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Chapter Four – Aphrodite’s Sphere of Influence

This chapter will explore the belief in the extent of Aphrodite’s sphere of influence. Aphrodite’s influence over beauty, love and desire appears to be unbounded. Assisted by Eros and Peitho she brings desire to the hearts of many. However, elements of the literary tradition indicate that Aphrodite is not all powerful and her influence has its limits. It will be argued that although there are some limitations to Aphrodite’s influence these are few.

Aphrodite and Mortals

The representations of Aphrodite cover a number of mythological and practical scenes.193 Scenes such as those of Aphrodite and Adonis and Helen and Paris are a clear indication of Aphrodite’s control over desire, passion and relationships. In particular several elements of these scenes suggest this. Within one scene Aphrodite bares her breast in the presence of Adonis (Figure 33) but in other representations she appears to be touching or pulling at her clothing (for example Figure 34).194 2017-02-26-52017-02-26-6These are suggestive actions indicating an act of seduction drawing the viewer’s eye. Furthermore, they show control over her sexuality and the erotic passion of the scenes. Aphrodite’s influence can also be identified in scenes such as the departure of Helen and Paris. In Figure 35, for example, Aphrodite’s gesture with the sceptre and gaze can be interpreted as her sending the couple on their journey with her blessing.195 This same influence is depicted in scenes of Helen’s recovery. Aphrodite’s outstretched hands indicate her intervention, Menelaus appears to be dropping his sword as a result of meeting Helen’s gaze (Figure 36). 2017-02-26-7Woodford argues that in scenes of Helen’s recovery by Menelaus, Aphrodite can be seen as removing the threat to Helen’s life.196 The evidence from the catalogue indicates that this is correct and is particularly well demonstrated in Figure 36.197 In a number of these scenes Aphrodite’s use of Eros should be noted as a specific form of influence used by her.198 In Figure 37a and b, for example, Aphrodite, who has turned to face Menelaus, is presenting Eros to him. The presentation of Eros to Menelaus is a way of controlling his actions and changing his attitude to Helen. Woodford observes that Aphrodite as the goddess responsible for Helen’s circumstance did not forget her role.199 2017-02-26-8The vase painters of Figures 36 and 37b appear to have depicted the scene in this way in order to demonstrate Aphrodite’s protection of Helen as she had caused her situation. The myth of the Judgement of Paris and Aphrodite’s success according to Pala recalls her absolute power over beauty and love.200 However, in these scenes lesser gods such as Eros are present alongside Aphrodite and in one scene of Helen and Paris Nemesis is present as well.201 This implies that Aphrodite cannot do things alone and has to have a supporting entourage in order to act. Another example for consideration is the offerings that Eros brings on behalf of Aphrodite, for example pomegranates to Adonis.202 Gifts such as these can be seen in a romantic way such as presenting something to a beloved during courtship.203

Gift Giving

The giving of gifts is an exercise in power which a person can either accept or reject.204 Sutton observes that gifts are a common factor in courting scenes between both genders, though this does not necessarily mean that material gifts always formed part of the courtship process.205 Sutton proposes instead that vase painters communicated the persuasive power of possessions over social status in their representations. 206 There are instances of women depicted as offering gifts to men such as the Leningrad Skyphos by the Penthesilea Painter.207 In this depiction a woman can be seen offering a lekythos to a male: though on the reverse there is an image of a man offering a coin to a woman as well. Sutton’s observation of the scene suggests that there is an element of persuasion from both the man to the prostitute but also the woman to the freeborn youth.208 It would appear that gifts are common in vase painting, however these can be accepted or rejected, which means that the power in the relationship does not necessarily sit with either person. Within scenes where Aphrodite is the gift-giver she can be identified as having control of it. For example, in Figure 34 the offering made to Adonis is secondary to the eye contact between him and Aphrodite.

Aphrodite and the Gods

2017-02-26-9Another example of the depiction of Aphrodite’s sphere of influence and power is her ability to bring about desire in the other gods. Scenes of love and abduction such as those of Poseidon and Amymone and Dionysus and Ariadne on occasion also have Aphrodite present.209 As with scenes of mortals, there is a clear indication that Aphrodite is involved in the union. Aphrodite is a central figure in the relationship, and in several scenes of Dionysus and Ariadne’s romance, Eros is also present at the union (Figure 38a and b).210 This demonstrates that Aphrodite has influence not only over mortals but gods as well. However, Aphrodite’s power does not extend to all goddesses:

