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Chapter Two – Aphrodite and the Judgement of Paris

Aphrodite is widely represented within Greek red-figure vase painting due partly to the distribution of particularly popular scenes such as those of the Judgement of Paris. It will be argued here that Aphrodite is regularly depicted more prominently in scenes than Hera and Athena and therefore has a greater presence and influence. Other factors will be identified that indicate Aphrodite’s importance in these depictions, such as the presence of symbols or items held by her, the representation of Eros alongside her and her location within the procession.

The Attributes of Aphrodite

2017-02-12-11Depictions of the Judgement of Paris more frequently show Aphrodite in possession of certain symbols or items. Aphrodite is often in possession of symbols such as an Apple and Sceptre, Phiale and Eros (Figure 10/10a), Sceptre and Bird (Figure 11/11a), Sceptre and Erotes (Figure 12), Mirror (Figure 13/13b) and Eros and Wreath.91 Though Hera is queen of the gods she appears infrequently with symbols (for example Figure 13a). 2017-02-12-12 2017-02-12-13Hera occasionally appears with a Pomegranate, a Sceptre (Figure 12) and Sceptre and Lion.92 Furthermore, Athena appears only with her traditional dress of spear and shield (Figure 12 and 13b).93 These attributes can specifically signify a person’s importance within a scene. For example, apples in a scene of Aphrodite, Hippomenes and Atalanta can be considered a means used by Aphrodite to communicate victory.94 The apple is symbolic of her victory in the Judgement of Paris,95 as it is when passed to Eros as the intermediary between her and the victor of Hippomenes and Atalanta’s race.96 This scene also depicts Aphrodite with a sceptre and diadem signifying authority. Other imagery associated with her, such as sacred birds, can symbolise power.

One sacred bird is the goose. Where it appears within images alongside Aphrodite it appears to symbolise love and the tenderness of domestic life.97 Kilmer argues that the goose was perhaps used to symbolise the sexual and affectionate sides of a relationship.98 The imagery of geese within the catalogue would certainly support such a conclusion, for example Figure 14.99 2017-02-12-142017-02-12-15Another example of a bird associated with Aphrodite is the wryneck/iunx whose name is linked to a wheel used to conjure love spells in antiquity.100 This bird was introduced by Aphrodite according to Pindar and the wheel can be seen in depictions such as an Apulian pelike from Brisbane.101 Cyrino argues that Aphrodite’s association with birds symbolises her connection to the sky, the sea and movement between the realms but also her authority over sexuality, romance and love.102

According to Pirenne-Delforge birds show the affinity of the goddess with the sky.103 This is taken further by McPhee and Pemberton who propose that the inclusion of a swan represents a deity who has power over the sky and sea.104 In Sappho’s Hymn to Aphrodite Aphrodite’s traversing of the realms is undertaken, ‘with chariot yoked: beautiful swift sparrows whirring fast beating wings brought you above the dark earth down from heaven through the mid-air’ (translation Cambell).105 Sappho’s poem and the depictions within the catalogue indicate that birds have an important role in Aphrodite’s entourage and as a connection between divine and mortal realms.106 The importance of birds in the worship of Aphrodite can also be identified elsewhere. In 283-2 an inscription referring to the regulations concerning the sanctuary of Aphrodite Pandemos referenced a civic official offering a bird (either a dove or pigeon) to purify the sanctuary.107 Furthermore, in Aristophanes’ Birds the chorus leader tells how birds were created from the relationship of Eros and Chaos.108 Cyrino, citing Birds, argues that birds were in essence considered to be erotic creatures.109 Waegeman considers that the relationship of the wryneck, the iunx wheel and Aphrodite is obvious given that the wheel became a metaphor for seduction and love.110 The fertility aspects of Aphrodite are according to Ulbrich found in representa tions of the goddess where items, particularly birds, are found in her hands.111 In the Hymn to Aphrodite the erotic nature of animals is brought out through the appearance of Aphrodite on Mount Ida.112 Furthermore, birds are described, amongst other creatures, as loving ‘the deeds of rich-crowned Cytherea’.113 The symbolic connection of birds as a means of communicating the essence of love and/or beauty can be seen in a number of Aphrodite scenes within the catalogue, one particular example is Figure 15.114 2017-02-12-16The symbolism of birds as a means of communicating love can also be seen in imagery where they are given as a courting gift (Figure 16).115 There are two Judgement of Paris scenes within the catalogue that depict Aphrodite alongside birds.116 In one of these depictions it may be inferred that Aphrodite is carrying the bird as a gift for Paris (Figure 11a).117 Kreuzer argues that the owl has a symbolic role in the order of the polis.118 The owl is a reference to Athena and also an extension to and symbol of the Athenian state.119 Therefore, the association of birds with goddesses are strong motifs that indicate their divinity through the ability to cross realms but also symbolise influence and power.

