Aphrodite is also known as Kypris and Cytherea after the two places, Cyprus and Cythera, which claimed her birth. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus. Myrtle, dove, sparrow, and swan are sacred to her.
Aphrodite had a festival of her own, the Aphrodisiac (also referred to as Aphrodisia), which was celebrated all over Greece but particularly in Athens and Corinth. At the temple of Aphrodite on the summit of Acrocorinth (before the Roman destruction of the city in 146 BC) intercourse with her priestesses was considered a method of worshiping Aphrodite. This temple was not rebuilt when the city was reestablished under Roman rule in 44 BC, but it is likely that the fertility rituals continued in the main city near the agora.
Aphrodite was associated with, and often depicted with the sea, dolphins, doves, swans, pomegranates, apples, myrtle, rose and lime trees, clams, scallop shells, and pearls, but the swine was prohibited.
By the late 5th century BC, philosophers might separate Aphrodite into two separate goddesses, not individuated in cult: Aphrodite Ourania, born from the sea foam after Cronus castrated Ouranos, and Aphrodite Pandemos, the common Aphrodite "of all the folk", born from Zeus and Dione. Among the neo-Platonists and eventually their Christian interpreters, Aphrodite Ourania figures as the celestial Aphrodite, representing the love of body and soul, while Aphrodite Pandemos is associated with mere physical love. The representation of Aphrodite Ouranos, with a foot resting on a tortoise, was read later as emblematic of discretion in conjugal love; the image is credited to Phidias, in a chryselephantine sculpture made for Elis, of which we have only a passing remark by Pausanias.
Thus, according to Plato Aphrodite is two goddesses, one older the other younger. The older, Urania, is the daughter of Ouranos; the younger is named Pandemos, and is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Pandemos is the common Aphrodite. The speech of Pausanias distinguishes two manifestations of Aphrodite, represented by the two stories: Aphrodite Ourania ("heavenly" Aphrodite), and Aphrodite Pandemos ("Common" Aphrodite).
Thus Aphrodite is of an older generation than Zeus. Iliad (Book V) expresses another version of her origin, by which she was considered a daughter of Dione, who was the original oracular goddess ("Dione" being simply "the goddess, the feminine form of Δíος, "Dios", the genitive of Zeus) at Dodona. In Homer, Aphrodite, venturing into battle to protect her son, Aeneas, is wounded by Diomedes and returns to her mother, to sink down at her knee and be comforted. "Dione" seems to be an equivalent of Rhea, the Earth Mother, whom Homer has relocated to Olympus, and refers to a hypothesized original Proto-Indo-European pantheon, with the chief male god (Di-) represented by the sky and thunder, and the chief female god (feminine form of Di-) represented as the earth or fertile soil. Aphrodite herself was sometimes referred to as "Dione". Once the worship of Zeus had usurped the oak-grove oracle at Dodona, some poets made him out to be the father of Aphrodite. Aphrodite's chief center of worship remained at Paphos, on the south-western coast of Cyprus, where the goddess of desire had long been worshipped as Ishtar and Ashtaroth. It is said that she first tentatively came ashore at Cytherea, a stopping place for trade and culture between Crete and the Peloponesus. Thus perhaps we have hints of the track of Aphrodite's original cult from the Levant to mainland Greece.
Aphrodite had no childhood: in every image and each reference she is born adult, nubile, and infinitely desirable. Aphrodite, in many of the late anecdotal myths involving her, is characterized as vain, ill-tempered and easily offended. Though she is one of the few gods of the Greek Pantheon to be actually married, she is frequently unfaithful to her husband. Hephaestus is one of the most even-tempered of the Hellenic deities; in the narrative embedded in the Odyssey Aphrodite seems to prefer Ares, the volatile god of war. She is one of a few characters who played a major part in the original cause of the Trojan War itself: not only did she offer Helen of Sparta to Paris, but the abduction was accomplished when Paris, seeing Helen for the first time, was inflamed with desire to have her—which is Aphrodite's realm.
