Myth has it that Aphrodite, the Olympian goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation, arose from the sea foam on the south-western coast of Cyprus. References in ancient authors and archaeological evidence may prove that Aphrodite and her cult originated on this island. What is certain is that throughout antiquity the Great Goddess, in different aspects was worshiped on Cyprus. There were several sanctuaries on the island dedicated to her, the most famous in Paphos. Discover Myth and Cult of Aphrodite on Cyprus.
On the Origin of the Cyprian Aphrodite
C yprus, the eastern-most island in the Mediterranean Sea, situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, has been a meeting point for many of the world’s great civilizations. From its 11,000-year history, Cyprus has woven its own distinctive history and culture. Tradition, Myths and Cultural interaction, around a local fertility goddess were reshaped by encounters with Near Eastern deities.
This may explain Aphrodite’s obscure origins. She was not native to early Greek religion but seems to have developed over centuries, influenced by a variety of Great Goddesses such as the Egyptian sky goddess Hathor, her later Hellenised form called Isis, the Sumerian Inana, her later Akkadian manifestation as Ishtar, and the Phoenician Astarte.
These Great divinities were associated with power, fertility, and war, and were characterized by fierce jealousy and aggressive sexuality.
The Great Goddess of fertility
Myths are part of the fabric of society and may at times provide clues. Scholars have used folklore and mythology as stepping stones in their search of the historical past. In the case of Aphrodite, archaeological findings have revealed aspects of the goddess which differ from those attributed to her by Greek mythology. Aphrodite of Cyprus was not merely the blonde goddess of love, grace and beauty who indulged in amorous whims, as often depicted in later art.
In Cyprus she was an ancient divinity with origins linked to the worship of the powers of life; a goddess of fertility who was worshiped on the island since the Iron Age, and whom the Cypriots presumably did not at that time call Aphrodite.
Around 3000 B.C., a cult of female fertility developed intensively in the region of Paphos (Kouklia-Vathyrkakas, Lemba, Kissonerga). Limestone and clay figurines found in tombs and settlements, of an earlier date than other idols, represent birth-giving women of different sizes (from circa 2 to 40 cm high) in a cruciform shape.
Genesis of Aphrodite
The Hellenised Egyptian cult of Isis originated in Ptolemaic Alexandria from whence it spread out into the Mediteranean. During the 3rd until the 1st centuries B.C. the cult was practiced at Greek trade centers and spread along sea – trade routes to Cyprus, this Egyptian Isis was syncretized with Hathor – Aphrodite.
The invading Greeks also adopted an existing ancient Mesopotamian goddess associated with love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, justice, and political power, the Sumerian Great goddess Ishtar or Inanna, a Phoenician Great goddess Ashtart or Astarte – to become Aphrodite, and her original husband, Tammuz, god of vegetation, to become Adonis.
But for more than 2000 years, she remained in Cyprus the Goddess,the Sovereign,until she was completely identified in the 4th cent. B.C. with the Greek Aphrodite.
ETYMOLOGY: Aphrodite’s names
Greek : Kypris or Κύπρις, Κυπρογενής, and Κυθέρεια –
Αφροδιτη – Aphrodite
Roman : Venus
T he Goddess of Cyprus is mentioned for the first time in the 8th cent. B.C. by Homer who referred to her as Aphrodite or the Great Cypriot Goddess and by Hesiod who called her Kypris, the Cyprus born. The customary use of Κύπρις, Κυπρογενής, and Κυθέρεια in this epics suggests that at the time of their composition these epithets were well known to identify with Aphrodite.
The name Aphrodite may be the Greek adaptation of a semitic name of the family of Ishtar – Inanna, Ashtart – Astarte, later explained as coming from ἀφρός – foam, since she was said to have been born from the sea – aphros, “sea-foam,” and dite, “issued”.
In Cyprus the Goddess was not called Aphrodite until the 4th cent. B.C. From inscriptions we know that she was called Anassa, the Sovereign, the Pafian, the Golgian (from her sanctuaries at Pafos and Golgoi) or simply the divinity η Θεός theos.
In Paphos, in the 4th century B.C., she was still called Ἀνασσα, Greek meaning the Sovereign.
Furthermore, she was known as Ourania (Οὐρανία), which means “heavenly“, a title corresponding to Inanna’s role as the Queen of Heaven.
She had many epithets referring to her many aspects:
Kyprogenea – the Cyprus born goddess
Potnia Kyprou – the mistress of Cyprus
Akraia – the goddess of promontories
Pontia – Einalia, the marine goddess
Ourania – the heavenly goddess
Egcheios – the goddess with the spear
Aphroditos – the male Aphrodite
Adoneia – the funereal Aprhodite
Eleemon – the compassionate goddess
Chrysostephanos – the goddess with the golden crown
She began to be called Aphrodite in Amathous at the end of the 4th century B.C. as found in royal inscriptions. From then on wards she was invoked as Kypria Aphrodite or Paphian Aphrodite in numerous inscriptions of Hellenistic and Roman times.
The goddess has been above all a Cypriot goddess, permeating the islands life through the ages. Even today, the name Aphrodite is widely used for girls on the island.
MYTH AND CULT OF APHRODITE ON CYPRUS
On Aphrodite of Cyprus
G oddess of love and fertility. Goddess of vegetation and wild animals. Goddess of war, city and state. Aphrodite in Cyprus had a number of different guises.
