manifestations of the very principle of love and sexuality, completely abstracted from the act of procreation. Sex didn't exist solely for the sake of procreation and sexuality didn't exist as an evil temptation. Instead, they were part of the cycle of life and what it meant to be a human being. It is worth wondering how the world would look today if people worshipped gods which valued and promoted human sexuality rather than a single, patriarchal god which abhorred and repressed sexuality.

Ancient Greek Mythology: Aphrodite (Venus)
Aphrodite and Eros Aphrodite of Melos (Venus de Milo)
Aphrodite (Venus) and Eros Aphrodite of Melos (Venus de Milo)
Birth of Venus (Botticelli) Aphrodite / Venus
Birth of Aphrodite (Venus), by Botticelli Aphrodite (Venus)
Aphrodite (Rudolph Evans) Aphrodite (Jules Dalou)
Aphrodite / Venus (Rudolph Evans) Aphrodite / Venus (Jules Dalou)
Aphrodite / Venus Aphrodite of Cnidus (Knidos)
Aphrodite / Venus Aphrodite of Cnidus (Knidos)

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