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The Intriguing Origins of Aphrodite

By Miriam Kamil

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, sex, and beauty. In one of the most famous images of the goddess, we see her emerge from the sea, a reference to her origin story.

In this older of the two stories of Aphrodite’s birth, she emerges from the sea a grown woman. Her father is Uranos, the god of the sky, and she has no mother. This story takes place two generations before Zeus, when Uranos reigned with his wife Gaia, the goddess of the earth. Uranos hated his children and hid them in the depths of the earth, until Gaia, loathing her husband, devised a plan with her son Cronus. She equipped her son with a sickle and, when Uranos next came to sleep with Gaia, Cronus chopped off his genitals. The severed parts fell into the ocean and sea foam enveloped them. From this foam emerged the goddess Aphrodite.

This story was handed down to us by Hesiod, one of the earliest Greek poets. He explains that Aphrodite’s name comes from the Greek word aphros, meaning “foam,” which could refer to the sea foam or to Uranos’ semen. This myth is etiological, with Aphrodite’s birth from foam explaining the origin of her name. This is a poetic invention, however, and the true etymology of Aphrodite’s name remains unknown.

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