APHRODITE (Venus).

Aphrodite (from aphros, sea-foam, and dite, issued), the
daughter of Zeus and a sea-nymph called Dione, was the goddess of Love
and Beauty.

Dione, being a sea-nymph, gave birth to her daughter beneath the
waves; but the child of the heaven-inhabiting Zeus was forced to ascend
from the ocean-depths and mount to the snow-capped summits of Olympus, in
order to breathe that ethereal and most refined atmosphere which pertains
to the celestial gods.

Aphrodite was the mother of Eros (Cupid), the god of Love, also of
Æneas, the great Trojan hero and the head of that Greek colony which
settled in Italy, and from which arose the city of Rome. As a mother
Aphrodite claims our sympathy for the tenderness she exhibits towards her
children. Homer tells us in his Iliad, how, when Æneas was wounded in
battle, she came to his assistance, regardless of personal danger, and
was herself severely wounded in attempting to save his life. [59]

Aphrodite was tenderly attached to a lovely youth, called Adonis,
whose exquisite beauty has become proverbial. He was a motherless babe,
and Aphrodite, taking pity on him, placed him in a chest and intrusted
him to the care of Persephone, who became so fond of the beautiful youth
that she refused to part with him. Zeus, being appealed to by the rival
foster-mothers, decided that Adonis should spend four months of every
year with Persephone, four with Aphrodite, whilst during the remaining
four months he should be left to his own devices. He became, however, so
attached to Aphrodite that he voluntarily devoted to her the time at his
own disposal. Adonis was killed, during the chase, by a wild boar, to the
great grief of Aphrodite, who bemoaned his loss so persistently that
Aïdes, moved with pity, permitted him to pass six months of every year
with her, whilst the remaining half of the year was spent by him in the
lower world.

Aphrodite possessed a magic girdle (the famous cestus) which
she frequently lent to unhappy maidens suffering from the pangs of
unrequited love, as it was endowed with the power of inspiring affection
for the wearer, whom it invested with every attribute of grace, beauty,
and fascination.

Her usual attendants are the Charites or Graces (Euphrosyne, Aglaia,
and Thalia), who are represented undraped and intertwined in a loving
embrace.

In Hesiod’s Theogony she is supposed to belong to the more
ancient divinities, and, whilst those of later date are represented as
having descended one from another, and all more or less from Zeus,
Aphrodite has a variously-accounted-for, yet independent origin.

The most poetical version of her birth is that when Uranus was wounded
by his son Cronus, his blood mingled with the foam of the sea, whereupon
the bubbling waters at once assumed a rosy tint, and from their depths
arose, in all the surpassing glory of her loveliness, Aphrodite, goddess
of love and beauty! Shaking her long, fair tresses, the water-drops
rolled down into the beautiful [60]sea-shell in which she stood, and became
transformed into pure glistening pearls. Wafted by the soft and balmy
breezes, she floated on to Cythera, and was thence transported to the
island of Cyprus. Lightly she stepped on shore, and under the gentle
pressure of her delicate foot the dry and rigid sand became transformed
into a verdant meadow, where every varied shade of colour and every sweet
odour charmed the senses. The whole island of Cyprus became clothed with
verdure, and greeted this fairest of all created beings with a glad smile
of friendly welcome. Here she was received by the Seasons, who decked her
with garments of immortal fabric, encircling her fair brow with a wreath
of purest gold, whilst from her ears depended costly rings, and a
glittering chain embraced her swan-like throat. And now, arrayed in all
the panoply of her irresistible charms, the nymphs escort her to the
dazzling halls of Olympus, where she is received with ecstatic enthusiasm
by the admiring gods and goddesses. The gods all vied with each other in
aspiring to the honour of her hand, but Hephæstus became the envied
possessor of this lovely being, who, however, proved as faithless as she
was beautiful, and caused her husband much unhappiness, owing to the
preference she showed at various times for some of the other gods and
also for mortal men.

Aphrodite

Aphrodite

The celebrated Venus of Milo, now in the Louvre, is an exquisite
statue of this divinity. The head is beautifully formed; the rich waves
of hair descend on her rather low but broad forehead and are caught up
gracefully in a small knot at the back of the head; the expression of the
face is most bewitching, and bespeaks the perfect [61]joyousness of a happy
nature combined with the dignity of a goddess; the drapery falls in
careless folds from the waist downwards, and her whole attitude is the
embodiment of all that is graceful and lovely in womanhood. She is of
medium height, and the form is perfect in its symmetry and faultless
proportions.

Aphrodite is also frequently represented in the act of confining her
dripping locks in a knot, whilst her attendant nymphs envelop her in a
gauzy veil.

The animals sacred to her were the dove, swan, swallow, and sparrow.
Her favourite plants were the myrtle, apple-tree, rose, and poppy.

The worship of Aphrodite is supposed to have been introduced into
Greece from Central Asia. There is no doubt that she was originally
identical with the famous Astarté, the Ashtoreth of the Bible, against
whose idolatrous worship and infamous rites the prophets of old hurled
forth their sublime and powerful anathemas.

VENUS.

The Venus of the Romans was identified with the Aphrodite of the
Greeks. The worship of this divinity was only established in Rome in
comparatively later times. Annual festivals, called Veneralia, were held
in her honour, and the month of April, when flowers and plants spring
forth afresh, was sacred to her. She was worshipped as Venus Cloacina (or
the Purifier), and as Venus Myrtea (or the myrtle goddess), an epithet
derived from the myrtle, the emblem of Love.

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