Kyprida Aphrodite — the powerful goddess born near the coast of Cyprus personified the forces of love and eternal spring and was also the patron of fertility, marriage and birth. The Cypriot Aphrodite was seen as having universal power, promoting fertility by inspiring desire and love.
As a fertility goddess, she protected agriculture and metallurgy, as the products of nature, having sacred gardens in her sanctuaries.
Called Aphroditos, she could be represented as a male figure, her sexual ambivalence warranting fertility.
Orgies, sacred marriage and prostitution probably were part of her cult, she was also the patron of good marriages and young infants.
The power of the Great Goddess was immense.
She was warlike and called the Goddess with the spear, protecting royal dynasties and cities.
Indulging those who honor her and accept love as a gift; but she could ruthlessly punish and avenge those who spurned this feeling and refused her generous gifts.
If she was not shown due respect, she took terrible revenge, but she was also merciful.
It wasn’t just people and animals under her command, she also presided over many gods (excluding the three Olympian Goddesses: Artemis, Athena and Hera).
She was the patron of the sea from which she was born, protecting sailors and seafarers from her sanctuaries on promontories.
MYTH: THE BIRTH OF APHRODITE
Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 21 – 23 (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
“[Cicero enumurates a number of rival cult traditions about Aphrodite sourced from different regions:]
The first Venus [Aphrodite] is the daughter of Caelus (Sky) [Ouranos] and Dies (Day) [Hemera];
I have seen her temple at Ellis.
The second was engendered form the sea-foam, and as we are told became the mother by Mercurius [Hermes] of the second Cupidus (Love) [Eros].
The third is the daughter of Jupiter [Zeus] and Dione, who wedded Vulcanus [Hephaistos], but who is said to have been the mother of Anteros by Mars [Ares].
The fourth we obtained from Syria and Cyprus, and is called Astarte; it is recorded that she married Adonis.”
Aphrodite was born in Cyprus, well not born exactly because as the story goes, she was “foam born”. But Cyprus is known as place where Aphrodite stepped to land. She is the Olympian goddess of love, beauty and procreation.
MYTH I : Born of the sea-foam
T he myth of her birth includes elements from very ancient Sumerian and Hittite cosmogonies in which the father god is mutilated by his son. A myth from Byblos, closer to the Cypriote myth, narrates that the god Uranus was mutilated by his son and the blood from his genitals fell into the river of Byblos. The introduction of a maiden born from the foam created by the genital parts of Uranus could be an invention by some Cypriote hymn singer in order to explain the goddess’ name – Born of the sea-foam.
The most common version of the birth of Aphrodite describes her born in sea-foam from the castrated genitals of the sky-god Ouranos and is frequently referred to by ancient art. Stories of Aphrodite’s birth are preserved in Hesiod’s Theogony and a Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, both of which date to sometime in the C8.th century B.C.
MYTH : Hesiod, Theogony 176 ff (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
“Ouranos (the Sky) came, bringing on night and longing for love, and he lay about Gaia (the Earth) spreading himself full upon her.
Then the son [Kronos] from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father’s members and cast them away to fall behind him . . .
and so soon as he had cut off the members with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, they were swept away over the main a long time:
and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden.
First she drew near holy Kythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Kypros, and came forth an awful and lovely goddess, and grass grew up about her beneath her shapely feet.
Her gods and men call
Aphrodite, and Aphrogeneia (the foam-born) because she grew amid the foam, and well-crowned (eustephanos) Kythereia because she reached Kythera, and Kyprogenes because she was born in billowy Kypros, and Philommedes (Genital-Loving) because sprang from the members.
And with her went Eros (Love), and comely Himeros (Desire) followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. This honour she has from the beginning, and this is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods, – the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.”
MYTH : Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
“To Sea-set Kypros the moist breath of the western wind (Zephryos) wafted her [Aphrodite] over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, and there the gold-filleted Horai (Seasons) welcomed her joyously.
They clothed her with heavenly garments:
on her head they put a fine, well-wrought crown of gold, and in her pierced ears they hung ornaments of orichalc and precious gold, and adorned her with golden necklaces over her soft neck and snow-white breasts, jewels which the gold-filleted Horai wear themselves whenever they go to their father’s house to join the lovely dances of the gods. And when they had fully decked her, they brought her to the gods, who welcomed her when they saw her, giving her their hands. Each one of them prayed that he might lead her home to be his wedded wife, so greatly were they amazed at the beauty of violet-crowned Kythereia.”
The Anacreontea, Fragment 57 (C5th B.C.) :
“[Aphrodite] roaming over the waves like sea-lettuce, moving her soft-skinned body in her voyage over the white calm sea, she pulls the breakers along her path. Above her rosy breast and below her soft neck a great wave divides her skin. In the midst of the furrow, like a lily wound among violets, Kypris shines out from the clam sea. Over the silver on dancing dolphins ride guileful Eros and laughing Himeros (Desire), and the chorus of bow-backed fish plunging in the waves sports with Paphia where she swims.”
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 55. 4 (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
“Aphrodite, they say, as she was journeying [after her birth in the sea] from Kytherea to Kypros and dropped anchor near Rhodes, was prevented from stopping there by the sons of Poseidon, who were arrogant and insolent men; whereupon the goddess, in her wrath, brought a madness upon them.”
