I’ve come across a lot of people who say they “understand” Aphrodite. The goddess of love, beauty, sex is what a lot of people know her as. I can’t blame them for thinking that is the extent of her domain. This is displayed in culture, and what is taught to everyone who does a simple google search.
However as worshippers of this goddess, I think we should strive to dig deeper. I have seen people simplify numerous deities in this manner; Hermes’ graveyard cult is not well known outside of the pagan community. Yet I hardly see people looking at Aphrodite as a truly multi-faceted goddess. Yes, we relate Her to self-love and Beyonce, but is that really it? These modern interpretations give the illusion of thought and depth, while refusing to see her as much else besides “beauty, love, and sex”.
I’ll start with one of my favorite epithets, “Ourania”. This translates to “heavenly”, and relates to a number of aspects. Plato describes this as a “purer love” in the Symposium, one free of “wantonness”, a love that promotes order and passion in one’s profession. Though I am not a fan of Plato’s interpretation of her in this work, I think this is a good place to start. Aphrodite Ourania is different from how we see her in everyday life. As opposed to sex, or self love, or physical beauty, this Aphrodite is key to every aspect of life. Passion, not sexual passion, is the key to Ourania. She drives us to do what we do best, no matter the subject. While “heavenly” does not always conjure images of doctors or painters, the pursuit of excellence is a highly thought of hellenic ideal. By pursuing passionately something you excel at, you are pleasing the gods. In this pursuit, Aphrodite can be found.
However, this is not all Aphrodite Ourania is made of. In a literal sense, this can refer to her birth, from the genitals of Ouranos. She is literally from the heavens and the sea, heavenly. She is the love and passions of the gods, the love that makes the very earth spin.
Ourania is often compared to her more commonly invoked epithets, “Pandemos”. This translates to “Common to all people”, and describes her more “vulgar” domains. Many people try to use this to undermine her importance. Plato even tries to separate the two aspects into two different goddesses, to bring up Ourania and bring down Pandemos. Such attempts are simply a product of a patriarchal, slut-shaming society. Sex is neither more nor less important than heavenly love. If you try to place one over another, you’re missing the point; they are both equally important in fully understanding her.
Both of these paint a picture of an ever positive, loving goddess, which is definitely a huge part of her. But as with Ourania and Pandemos, we need to weigh her “positive” and “negative” aspects equally. She is the bride of War for a reason. The “Titles” section of her Theoi.com page give us epithets such as deviser, deceptive one, black as the night, warlike, and armed. I have also heard her given the title “killer of men”. This paints a more contrasting picture, one that is full of blood and passionate hatred. While it suits our purposes to think of her as a pretty, pink, fluffy goddess, that is incomplete. To paint her as such is not just “missing a part”, it is misidentifying her. Aphrodite, like love, isn’t all happy. She is violent, petty, vain. She kills, hurts, schemes. This is a part of her, and not a part we should just dismiss. Moreover, this is just as worthy of worship as Ourania or Pandemos. In order to fully understand and worship this unknowably important goddess, we must know this. We must give respect to all aspects, not just the ones we like.