The banquet of the gods as depicted by the Kodros Painter emphasises the ‘association between the reclining gods and fertility’ (Figure 17).120 2017-02-12-17Gais argues that the cornucopia held by Hades and the presence of Persephone symbolises the connection between life, death and fertility.121 Gais’ argument is well considered, supporting the assessment of Aphrodite’s attributes as a representation of her power. Furthermore, a brief consideration of the depiction of the birth of Aphrodite on the base of the statue of Zeus at Olympia shows the importance of symbolism.122 Given the lack of cultic connections of Aphrodite to Olympia, it might be thought a strange depiction for the sculptor to use.123 However, it is probable that this image symbolises the emphasis of marriage at the site, particularly considering Aphrodite’s important role in bringing about such unions through sexual desire.124 It can be inferred from the number of wedding scenes catalogued involving Aphrodite that she was perceived to hold an important role within marriage.125 This argument can be extended, taking into consideration Woodford’s observation of the importance of Aphrodite in Judgement of Paris scenes. Woodford notes the presence of Eros, who Aphrodite will use to win the judgement, in two particular vases (Figure 10 and 12).126 Aphrodite’s authority and power over love and desire is clearly indicated.

It is possible that the attributes associated with the goddesses in these scenes are used to simply depict their qualities or aspects without having to name them.127 However, the variety of items associated with Aphrodite would suggest that they serve more than just to identify her. The attributes of Aphrodite would certainly suggest that she has more presence within the Judgement of Paris scenes than Athena and Hera, making these items and birds more important to her representation in vase painting, particularly as this argument can also be considered from the viewpoint of Aphrodite’s ‘entourage’.

Aphrodite, Eros and the Judgement of Paris

2017-02-12-182017-02-12-19Aphrodite is frequently depicted alongside her son Eros,128 as demonstrated within the Judgement of Paris scenes catalogued.129 The location of Eros in images infers support for Aphrodite, particularly as in the majority of images Eros is located by the painter close to her. This proximity can be viewed as an indication of her control over him. Furthermore in some instances Aphrodite and Eros are seen to be looking at each other as if they are communicating (Figure 18).130 From these scenes it can be inferred that Aphrodite is instructing Eros. There are also scenes in which Eros or Erotes are depicted next to Paris (Figure 19).131 Although Eros is not located next to Aphrodite in these scenes the implication of the familial relationship would be that he is acting on her instructions, to persuade/seduce Paris and grant her victory. This view of Eros is shared by Woodford, Cyrino and Nelis who see him holding a role in assisting the seduction of mortals.132 Stafford observes that the common bow and arrow attributes of Eros are first shown on a lekythos fifty years before they are referenced in literature (Figure 20). 133 The literary depictions of Eros in possession of arrows able to raise the desires of mortal men and gods are first attested by Euripides.134 This ‘weapon’ can be seen as a tool in Aphrodite’s armoury in winning her victory; particularly as she had some form of control over him as a relative. However, the ‘weapon’ is not a mythological tradition associated with Eros and a bow and arrow are not shown in the depictions of the Judgement of Paris. Furthermore, in other depictions of Eros he is also not shown with a bow and arrows.135 Instead the iconography of Eros focuses on depictions of him naked with wings and objects that can be gifts, as a means of identification (Figures 21, 22 and 23). 2017-02-12-20Therefore, the bow and arrow were not always viewed as tools of seduction. The presence of Eros can be relied on by vase painters to visually convey the symbolism of love, seduction or desire. Whilst Aphrodite appears without a supporting deity in some of the Judgement of Paris scenes, by contrast Hera and Athena are not represented with such a supporting figure in any scene.136

It should be considered, therefore, whether Aphrodite’s depiction in these two ways is due to her being the mythological winner of the competition or for some other purpose. As Hera and Athena are not the victors in the competition, the vase painters’ treatment of the subject can be seen as a way of subtly focusing the scene on Aphrodite, her influence and authority. Fischer, citing Athenaeus, suggests that the perception of Aphrodite was that she had great power over mortals;137 though this relates specifically to prostitution, it can be inferred that Aphrodite was seen to be influential in matters of love and passion.