Due to her immense beauty Zeus was frightened that she would be the cause of violence between the other gods. He married her off to Hephaestus, the dour, humorless god of smithing. In another version of this story, Hera, Hephaestus' mother, had cast him off Olympus; deeming him ugly and deformed. His revenge was to trap her in a magic throne, and then to demand Aphrodite's hand in return for Hera's release. Hephaestus was overjoyed at being married to the goddess of beauty and forged her beautiful jewelry, including the cestus, a girdle that made her even more irresistible to men. Her unhappiness with her marriage caused Aphrodite to seek out companionship from others, most frequently Ares, but also Adonis.
Meanwhile, Psyche's parents were anxious that their daughter remained unmarried. They consulted an oracle who told them she was destined for no mortal lover, but a creature that lived on top of a particular mountain, that even the gods themselves feared. Eros had arranged for the oracle to say this. Psyche was resigned to her fate and climbed to the top of the mountain. She told the townfolk that followed her to leave and let her face her fate on her own. There, Zephyrus, the west wind, gently floated her downwards. She entered a cave on the appointed mountain, surprised to find it full of jewelry and finery. Eros visited her every night in the cave and they made passionate love; he demanded only that she never light any lamps because he did not want her to know who he was (having wings made him distinctive). Her two sisters, jealous of Psyche, convinced her that her husband was a monster, and she should strike him with a dagger. So one night she lit a lamp, but recognizing Eros instantly, she dropped her dagger. Oil spilled from the lamp onto his shoulder, awaking him, and he fled, saying "Love cannot live where there is no trust!"
When Psyche told her two jealous elder sisters what had happened, they rejoiced secretly and each separately walked to the top of the mountain and did as Psyche described her entry to the cave, hoping Eros would pick them instead. Eros was still heart broken and did not pick them and they fell to their deaths at the base of the mountain.
Psyche searched for her love across much of Greece, finally stumbling into a temple to Demeter, where the floor was covered with piles of mixed grains. She started sorting the grains into organized piles and, when she finished, Demeter spoke to her, telling her that the best way to find Eros was to find his mother, Aphrodite, and earn her blessing. Psyche found a temple to Aphrodite and entered it. Aphrodite assigned her a similar task to Demeter's temple, but gave her an impossible deadline to finish it by. Eros intervened, for he still loved her, and caused some ants to organize the grains for her. Aphrodite was outraged at her success and told her to go to a field where deadly golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. Psyche went to the field and saw the sheep but was stopped by a river-god, whose river she had to cross to enter the field. He told her the sheep were mean and vicious and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go into the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees. Psyche did so and Aphrodite was even more outraged at her survival and success.
Finally, Aphrodite claimed that the stress of caring for her son, depressed and ill as a result of Psyche's unfaithfulness, had caused her to lose some of her beauty. Psyche was to go to Hades and ask Persephone, the queen of the underworld, for a bit of her beauty in a black box that Aphrodite gave to Psyche. Psyche walked to a tower, deciding that the quickest way to the underworld would be to die. A voice stopped her at the last moment and told her a route that would allow her to enter and return still living, as well as telling her how to pass the three-headed dog Cerberus, Charon and the other dangers of the route. She was to not lend a hand to anyone in need. She baked two barley cakes for Cerberus, and took two coins for Charon. She pacified Cerberus with the barley cake and paid Charon to take her to Hades. On the way there, she saw hands reaching out of the water. A voice told her to toss a barley cake to them. She refused. Once there, Persephone said she would be glad to do Aphrodite a favor. She once more paid Charon, and gave the other barley cake to Cerberus.
Psyche left the underworld and decided to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself, thinking that if she did so Eros would surely love her. Inside was a "stygian sleep" which overtook her. Eros, who had forgiven her, flew to her body and wiped the sleep from her eyes, then begged Zeus and Aphrodite for their consent to his wedding of Psyche. They agreed and Zeus made her immortal. Aphrodite danced at the wedding of Eros and Psyche, and their subsequent child was named Pleasure, or (in the Roman mythology) Voluptas.
