Saturday, June 11, 2005

Aphrodite on Cyprus

This is a blog I sent to Steliano for publication on his page, part of a world culture and mythology series he's working on. (Efharisto, Steliano!)
Cyprus is the island of my grandfather, Panayiotis Stavrou Klonaris.
I'm publishing it here for the rest of you.


Look, look why shine
Those floating bubbles with such light divine?
They break, and from their mist a lily form
Rises from out the wave, in beauty warm.
The wave is by the blue-veined feet scarce press'd,
Her silky ringlets float about her breast,
Veiling its fairy loveliness, while her eye
Is soft and deep as the heaven is high.
The Beautiful is born; sea and earth
May well revere the hour of that mysterious birth.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

She emerged from the cresting foam at
Petra tou Romiou, a boulder that still stands majestically to this day.

The name Aphrodite actually means “foam-born”: Cronos cut off his brother Uranus’ genitals and threw them into the sea, which began to foam. Thus, daughter of an ancient Titan and Thalassa (the sea), she is the oldest goddess in the Olympian Pantheon, older even than Zeus the son of Cronos. Her other name is Kypris, a synonym for the island.

She is not the goddess of noble romantic love; rather, she embodies physical love or lust, that irrational human weakness.

Once Zeus became king of the gods, he arranged her marriage to the ugly blacksmithing god Hephaistos. Although he made her beautiful jewellery in his fiery forge, she did not love him. Rather ironically, he also made her the cestus, a girdle that made her even more irresistible to men.


Aphrodite sought solace in the arms of more pleasing deities such as Hermes the messenger god, but most frequently Ares, the god of war.

Eros was Aphrodite’s son by Ares. One day he accidentally shot her bosom with one of his true love-arrows. To recover from the agony of her wound, she escaped to a mineral pool on the Akama Peninsula of Cyprus. These Baths of Aphrodite or Aphrodite Acidalia, were dubbed the Fontana Amorosa by the Italian poet Arioste. Even today, love may arise from one sip of these sacred waters.

It is here our Aphrodite first set eyes on Adonis and embarked on the one, most tragic romance of her life…

She fell in love with the beautiful Adonis, whose mother Myrrhis was turned into the eponymous tree from which he sprang. Aphrodite’s heart was won by his sweetness. So the jealous and bellicose Ares, disguised as a boar, killed him while he was out hunting – goring him with his mighty tusks.

Aphrodite heard his cries and sped down from the heavens in her swan-drawn chariot to minister to him and to hear his last breath. She called on the nymph Menthe to pour her cooling nectar on his wounds. From the mixture of mint and blood sprang the red anemone flower still so abundant on the island. The blood-red petals are scattered by the same wind (anemos) which opens their blossoms every spring.

She also had an affair with Anchises, by whom she bore Aeneas the Trojan hero. His sons Romulus and Remus founded Rome, which later adopted her as Venus.

As we all know, Aphrodite won the golden apple in the Judgement of Paris for being the most beautiful goddess. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, offered him military skill. Hera, the queen of the gods, offered him an earthly kingdom. But being a man, he disdained them to choose Aphrodite’s bribe of the most beautiful woman on earth – Helen of Troy. Thus the Trojan War was started by vanity and the lust engendered by the goddess of the same.



Aphrodite’s allure made her a popular goddess with a large cult following. In the 12th century B.C., a sanctuary was built in her honour at Palaia Paphos (present-day Kouklia).

(It is not too far from the Syrian coast where Ishtar/Astarte, the counterpart Babylonian goddess of desire, was worshipped.)

Twelve other shrines to their patroness arose on Cyprus and she presided over the annual festival known as Aphrodisiac. Many ceremonial bowls and amphorae survive today in the museum at Lefkosia (Nicosia), covered with depictions of exquisitely-dressed priestesses and erotic scenes which would have taken place in the sacred temple gardens.

The historian Herodotus, often prone to exaggeration, stated that every girl had to make a pilgrimage to the temple. It is not clear whether the process was viewed as a ritual sacrifice of virginity, or sacred prostitution.

But each maiden would sit wearing a crown of rope until chosen by a passing stranger. The man would throw an offering at the feet of his chosen pilgrim, saying, “I invoke the goddess upon you.” She would then be required to consummate the sacred act.

When Cyprus became the first island to convert to Christianity, worship of the goddess was outlawed in about 390 A.D.



As you travel around Cyprus you will see how it is touched by the spirit of Aphrodite - a spirit of gentleness, beauty and love. The lissome wings of a dove, a silky poppy, pungent myrtle and fragrant rose: these are all sacred to the goddess. The apple, the dolphin, the lime tree, the shell, and the swan...and the planet Venus, the mystical powers of which reach their peak in that loveliest of months, May.

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