The Procession to Paris

The Judgement of Paris scenes appear regularly as a procession with a specific order. Woodford suggests that the normal order is Hera with a veil as if she were a bride, Athena with spear and helmet and Aphrodite beautifully attired at the back marking the climax of the scene.138 It is possible that the scenes were painted thus as a preferred form had developed, one example from the catalogue is Figure 24. 2017-02-12-21However, it may be the result of the literary tradition as this lists the offers made to Paris in a specific order, Hera, Athena and then Aphrodite. Pausanias describes that on the chest of Cypselus, dedicated at Olympia, there is a scene of Hermes taking the goddesses to Paris and the inscription lists the order as Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.139 It would appear that vase painters normally replicated this order, though there are exceptions such as the development of a reverse order of Athena, Hera and Aphrodite noted by Sparkes (Figure 25).140 Woodford and Sparkes note that the position of Aphrodite is normally at the back of the procession. However, within the catalogue there are a number of scenes in which Aphrodite is clearly positioned at the front (for example Figure 26).141 2017-02-12-22 It must be questioned, therefore, whether the positioning of Aphrodite has any relevance or importance. Manakidou observes the importance of processions, arguing that the frequency of these scenes in the fifth century, strongly indicates there was significant support for processional events by the state.142 Within Attic vase-painting various religious aspects can be found such as processions, approaches to gods and sacrifices.143 Shapiro proposes that the positioning of the gods within a processional scene is indicative of their official status and the harmony of the family.144 Likewise Lissarrague observes that where gods and mortals are present in a processional scene the divine figures are normally at the front.145 It is clear that processional scenes were important but it is not clear whether positioning of individuals was or was not relevant. There are only a small number of scenes defined as processions in the BA where only immortals are present.146 Zeus’ authority in the procession is defined by his appearance at the front in a chariot whereas the other immortals follow him on foot.147 The depiction of a chariot in red-figure wedding scenes draws a link to the divine world rather than suggesting one had been used in Athenian wedding.148 2017-02-12-23In a cup fragment it is unclear who leads the processional scene, Figure 27, Artemis is followed by Apollo and Hermes may possibly be followed by Dionysus.149 Unfortunately as few fragments survive the full context of the scene is lost, making analysis difficult and, therefore, it is not possible to state whether any figure is more important than another.

In the Judgement of Paris scenes Aphrodite’s position at either the beginning or end would not seem to be important. On the one hand, when positioned at the front of the procession it can be seen to further enhance Aphrodite’s authority and power, as she clearly holds prominence over the other goddesses. However, there are fewer instances of Aphrodite in this position. On the other hand, Aphrodite holds prominence within the scenes as a result of other factors regardless of her position, as supported by Woodford’s interpretation that Aphrodite’s position at the back is indicative of the climax to the scene.150 The primary purpose of the depiction of the procession can be considered a means of telling the story and to show Aphrodite’s authority and power as victor whether she be at the beginning or end.

Aphrodite and Judgement of Paris Scenes – Conclusions

Regarding the Judgement of Paris scenes, on the one hand Aphrodite may have simply been depicted thus as she is the victor of the contest. However, the representations of Aphrodite can be identified as a means of communicating a belief in her power and influence, which is shown through the representation of Aphrodite with items such as apples, sceptre, phiale and birds but in particular Eros. Eros demonstrates Aphrodite’s power and control over love and desire through not only his presence in her company but also the inference of her instruction in some scenes. This is reinforced through the lack of supporting deities for the other goddesses. Likewise Aphrodite’s place in the processional scenes due to these particular attributes can be thought to have no bearing on her importance within the procession. These depictions place Aphrodite prominently within the scene, creating a stronger presence over and above the other goddesses. This in turn reinforces her ability to influence mortals and the superiority of her power. The Judgement of Paris scenes are a particularly good example of the belief in Aphrodite’s influence and persuasive power over mortals.