Myrrha gives birth to a baby boy named Adonis. Aphrodite happens by the Myrrh tree and, seeing him, takes pity on the infant. She places Adonis in a box, and takes him down to Hades so that Persephone can care for him. Adonis grows into a strikingly handsome young man, and Aphrodite eventually returns for him. Persephone, however, is loath to give him up, and wishes Adonis would stay with her in the underworld. The two goddesses begin such a quarrel that Zeus is forced to intercede. He decrees that Adonis will spend a third of the year with Aphrodite, a third of the year with Persephone, and a third of the year with whomever he wishes. Adonis, of course, chooses Aphrodite.
Adonis begins his year on the earth with Aphrodite. One of his greatest passions is hunting, and although Aphrodite is not naturally a hunter, she takes up the sport just so she can be with Adonis. They spend every waking hour with one another, and Aphrodite is enraptured with him. However, her anxiety begins to grow over her neglected duties, and she is forced to leave him for a short time. Before she leaves, she gives Adonis one warning: do not attack an animal who shows no fear. Adonis agrees to her advice, but, secretly doubting her skills as a huntress, quickly forgets her warning.
Not long after Aphrodite leaves, Adonis comes across an enormous wild boar, much larger than any he has ever seen. It is suggested that the boar is the god Ares, one of Aphrodite's lovers made jealous through her constant doting on Adonis. Although boars are dangerous and will charge a hunter if provoked, Adonis disregards Aphrodite's warning and pursues the giant creature. Soon, however, Adonis is the one being pursued; he is no match for the giant boar. In the attack, Adonis is castrated by the boar, and dies from a loss of blood. Aphrodite rushes back to his side, but she is too late to save him and can only mourn over his body. Wherever Adonis' blood falls, Aphrodite causes anemones to grow in his memory. She vows that on the anniversary of his death, every year there will be a festival held in his honor.
On his death, Adonis goes back to the underworld, and Persephone is delighted to see him again. Eventually, Aphrodite realizes that he is there, and rushes back to retrieve him. Again, she and Persephone bicker over who is allowed to keep Adonis until Zeus intervenes. This time, he says that Adonis must spend six months with Aphrodite and six months with Persephone, the way it should have been in the first place.
Adonis, as a Dying God Archetype, represents the cycle of vegetation. His birth is like the birth of new plants; his maturation like the ripening of the plant. Once the crop is harvested, it dies--like Adonis returning to the underworld. The new seeds are then placed again in the ground, where they grow into new life, like Adonis returning to the earth to be with Aphrodite.
Another version of this myth tells that the women of the village in which Pygmalion lived grew angry that he had not married. They all asked Aphrodite to force him to marry. Aphrodite accepted and went that very night to Pygmalion, and asked him to pick a woman to marry. She told him that if he did not pick one, she would do so for him. Not wanting to be married, he begged her for more time, asking that he be allowed to make a sculpture of Aphrodite before he had to choose his bride. Flattered, she accepted.
Pygmalion spent a lot of time making small clay sculptures of the Goddess, claiming it was needed so he could pick the right pose. As he started making the actual sculpture he was shocked to discover he actually wanted to finish, even though he knew he would have to marry someone when he finished. The reason he wanted to finish it was that he had fallen in love with the sculpture. The more he worked on it, the more it changed, until it no longer resembled Aphrodite at all.
At the very moment Pygmalion stepped away from the finished sculpture Aphrodite appeared and told him to choose his bride. Pygmalion chose the statue. Aphrodite told him that could not be, and asked him again to pick a bride. Pygmalion put his arms around the statue, and asked Aphrodite to turn him into a statue so he could be with her. Aphrodite took pity on him and brought the statue to life instead.