Pausanias, Description of Greece (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
“[Depicted on the throne of Zeus at Olympia:] is Eros (Love) receiving Aphrodite as she rises from the sea, and Aphrodite is being crowned by Peitho (Persuasion).”
“[Depicted on the base of the statue of Poseidon at Korinthos:] Thalassa (Sea) holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side are the nymphs called Nereides.”
Aelian, On Animals 14. 28 (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
“Aphrodite delighted to be with Nerites in the sea [after her birth] and loved him.
And when the fated time arrived, at which, at the bidding of [Zeus] the Father of the gods, Aphrodite also had to be enrolled among the Olympians, I have heard that she ascended and wished to bring her companion and play-fellow. But the story goes that he refused.”
Orphic Hymn 55 to Aphrodite (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.) :
“Aphrodite . . . sea-born (pontogenes) . . . Kypros thy famed mother fair.”
Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy 5. 72 ff (Greek epic C4th A.D.) :
“Out of the sea was rising lovely-crowned Kypris, foam-blossoms still upon her hair;
and round her hovered smiling witchingly Himeros (Desire),
and danced the Kharites (Graces) lovely-tressed.”
Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 521 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“I [Aphrodite] should find some favour with the sea, for in its holy depths in days gone by from sea-foam I was formed, and still from foam I take my name in Greece.”
Ovid, Heroides 7. 59 ff (trans. Showerman) (Roman poetry C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“For ’twas from the sea, in Cytherean waters, so runs the tale,
that the mother of the Amores (Loves) [Erotes], undraped, arose.”
Seneca, Phaedra 274 ff (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
“Thou goddess, born of the cruel sea, who art called mother of both Cupides (Loves)
[i.e. Eros and Himeros or Anteros].”
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4. 28 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
“The goddess [Aphrodite] who was sprung from the dark-blue depths of the sea and was nurtured by the foam from the frothing waves.”
“The clouds parted, and Caelus (Heaven) [i.e. Ouranos] admitted his daughter.”
Nonnus, Dionysiaca (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
“Did not the water conceive Aphrodite by a heavenly husbandry [Ouranos], and bring her forth from the deeps?”
“Kronos . . . cut his father’s loins with unmanning sickle
until the foam got a mind and made the water shape itself into a selfperfected birth,
delivered of Aphrodite from the sea?”…
“He [Kronos] cut off his father’s [Ouranos’] male plowshare, and sowed the teeming deep with seed on the unsown back of the daughterbegetting sea (Thalassa).”…
“When the fertile drops from Ouranos, spilt with a mess of male gore, hand given infant shape to the fertile foam and brought forth Paphia [Aphrodite].”…
“Kypros, godwelcoming island of the fine-feathered Erotes (Loves), which bears the name of Kypris the self-born [Aphrodite] . . .
Paphos, garlanded harbour of the softhaired Erotes (Loves), landingplace of Aphrodite when she came up out of the waves, where is the bridebath of the seaborn goddess.”…
“Before Kypros and the Isthmian city of Korinthos, she [i.e. the city of Beroe or Beruit in Phoinikia] first received Kypris [Aphrodite] within her welcoming portal, newly born from the brine; when the water impregnated from the furrow of Ouranos was delivered of deepsea Aphrodite; when without marriage, the seed plowed the flood with male fertility, and of itself shaped the foam into a daughter, and Phusis (Nature) was the midwife – coming up with the goddess there was that embroidered strap which ran round her loins like a belt, set about the queen’s body in a girdle of itself . . . Beroe first received Kypris; and above the neighbouring roads, the meadows of themselves put out plants of grass and flowers on all sides; in the sandy bay the beach became ruddy with clumps of roses . . .
There, as soon as she was seen on the neighbouring harbourage, she brought forth wild Eros (Love) . . .
without a nurse, and [Eros] beat on the closed womb of his unwedded mother; then a hot one even before birth, he shook his light wings and with a tumbling push opened the gates of birth.”
[N.B. In this passage Aphrodite is born pregnant with Eros who she births on the day of her own birth.]
MYTH II : Daughter of Zeus & Dione
A less common version makes Aphrodite a daughter of Zeus and the Okeanis Titanis Dione. Aphrodite and Dione both had temples in the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona.
Homer, Iliad 5. 370 ff (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
“[Aphrodite wounded at Troy by Diomedes fled to her mother Dione on Olympos :] Bright Aphrodite fell at the knees of her mother [on Olympos],
Dione, who gathered her daughter into her arms’ fold and stroked her with her hand and called her by name and spoke to her :
‘Who now of the Ouranian gods, dear child, has done such things to you, rashly, as if you were caught doing something wicked?’…
Dione the shining among divinities . . . with both hands stroked away from her arm the ichor, so that the arm was made whole again and the strong pains rested.”
Homer, Odyssey 8. 267 ff (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
“[Hephaistos threatens to return Aphrodite to her father Zeus when he learns of her adultery :] ‘Aphrodite had Zeus for father . . . my cunning chains shall hold them both fast till her father Zeus has given me back all the betrothal gifts I bestowed on him for his wanton daughter.’”
Euripides, Helen 1098 ff (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
“We pray to you, child of Dione, Aphrodite.”
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 13 (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
“By Dione he [Zeus] had Aphrodite.”
Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 193 ff (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
“Kypris [Aphrodite] fled like the wind from the pursuit of her lascivious father [Zeus],
that she might not see an unhallowed bedfellow in her own begetter, Zeus”
MYTH III : Hatched from an egg (Syrian Ashtarte)
A spects of this story from the Syrian story of the birth of Ashtarte were adopted by the Greeks. Doves and fish remain sacred to her, and the minor Greek love-gods Eros and Helene are described as egg-born.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 197 (Roman mythographer C 2nd A.D.) :
“Into the Euphrates River an egg of wonderful size is said to have fallen, which the fish rolled to the bank. Doves sat on it, and when it was heated,
it hatched out Venus [Ashtarte, the Syrian Aphrodite], who was later called the Syrian goddess.
Since she excelled the rest in justice and uprightness, by a favour granted by Jove [Zeus], the fish were put among the number of the stars, and because of this the Syrians do not eat fish or doves, considering them as gods.”
Other versions of her myth have her born near the island of Cythera, hence another of her names, “Cytherea”. Cythera was a stopping place for trade and culture between Crete and the Pelopones, so these stories may preserve traces of the migration of Aphrodite’s cult from the Middle East to mainland Greece.
The Great Goddess and Copper
The Great Goddess who was worshiped in the most ancient sanctuaries of Kition was certainly a fertility goddess protecting all products of the land, vegetation as well as copper. That is why workshops for the melting of copper were found next to her sanctuaries.
Cyprian Aphrodite and Kinyras
A phrodite was said to have been the lover of the King of Pafos, Kinyras, her beloved priest. Kinyras, famous for his wealth, was known as the inventor of tools and metallurgy.
Myths about the island’s name
The modern name of the island is mentioned in Homer’s “Iliad.” But for the origin of the island’s name, there are many legends.
Treelore – Cypress
Some say that it comes from a small tree called “Cyprida” growing in Arabia, Persia and Egypt. The Cypress tree was brought here by the island’s first inhabitants.
A city name
There is also a version that the name belonged to one of the Cyprus cities located in the northern part of island (between Ankanthou and Kerinia).
Another suggestion is that the island of Cyprus has been named in honor of the son or daughter of the king Kinir, whose name is mentioned by Homer. The genealogy of the family was lost in the myths of antiquity though.
The most credible story it is that the island was named in honor of copper, from which it acquired its present name. After all, Cyprus was one of the first countries that started to process copper and mining led to an explosion in the economic life of the island.
Aphrodite was called by Homer Kypris, which probably means the Goddess of Cyprus. The name of the island Kypros, of uncertain etymology, has given the word for copper to several European languages:
- cupro in Italian,
- cobre in Spanish,
- copper in English,
- cuivre in French,
- kupfer in German.
Therefore, Cyprus, the island rich in copper, which the Cypriot Goddess protected, has given her name to this metal throughout Europe.
Cyprian Aphrodite and Hephaistos
A ccording to Greek mythology, Aphrodite was married to Hephaistus, the smith of the gods. This myth may have originated from the connection the Cypriot Goddess had with metallurgy and copper.
Hephaistus was said to have built for her a palace made of gold and jewels in idyllic seclusion, somewhere in the island, most probably in the Akamas area.
The god of smiths later divorced her following her adulterous love affair with Ares. Aphrodite has been forced to wed him by decree of Zeus, as a gift for releasing his mother Hera from the bonds of the cursed golden throne.
“Golden Aphrodite Kypria, who stirs up sweet passion in the gods and subdues the tribes of mortal men . . .
these love the deeds of rich-crowned Kythereia . . .
there is nothing among the blessed gods or among mortal men [except for Athena, Artemis and Hestia] that has escaped Aphrodite.”
~ Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.)
The goddess’ had sexual liaisons with various gods and mortals. Although she was paired with half of the male Olympians only the story of her marriage to Hephaistos and adulterous affair with the god Ares was elaborated in classical art and literature. Aphrodite was almost always portrayed as the consort of Ares.
Ares The god of war had a long love affair with Aphrodite which lasted for the duration of her marriage to Hephaistos and beyond. She bore him four divine sons:
- Eros – god of sexual attraction),
- Anteros – god of requited love and the avenger of the unrequited,
- Deimos – personification of terror – name meant “dread”
- Phobos – fear and
- a daughter: Harmonia – Harmony and concord.
Dionysos The god of wine who had a short affair with Aphrodite. Hera cursed the goddess to bear a horribly ugly child, Priapos, as punishment for her promiscuity. Some say Hermes Bakkheios (Iakkhos) was also their child.
Hermes The herald of the gods seduced Aphrodite with the help of his father Zeus. She bore him a son, the godling Hermaphroditos (and some say Eros).
Nerites A young sea-god who was the very first love of Aphrodite. When he refused to leave the sea to join her on Olympos, she transformed him into a shell-fish for his betrayal.
Poseidon The god of the sea had an affair with Aphrodite who was grateful for his support following the revelation of her adulterous relationship with Ares. She bore him two daughters Rhodos and Herophilos.
Zeus The king of the gods attempted to seduce Aphrodite when she first set foot upon land in Kypros. Aphrodite fled and Zeus’ seed was split upon the earth.
Five mortal loves are described by classical writers, but only the stories of Adonis and Ankhises are elaborated upon in any detail. The former was connected with a popular cult of the goddess introduced from the Near East, while the latter was an integral part of the celebrated Trojan War saga.
