The Naughty Goddess of Love

Homer in his epics and Hymns, speaks of the arrival of Aphrodite at her Sanctuary in “old” Paphos (known today as “kouklia”)… and refers to it as her sweet-smelling temple. Here she spent her morning studying the possibility of love between men and women. She experimented with cosmetics, perfumes, and costumes that could be used for inflaming love (Aphrodisiacs?)… She performed sacred marriages (hieroi gamoi)… securing the fertility of nature and of humans. After all, is it not first the attraction that stirs us to desire someone? The ancient Greek philosopher Plato defined love as being “passion aroused by beauty.” This perhaps captures the very essence of Aphrodite.

Pygmalion was a sculptor who hated women. He loved to create life-like statues from ivory. One day he sculpted a woman so beautiful and so perfect that he actually fell in love with her… He felt waves of joy and desire sweeping over his body and in a moment of inspiration he named the figurine, Galatea, meaning “she who is white like milk”… He draped over her the finest of cloths and bedecked her with the most dazzling of ornaments. He kissed her and spoiled her as if she were alive. He was so obsessed and heart sore that one day he made the journey to Aphrodite’s temple.

Aphrodite was indeed very impressed by the beauty of Galatea… for in many ways it reminded her of herself. She took pity on Pygmalion and when he returned home and kissed Galatea as he would normally do, her lips weren’t the usual cold that he was accustomed to; they were warm; she was real! He grabbed her strongly in his arms and she smiled and spoke words of admiration to her creator. (Oh! and by the way…) they gave birth to two children; One of them was called “Paphos!”… And this was the myth of how Paphos got its name.

Did you say “love” … did you say “war”? … You can be sure that Aphrodite had something to do with it! … One day Zeus was cornered by the three goddesses of Olympia. This time they wanted him to decide which one of them was the most beautiful. Wisely, he passed this decision onto the young Trojan prince Paris. Hera and Athena hoped to bribe Paris with power and victory in battle. Aphrodite offered him the love of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris voted Aphrodite the most beautiful goddess and eloped with Helen, taking her to Troy. Unfortunately, Helen was wife of the king of Sparta, who subsequently joined forces with the kingdoms of Greece and attacked Troy, sparking off a war which was to last ten years.

Perhaps this is why she is also depicted as war goddess, particularly in Sparta, and also, in her association with Ares, the god of war (In Rome he was called Mars and she was called Venus)… Maybe women are truly from Venus… and are Men from Mars?… The ancient Mayans astronomers identified this wandering star, the planet Venus, as a deity of war, since it was so often associated with the beginnings of wars and conflicts.

One day Aphrodite became jealous of the beauty of a young mortal woman named Psyche and asked her son Eros to shoot his arrow into her heart and make her fall in love with the ugliest man on earth. When he shot her, she fell in love with Eros himself! He began to visit her every night in the dark because he was ashamed to reveal his looks. One night curiosity overcame her and she concealed a lamp that she lit while Eros was sleeping. A drop of hot oil spilt from the lamp onto him and he woke up. Angered and embarrassed he fled. Psyche, very much in love with him roamed the earth trying in vain to find him. In the end Zeus took pity on them and reunited them, also giving his consent for them to marry. A good lesson to even Aphrodite herself, that true love makes everyone beautiful.

Perhaps Aphrodite’s best love lesson was to be her love for Adonis…  One day, the wife of King Cinyrus was foolishly boasting that her daughter Smyrna was more beautiful than Aphrodite. Aphrodite heard this insult and got revenge by making Smyrna fall in love with her own father and sleep with him when he was drunk. Smyrna got pregnant, and the baby she was carrying was actually the King’s son and his grandson. When the King learned how she tricked him, he chased his daughter out of the palace with a sword. Aphrodite, realizing the mess she had had caused, saw this and when he swung at Smyrna, Aphrodite changed her into a Myrrh tree. The tree split in half, and the infant Adonis came tumbling out.

Aphrodite entrusted his care to Persephone in the “underworld” who later fell in love with Adonis and would not give him back Aphrodite. With the help of Zeus, it was decided that each goddess could have him for four months, and he could have four months for himself (Aphrodite, of course, made sure he spent his ‘free’ months with her). During his time with Aphrodite, Adonis loved to hunt. She would follow him dressed like a huntress as he drove her swan-chariot through the woodlands.

They spent much of their time in Akamas. (Named after Akamantas, an Athenian warrior who came here after the Trojan War). The Aphrodite hiking trail follows a mythical route and one’s efforts are truly rewarded when one gets to Moutti tis Sotiras, the highest point of Akamas, with, if not, one of the most breathtaking views on the island; across the blue lagoons to Cape Arnaoutis at the end of the peninsula. Other highlights in Akamas are Lara Turtle Beach, Avakas Gorge and Fontana Amorosa… Fountain of love… so named by the Italian poet Arioste.

The Aphrodite trail starts and ends at the infamous Baths of Aphrodite, one of the most popular tourists attractions on the island. Whilst the actual pool is not so impressive, it is the myth and the awe inspiring beauty of its surroundings that draw its visitors… the Infamous baths where Aphrodite went to wash her wound after Eros accidentally shot her bosom with one of his arrows… perhaps the very arrow that sparked the greatest and most painful love she would ever know…

Either way, Persephone was not happy with the on goings and so she told Aphrodite’s ex-lover, Ares (her husband’s brother) about her new affair. One day, while Aphrodite was away “spreading the love”, Adonis pursued a boar which proceeded to trounce him with his tusks. Little did he know that it was jealous Ares disguised as a boar.

Aphrodite heard his cries high above the island’s highest forested peaks and she rushed by his side. She summoned the nymph Menthe (the mint spirit) to sprinkled nectar on his blood and it is said that from his blood red anemones sprang forth. Adonis, her greatest love had died in her arms … and thereby he returned back to Persephone in the underworld. The flowers’ blossoms are opened by the same wind that scatters their petals. (Anemos in Greek means wind). And yet, each spring, they rise again from the fertile soil of Cyprus. Is it Aphrodite’s tears that coax the anemones into bloom?

The scent of flowers heavy in the air and a suitable stunning backdrop could have probably been the ideal setting for her romantic wedding. Unfortunately she never got her wedding… but in ancient Amathus, and during the festive Adonia, athletes competed in hunting wild boars during sport competitions; they also competed in dancing and singing, all to the honour of their beloved couple. Today her legend lives on as thousands of people come to Cyprus to be married, to have their honeymoons, or simply to lie on the sun drenched beaches of the warm Mediterranean seas… perchance to attract their summer romance…

Three different wooden images of Aphrodite were created which perhaps define the Aphrodite within each of us. One of them they called Urania (Heavenly), and it signified a clean love free from bodily lust. Another one was called Pandemos (Common), and it denoted simple sexual intercourse. And the third was called Apostrophia (Rejecter), meaning that mankind should reject these kinds of passions and acts…

Perhaps she is the “forbidden fruit” that represents our “fallen” nature from the beginning of time. Indeed, she knows all about jealousy and envy and other root causes that stir up when she functions as the irrational source at the heart of the proverbial “Lover’s Triangle” that we humans, throughout the dawn of history and until now, keep repeatedly getting ourselves caught up in… “Flesh in love does not make excuses or create rationales for itself”…

With so much heartache in the world one cannot help but begin to ask oneself the question: Have our gods, leaders and role models not become too self-centered and too indulgent? Are they not focusing too much on “I”, “Me” and “Mine” and teaching us to do the same?  Perhaps what we need is an Aphrodite that re-ignites love within existing relationships; one that is less selfish and more giving; Unconditional, gentle, and understands the love between all things and beings in the Universe…

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