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Author Topic: Aphrodite of Cyprus  (Read 3565 times)

Nyktelios

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Aphrodite of Cyprus
« on: July 22, 2012, 09:45:43 pm »
The worship of Aphrodite on Cyprus seems to have differed from how she was traditionally seen in the Hellenic world. Aphrodite has always been one of the deities I am most fascinated by, but I have never really connected with her portrayal in Homer as an airhead goddess of love and beauty. I don't think Greek culture really knew how to incorporate such a deity into their religious systems fully, as she represented a very non-Greek ideal of femininity. Her eroticism and sensualism were rather scandalous to Greeks with their chaste goddesses of feminine virtue, so she was whitewashed into the Greek ideal of female beauty and goddess of love.

Many scholars think her worship came to Cyprus from the Near East before spreading to the islands of the Aegean and then the Greek mainland. Originally, she may have been the Phoenician goddess Astarte, related to other Semitic goddesses like Ashtoreth, Asherah, and Ishtar, goddesses of fertility, sexuality, and violence, who embodied the life-giving power of the universe. Aphrodite herself may have been a local Cypriot fertility goddess who became identified with the Semitic goddesses as Phoenician seafarers came to the island and exposed the locals to their religious customs.

An important aspect of the cult of Aphrodite on Cyprus was the annual death of Adonis. His name comes from the Semitic word for "lord", so that's an obvious hint for the origins of their cult. The mysteries of Adonis were very closely related to the story of Ishtar (Inanna in Sumerian) and Tammuz (Dumuzi), although there are differences in the Greek version of the story. There is also a connection with Egypt, as the concept of a fertility goddess mourning her dead vegetation god husband is seen in the cult of Isis and Osiris, and the mysteries of Adonis and Osiris were often equated in antiquity, especially during the Hellenistic period.

Aphrodite herself has a lot more functions than her traditional Greek role of goddess of love and beauty would suggest. She is the Lady of Heaven, Mistress of the Sea, Great Mother, Queen of the Dead, patroness of women, childbirth, and ruling dynasties as a bestower of kingship. She ruled all aspects of fertility and was the generative power in the universe that was the source of all life, and she held power over all of nature. A lot of her original functions did survive in Greek cult worship if not in myth, as she was the chief deity of Corinth, and the Near Eastern practice of priestesses who had sex with worshipers in honour of the goddess was found there, as it was known for its "prostitution" associated with Aphrodite's temple. In Athens, Aphrodite Ourania ("of heaven") was known as the Eldest of the Fates, controller of destiny and patroness of marriage and fertility.

There's this fascinating video that is a snippet of a documentary about her that is in the works, and I share it whenever I can. It really sums up the true nature of this goddess in a concise way, and I recommend anyone interested in Aphrodite watch it: [video]http://youtu.be/H9TaDuhM2jo[/video].

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2012, 11:45:59 am »
Quote from: Carnelian;65515
The worship of Aphrodite on Cyprus seems to have differed from how she was traditionally seen in the Hellenic world. Aphrodite has always been one of the deities I am most fascinated by, but I have never really connected with her portrayal in Homer as an airhead goddess of love and beauty. I don't think Greek culture really knew how to incorporate such a deity into their religious systems fully, as she represented a very non-Greek ideal of femininity. Her eroticism and sensualism were rather scandalous to Greeks with their chaste goddesses of feminine virtue, so she was whitewashed into the Greek ideal of female beauty and goddess of love.

Many scholars think her worship came to Cyprus from the Near East before spreading to the islands of the Aegean and then the Greek mainland. Originally, she may have been the Phoenician goddess Astarte, related to other Semitic goddesses like Ashtoreth, Asherah, and Ishtar, goddesses of fertility, sexuality, and violence, who embodied the life-giving power of the universe. Aphrodite herself may have been a local Cypriot fertility goddess who became identified with the Semitic goddesses as Phoenician seafarers came to the island and exposed the locals to their religious customs.