Ankhises (Anchises) A shepherd-prince of Dardania in the Troad (Asia Minor) who was loved by the goddess Aphrodite–some say Zeus sought to punish her with a lowly mate for causing the gods to fall in love with an endless string of mortal women. She bore him two sons Aeneas and Lyros.
Boutes (Butes) A lord of Attika (southern Greece) and one of the Argonauts. He was rescued by Aphrodite when he leapt into to the sea under the charm of the Seirenes. She carried him off to Italia as her lover and bore a son, Eryx.
Phaon Phaon was a boy loved by Aphrodite. He was perhaps the same as Phaethon (below) or Adonis.
Phaethon An Athenian lord, son of the goddess Eos and her motal love Kephalos, who was carried off by Aphrodite to Syria. There she made him guardian of her temple and bore him a son Astynoos.
In ancient Greek and Roman art the stories of Adonis and Phaon receive significant attention.
Aphrodite and Adonis
C yprus is also connected to the love story of Adonis and Aphrodite. In the west, on Cape Akamas, in the dense forest, a beautiful youth, Adonis hunted. He was tortured by his thirst so he came to a small lake, in which he first saw the goddess bathing naked. Adonis and Aphrodite, having exchanged glances, fell in love.
Subsequently, the lake became known as the Baths of Aphrodite and was one of the places of worship of the goddess in Cyprus.
Adonis was a prince of the island of Kypros. She bore him a daughter, before he fell victim to the tusks of the jealous Ares or Apollo disguised as a boar.
Apollo or Ares, furious at Aphrodite and seeking revenge because she had blinded his son, who had been watching her bathe.
The grieving Aphrodite mourned her young love and he returned from the kingdom of Hades as an anemone flower.
“for she prefers Adonis to the sky.
She holds him, remains with him as his companion,
and though her custom is constantly to linger in the shade
and, by cultivating her own beauty, to enhance it,
now she travels with him over mountain ridges and through forests,
across shrub-covered rocks.”
THE APHRODITE CULT IN CYPRUS
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 14. 6 (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
“Aphrodite Ourania (Heavenly); the first men to establish her cult were the Assyrians,
after the Assyrians the Paphians of Kypros.”
The cult is referred to by Herodotus, Histories 1. 105 :
“The city of Askalon in Syria . . . [has a] temple of Aphrodite Ourania [i.e. of the Phoenician goddess Ashtarte].
This temple, I discover from making inquiry, is the oldest of all the temples of the goddess,
for the temple in Kypros [to Aphrodite] was founded from it, as the Kyprians themselves say;
and the temple on Kythera was founded by Phoinikians from this same land of Syria.”
PALAI PAPHOS (OLD PAPHOS)
I t was believed that Aphrodite was born from the sea, near the shore of old Pafos. The Sanctuary of Aphrodite Paphia, marking her birthplace, was a place of pilgrimage in the ancient world for centuries. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palaipafos (or Kouklia) was already famous in the time of Homer and it remained the renowned cult place of Aphrodite until the 4th cent. A.D.
In the XII century B.C. in Palaipafos the first temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite was built. Its first priest or spirit medium was Kinyras, and later his descendants – the kiniraties.
Or her temple was said to have been founded by Agapenor, a Greek hero of the Trojan War.
Afrodissii in old Paphos
Every spring a festival was held here in honor of the goddess Aphrodite; the Afrodissii, including sacred rituals of sacrifice, as well as music, sports and poetry competitions. These ritual celebrations resemble the famous Panathenaic Games to some extent. It all began with a holy procession led by the kiniraty – priests, which took place at the holy places of the goddess, where there were a variety of flowers and trees planted in her honor.
It ended with a procession in the temple of the goddess Aphrodite in Palepafos. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the then-known ancient world came here to worship the goddess of love.
The Temple of Aphrodite in Palaipafos or Old Pafos, is now an expanse of country fields scattered with olive trees. Unfortunately only few scanty ruins survive of such a famous sanctuary, it has been destroyed many times by earthquakes, plundered and used as building material. We walked down a lane lined with white and pink Oleander toward a hillside museum and strewn along the path were ruins attesting to the site’s relevance over the ages – crumbling columns, haphazard rows of pink and mauve slabs of granite, a geometric carpet of faded mosaics, an ancient millstone, and the remnant of an olive press.
But Paphos and Aphrodite are very much present in Greek mythology:
MYTH I: King Kinyras
Aphrodite was closely associated with Kinyras, a mythical king of Paphos, a musician and inventor of metallurgy, famous for his beauty and his wealth. He was her beloved priest.
But one of his daughters, Smyrna, offended Aphrodite who punished her by making her fall in love with her own father. Threatened by him, she was saved by Aphrodite, who turned her into a myrtle tree. From the trunk of the tree Adonis was born, whom Aphrodite loved dearly and mourned deeply when he died.
MYTH II: King Pygmalion and Galatea
Another myth associated with Cyprus and, in particular, with Paphos, is the myth of Pygmalion and his love for the beautiful Galatea. Pygmalion created a female statue of ivory; the statue was so perfect that the creator fell in love with it. Aphrodite took pity on the lovers, and breathed life into the magnificent statue.
