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Mythical Profile: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love


DISCOVER

Let's meet the mighty and beautiful Aphrodite!

The Birth of Venus, a famous painting by artist Sandro Botticelli, completed in 1485–1486. Venus is the Roman name for the goddess of love, equivalent to the Greek Aphrodite.

Aphrodite riding a swan in a vase painting from 460 BCE. From the British Museum.

As the goddess of love, Aphrodite was the most beautiful of all the immortal gods. But did you know that, even if she could be very gentle and caring, she was also one of the most fearsome gods? She was as cruel as she was kind, and often dangerously reckless with her power!


For example, the writer Apollodorus tells us the story of Glaucus, a chariot racer from Corinth, who separated his male and female horses. Aphrodite was greatly offended by the fact that the male and female horses were kept from falling in love. In vengeance, she turned his horses mad, and they ate him alive during a chariot race!


However, Aphrodite’s most reckless decision was taking an apple offered to her by a mortal…


The Golden Apple

Paris, the mortal prince of Troy, had been asked by Zeus to judge who was the most beautiful goddess between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Zeus told Paris to give the winner a golden apple, on which were written the words, “For the most beautiful.”


Each of the goddesses tried to win Paris’ favour. While Paris was walking through the gardens of Troy, Athena approached him and said, “If you pick me, I will give you great wisdom and strength in battle!” So Paris daydreamed about what a great warrior he would be if he chose Athena.

The Judgement of Paris depicted in a wall fresco from Pompeii, c. 45-79 C.E. Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Then Hera grabbed him and said, “If you pick me, I will make you the ruler of all that is Asia and all that is Europe!” So Paris imagined what fine jewellery he would own as the ruler of all that is Asia, and all that is Europe.


But as night drew near, Aphrodite stood before him and said softly, “If you pick me, I will give you the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.” So Paris gave Aphrodite the golden apple. In return, Aphrodite bewitched Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, to make her fall in love with Paris.




Paris and Helen fled to Troy, and Helen’s husband – Menelaus, the king of Sparta – gathered all the Greek armies and started a war against Troy to try to bring Helen home. This war, known as the Trojan War, lasted 10 whole years and all the result of Aphrodite’s meddling!


Classical-era vessel depicting Zeus, Eros,and Aphrodite. Getty Villa Museum.

The Songs of Sappho


The ancient Greek poet Sappho wrote many songs to Aphrodite. She praised the goddess’ beauty, and called her a “weaver of traps” for mortals, since love can be a painful business! Sappho also writes about Aphrodite coming down from heaven in her chariot, which was pulled by sparrows:


Sparrows led you, quick and pretty, Over every darkened city. You shone with your immortal smile, Which promised help and hurt and wiles. — Sappho 1 lines 9–12
 

CREATE Spy and sketch Aphrodite's symbols in Melbourne


Aphrodite is shown in ancient art surrounded by many different animals, plants and objects, known as her attributes. See if you can detect Aphrodite’s presence in Melbourne by spotting her attributes in the real world! These are Aphrodite’s six main attributes:

  • Swans

  • Ducks

  • Apple trees

  • Roses

  • Sparrows

  • Myrtle

Go out with a journal and a pencil, and make a note of where you see these attributes.

You can also draw or describe the attributes in your own vase paintings or poems praising Aphrodite. We’d love to see your work!


Seeing any of these attributes may be a sign that Aphrodite has decided to set down to earth. Get close only if you think you can resist her charms!


Spotted a Sparrow? If you find a sparrow, let us know! A group of sparrows (known as a "host") pulled Aphrodite’s chariot through the sky, but they have become increasingly uncommon in Melbourne. This is largely unexplained, but it is likely in part due to less houses being built with corrugated tin roofs and eaves, where sparrows like to nest. Noisy Miner birds may also be responsible for chasing sparrows out of their habitats.

Materials Needed

  • Notebook

  • Pen or pencil

  • Good walking shoes

  • A keen eye!

Instructions

Go out with a parent and work together to find the best locations and identify the attributes! Note down the location in your notebook, then describe or even draw the attributes.


Hints – Where to look in Melbourne!

  • Swans and ducks can often be found near the Botanical Gardens lakes, but you can also try most large water bodies.

  • Apple trees can be found in a nursery, or you might be lucky enough to spot one in somebody’s yard! Melbourne has a perfect climate for apple trees, and their fruit ripens around January and February. (Alternatively, you may wish to plant an apple tree yourself!)

  • Roses can be found in most gardens. White and red varieties are the most common. White roses grew wild on the poet Sappho’s home-island of Lesbos, so they are especially important!

  • Sparrows are still quite common in dense urban areas, so keep an eye out next time you’re in the CBD!

  • Myrtle comes in lots of different varieties including ones native only to Australia! Lemon Myrtles, Crepe Myrtles and Common Myrtles can be found in gardens all through Australia, particularly in the east.


Reference Images

You may like to refer to these images to aid your search!


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