The birth and rebirth of Venus from antiquity to the renaissance
By Sarah Rous
Illumination: the undergraduate journal of humanities (Spring 2007)
Introduction: In ancient Greek mythology, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, and marriage. She is one of the Twelve Olympians and the “member of the classical pantheon whose presence is most constant in Western culture.” Her origins as an Eastern fertility goddess likely evolved from the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, and though she remained most closely associated with the Near East-the islands of Cythera and Cyprus in particular-she came to be worshiped almost universally throughout the ancient world. She became identified with the Roman Venus in the fourth century BCE, and her attendants, the three Charites (Graces) and Horae (Hours or Seasons), are personifications of her divine aspects of beauty and youthfulness.
Her character incorporates a fundamental duality of the classical world due to the existence of two separate traditions of her birth in the earliest literary sources. In Hesiod’s Theogony of c.750 BCE, Cronos, a Titan and the youngest son of Uranus and Ge, castrated his father in order to release himself and his siblings from his mother’s womb. The genitals of Uranus landed on the sea and white foam arose around them from which a beautiful goddess was born, taking her name from the Greek word for foam, aphros. The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 6 from the archaic period (c.800-479 BCE) corroborates Hesiod’s account of Aphrodite’s birth in the sea and mentions the role of her attendants: “[in Cyprus] the moist breath of the western wind wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Hours welcomed her joyously.” The second tradition of Aphrodite’s birth is found in Homer’s epics, dated to the 8th century BCE. In these accounts in the Iliad and the Odyssey Aphrodite is depicted as the daughter of the goddess Dione and of Zeus, king of the Olympian deities. In another Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (5.81) she is again called “daughter of Zeus.”