[Aphrodite] stirs up sweet passion in the gods and subdues the tribes of mortal men and birds that fly in air and all the many creatures that the dry land rears…Yet there are three hearts that she cannot bend nor yet ensnare….Athena…Artemis… Hestia… But of all others there is nothing among the blessed gods or among mortal men that has escaped Aphrodite.
(Anonymous Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite 5.1-35 translation Evelyn-White)

Within literary tradition Aphrodite’s power cannot affect Athena, Artemis and Hestia as they are virgin goddesses and as such are immune to her influence.211 Cyrino comments that the poem defines clearly that, apart from these three goddesses, Aphrodite’s power ‘rules over the erotic experience for all creatures on earth – human, divine and animal’.212 The myth of Hippolytus as told by Euripides is a particularly good example of this. Hippolytus shuns Aphrodite by paying her no reverence and as such is brutally punished by her for this behaviour.213 However, Aphrodite’s authority is seen by Breitenberger as being limited further by her becoming subject to her own power.214 Within the Homeric Hymn Aphrodite is caused to feel desire for Anchises by Zeus.215 Breitenberger’s argument is well considered as Aphrodite does not have complete control of her sphere of authority within the Homeric Hymn as Zeus can control her power. These examples demonstrate that while Aphrodite’s influence is limited somewhat within the heavens it is not so on earth. Therefore, it is clear that within the mythology of Aphrodite she spreads her influence and authority with few limitations.

The Gods Sphere of Influence

Gods, other than Aphrodite, appear to be more regularly depicted alongside other gods: for example Themis,216 Apollo and Ares are regularly depicted fighting giants or with other gods.217 According to Boardman, ‘the gods sit or stand together often still…observing – the birth of Athena…arrival of Dionysus. Their action together, fighting the Giants… Hephaistos…hurls burning coals…Dionysus’ vine is seen trapping a giant’.218 Scenes of Gigantomachy are noted by various authors to shows that certain gods and goddesses have particular involvement in the fight.219 Athena and Zeus battle a giant on an British Museum Hydria by the Tyszkiewicz Painter and Athena and Enkelados fight on the Louvre CA 3662.220 Aphrodite is occasionally shown in Gigantomachy scenes but these are few in number and instead she is depicted alongside mortals more than other gods and goddesses.221

Representations of gigantomachy are indicative examples of gods being depicted alongside other gods and goddesses. The exception to this appears to be Dionysus who, like Aphrodite, is normally accompanied by an entourage of Maenads and Satyrs in vase painting, and as such comparison can be drawn between the two. 222 Dionysus, as the god of wine, is certainly an appropriate image for vessels intended for a symposium. The catalogue indicates that scenes depicting Dionysus do not always contain mortals. 223 Where mortals do appear in scenes with Dionysus they do not appear to be in a situation in which the god is influencing them; the scenes with Ariadne are love scenes and there is one scene where a mortal woman plays a pipe in Dionysus’ presence. Though it should be noted that other scenes such as the dismemberment of Pentheus are a different situation in which Dionysus has influenced the scene.224 Carpenter notes that of the two-thousand vases catalogued with Dionysus depicted, the majority of them are kraters, i.e. vessels associated with a symposium, and represent processions of Satyrs and Maenads.225 The decoration itself appears to reflect the purpose and use of certain vessels for symposiums as much as the rise in Dionysus’ popularity as patron of dramatic performances.226 There are several references to libations made to the gods at the start of a symposium which indicates the importance of wine drinking within the setting.227 Vase painters used the images of banqueting scenes on vases to communicate a serious message to remind the person drinking of the effects of wine and the power of the god.228 This is the approach of Osborne who identifies a central question of Plato’s Symposium and Xenophon’s Symposium around how the influence of Dionysus is to be controlled.229 In either Euboulos’ Semele or Dionysus, he wrote that Dionysus declared that the first bowl was for health, the second for love, the third sleep and the fourth was not his but insolence.230 As intoxication was seen as an encounter with Dionysus the imagery normally used on symposium ware were depictions of encounters with gods.231 Dionysus’ influence is apparent on symposium ware through not only his presence and the revelry of his followers but also in some depictions of the effects of wine consumption.232 The effects of Dionysus are clear from the depictions as the men are demonstrating various stages of intoxication with the final act being vomiting. These arguments can be used in respect of representations of Aphrodite on vase painting as the depictions of her can be viewed as a reminder of the power and influence of her as a goddess.