An important aspect of the cult of Aphrodite on Cyprus was the annual death of Adonis. His name comes from the Semitic word for "lord", so that's an obvious hint for the origins of their cult. The mysteries of Adonis were very closely related to the story of Ishtar (Inanna in Sumerian) and Tammuz (Dumuzi), although there are differences in the Greek version of the story. There is also a connection with Egypt, as the concept of a fertility goddess mourning her dead vegetation god husband is seen in the cult of Isis and Osiris, and the mysteries of Adonis and Osiris were often equated in antiquity, especially during the Hellenistic period.

Aphrodite herself has a lot more functions than her traditional Greek role of goddess of love and beauty would suggest. She is the Lady of Heaven, Mistress of the Sea, Great Mother, Queen of the Dead, patroness of women, childbirth, and ruling dynasties as a bestower of kingship. She ruled all aspects of fertility and was the generative power in the universe that was the source of all life, and she held power over all of nature. A lot of her original functions did survive in Greek cult worship if not in myth, as she was the chief deity of Corinth, and the Near Eastern practice of priestesses who had sex with worshipers in honour of the goddess was found there, as it was known for its "prostitution" associated with Aphrodite's temple. In Athens, Aphrodite Ourania ("of heaven") was known as the Eldest of the Fates, controller of destiny and patroness of marriage and fertility.

There's this fascinating video that is a snippet of a documentary about her that is in the works, and I share it whenever I can. It really sums up the true nature of this goddess in a concise way, and I recommend anyone interested in Aphrodite watch it: [video]http://youtu.be/H9TaDuhM2jo[/video].

 
Thank you! I've always found Aphrodite fascinating :)

Jezebel

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2012, 11:56:41 am »
Quote from: RoselynLibera;65645
Thank you! I've always found Aphrodite fascinating :)

 
I've always thought of her more as a primordial goddess born from Ouranos rather than a daughter of Zeus and Dione.

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2012, 01:43:08 pm »
Quote from: Jezebel;65646
I've always thought of her more as a primordial goddess born from Ouranos rather than a daughter of Zeus and Dione.

 
Same here. I'm very interested in her "Queen of Heaven" and "Queen of the Underworld/Dead" titles. I have heard them many times, but never any accompanying details. In Greek myth these titles would be given to Hera and Persephone, so I'm guessing that as epithets of Aphrodite they are of Cyprian or Near East origin. Anyone have further details?

Nyktelios

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2012, 03:20:55 pm »
Quote from: RoselynLibera;65645
Thank you! I've always found Aphrodite fascinating :)


You're welcome! :)
 
Quote from: Jezebel;65646
I've always thought of her more as a primordial goddess born from Ouranos rather than a daughter of Zeus and Dione.


Agreed, but I also think she could be even more primordial than Ouranos and Gaia. In Orphic tradition, if I'm not mistaken, Nyx (Night) is the primordial mother who gives birth to the world egg from which the firstborn god emerges. This god is named Phanes and is equated with Eros. In the Orphic Hymn to Nyx, she is addressed by the name of Aphrodite (http://www.sibyllineorder.org/sacred_texts/oh_night.htm), equating the two deities. Aphrodite and Eros were also commonly thought of as mother and son even though in Hesiod's version of creation, Eros was one of the first gods born from Khaos before Aphrodite's birth from Ouranos' genitals. There were a lot of differing theogonies from ancient Greece, most of which didn't survive, so there could have been a version in which Aphrodite was the mother of all gods.

I think it was Karl Kerenyi who stated that Dione was another name for Aphrodite herself, as Dione comes from the same Indo-European root as Zeus ("dios", meaning bright) also connected to Roman Jupiter (Dios Pitar, "bright father"), Juno, and Diana. Dione was basically a female Zeus, a goddess supreme in the heavens and ruler of all life and fertility, who had a very minor role in post-Archaic Greek religion, and might have been the Indo-European equivalent to the Mediterranean Aphrodite.
 
