Skip to content


Plato in Phaedrus describes through Socrates ‘four divisions of the divine madness…that prophecy was inspired by Apollo, the mystic madness by Dionysus, the poetic by the Muses, and the madness of love, inspired by Aphrodite and Eros’.1 Socrates and Phaedrus agree that, at least at this point, the madness of love is the best.2 Aphrodite, mythological goddess of love and beauty, has always drawn keen scholarly interest. However, scholarship has focused on three specific areas: Aphrodite’s mythological origins, mythical traditions of the goddess and artistic representations.3 At the same time there is general scholarship on vase painting that broadly focuses on technique and style and also the depictions of gods and mortals.4 Unfortunately these studies do not specifically analyse the representation of Aphrodite, though each of them references her. Hence comments on depictions of Aphrodite within art (and specifically red-figure vase painting) tend to be made within the scope of much wider investigations.5

Consideration of the above highlights a particular issue with the study of Aphrodite. Scholarly investigations have resulted in a focused but broad analysis of representations of figures within red-figure vase painting. Therefore, no particular subject (whether god or mortal) is fully scrutinized. Furthermore, within the scholarship that focuses upon Aphrodite, authors often devote only a small section of their work to the subject of her representation in art. This can be particularly problematic as Aphrodite was represented widely within literature and art; for example in Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos and in Euripides’ Hippolytus. Brill’s Companion to Aphrodite exemplifies a study of Aphrodite with a broad remit as the collection of essays, introduced by Pirenne-Delforge, covers a vast array of areas of scholarship. Pirenne-Delforge acknowledges that over many years a huge bibliography on the study of Aphrodite has formed: Aphrodite, though not honoured in a Panhellenic sanctuary, was the subject of song, literary works, craftsmen and sculptors and as such is much scrutinized in modern scholarship.6 Aphrodite is exceptionally prominent within vase painting, as she regularly appears in depictions of the Rape of Helen, the Judgement of Paris and marriage scenes. Given the large amount of material available broad approaches to studying red-figure vase painting do not necessarily do Aphrodite justice as a subject. This dissertation expands the scope of the study of Aphrodite through in-depth analysis of her depiction in red-figure vase painting. Furthermore, it supplements the broad approaches to representations of figures and general scholarship on Aphrodite and also provides further insight into the communication of the belief in her influence.

The intention of this dissertation is to explore the representation of Aphrodite in Greek red-figure vase painting, focusing specifically on whether Aphrodite has influence or is depicted as having influence over mortals. In chapter one the vase catalogue will be analysed in order to identify whether there are any significant trends that warrant further investigation within the scope of the overall study. The focus of chapter two is the Judgement of Paris. These scenes normally depict Aphrodite alongside Hera and Athena and as such provide a direct comparison of the representation of the three goddesses. Chapter three will focus on Peitho (persuasion) as a member of Aphrodite’s entourage and also the role of persuasion within the influential cult epithet Aphrodite Pandemos (for all the people). In chapter four, Aphrodite’s sphere of influence within the divine and mortal realms will be further analysed, identifying ways in which the belief in the extent of Aphrodite’s power and influence were communicated. In chapter five the role of the audience will be assessed and in particular the work of Stansbury-O’Donnell. 7 Stansbury-O’Donnell’s models of spectators in vase painting will be used and adapted in order to consider the interventions and influence of deities depicted in vase painting. It is argued that through the actions depicted Aphrodite’s sphere of influence over mortals is communicated, whereas other gods and goddesses are more often depicted as observers or actors. Furthermore, it is also argued that the role given to Aphrodite in these representations communicates the belief in the power of love and the control it could have over the lives and destinies of mortals. It will also reference depictions of other gods’ actions within vase painting, focusing primarily upon other female Olympian deities, Athena, Artemis, Demeter and Hera, as they are particularly closely associated with Aphrodite.

1 Pl. Phdr. 265b
2 Pl. Phdr. 265b
3 For example Smith and Pickup 2010; Breitenberger 2007; Grigson 1976
4 For example Sparkes 1996; Shapiro 1993; Boardman 1975
5 Examples of this continuing trend can be seen within more recent journal articles: Reitzammer 2008:309; Rinon 2006:13-4; Nicgorski 2004:296
6 Pirenne-Delforge 2010:16
7 Stansbury-O’Donnell 2006

%d bloggers like this: