Throughout the many annals of Greek mythology, there have been many fascinating characters, ranging from the beginning of time with Gaia and Uranus, to their children, Cronus and his wife Rhea, through the Titanomachy, the war of the Titans versus the Gods, and finally to their children, the Olympians themselves, and the dawn of the Silver Age. Of the twelve Olympic Deities, you have five Goddesses: Hera, the queen of Olympus, Demeter, Goddess of the harvest, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, and Athena, Goddess of Wisdom.
While each of them have their own intriguing backstory, histories, and myths associated with them, there are none more fascinating than Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and sexual rapture herself. Her intrigue begins at her inception into the world of Greek Mythology. There are multiple accounts of how Aphrodite came into existence but the most widely recognized one came from Hesiod’s poem Theogony, on the origins and genealogies of the Greek Gods and Goddesses, in which much of Greek mythology is derived from.
As the myth goes, when Cronus castrated his father Uranus, Uranus tossed his amputated member into the Ocean, and from the resulting foam, out came Aphrodite, fully grown in all her beauty and splendor. It is said that it is because of this lewd beginning that Aphrodite gained her erotic nature. Almost immediately after joining Olympus, Zeus’ fear quickly grew about a growing conflict between the Gods about who would be the one to take Aphrodite’s hand in marriage.
Acting quickly Zeus married her off to his son Hephaestus, the God of smiths, crafters, and weavers, due to his anger towards Hera for throwing him off Olympus when he was born because of his innate unattractiveness. Aphrodite did not however take her wedding vows very seriously and took part in quite a number of affairs. Her partners ranged from Gods to mortals to include Dionysus, Hermes, Poseidon, Nerites, Anchises, Butes, Phaon and Phaethon, but her two main affairs were with, firstly Ares, the God of War, with whom she had numerous children with, mainly Eros (god of love), Phobos and Deimos (the embodiment of fear and error), Anteros (god of love returned), as well as Himerus (personification of lust), and Harmonia (goddess of Harmony). Her second main affair was with a mortal name Adonis. She had to compete with Persephone, Goddess of Spring for him, and the conflict got so heated, that Zeus believed he had to step in to resolve the issue. Jealous of Aphrodite’s love for him, it is said that Ares himself transformed into a bull and killed Adonis himself. What was blatantly obvious from the moment she walked out of the Ocean was that Aphrodite’s erotic nature and her command over love gave her immense power and control.
Love, being one of the most basest of instincts, gave her a level of influence of the males of the world that set her apart from the rest of the Olympians. It was said that whenever Aphrodite spoke, even Zeus listened1. While Aphrodite definitely has a loving side to her, it is by no means her sole personality trait. Many a myth have portrayed Aphrodite, not only as jealous and vain, but also deceitful, and at times downright ruthless. When it suited her, she was known to be unapologetically treacherous and malicious, and her sway over men was often potentially deadly.
The bewitching power she possessed over men very often led to their own destruction. To illustrate how deadly Aphrodite can be, we need not look no further than the Judgment of Paris. The Judgment of Paris was when Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite, came down to Earth, and with a certain influence from Eris, the God of discord, Paris was asked to choose the most beautiful between the three of them. Aphrodite, with her power over men, was of course chosen. Paris was promised the most beautiful woman in the world, and as a result, an uncountable number of men bled for his choice in the Trojan War.
To exemplify her vain, jealous nature, we look to the myth of Eros and Psyche. Jealous of Psyche’s beauty, she sent a plague to her homeland and said the only way to rid the land of plague is to sacrifice Psyche. As soon as Eros laid eyes on her, he fell in love and saved her from the sacrifice and married her. Even though they were married, Eros would never let Psyche lay her eyes on him. One night to satisfy her (and her two sisters) curiosity, she snuck into his chambers and accidentally woke him. Irate and disobeyed, Eros fled.
Driven by love, Psyche implored Aphrodite to give her another chance, but with ulterior motives in mind, Aphrodite agreed. Psyche was forced to complete a series of nearly impossible tasks, culminating in Psyche having to go to the Underworld and retrieve a box of Persephone’s beauty cream. Upon opening the box, Psyche fell into a coma, at which point at Zeus’ command, Eros brought Psyche up to Olympus and made her immortal. In regards to certain Olympians, the power and influence they possess and exert is apparent as the light of day.
Two very evident examples are firstly Zeus, the king of the Gods, and Poseidon, the lord of the seas. With goddesses like Aphrodite, her power isn’t always as clear. Instead of obvious supremacy over the physical realm, Aphrodite has command over man’s more basic instincts. This in many ways, can be much more dangerous, and is abundantly clear when she seems to give immortal Gods a very bone-chilling mortal side. Topic #13) Discuss the role of women in the Iliad by Homer. Masculinity in ancient Greece was one of the most highly regarded character traits a human being could possess.