91 BA 38031, 41250, 44699, 47014, 202509, 204686, 205649, 206989, 211251, 211736, 215722, 217284, 217489, 217490, 217533, 220515, 430003, 9022289 and LIMC Aphrodite 1191, 1428, 1434
92 BA 7928, 38031, 206802, 207616, 215722, 217284, 217489, 217533, 220515 and LIMC Aphrodite 1191
93 BA 171, 13371, 41250, 202324, 204685, 206989, 207616, 211736, 212137, 217284
94 LIMC Aphrodite 1523
95 Apollod. Epit. 3.2
96 Boardman 1989:229-30 refers to LIMC Aphrodite 1523 but interprets it only as Aphrodite handing an apple to the victor via Eros.
97 Williams 1983:94 cited in Kilmer 1993:163
98 Kilmer 1993:163
99 LIMC Aphrodite 1514 shows a depiction of the wedding of Herakles and Hebe with Aphrodite with a goose. BA 5375, 211350, 216295 show Aphrodite on a goose and suggest the symbolic importance of the animal in connection with the goddess.
100 Turner 2005:75
101 Pind. Pyth 4.212-9; University of Queensland Antiquities Museum M5.12
102 Cyrino 2010:120-1
103 Pirenne-Delforge 1994:38
104 McPhee and Pemberton 1990:129 cited in Papadopoulou 2010:228
105 Sappho Hymn to Aphrodite Fr.1.8-10
106 BA 7850, 10078, 29611, 41013, 202509, 211251, 220493, 9028344 and LIMC Aphrodite 214
107 IG II³ 1 879
108 Ar. Av. 685-707
109 Cyrino 2010:120-1
110 Waegeman 1992:240
111 Ulbrich 2010:183
112 Ulbrich 2010:183; Anonymous Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite 68-74
113 Anonymous Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite 1-5
114 The number of scenes depicted of Aphrodite with birds would suggest they were an important symbol of her power over love and beauty. For example, the dove LIMC Aphrodite 1298, 1372, 1564, 1568 and BA 9025006 and the swan LIMC Aphrodite 917 and BA 7789, 8489, 16164, 16411, 29611, 41013, 213903, 218153, 218176, 230505, 340120, 9027112
115 Lewis 2002:161 observes that the presence of birds as with hares may be considered a courtship gift.
116 BA 202509, 211251
117 BA 202509
118 Kreuzer 1999 cited in Lynch et al 2011:86 n.82
119 Lynch et al, 2011:86 ‘The owl is a reference to Athena, and by extension a symbol of the Athenian state. The owl began to appear on the coinage of Athens from the last decades of the sixth century, and thus became identified with the state of Athens’.
120 Gais 1978:365
121 Gias 1978:365
122 Paus. 5.10.8
123 Barringer 2008:53
124 Barringer 2008:53
125 Eighteen instances catalogued of Aphrodite involved with weddings BA 214901, 215006, 215552, 217491, 9003804 and LIMC Aphrodite 210, 212, 1203, 1206, 1251, 1514, 1516, 1560, 1562, 1563, 1564, 1565, 1569.
126 Woodford 2003:91-3 refers to the Judgement of Paris scenes BA 211736, 220515
127 Sparkes 1996:127
128 Paus. 9.27.2; Pl. Phdr. 242d and Ap. Rhod. Argon. 3.83-4 each identify Aphrodite as Eros’ mother. However, in some mythological depictions Eros was born at the beginning of time or of the sea foam from which Aphrodite was born, Sappho Frag.198 and Hes. Theog. 176. Another example is that Eros was born of Eileithyia Paus. 9.27.1.
129 Aphrodite and Eros (25 images) BA 171, 13371, 38031, 41250, 44699, 44928, 46836, 47014, 207616, 211251, 211736, 215695, 217284, 217489, 217533, 218283, 220529, 230423 and LIMC Aphrodite 804, 1428, 1433, 1434, 1435, 1437, 1439. Aphrodite and Erotes (9 images) BA 7928, 44431, 204686, 212137, 215722, 220151, 220515 and LIMC Aphrodite 1191, 1431.Aphrodite alone (13 images) BA 230, 5970, 9988, 202324, 202509, 204407, 205649, 206802, 206989, 217490, 430003, 9022289 and LIMC Aphrodite 1438.
130 Depictions of Aphrodite and Eros close by or appearing to communicate BA 171, 13371, 41250, 204685, 207616, 211251, 211736, 215695 and also Eros by Aphrodite appearing to stretch towards Paris 217284, 218283.
131 Eros also appears by Paris BA 21745 215722, 220529. Erotes besides Aphrodite and Paris BA 217533, 220515, 230423
132 Woodford 2003:91; Cyrino 2010:45; Nelis 1992:164
133 Stafford 2013:179; Red Figure Lekythos attributed to the Brygos Painter Fort Worth AP 84.16 c.480; LIMC Eros 332
134 Eur. Med. 529-30; Eur. IA 543-51
135 BA 273, 361, 1199, 2090, 2724, 5702, 10848, 11610, 13378, 211143
136 BA 230, 5970, 9988, 202324, 202509, 204407, 205649, 206802, 206989, 217490, 430003, 9022289 and LIMC Aphrodite 1438.
137 Fischer 2013:250; Ath. 13.573 and 13.588
138 Woodford 2003:90 cites a Pontic black-figure amphora c.530 by the Paris Painter as an example.
139 Paus. 5.19.5
140 Sparkes 1996:127
141 BA 202509, 205649, 217284 and LIMC Aphrodite 1438, 1439
142 Manakidou 2012:432
143 Lissarrague 2012:565
144 Shapiro 2012:404
145 Lissarrague 2012:568
146 BA 308, 6759, 8141, 20004. There are no red-figure scenes within the Aphrodite section of the LIMC that could be defined as processions where only immortals are present.
147 BA 308
148 Oakley 2012:487
149 BA 20004
150 Woodford 2003:90

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