Quote from: FierFlye;65660
Same here. I'm very interested in her "Queen of Heaven" and "Queen of the Underworld/Dead" titles. I have heard them many times, but never any accompanying details. In Greek myth these titles would be given to Hera and Persephone, so I'm guessing that as epithets of Aphrodite they are of Cyprian or Near East origin. Anyone have further details?


Aphrodite in her Queen of Heaven aspect would have been Aphrodite Ourania, although Plato used that title to distinguish between "heavenly" love and common love, which he said was the domain of her Aphrodite Pandemos ("all people") aspect. Originally it was probably associated with her role as a sky goddess. I think Walter Burkert and Karl Kerenyi both mention in their books that this title comes from either her origins or identification with Inanna/Ishtar, the Sumerian and Babylonian versions of the Lady of Heaven. This might be why she is said to come from Ouranos in Hesiod's Theogony, as Ouranos' name means "sky" or "heaven", so Ourania means "of the sky/heavens".

Aphrodite Persephaessa is her Queen of the Underworld aspect, which is clearly derived from Persephone's name. My guess is that she had an underworld aspect as a Near Eastern goddess, and she was identified with Persephone when her cult was exposed to the Greek world. The Egyptian goddess Hathor was also a sky deity of fertility and erotic love who was called "Lady of the West", which was a euphemism for the afterlife. Sex and death are closely linked with many ancient deities. Aphrodite had other titles like "gravedigger" (Tumborukhos), "She Upon the Tombs" (Epitymbidia), "Killer of Men" (Androphonos), and "Black One" (Melainis) that show her chthonic and death associations.

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2012, 03:57:28 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;65676
Sex and death are closely linked with many ancient deities.

 
Something I truly don't understand. What is sexy about death? And what is deadly about sex (unless you're a male black widow or a geriatric with a heart condition)?

The death I am familiar with is the stinking, repulsive, flesh-turning-to-mush type. What am I missing?

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2012, 04:02:12 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;65685
Something I truly don't understand. What is sexy about death? And what is deadly about sex (unless you're a male black widow or a geriatric with a heart condition)?

The death I am familiar with is the stinking, repulsive, flesh-turning-to-mush type. What am I missing?

 
The thing is, death is /easy/.  It's a chance to put down all your burdens and be DONE.  Death as lover frequently takes that form - the chance to put down your burdens and rest.

Jezebel

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2012, 04:07:15 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;65685
Something I truly don't understand. What is sexy about death? And what is deadly about sex (unless you're a male black widow or a geriatric with a heart condition)?

The death I am familiar with is the stinking, repulsive, flesh-turning-to-mush type. What am I missing?

 
I feel the need to mention the french phrase 'la petite mort'. Sexual release and the release of death seem to be linked a lot in this context.

Fier

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #8 on: July 23, 2012, 04:08:49 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;65676
Aphrodite had other titles like "gravedigger" (Tumborukhos), "She Upon the Tombs" (Epitymbidia), "Killer of Men" (Androphonos), and "Black One" (Melainis)

 
How I understand these titles is that love, passion, and desire can drive humans to kill and die. Whether it is love of a another human, love of power, or the desire to possess something. The best example from myth is the story of the Trojan War. The men who loved Helen and desired her led thousands of men to their deaths. I think that the use of war to gain what people desire is also the reason Ares and Aphrodite are so closely linked.

Nyktipolos

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2012, 04:11:11 pm »
Quote from: Jezebel;65688
I feel the need to mention the french phrase 'la petite mort'. Sexual release and the release of death seem to be linked a lot in this context.

 
I've also come across, although I can't source them atm, that when mortals "marry" gods, that the day they die is the day they "consummate" the marriage fully.

I also think the Lesser Mysteries involve a sexual context, but also one involving that the initiate undergo a type of death to be reborn.
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Nyktelios

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2012, 04:25:35 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;65685
Something I truly don't understand. What is sexy about death? And what is deadly about sex (unless you're a male black widow or a geriatric with a heart condition)?

The death I am familiar with is the stinking, repulsive, flesh-turning-to-mush type. What am I missing?

