Goddess of Love - The Representation of Love in Greek and Roman Culture

The goddess of love is a deity in ancient religions and mythology, most commonly known in her Greek and Roman names as Aphrodite and Venus, who inspired many famous artworks throughout history.

Love deities can be found in many polytheistic religions including Greek and Roman mythologies. In these, female love goddesses are associated with romance, sexuality, beauty, and other traditionally feminine attributes. Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and sex, is the Greek version of the deities Astarte (Phoenician) and ultimately Inanna (Mesopotamia). The cult of Aphrodite was largely derived from that of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, a cognate of the East Semitic goddess Ishtar, whose cult was based on the Sumerian cult of Inanna. Aphrodite's main cult centers were Cyprus, Corinth, Cythera and Athens. In Laconia, Aphrodite was worshipped as a warrior goddess. She was also the patron goddess of prostitutes, an association which led early scholars to propose the concept of "sacred prostitution" in Greco-Roman culture, an idea which is now generally seen as erroneous.

Venus de Milo 

Lovers and affairs of Aphrodite

In Greek mythology, Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths and metalworking who was the ugliest of the gods. Despite being married, Aphrodite was frequently unfaithful to him and had many lovers and affairs with men, both human and divine. In the Odyssey, she is caught in the act of adultery with Ares, the god of war. In the First Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, she seduces the mortal shepherd Anchises. Eros (Cupid the Roman counterpart), Anteros, Hymenaios, and Aeneas are some of her children.

Aphrodite was also the surrogate mother and lover of the mortal shepherd Adonis, who was killed by a wild boar. Aglaea (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer), known collectively as The Three Graces, followed in the retinue of Aphrodite.

The Three Graces

Aphrodite, Paris and the golden apple

According to Greek mythology in the story The Judgement of Paris, Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (parents of Achilles). Eris, the goddess of discord, was not invited, for it was believed she would have made the party unpleasant for everyone. Angered by this, Eris arrived at the celebration with a golden apple from the Garden of the Hesperides, which she threw into the proceedings as a prize of beauty, thus sparking a vanity-fueled dispute among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite that eventually led to the Trojan War. The Trojan Paris, who was chosen by Zeus to be a fair judge, awarded Aphrodite the golden apple of discord after judging her to be the most beautiful of the goddesses.

In some later sources, Eris inscribed on the apple "for the fair" or "to the most beautiful" before tossing it. The most popular version of the inscription is "for/to the most beautiful" in Latin sources, the word is formosissima

Aphrodite in Western art

Aphrodite has been featured in Western art as a symbol of female beauty and has appeared in numerous works of Western literature. She is a major deity in modern Neopagan religions, including the Church of Aphrodite, Wicca, and Hellenismos.

She first attained individuality at the hands of the great Greek sculptors of the 5th century BC. Perhaps the most famous of all statues of Aphrodite was carved by Praxiteles for the Cnidians. The first full-scale female nude, it later became the model for such Hellenistic masterpieces as the Venus de Milo (2nd century bce).

Venus de Milo statue

Aphrodite’s counterparts in Greek and Roman culture

When Roman culture spread, the native gods of the Romans mingled with local culture and religion wherever they conquered. Venus, a minor Roman Goddess associated with gardens was identified with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite (Greek) and Venus (Roman) are the Goddesses of Love, beauty, pleasure, fertility and some believe victory as well. In her Roman form, she was  not connected to fertility of any form except for gardens where food or herbs were grown.

Venus was a goddess of chastity, although her love affairs were patterned after Aphrodite's, and included a marriage to Vulcan and an affair with Mars. She was associated with the arrival of spring and bringer of joy for humans and gods. 

Like Aphrodite, Venus was young and beautiful, with a curvaceous feminine form. She had plenty of lovers – both gods and men. Whereas Aphrodite was the mother of Eros, the Greek god of sexual attraction, Venus was the mother of Cupid, the Roman god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection.

Hera and Juno

Hera was the Greek goddess of childbirth, family, marriage and she was the queen of all wives. Juno (Roman) was similar because she was also worshiped by the Romans as the goddess of childbirth. They were also similar because they were married to their brother Zeus (Jupiter in Roman culture). In one way they were different in that Juno (Roman) also had the aspect of the goddess of the moon and Hera (Greek) did not.

Although Hera fell in love with Zeus (her brother) immediately, he isn't often faithful to her, so Hera spends a lot of time fighting off her husband's numerous lovers. Hera is centered around the hearth and home, and focuses on family relationships. Like Aphrodite, Hera played a crucial role in the story of the Trojan War in Greek mythology. When she was slighted by the Trojan prince Paris, who chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful, Hera decided to pay him back in kind: she would do everything in her power to see Troy destroyed in the war.

The purity and honor of Roman women

In Greek mythology, Hestia is the goddess of the hearth, while Vesta is the goddess of the hearth in Roman mythology. Although Vesta was actually a goddess of virginity, she was honored by Roman women along with Juno. Vesta's status as a virgin represented the purity and honor of Roman women at the time of their marriage, and so it was important to keep her in high regard. In addition to her role as virgin-in-chief, however, Vesta is also a guardian of the hearth and domesticity. Her eternal flame burned in many Roman villages. Her festival, the Vestalia, was celebrated each year in June. Throughout mythology, Hestia rejected the marriage suits of Poseidon and Apollo, and swore herself to perpetual virginity. She thus rejected Aphrodite's values and becomes, to some extent, her chaste, domestic complementary, or antithesis, since Aphrodite could not bend or ensnare her heart.

Ancient festivals of Love

In ancient Greek culture Aphrodite's main festival was the Aphrodisia, which was celebrated annually in midsummer. It took place in several Ancient Greek towns, but was especially important in Attica and on the island of Cyprus, where Aphrodite was celebrated with a magnificent celebration. During the festival it was not permitted to make bloody sacrifices, since the altar could not be polluted with the blood of the sacrificed victims, which were usually white male goats. This of course excludes the blood of the sacred dove, made at the beginning of the ritual to purify the altar. In addition to live male goats, worshipers would offer fire, flowers, and incense.

Although Juno's festival in Roman culture, the Matronalia, was actually celebrated in March, the month of June was named for her. Matronalia a holiday dedicated to appreciating not only mothers but all women. It's a month for weddings and handfastings, so she is often honored at Litha, the time of the summer solstice. During the Matronalia, women received gifts from their husbands and daughters, and gave their female slaves the day off from work.  Married couples visited a temple on the Esquiline, one of the seven hills of Rome, presented flowers and asked Juno to bless their marriage. By wearing loose garments and taking out the braids in their hair, young married women symbolically asked the goddess to help them bring forth children.

 The Feast of Venus
Peter Paul Rubens - The Feast of Venus

Explore The Ancient Home's own exclusive collection of amazing marble reproductions of the most famous masterpieces featuring the goddess of love in the link below!

Venus & Aphrodite Sculptures

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