My Venus of the Stars

Aphrodite is the goddess of love and beauty, which makes her sound like she should be one of the friendlier deities, but such is not necessarily the case. Like most members of the Greek pantheon, she could be helpful or vengeful depending on the situation. She brought Pygmalion’s statue to life, assisted Hippomenes in winning the hand of Atalanta, and made Medea love Jason so that he could obtain the Golden Fleece. On the other hand, she also contributed to the start of the Trojan War by giving Paris his deep desire for Helen. When King Cinyras of Cyprus claimed that his daughter Myrrha was more beautiful than the goddess, she made Myrrha lust after her own father. (That kind of makes me wonder why an Electra Complex isn’t called a Myrrha Complex, since I don’t know of any evidence that Electra was sexually attracted to her father, just devoted to him.) In another case, when Theseus‘ son Hippolytus began worshipping Athena instead of Aphrodite, the love goddess made his stepmother fall in love with him, which eventually led to his death. I guess it’s like Bender said at the end of The Beast with a Billion Backs: “Love is suspicious, love is needy. Love is fearful, love is greedy. My friends, there is no great love without great jealousy!”

There’s some debate over how and where Aphrodite was born. Some myths say that she was born when the disembodied testicles of Ouranos hit the ocean, while others make her the daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Dione. An origin story less famous than the other two makes her the child of Oceanus and Tethys. As such, there’s no agreement on which generation of gods she belongs to. It appears that Plato and other philosophers spoke of two Aphrodites, the older one symbolizing spiritual love and inspiring homosexuality, while the younger instills in men the more earthly love of women. Her birthplace has been identified as both Cyprus and Cythera, two Mediterranean islands that had cultic centers devoted to the love goddess.

Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the ugliest of the gods, possibly to keep the others from fighting over her. She was never faithful to the smith god, however, having affairs with a lot of other deities. Ares was her favorite lover, but by no means her only one.

Various myths identified children of hers with Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, and Dionysus; but I know of no indication that she and her husband ever had any kids together. Hephaestus did give her many gifts, however, including a girdle that made her even more irresistible to men, which seems rather self-defeating on his part. I do enjoy it when gods have accessories. Another famous lover of Aphrodite’s was Adonis, son of Myrrha and her father.

She was sort of a surrogate mother to him at first, but later started having sex with him. I’m really starting to get the impression that she has no shame whatsoever. Also, as retribution for her ways of getting the gods to fall in love inappropriately, Zeus gave her romantic feelings for Anchises of Troy, another reason why she ended up supporting the Trojans in the war. Their son was Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome.

As I’m sure you know, Aphrodite’s Roman name was Venus, and through Aeneas she was regarded as the mother of all Romans. The planet Venus has that name because of its bright appearance, and before the celestial body was really explored, people had the idea that it could be a paradise underneath the clouds.

I’m not exactly sure when the planet got its name. The Greeks called it Lucifer and Vesper, depending on whether it was the morning or evening star. While popular culture uses the adjective “Venusian” to apply to the planet, the more appropriate form is “Venerean.” Due to the unfortunate association with venereal disease, however, astronomers sometimes use “Cytherean.” The symbol for Venus is a circle on top of a cross, identified by some as a hand mirror. For some reason, this has also come to be the symbol of the feminine in general, as the one for Mars is that of the masculine.

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