Aphrodite’s Sphere of Influence – Conclusions

2017-02-26-10There is potential to question the influence of Aphrodite given that it is apparent that she is not usually depicted alone on vase painting. Aphrodite on occasion is depicted on her own or on her own with mortals but these instances are infrequent.233 Aphrodite is represented as having an active role in the scenes in which she appears but this is alongside the support of others. However, Peitho and Eros are aspects of Aphrodite herself, persuasion and love. Furthermore, Aphrodite as an Olympian has greater authority and influence over those deities who are personified. Aphrodite’s sphere of influence extends to the majority of other gods and goddess, and can be seen in representations of divine unions or assemblies and other mythical scenes such as the battle of Paris and Menelaus (Figure 39). Comparisons can be drawn with Dionysus who has his own entourage. Unlike Aphrodite Dionysus is more frequently depicted alongside Satyrs and Maenads instead of mortals. However, the influence of Dionysus, like Aphrodite, is communicated, in part, through the decoration on vases used for symposiums. The involvement of other gods in scenes will be considered in more detail in chapter five.234


193 BA 262, 12951, 30684, 206757, 207351, 213723, 215554, 215563, 216971, 217055, 220600, 9003804 and LIMC Aphrodite 1259, 1372, 1375
194 BA 215563, 220600
195 BA 217055. Aphrodite’s involvement in the departure of Helen can also be seen on the red-figure Skyphos, Boston Museum of Fine Art, 13.186 (Side A).
196 Woodford 2003:86
197 BA 23625, 30684, 206130, 206757, 213723, 215554 and LIMC Aphrodite 1259, 1472, 1474, 1482, 1483
198 BA 30684, 206757, 213723, 215554 and LIMC Aphrodite 1259, 1474, 1482
199 Woodford 2003:86
200 Pala 2010:206
201 BA 215552
202 BA 215563
203 Stafford 2013:181
204 Sutton 1992:15
205 Sutton 1992:15-6
206 Sutton 1992:15-6
207 Hermitage Museum, Leningrad 4224 cited in Sutton 1992:17-8
208 Sutton 1992:19
209 BA 1256, 217212, 217226, 1012159 and LIMC Aphrodite 1356, 1357, 1358, 1359, 1364
210 BA 217226 and LIMC Aphrodite 1356, 1357, 1358, 1359, 1364
211 Anonymous Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite 5.6-35
212 Cyrino 2010:31-2
213 Eur. Hipp. 1-57
214 Breitenberger 2007:49
215 Anonymous Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite 5.45-6
216 BA 215695, 230432 and LIMC Aphrodite 1416
217 BA 200022, 200023, 201707, 204134, 205509, 207137, 217568, 217584, 220533, 9026149
218 Boardman 1975:226
219 Baringer 2008:85 notes that the Parthenon metopes show in particular the involvement of Athena in the battle. Though it is likely that Athens depicted Athena primarily due to the relationship as patroness. Stafford 2010:238 observes the key involvement of Herakles in the battle of the giants and that Apollod. Bibl. 1.6 provides a rationale that they needed a mortal fighting on the side of the gods to win. The Siphnian treasury along Delphi’s sacred way according to Osborne 1998:122-3 depicts on the northern frieze the battle of the gods and giants. It shows Dionysus and Themis leading the gods and goddesses in an advance.
220 Attic red-figure hydria c.480 Tyszkiewicz P British Museum cited by Woodford 2003:123; Moore 1995:639 and n.26
221 Only one scene of Gigantomachy catalogued includes Aphrodite: BA 217568
222 Boardman 1975:225. According to Boardman depictions of Dionysus usually represent him with satyrs and maenads, Ariadne, symposiums, other gods and goddesses, as a baby or at the dismemberment of Pentheus.
223 Whilst this is a small number of the overall images of Dionysus as a random sample recorded as a result of the sample construction it is indicative of the probable content of Dionysian imagery. Dionysus and Ariadne BA 7207, 7864, 15922, 28626. Dionysus and a mortal woman BA 206989. Dionysus Satyrs, Maenads and other gods BA 5702, 7867, 8110, 10203, 44230, 200000, 200511
224 BA 11686, 45070
225 Carpenter 2010:341-2
226 Boardman 1991:85
227 Xen. Symp. 2.1; Pl. Symp. 176a
228 Sparkes 1996:37
229 Osborne 2014:40-1
230 Euboulos quoted by Ath. 36b-d
231 Osborne 2014:43
232 Red-figure cup attributed to the Foundry Painter, Loan Ant. 103.18, Lewis Collection cited in Osborne, 2014:42 shows dramatic examples of excess such as someone singing, a person being groped and a man vomiting on his shoes.
233 Aphrodite with a mortal: BA 525, 16440. Aphrodite on her own: BA 278, 496, 7789, 7952, 15453, 29611
234 One example of divine involvement in a scene is the punishment of Ixion by Athena: BA 212127

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