Men in Greece were expected to be tough, cold, and exude power with not an over abundance of rules and a lot of wants and desires. Women on the other hand were, for the most part, to be treated and kept like slaves. Ladies were viewed as property by their male opposite numbers, and their function outside of the home were severely limited and confined to religious activities. Sardonically, this same people that revered Goddesses. Goddesses were to take part in the glory of war, and were able to abide by their own rules. That is the case for Goddesses in the Odyssey by Homer.
While most to all women are treated as second hand citizens, there are many different types of women portrayed in the Iliad. There are resolutely willed women, clever women, damsels in distress, evil and vengeful women, and women that could potentially bring about the downfall of the protagonist male hero. Among those there are also women who are shown as the spoils of war. The true irony is that while the story is predominantly about conflicts in the male dominated world, the cause and inspiration of these conflicts is usually the opposite sex itself, women.
The women in the Iliad can, for the most part be separated into several groups. In the first group, you have the women who are specifically portrayed as less than human and are more property than anything else. The most prominent example for this is the case of Briseis and Chryseis. While it may seem both characters are merely “war prizes” to be won by the opposing side, their impact is a little less obvious and a little more mercurial. Neither of these two women have any sort of power (physical, political, magical, etc. ), however their breathtaking beauty simply influences men to keep on going to war for them.
When Apollo blighted the invading forces with a plague, cursed to ravage the Greeks until Chryseis was give back to her Trojan father, Agamemnon proclaimed to Achilles that if he gives Chryseis back to the Trojans, he shall take Bryseis, Achilles’ war prize as his own. So angry Achilles was with his king, that he withdrew from battle and allowed the Greek forces at the mercy of the Trojans. This shows how great the power a woman’s beauty can behold, and how simple it is for them to take advantage of man’s baser instincts.
Helen of Troy is another example of the sway that beauty has over the male gender. Because of her abduction and her complicit role with Paris and Troy against Menelaus and the Spartans, the Trojan war was sparked and both nations paid dearly as a result. Eventually though, it was made clear that she deeply regretted her decision to leave for Troy and despised herself and Paris for allowing so many to die so that they could simply be together. Of all the female characters in the Iliad, none play more idealistic of a role than Andromache, Hector’s wife.
While she doesn’t have multiple men killing each other over her, she no less plays an important role. Andromache can be described as the anti Helen. Hector is the one man in all of the Iliad who loves and adores his wife. She was his main motivation for defeating the Greeks, for he knew what would happen to her and his son should the Greeks claim victory over them. She is the perfect example of your ideal housewife. Her two goals are to raise their child and to keep her husband happy. The next group of women are those who would be described as having a much darker side.
The ones who, for example, use their beauty and sexuality as a weapon. The most blatant character who’s guilty of such action is Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual manipulation herself. Starting with the judgment of Paris, where she seduced Paris into choosing her as the most beautiful Goddess over Athena and Hera with the promise of giving him the most beautiful woman in the world. As a result, the Trojan War was started. The next woman that falls under this category is Calypso, the daughter of Titan Atlas.
When Odysseus was washed up on her shore, she immediately fell in love with him. Calypso enchants Odysseus to and forces him to stay with her for the next seven years, in which, by certain accounts, Calypso bore him three children, Latinus, Nausithous, and Nausinous. He was not able to leave until Hermes came to Calypso with a directive from Zeus to let him go free. These characters reinforce the stereotype that women have no physical power, but can very easily seduce men and manipulate them with their beauty and sexual nature.
The final female character of significance in the Iliad is Athena. As the patron goddess to Odysseus, it is her duty to protect him and his family and steer him in the proper direction when he goes off course in life. Without her guidance, Odysseus’ son Telemachus would have most likely given up on his father and allowed Penelope, Odysseus’ wife to marry one of her suitors. Under the guise of Mentes, the advise that Telemachus receives from her plays an incredibly significant role in his development as a man.
On top of that, on multiple occasions, Athena saves Odysseus’ life from Poseidon, whom he angered with his arrogance after the victory at Troy. This benevolent role that she plays is reserved for specifically female goddesses. While mortal women are seen as weak, even the more evil ones, the female Goddesses boast being able to wield as much power as the males Gods. While most mortal women in the Iliad are stereotyped to a fault, there are still a small number, such as Andromache and Penelope, that give ancient Greek women a sense of dignity.
The goddesses’ story is something else entirely. While mortal women are stuck as mere housewives, the goddesses are viewed as equals from the male counterparts. It can be argued that the power that goddesses like Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite wield matches that of Poseidon and Hades. The respect that goddesses command can be seen when Athena had the city of Athens named after her over Poseidon. However. overcoming that lay before him and with much help needed from certain people around him, Odysseus finally made it home.
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