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Though Aphrodite is widely written about in scholarship no work has investigated her artistic representation in vase painting in detail. This dissertation has endeavoured to address this gap within scholarship.

It has been achieved through the creation of a catalogue of images of Aphrodite and other Olympian deities (primarily Athena, Artemis, Hera and Demeter) in red-figure vase painting using the BA and the LIMC. For the most part, the methodology employed was robust. However, the data analysis would benefit from a complete record of vase dates and provenance where this exists and, if possible, a better understanding of the number of existing vases for each period. However, although the data analysis would benefit from this information there are a number of key findings to draw out.

It has been argued that the depictions of Aphrodite in red-figure vase painting represent her as being involved in the action, influencing the behaviour of the mortals present by exerting influence over them. Prominence is given to Aphrodite within her depicted scenes, over and above Hera and Athena, for example, in representations of the Judgement of Paris. This has been done by providing not only additional attributes but also considering the presence of lesser gods such as Eros and Peitho. Though other Olympian deities are depicted alongside mortals it would appear that for the most part they are removed from the scene as if they were observing or are directly involved in the action.

Aphrodite became an increasingly popular figure to depict within red-figure vase painting. This rising popularity can be associated with the belief in the role she played in unifying the Demos as part of her cultic epithet of Aphrodite Pandemos. Persuasion was an important attribute of Aphrodite. Inferred through the cultic connection of Aphrodite Pandemos and Peitho at Athens, indicating the important role of Aphrodite to the unification of the demos through the democratic process and rhetoric. Though not originally a goddess in her own right, Peitho developed into the personification of persuasion and became associated with Aphrodite as her attendant. The epithet of Aphrodite Pandemos is not easily depicted in vase painting. However, the belief in Aphrodite’s power of persuasion over mortals is exemplified through this cultic link, and also the presence of Peitho as Aphrodite’s attendant in a number of vase paintings; for example the persuasion and abduction of Helen by Paris.

Analysis of the Judgement of Paris scenes showed that items Aphrodite possesses and members of her entourage are indicative of her authority over the other goddesses present. They also demonstrate Aphrodite’s control over her sphere of influence regardless of her position in the procession; though this position can escalate her authority. However, Aphrodite’s sphere of influence is not absolute, she has no control over the virgin goddesses Athena, Artemis and Hestia, and is also subject of her own power. Although Aphrodite is rarely represented alone she is and Olympian and, furthermore, Eros and Peitho are aspects of her and as such her authority exceeds that of her entourage. Aphrodite’s influence also extends (and is depicted in vase painting) as being over all other gods and mortals.

Finally, the adaption of Stansbury-O’Donnell’s scheme for spectators demonstrated that Aphrodite regularly appears in an influential role, whereas other gods and goddesses are observers or actors. Though the catalogue is small in comparison to the possible number of vases in existence the analysis undertaken indicates that, if expanded further, the results would be similar. Aphrodite is clearly depicted, more prominently than other gods, as having influence over mortals and this influence was believed in.

This research has demonstrated that the belief in Aphrodite’s sphere of control and influence over mortals is well attested to within red-figure vase painting. This work adds to the breadth of research identified by Pirenne-Delforge and ties together the analysis of the perception of Aphrodite’s sphere of influence in antiquity and the representation of her in vase painting. It is clear, having referenced works such as the base of the statue of Zeus at Olympia, that the analysis of Aphrodite’s influence can be expanded to include depictions of her in other art forms; such as sculpture and dramatic performance.

Plato refers to Aphrodite and Eros as inspiring ‘the madness of love’.282 However, given the depictions of her in red-figure vase paintings I consider that the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite describes the belief in Aphrodite’s power over love more appropriately:

Muse, tell me the deeds of golden Aphrodite…who 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, and all that the sea: all these love the deeds of rich-crowned Cytherea.
(Anonymous Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite 5.1-5 translation Evelyn-White)


282 Pl. Phdr. 265b

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