Aphrodite: Mother of all Mothers


 “Motherhood” is a word that has many different meanings.  Some of the words related to motherhood are birth, fertility, nurturing, procreation, and growth.  According to infoplease.com , motherhood is: “the state of being a mother; maternity.”  It can also mean “the qualities or spirit of a mother” and “having or relating to an inherent worthiness, justness, or goodness that is obvious or unarguable.”  We all have certain ideas about characteristics we believe all mothers have.  So we need to ask ourselves, does Aphrodite have any of the characteristics of a mother?  Has she given birth?  Has she given life to things?  Is she nurturing and maternal? Is she fertile? Is she caring and loving? To help us examine these issues we will discuss her appearances and roles in The Theogony, “The Fifth Homeric Hymn” and The Iliad .

The birth of Aphrodite is a unique one.  In the Theogony, Hesiod discusses the conspiring of Kronos along with his mother, Gaia, against his father, Ouranos, for not allowing his children to be born.  Kronos severs his father’s genitals and throws them into the sea.  The story says the genitals travel a long way by sea and from those genitals white foam first emerges and from the white foam comes the immortal flesh of a girl. And the story says “An awesome and beautiful goddess emerged , and grew grass under her supple feet.”(pg. 35) The growth of grass under her feet is the first sign of fertility for Aphrodite.  Her birth and creation are associated with her maternal ability to give life to things.  She is not just the goddess of love and sexuality but also controls fertility in humans as well as in animals and generates all things on the earth, such as the grass.

The “Fifth Homeric Hymn” discusses Aphrodite’s affair with Anchises.  The hymn begins by praising Aphrodite’s strength in sex and love.  Her strength has the ability to influence everyone on earth, including mortals and immortals, except for three (Artemis, Athena and Hestia).  Her power even has the ability to affect Zeus, and he is seen throughout many of the myths mating with mortals under the influence of Aphrodite.  So Zeus decides Aphrodite should also be subjected to love and lust (as she has subject so many others to) and put in her heart longing for Anchises of Troy.  Aphrodite first sees Anchises on top of Mt. Ida tending cattle.  After seeing him, she goes to Cyprus to bathe and prepares herself with fragrances, jewelry and robes.  When she finishes, she goes to Anchises’ mountain home.  The hymn says she stands in front of Anchises like an “unmarried maiden” which she does with intentions to deceive him (pg.130).  Anchises then compares Aphrodite to goddesses almost as if he is trying to guess which goddess she is, because he knows that no mortal could contain such beauty.  Aphrodite, however, tells him she is not immortal and he should not compare her to the goddesses.  She tells the story of how she was raised by mortal parents and has been taken cared of by a Trojan nurse, which is why she is able to speak his language. Due to her beauty, lies and deceptions, Anchises believes she is a maiden mortal and leads her to his bed.  s

When he awakens the next morning and looks into Aphrodite’s eyes he knows who she is.  Anchises tells her he knows she is a god and that she has lied.  He however, asks that no harm come to him.  Anchises has no need to worry because Aphrodite is the seducer, so he is not to blame.  She then speaks about the shame she will always endure for having slept with a mortal (having done what she has made so many other immortals do). She states:
“But for me there will be great shame among the immortal gods forever without end because of you. Before they used to fear my talk and my schemes, by which at one time I mated all the immortals to mortal women. For my will overpowered them all.  But now indeed no longer will my mouth be able to mention this among the immortals, since I was struck by a great blindness, wretched as unspeakable, and was driven out of my mind, and conceived a child in my womb by mating with a mortal.”
So she begins to speak about the child she has just conceived with Anchises.  Their son, Aeneas, is to be raised by a nymph whom she speaks of proudly and with respect and trust. She states “the deep-bosomed mountain dwell on this great and sacred mountain will raise him.”  At the age of five Aphrodite will bring Aeneas to his father, Anchises, and Anchises will bring him to the Trojans.  He is, however, not to say who the mother of his child is for if he does Zeus (the one who has caused all of this to happen) will strike him with his thunderbolts.

So, for the first time, we see Aphrodite as a woman and a mother she is now someone who has conceived a child and given birth – a sign of maternity. We can see her as a mother not only because she has conceived but also because she shows signs of love and affection towards her child by planning the best way to have him raised.  Some readers might think she keeps her son a secret, so she will not be humiliated for sleeping with a mortal.  I, however, see her making decisions that will benefit her son.  By allowing a nymph to raise her son, she knows he will have to succumb to all the possible humiliation that Aphrodite may have to deal with.  Aphrodite knows she is leaving her son with someone she can trust and someone she knows will raise him well. How do we know this? She states, “When indeed he first sees the light of the sun the deep-bosomed mountain nymphs who dwell on this great and sacred mountain will raise him.  They belong neither among mortals nor immortals; they live for a long time and eat ambrosial food, and they tread the lovely dance among the immortals.”  Aphrodite speaks of them kindly.

The Iliad shows the life of Aeneas , the son of Aphrodite and Anchises, as a grown man.  Aeneas is at war with his enemy, on the battlefield, Aeneas holds before him the perfect circle of his shield and the spear and raging to cut down any man who might come to face him, crying a terrible cry.  But Tydeus’ son in his hand caught up a huge thing which no two men could carry such as men are now, but by himself he lightly hefted it.  The thing hits Aeneas in the hip and smashes and breaks the tendons, and the fighter (Aeneas) dropped to the floor.  But his caring mother comes to take care of her child.  The myth states, “Now in this place Aineias (Aeneas) lord of men might have perished had not Aphrodite, Zeus’ daughter, been quick to perceive him, his mother, who had borne him to Anchises the ox-herd and about her beloved son came streaming her white arms, and with her white robe thrown in a fold in front she shielded him”(pg.55).  So she stops the death of her son with no regard to her own well-being for it is known that Aphrodite is the goddess of love and not the goddess of war. As her father, Zeus, says in the Iliad “No, my child, not for you are the works of warfare.  Rather concern yourself only with the lovely secrets of marriage” (pg. 57).  So as she carries her son out of the fighting, she is attacked by her son’s enemy and is wounded.  She is then able to get back to Olympus and speaks to her mother.  As she was telling her mother the events that has just occurred she said about her son “I was carrying my beloved son out of the fighting, Aineias who beyond all else in the world is dear to me” (pg. 65).  The words Aphrodite uses to describe her son and the situation shows the love she has for her son.  She risks her own life to save her son from further injury and possible death. That is what any mother would do for the child she loves.

Aphrodite is the goddess figure of sex and love in Greek mythology and may be seen as the most feminine of the Greek goddesses.  Without either of these two aspects sex and love, the prosperity of the earth including animals, human and plant life would not be possible.   She is probably the most maternal of all the goddesses not just because of her own maternal life (birth to son, caring of son) but because of all her strengths and influences in love and lust which everyone and everything is subjected to.