The couple had a son, named Paphos, who became the founder of the homonymous town, which he built in gratitude for his birth. He is also credited with the creation and the first temple in honor of the goddess of love.
MYTH III : Agapenor the founder of Paphos
“After the capture of Troy the storm that overtook the Greeks on their return home carried Agapenor and the Arkadian fleet to Kypros, and so Agapenor became the founder of Paphos, and built the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Palaipaphos (Old Paphos). Up to that time the goddess had been worshipped by the Kyprians in the district called Golgoi.”
“There is also at Tegea a temple . . . of Aphrodite called Paphia (of Paphos). The latter was built by Laodike, who was descended, as I have already said, from Agapenor, who led the Arkadians to Troy, and it was in Paphos [in Kypros] that she dwelt.”
~ Pausanias, Description of Greece (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.)
The cult of Aphrodite in Palai Pafos
“You [Aphrodite] are venerated at the wave-lapped shrine of Paphos.”
~ Apuleius, The Golden Ass 11. 218 ff (Roman novel C2nd A.D.)
In the sanctuary of Palaipafos, which was just an enclosure with an altar where incense was burning, the goddess was worshiped under the shape of an aniconic symbol, a conical stone (baetyl), into the Roman times.
According to tradition her altar was never wet with rain nor ever wet with blood, because she resented bloody sacrifices.
Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite (Greek epic C7th to 4th B.C.) :
“She [Aphrodite] went to Kypros, to Paphos, where her precinct is and fragrant altar, and passed into her sweet-smelling temple.”
She was offered painted figurines of animals, rich perfumes, balms, libations of honey, pancakes “ψαιστία” (psestia), foliage and fruit.
“Venus’ [Aphrodite’s] [festival] day came, the holiest festival all Cyprus celebrates; incense rose high and heifers, with their wide horns gilded, fell beneath the blade that struck their snowy necks.”
~ Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 243 ff (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.)
A high priest (perhaps the king of the city) together with priestesses and sacred servants served Aphrodite. The art of divination was practiced from the entrails of lambs by the dynasties of high priests until Roman times.
The adornment of Aphrodite by sacred servants for some special ceremony is described several times in the Homeric poems. Sacred prostitution may have taken place in the sacred gardens of the sanctuary.
Sacred marriage, a ritual usual in the Near East, was perhaps practiced between the king and a priestess in order to transmit to the king the divine power. Through the twentieth century, scholars commonly believed that a form of sacred marriage rite or hieros gamos was staged between the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare, but no certain evidence has survived to prove that sexual intercourse was included.
Herodotus, Histories 1. 199 (Greek historian C 5th B.C.) :
“The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life . . .
So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her . . .
There is a custom like this in some parts of Kypros.”
There were perhaps also initiation ceremonies during which the initiates were given a lump of salt and a model of a penis.
The sanctuary is frequently referred to by ancient writers:
Strabo, Geography 14. 6. 3 (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“Palaipaphos [in Kypros], which last is situated at about ten stadia above the sea, has a mooring-place, and an ancient temple of Aphrodite Paphia. Then [beyond that] to the promontory Zephyria, with a landing-place, and to another Arsinoe, which likewise has a landing-place and a temple and a sacred precinct.
And at a little distance from the sea is Hierokepis. Then to Paphos, which was founded by Agapenor, and has both a harbor and well-built temples. It is sixty stadia distant from Palaiphaphos by land; and on this road men together with women, who also assemble here from the other cities, hold an annual procession to Palaipaphos . . .
Then [beyond that] to a city Soloi, with a harbor and a river and a temple of Aphrodite and Isis.”
Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 3. 84c (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
“Eriphos in the Meliboia . . . :
A : And here are the pomegranates.
B : How nice they are!
A : Ay, for they say this was the one and only tree that Aphrodite planted in Kypros.
B : Worshipful Berbeia!”
[N.B. Berbeia was a Kyprian cult title of Aphrodite.]
A ccording to tradition some Pafians, companions of Kinyras, flee from Pafos which was ruled by the Greeks and settle in Amathous, probably taking with them the cult of the Pafian Great Goddess.
MYTH I : Amathous founder of Amathus
The temple of Aphrodite in Amathous was said to have been founded by Amathous, son of the king Aerias, who was said, amongst others, to have founded the temple of Aphrodite in Pafos. This would indicate that the cult of Aphrodite in Amathous derives from the cult of Aphrodite in Pafos.
At Amathous the cult of the goddess was kept very vivid as witnessed by the great number of figurines and statues of the Hellenistic period, while her cult was associated with the cult of Aphrodite – Isis and Adonis. The ruins, which survive until nowadays and date from the 1st century A.D., are those of an imposing temple in the Greek style.
MYTH II : Ariadne – Aphrodite
Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, was abandoned pregnant at Amathous by her lover Theseus on their way back from Crete to Athens after having helped him kill the Minotaur.
Ariadne died during labour in Amathous.
Amathousians showed her tomb in the grove of Ariadne – Aphrodite. Ariadne had the features of a fertility goddess and could have been identified with the Cypriot goddess. The power of Aphrodite was immense: she punished those who did not respect her, as is shown in the following myth.
Aphrodite punished the Propoetids, women from Amathous who denied her divinity, by forcing them into prostitution and changing them into stone figures. The goddess also turned into furious bulls the Kerastes, horned men who sacrificed strangers at the entrance of the city.
