The ancient goddess is one of the few that has remained in popular culture as a symbol of beauty, love, and lust. Professor Bettany Hughes researches the history behind Venus and her reputation.
Aphrodite's Birth (05:07)
The Ancient Greeks first told the story of Aphrodite being born fully formed from the sea off the coast of Cyprus. Archaeological evidence suggests that Cypriots worshiped a fertility god in prehistoric times; the god's identity could have morphed into the story of Aphrodite.
Aphrodite and Ishtar (04:25)
Ishtar was a warrior goddess of sexual love, who was worshiped in multiple cultures throughout the fertile crescent. Her story, recorded by scribes in Sameria, Babylon, and Acadia, was brought to Cyprus by travelers, where it merged with their fertile god and became the tale of Aphrodite and Adonis.
Aphrodite's Character (06:15)
While only represented by clay figurines in Cyprus, the Greeks and Homer's epic poetry made Aphrodite a mythical character. The Greek pantheon of gods had elaborate stories with familial connections and affairs with other gods. Aphrodite became a seductive, beautiful, and unpredictable goddess of love and fertility.
Aphrodite's Worshipers (07:34)
Though the goddess was widely worshiped, she was immensely popular among women in Ancient Greece. The poet Sappho wrote numerous hymns to Aphrodite that showed how she represented sensuality and passion for women.
Aphrodite's Complexity (06:40)
The goddess was also known as a deceiver, who could use desire as weapon. In many tales, she created infatuations that destroyed lives.
Views of Aphrodite (04:34)
Aphrodite was blamed for distracting men from military success and causing lewd behavior in women. She became more of a lustful figure with the rise of naturalistic sculpture; she was the first full-sized naked female figure.
Venus' Importance (02:18)
The Roman goddess of sexuality and fertility merged with Aphrodite to became Venus. She was the mother of the founder of Rome and prominent Romans, like Julius Caesar, claimed they were her descendants. The Romans kept her warrior elements that had been lost in Greek depictions.
Venus' Politicization (01:32)
Queen Cleopatra viewed herself as the embodiment of the Egyptian fertility goddess Isis and took on elements of Venus after coming to live with Caesar in Rome. Venus began to be seen as a lustful, beautiful figure.
Venus and Aphrodite's Downfall (03:10)
Augustus, Caesar's successor, introduced a new moral code that downplayed Venus' importance. Worship of her was outlawed when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity.
Venus' Resurgence (05:47)
The Renaissance marked an interest in antiquities and Venus became a popular figure in art. Ancient Greece and Rome were viewed as a time of sexual freedom and the goddess of love was held in high regard.
Venus' Legacy (07:20)
Venus has had an exploitative legacy throughout her history in Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and the Renaissance. Though originally her greatest worshipers, women eventually turned against Venus.
Credits: Venus Uncovered (00:29)
Credits: Venus Uncovered
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