Maybe because sex is the beginning of life, and death is the end, the are seen as aspects of the same coin. If there was no death, sex would not be necessary either, as it is a means to renew life. They are points on the same cycle of fertility. Living things die, and other living things feed on them, or their decomposing bodies make the ground fertile. Death leads to life, and sex is how humans experience the life/death cycle.
 
Quote from: FierFlye;65689
How I understand these titles is that love, passion, and desire can drive humans to kill and die. Whether it is love of a another human, love of power, or the desire to possess something. The best example from myth is the story of the Trojan War. The men who loved Helen and desired her led thousands of men to their deaths. I think that the use of war to gain what people desire is also the reason Ares and Aphrodite are so closely linked.

Hmm, I see her more as a generative mother goddess than only the personification of love. She is patroness of sex and desire because she is the power that is the source of all life. Greek and Roman culture viewed attractive women as dangerous and desire as a destructive power, as it could drive men to act foolishly and abandon their rational senses. I think it's a very Greek interpretation of her power and ignores the fact that she had much wider influence than only love, so I can't really agree.

Quote from: Nyktipolos;65691
I've also come across, although I can't source them atm, that when mortals "marry" gods, that the day they die is the day they "consummate" the marriage fully.

This is definitely true with young, unmarried girls, who were thought to marry Hades if they died unmarried.

Quote from: Jezebel;65688
I feel the need to mention the french phrase 'la petite mort'. Sexual release and the release of death seem to be linked a lot in this context.

I think this is why there is a lot of phallic symbolism in fertility cults, besides the obvious function of the penis. When a man is sexually aroused, the penis is "alive", but after the ejaculation that accompanies the male orgasm, the penis becomes flaccid. I've read about some cultures that view the semen that is released from the head of the penis as the same phenomenon as the soul leaving the body at death. The phallic cycle is a microcosm of the human life cycle.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2012, 04:31:23 pm by Nyktelios »

Fier

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2012, 05:01:15 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;65695
Maybe because sex is the beginning of life, and death is the end, the are seen as aspects of the same coin. If there was no death, sex would not be necessary either, as it is a means to renew life. They are points on the same cycle of fertility. Living things die, and other living things feed on them, or their decomposing bodies make the ground fertile. Death leads to life, and sex is how humans experience the life/death cycle.

This is something worth pondering.

 
Quote
Hmm, I see her more as a generative mother goddess than only the personification of love.
I didn't mean to reduce her to only the personification of love. But as love and desire are under her influence, she could be seen as the bringer of those things that come from love and desire, whether good or not.

How do you understand the epithets "Gravedigger", ect?

Nyktelios

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2012, 07:03:42 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;65707
How do you understand the epithets "Gravedigger", ect?


I see her as having power over both life and death, and those epithets are part of her ominous death aspect as the power that ends life as well as initiates it. She is very connected with the Fates, which might have something to do with these roles she performs as both the Birth-Giver (Aphrodite Genetullis) and the Gravedigger. As well as being the beautiful, blissful lady of desire, she is the dark, gloomy, raging goddess who strikes down life.

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2012, 08:11:23 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;65685
Something I truly don't understand. What is sexy about death? And what is deadly about sex (unless you're a male black widow or a geriatric with a heart condition)?

The death I am familiar with is the stinking, repulsive, flesh-turning-to-mush type. What am I missing?

 
Wrong angle.

When you open the gate between life and death, sometimes something new is created (conception) and sometimes something established ends (conclusion).  One gate, two directions.

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as the water grinds the stone
we rise and fall
as our ashes turn to dust
we shine like stars    - Covenant, "Bullet"

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Re: Aphrodite of Cyprus
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2012, 10:52:10 am »
Quote from: Darkhawk;65727

When you open the gate between life and death, sometimes something new is created (conception) and sometimes something established ends (conclusion).  One gate, two directions.

 
Hmm....I see. Not being too familiar with any underworld deities, a question. Are underworld deities generally considered to have just as much say over who enters the world of the living as who leaves it?

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