The cult of Aphrodite in Amathous
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 41. 2 (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
“In Kypros is a city Amathos, in which is an old sanctuary of Adonis and Aphrodite. Here they say is dedicated a necklace given originally to Harmonia, but called the necklace of Eriphyle, because it was the bribe she took to betray her husband.
It was dedicated at Delphoi by the sons of Phegeus . . . but it was carried off by the tyrants of Phokis. However, I do not think that it is in the sanctuary of Adonis at Amathos. For the necklace at Amathus is composed of green stones held together by gold, but the necklace given to Eriphyle was made entirely of gold, according to Homer.”
Dating from the early 7th century B.C. many archaic female figurines of the nude Aphrodite with hands on her breasts were found at the site of the sanctuary and in tombs testifying to the worship of the goddess who was more or less identified with Astarte and Hathor. It is mentioned that the goddess in Amathοus was hermaphrodite. Aphrodite in Amathous had probably a bisexual character.
An abundance of offerings was excavated in Amathous, illustrating the cult of the goddess which included ceremonies with the playing of the tambourine and the lyre, incense burning, dancing, giving oracles, offering of doves, young animals, flowers, and vases.
Rituals relevant to the cult of Aphrodite in Amathous seem to be of very ancient, and mainly of oriental origin.
Various ancient fertility rituals were performed at the annual celebration of Ariadne- Aphrodite who was said to have died in childbirth. They included a sacrifice and a couvade rite during which a young man performed the part of a woman in labour.
Adorning the columns are heads of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, recognizable by her hairstyle. Associated with love and motherhood, this deity was adopted by the Phoenicians along the Levantine coast in connection with their goddess Astarte. Her presence on this head again testifies to the Near Eastern elements that contributed to Aphrodite’s identity at Cyprus. Sacred stones were worshiped on the acropolis, as well as steles in the shape of Hathor heads, dating to the late sixth and fifth centuries B.C. Combining an Egyptian motif with Phoenician details, they represented a visual synthesis between Cypriot Aphrodite and the Egyptian Hathor or Isis.
Both goddesses had a specific role as protective deities to the royal dynasties, in Cyprus and Egypt respectively, thus playing a part in legitimizing their rule and political power.
Water played an important part in the cult. The two huge stone vases in the sacred area of the sanctuary contained water for purification or other rituals.
Some rituals took place in a cave.
The bull was a symbol of fertility – men wearing bull masks performed during the rituals.
Other rituals were preserved until later periods, rituals such as sacrifices for fertility of the fields, perhaps sacred marriage and possibly, sacred prostitution.
The Adonia festival
Funerary lamentations took place in the annual celebrations in honour of Aphrodite and Adonis.
The festival is frequently referred to by ancient writers.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 724 ff (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“[After the death of Adonis, Aphrodite declares she will institute a festival of mourning in Kypros :] ‘Memorials of my sorrow, Adonis, shall endure; each passing year your death repeated in the hearts of men shall re-enact my grief and my lament [i.e. in the celebration of the festival Adonia].’”
Suidas s.v. Adonia (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
“Adonia (Adonis-mourning) : A contraction. We hold the Adonia and we weep for Adonis. [So in] Pherekrates.
They also call the image of Adonis, in this way, an Adonion. Also Adonideios crop, that of Adonis.”
“Adonis : A proper name. ‘And there was a mourning shrine, such as that on on Libanos for Adonis and Byblos.’”
“Adonidos Kepoi (Gardens of Adonis) : Of lettuce and fennel, which they used to sow in earthenware pots.”
L arnaka evolved on top of a very ancient city founded in about 1300 B.C. Excavations have brought to light at the site, called Kition – Kathari, the sacred quarter where a Great Goddess was worshiped in sanctuaries and later in temples associated with workshops for the melting of copper. It seems that the Cypriot Goddess was the patron of copper, which constituted at the time the wealth of Cyprus. The site was abandoned about 1000 B.C.
At the end of the 9th cent. B.C., Phoenicians came to Cyprus and founded on the same site a new city called Kition. They rebuilt the old temple and dedicated it to their goddess Astarte, the oriental equivalent to Aphrodite, who was worshiped there until the 4th cent. B.C.
During the same period there were also other sanctuaries dedicated to the Phoenician divinities Astarte and Melkart in another sacred area, called Kition – Bamboula, above the harbor.
Although Inanna or Ishtar herself is not directly mentioned in the Bible by name, the Old Testament contains numerous allusions to her cult. Jeremiah 7:18 and Jeremiah 44:15-19 mention “the Queen of Heaven”, who is probably a syncretism of Inanna-Ishtar and the West Semitic goddess Astarte – Aphrodite Jeremiah states that
. . . . “the Queen of Heaven was worshiped by women who baked cakes for her” . . .
The cult of Aphrodite in Kition
Evidence of the rituals that took place in the temples of Kition – Kathari is given by the rich archaeological finds discovered during excavations.
In the open courtyards of the temples, there were sacrificial altars and tables for offerings.
On the floor of temples, skulls of oxen and other animals were found. These bucrania may have been worn as masks during ceremonies as part of the fertility rites.
Anthropomorphic masks were also worn.
Cult objects were kept in the enclosed sanctum of the temples, as, for instance, an ivory pipe for smoking opium as well as a perforated vase in which opium was burnt to be inhaled. Opium was used for religious purposes.
