The Differing Origins Of Aphrodite
Aphrodite has multiple origins but the most commonly accepted origin of Aphrodite comes from Hesiod in his Theogony and he says that she was born from the sea foam that formed after Uranus’s genitals fell into the ocean because of his castration. In this origin of Aphrodite, which is the more traditionally accepted tale of her creation, Aphrodite would be a half-sibling to the Titans, Hecatoncheires, Cyclopes, and Giants. Her relationship to Ares would be something in the form of a great-aunt or perhaps even something a bit more distant.
However, Homer claimed in his Iliad something different from this. Homer said that Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and a Titaness named Dione who is not very well known but did have a sacred grove in the Peloponnesus. If this origin is the case, then Aphrodite and Ares are, in fact, half-siblings.
What Happens Between Aphrodite And Ares?
Well, Aphrodite and Ares have multiple sexual encounters and produce a few children. Despite this, they are not officially spouses. Aphrodite’s official spouse is Hephaestus.
If Aphrodite and Ares are to be understood as brother and sister, or more accurately half-brother and sister, this does not become an abnormality in Greek mythology. Zeus, their father, has children with his sister, Hera, and had a child with his other sister, Demeter. Cronus, their grandfather, had children with his sister, Rhea.
Conflict with Hephaestus
Hephaestus and Aphrodite were made wed by the will of Zeus, in an attempt to make Hephaestus happy. However, Hephaestus was one of the only deities who was known to be physically ugly due to unfortunate circumstances with his birth involving getting thrown off a cliff. Because of this, Aphrodite would never sleep with Hephaestus or produce children for him which made Hephaestus even more upset.
Eventually, Hephaestus discovered that Aphrodite was having children with other deities. Most frequently, she was visiting Ares. So, Hephaestus set a trap for the next time that Aphrodite and Ares would meet to make love. When they did so, they found themselves suddenly caught in unbreakable chains while stuck in the act of fornication.
Hephaestus took the pair of lovers out in front of the rest of the gods to degrade and humiliate them, but the lovers actually just continued their business and ignored him. Finally, Zeus and Poseidon convinced Hephaestus to calm down and let them go and in exchange Hephaestus was paid the fine for adultery that was understood by law.
Hephaestus and Aphrodite both on different occasions because of this instance tried to get Zeus to end their marriage, especially using the grounds that the two of them had not consummated it. However, Zeus refused the both of them and told them to work their own problems out.
They didn’t really, but in a way sort of did achieve some peace. Harmonia was born from that particular union between Aphrodite and Ares and then she later met with Ares again behind Hephaestus’s back and fornicated again. This time, their union produced Eros and Aphrodite brought Eros back to Hephaestus and passed him off as Hephaestus’s child. This made Hephaestus stop being quite so angry, but it is a bit odd because he still had never even slept with her.
Why Are There Two Different Origins For Aphrodite And What Does This Mean?
Presented by Homer and Hesiod are two rather drastically different origins for the creation of Aphrodite, and these are different both in who is involved and when it occurs. In the origin presented by Hesiod, Aphrodite is created near the beginning of the world right after the dethroning of the first ruler of the cosmos–she has no natural parents and is not born via a natural way. In the origin presented by Homer, Aphrodite is born regularly by Zeus after Zeus has already ascended and become the ruler of the cosmos himself–she has both natural parents and there is no indication that her birth did not occur via a natural way.
So how are we supposed to piece this together and decide what to go by? Is it possible to go by both?
I do not consider myself a Platonist, which may be surprising to hear given my strong affection for Hellenic things. I have explored Plato and read several of his dialogues, but there are things I do not agree with him about. Still, in this regard, Plato offers an answer that might be worth considering.
In his dialogue Symposium, Plato writes about the subject of love. It is an interesting read that shows Socrates and other famous wise men of Greece give speeches dedicated to love to discuss what love is and how it works. Within the dialogue, Plato makes the gesture that Aphrodite is actually two entities.
Plato takes two of Aphrodite’s epithets, Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos, and claims that these epithets are actually meant to refer to two different entities. Plato says that Aphrodite Ourania is the “Heavenly Aphrodite” and represents the love between deities while Aphrodite Pandemos is the “People’s Aphrodite” and represents the love between mortals.
Aphrodite Ourania would be the one who comes from the sea foam while Aphrodite Pandemos would be the one who comes from Zeus. This is Plato’s opinion on the matter.
It is definitely worth considering, but frankly I disagree with him. Aphrodite has many epithets, even the epithet Cypris which is named after Cyprus. She has that one because Cyprus is claimed to be her location of birth.
Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos have no real reason to be separate than the fact that Plato’s lean towards rationalism inspires him to try to make sense of the idea that she has two births. Besides Plato, there is no other known foundation for one should believe this and it would not be the first time Plato attempted to invent information to replace a lack of information that agreed with him.
I propose that Aphrodite is in fact the same goddess of both origins and that Aphrodite’s epithets are not meant to provide explanations for different entities. Aphrodite Pandemos means “Aphrodite to all the people.” Since Aphrodite is love, and all men experience love, Aphrodite is among all people.
In no way does this epithet lessen Aphrodite or remove her from also affecting love within Heaven, as suggested by Plato. Aphrodite Ourania is more likely to describe her origin, coming from a part of Uranus, than being meant to describe her properties as being purely among the Heavens and not among man.
Aphrodite, as well as another Greek goddess named Eos, most likely have a relationship that takes them back to the Indo-European Goddess named Ushas. Ushas is the goddess of dawn in the Vedic religion and she was trapped under the waters before Indra freed her by defeating Vrtra. Taking this into account, it could mean that Aphrodite was not born by the waters but was rather trapped under them until being freed by Zeus. Indra is usually matched up with Zeus, so it may make sense in a way to make this comparison.
Zeus rescuing Eos from Typhon could also be compared with Indra rescuing Ushas from Vrtra, which further ties these myths as having a deeper significance to form connections between the Greeks and the Indo-Europeans and what they believed in. Despite the fact that some modern historians attempt to deny any connection between Aphrodite and Eos or Aphrodite and Ushas.
If we do run with that, however right or wrong it may be, then Zeus may be the one who adopted Aphrodite. It could be possible that Zeus and Dione are merely the ones who adopted and raised her, rather than them being her actual biological parents. Since we know so little about Dione except for a bit of mentioning in the Iliad as being Aphrodite’s mother and caring for her injuries, anything is possible to speculate over.