Aphrodite was the embodiment of desire. In literature and art she was pictured riding in a golden chariot drawn by sparrows, doves or swans, naked and possessed of powerful eroticism Only a very few could resist her charms. The fifth-century ad epic poet Nonnus described how Zeus tried to rape her immediately she landed at Paphos. A tenth-century ad Byzantine dictionary maintains that they did sleep together and that their son was the prodigiously endowed fertility god, Priapus. (Still others said that Priapus was the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus.)
To prevent the male gods fighting over Aphrodite, Zeus (or Hera) hastily arranged her marriage to Hephaestus, the lame blacksmith. While he devotedly showered her with gifts of his own making, including a sash which made its wearer (even more) irresistible, Aphrodite embarked on numerous affairs. Among her conquests were Hermes (their child was Hermaphroditus, in whom male and female attributes were combined) and Poseidon. But her most notorious liaison was with Ares, in the Odyssey the subject of one of the bard Demodocus’ poems.
Aphrodite’s Love-Affairs with Gods Photo Gallery
Seeing Aphrodite and Ares making love, Helios immediately informs Hephaestus. Indignant, Hephaestus sets a trap, an unbreakable net, as thin as gossamer, ‘invisible even to the gods’, which he drapes around his marriage bed. Then he announces his departure for a lengthy stay in Lemnos (one of his cult centres). Seizing his chance, Ares sneaks into Hephaestus’ house, where he takes Aphrodite to bed. But the web closes, holding them fast. Hephaestus returns and bawls in anger. While the goddesses remain at home ‘out of shame’, the gods are soon jostling and laughing as they watch the two adulterers caught in flagrante. Only when Poseidon stands bail for Ares, guaranteeing an end to the affair, does Hephaestus release them – at which Ares immediately retreats to the savage north and ‘laughter-loving Aphrodite fled to Paphos’. Some say that Hephaestus soon divorced Aphrodite, enabling her to have two children by Ares: Eros and Harmonia (Harmony).
Others found the story less amusing. Plato uses it to argue that much so-called great literature is immoral, a pernicious influence on impressionable minds. In his ideal state such passages would be censored or, better still, poets banned altogether. After all, the entire Iliad, arguably the greatest epic poem, was predicated upon Aphrodite’s wantonness: it was thanks to her that Helen left her husband to elope with Paris to Troy.