An inscribed bronze votive kidney indicates that divination was practiced from the entrails of animals.
We know more about the organization of the sanctuary of Astarte at Kition – Bamboula from an inscription of the 4th cent. B.C., listing its expenses. In addition to the Holy Queen’s singers and bakers, there were magistrates, architects, a scribe, craftsmen,
sacrificers, a master-of-the-water, barbers, servants, young boys and girls, all employed by the sanctuary.
Strabo, Geography 14. 6. 3 (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
“The city Lapathos [in Kypros] . . . then one comes to Aphrodision (Sanctuary of Aphrodite), where the island is narrow, for the passage across to Salamis is only seventy stadia.”
MT. OLYMPUS (OLYMPOS)
Strabo, Geography 14. 6. 3 :
“[Near Karpasia in Kypros is] a promontory and mountain. The mountain peak is called Olympos; and it has a temple of Aphrodite Akraia (of the Heights), which cannot be entered or seen by women.”
Pedalion Promontory near Arsinoe in Cyprus
Strabo, Geography 14. 6. 3 :
“A promontory [beyond the city of Arsinoe in Kypros], Pedalion, above which lies a hill that is rugged,
high, trapezium-shaped, and sacred to Aphrodite.”
Images and traces of the deeds of deities, legendary and mythical creatures, saints and heroes live on all around us in the memories passed down through generations, or in ancient monuments and artefacts. It couldn’t be any other way: the beliefs held in past epochs were the cornerstone of many beautiful stories, and inspired masters to create works of art. They continue to infuse us with the desire to dream and create.
One very ancient legend has it that the Creator finished his creation of the world and then shook the remaining lumps of clay from his hands and they fell into the sea leading to the formation of Cyprus.
We happily paid our respects to the mother of Eros with a cooling dip in the waters where she is said to have come ashore in a spray of sea foam. Aphrodite’s Rock or Petra tou Romiou towers alongside an idyllic beach.
I’m willing to bet you, too, will fall in love with Aphrodite on Cyprus.
For little money, a boat would bring me out to Aphrodite’s Rock. Legend has it that should you swim around it three times you will become a virgin and become forever young – which seems a small price to pay to contend with some possibly deadly currents, hungry sharks or other sea creatures…
~ ○ ~
Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
- Aphrodite, Goddess of Cyprus inspiring article- thank you
- Aphrodite & Eros
- Aphrodite. http://www.uh.edu/~cldue/texts/aphrodite.html
- Birth of Aphrodite
- Brandon Olson. Map of Cyprus. https://www.mdpi.com/2073-445X/7/4/155/htm#fig_body_display_land-07-00155-f002
- Cult and religion. Aphrodite. Goddess of Cyprus. http://kyprioscharacter.eie.gr/en/scientific-texts/details/cult-and-religion/aphrodite-goddess-of-cyprus
- Breitenberger Barbara. Aphrodite and Eros. The Development of Erotic Mythology in Early Greek Poetry and Cult. https://docplayer.net/64078157-S-t-u-d-i-e-s-i-n-c-l-a-s-s-i-c-s-los-angeles-a-routledge-series.html
- Cyprus Island of Aphrodite. http://www.aspectsofcyprus.com/cyprus-island-of-aphrodite/
- Cyprus Mythology. https://www.kiprinform.com/en/cyprus_interesting/cyprus-mythology/2011-2019 © Cyprus Inform
- Cyprus, Island of Aphrodite, http://www.aspectsofcyprus.com/cyprus-island-of-aphrodite/
- Cyprus, Mediterranean thank you!
- Department of Antiquities – Europeana
- Haase Alexandra. An Intertextual Reading of a Myth: Between Poetry, Myth, Cult Topography, and History. (Notes on Revisionism in Narrative Traditions of the Mythos of Aphrodite Kypris in Ancient Greek Fragments Attributed to Homer and the Cypria.) http://cf.hum.uva.nl/narratology/a07_haase.htm
- Hymns to Aphrodite Please visit this page.
- Karageorghis Jacqueline. Kypris The Aphrodite of Cyprus. 2005. Most of the pictures also come from this excellent publication.
- List of goods. http://cyprusfortravellers.net/en/review/cypriot-myths-heros-and-gods
- MYTH: Baucis et Philemon, retold as myth, fairy tale, fable &poem
- Myths & Legends of Pafos. The birthplace of Aphrodite – goddess of love and beauty, https://www.visitpafos.org.cy/a-proud-heritage/myths-legend
- Myths and legends of Cyprus. http://www.windowoncyprus.com/myths_and_legends_of_cyprus.htm
- Nagy Gregory. Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. http://www.uh.edu/~cldue/texts/aphrodite.html
- Pafos. Myths and legends. https://www.visitpafos.org.cy/a-proud-heritage/myths-legends/
- Part 4: Aphrodite Myths 1 General
- Part 4: Aphrodite Myths 5 Loves
- Part 4: Aphrodite Myths 6 Loves
- Part 4: Aphrodite Myths 7 Wrath
- Part 7: Cult of Aphrodite 1
- Part 7: Cult of Aphrodite 2
- Young Philip H. The Cypriot Aphrodite Cult: Paphos, Rantidi, and Saint Barnabas. Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Vol. 64: , Issue. 1, : Pages. 23-44 (Issue publication date: January 2005)