Thursday, 13 October 2016

Lessons From Cyprus - Aphrodite, A Goddess For All Men

Birth of Venus (Aphrodite). Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)
When you're the goddess of love, everyone, and especially men, are bound to sit up and take note, especially if your beauty is legendary.

Cyprus, that beautiful, arid island in the eastern Mediterranean and possession of every Mediterranean power from Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Ottoman Turkey, and latterly Britain, is the place of legend. It is remote enough to be mysterious and culturally distinct, yet close enough to the major centres of regional power to be familiar. Not surprisingly, Cyprus had its own gods and its own legends about gods but, unlike those of Minoan Crete, we know quite a lot more about these gods if for no other reason than that, again unlike Minoan Create, the culture which worshipped the Cypriot gods didn't get wiped out in a sudden catastrophic natural disaster.

A case in point is the Cypriot legend and cult of Aphrodite.

The cult of Aphrodite, goddess of love, dates to at least 1500 BCE with the building of a hilltop temple at a site now known as Palea Paphos. The legend almost certainly grew out of an earlier fertility goddess cult dating back to at least 3800 BCE. This was probably brought to Cyprus by Achaean colonists who brought the Canaanite goddess Astort (Ishtar) with them. This name became Hellenized as Aphrodite but the legend places her firmly in Cyprus as a home-grown Cypriot goddess.

The genitals, cut off with adamant
And thrown from land into the stormy sea,
Were carried for a long time on the waves.
White foam surrounded the immortal flesh,
And in it grew a girl. At first [she] touched
On holy Cythera, from there [she] came
To Cyprus, circled by the waves. And there
The goddess came forth, lovely, much revered,
And grass grew up beneath her delicate feet.
Her name is Aphrodite among men
And gods, because she grew up in the foam...

Hesiod, Theogony 185-195
There are a couple of legends about Aphrodite's origins. The most familiar being her emergence from the sea following a dispute between the god of time, Cronus, and his father Uranus in which Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea. In another legend she is the daughter of the gods Zeus and Dione.

According the the legend popular in Cyprus, soon after Aphrodite emerged from the sea she became the lover and consort of the hero king, Kinyras. Together they had a beautiful daughter Myrrha. For some reason, being jealous of her beauty, Aphrodite used her godly powers as the goddess of sexual desire to give her daughter an insatiable lust for her father, King Kinyras. And then, in a fit of jealousy, she turned Myrrah into a fragrant bush but not before she became pregnant.

There are other legends concerning the birth of Myrrha but they generally end in her being turned into a tree either to protect her from a jealous rival or by that jealous rival, but however she came to be a tree, Myrrha gave birth to Adonis who Aphrodite fell in love with because of his good looks.

It is notable that Aphrodite did not have a normal birth but arose fully formed and adult from the sea. The obvious metaphor of the goddess of love being the perl in the shell which bore her ashore is probably more than a mere coincidence

However, Calliope, into whose care Adonis had been given by Aphrodite, also fell in love with him and refused to give him up, so Zeus was asked to adjudicate. He ruled that Adonis must spend a third of each year with one woman; a third with the other, and the other third with the woman of his choice. He chose Aphrodite.

This incestuous arrangement was probably grounded in the traditions of the Cypriot Kinyrid dynasty where kings were expected to marry their own daughters on the death of their mother if for no other reason than that the throne was matrilineally inherited, so incest was expected of high-ranking beings such as gods. Nothing like keeping it in the family. These same kings were also expected to emulate their dynasty's legendary founder by visiting Aphrodite's temple at Palea Paphos to 'wed' Aphrodite by using the services of the prostitutes there.

Adonis Baths
According to legend, Adonis maintained his great beauty by bathing in the Adonis Bath in the hills near Paphos where he and Aphrodite had many children - the inhabitants of Paphos claim descent from these children.

Visitors still trek the long, rough dusty road up to this pretty waterfall and pool to bathe in Adonis' Bath, splash Aphrodite's water on their faces and to cast a cursory glance around the rudimentary museum of the former water mill that occupied a site above the pool. On display is the bed on which the two successive wives of the miller bore him 18 children, supposedly in testimony to the aphrodisiac and fertility qualities of the water. The site is worth seeing, but maybe not worth going to see.

One of the main attractions of the cult appears to be the ready availability of sex to be had at her temple - for a small sum. The tradition was that young women would, at least once in their life, go to the shrine and wait for a stranger to throw a token sum of money at their feet, to buy the right to have sex with them. This cult had the advantage to women that if they got bought quickly, this showed their beauty; those who were less beautiful had to wait, sometimes for up to four years. Women who did not wish to take part in the ritual were obviously afraid no one would buy their favours! For men, the shrine was little more than a brothel and the young women prostitutes to be bought for a token sum of money. Needless to say there was a constant stream of male 'pilgrims' to the site to shoulder their burden and provide services to the anxious young women.

And of course, the attraction to women of acting out in roleplay the life of a legendary beauty and goddess of love who had the most beautiful man in the world choosing her, would have been considerable in a culture in which sex and sexuality were to be enjoyed without hint of guilt and sexual attractiveness something to celebrate.


Venus and Adonis, Titian c. 1544
Aphrodite had a long and illustrious career as a goddess, not only being adopted by the Greeks and Phoenicians who took her to Carthage and thence to Rome (where she merged with the goddess Venus). She appears in numerous legends. She is partly to blame for the Trojan wars because she inflames Paris with desire for Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. Paris' abduction of Helen, 'the face that launched a thousand ships', kicks of the Trojan wars.

As the consort of many gods, she is the mother of even more. In addition to Adonis, her consorts include Hephaestus, Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, Dionysus, Zeus, Phaethon (son of Eos), Anchises and Butes.

Clearly, Aphrodite is an ancient and ancestral god to many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean gods, even being identified by the Greeks with the Egyptian goddess Hathor, an Egyptian version of Ishtar. A founding mother goddess is clearly part of a now lost origin myth since strikingly similar goddesses show up in Canaanite, Egyptian and Greek mythology.

One of Aphrodite's familiar names was 'The Lady' or 'The Madonna' so it's hardly surprising that when Christianity became the predominant and then the official religion of the declining Roman Empire that it quickly needed to incorporate a mother goddess in the form of The Madonna, reputed virgin mother of Jesus and epitome of beauty and purity for a sexx-obsessed religion in which sex and sin had become irredeemably confused. 'The Lady' could no longer be the goddess of sexual desire while being the consort of the top god and mother of lots of lesser ones. Instead, she has become the virgin mother but still the consort of Yahweh and mother of his son.

So Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual desire and ready consort of gods, kings and even her own grandson has been 'sanitised' and adapted to the new cult which not only no longer officially celebrates sex and sexuallity but has turned it into a thing of guilt and shame.


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1 comment :

  1. OK, so this god cut his father's dick off and threw it into the sea where the dick became a goddess, and that goddess's daughter wanted to shag her own father. Then the original goddess fell in love with her daughter's son -- her own grandson. And this led to a cult that encouraged women to dabble in prostitution.

    It's too bad this culture didn't have the technology to produce soap operas. Just imagine the storylines.

    Now I wonder what ultimately happened with Uranus the de-donged deity, though. Seems to me he really got the short end of the stick while all this hot pervy action was going on.

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