Aphrodite – “Aphrodite, Queen of Lust”

The origins of the goddess of erotic desire in both the mythology and religious practice of the ancient Greeks is, typically, a matter of conflicting accounts and theories. Many suppose that Aphrodite is related, even etymologically, to her counterpart in Mesopotamia, namely the patroness of love and war Ishtar aka Astarte and Innana. Given the frequency of economic and cultural exchange in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, it is plausible that her cult drifted westward from the Fertile Crescent. 

The ancient Greeks themselves, of course, had other ideas of her origins, and take her name to mean “born of the foam.” Nevertheless, Aphrodite’s associations with violence and war remain. Hesiod’s didactic poem on the birth and prehistoric power struggles of the gods, the Theogony, tells how the Titan Cronus overthrew his deadbeat dad Uranus (the god who is the sky) by severing his genitals with a scythe, just as he was about to engage in intercourse with his reluctant mother/wife Gaia (the goddess who is the earth). The organs fell into the sea and from the resultant foam was born the goddess Aphrodite fully formed (for reference see the iconic Botticelli painting). The Greek islands of Cythera and Cyprus, which were both epicenters of her cult, claim to be her birthplace, so many suppose that the uranian genitals first hit the water near Cythera but then floated east to Cyprus where she finally emerged from it. Hence her common poetic and hymnal epithets “Cytherea” and “Cypris.” On the Greek mainland, the city-state of Corinth was also a major center of her worship, including a grand temple staffed by sacred prostitutes (another commonality with her near eastern counterparts). 

Homer offers an alternative origin story, that she is the daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Dione. Zeus’ voracious sexuality is famously infamous in Greek mythology, and some see Dione’s name, etymologically, as the female version of Zeus — a union of the two would naturally produce sexually potent offspring. 

It is important to note that unlike her Roman counterpart Venus, the Greek Aphrodite’s province of sexuality does not really extend to childbirth and motherhood. The fact that she was born of erect genitals yet otherwise asexually suggests that she presides over the aspects of human sexuality besides reproduction: love, lust, and beauty, i.e. the irresistible powers of attraction and pleasure on the human psyche. Like Poseidon with the sea, these were violent forces of nature whose worship was designed to appease them. Mythology relates stories like that of Hippolytus, whose chaste scorn for the goddesses’ due worship leads to literally tragic consequences. 

Among exclusively divine myths, we read in Homer the illicit affair of Aphrodite and the war god Ares. Though married to the lame smith god Hephaestus, the goddess of lust found the god of bloodlust–the asexual Athena handled the rational aspects of war–more compatible. Though caught in the act by Hephaestus, and to the ridicule of the other Olympians, the union produced, by some accounts, the god Eros (the Roman Cupid), often translated as Love himself. So Lust and War produce Love. What strange beasts we are. 

Erotic lust and irrational violence are phenomena frequently channeled in heavy metal music, working especially well with the aesthetics of speed metal. The Canadian band Aphrodite devote their name, and the title of their 2019 debut album Lust and War, to the goddess and her storied liaison with Ares. Their album artwork is by the Napoleonic painter David’s portrayal of that affair. Each song on the album is a learned tribute to gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines from Greek mythology. In their ode to Aphrodite herself, “Aphrodite, Queen of Lust,” the band analyze the mythology of the goddess to explain her power as a goddess of sexual passion. They associate her birth out of the sea with the fluid secretions of sexual arousal: “Washing of on Cyprus / Dripping wet with lust.” In a nod to the association of sexuality and violence, they relate how “She gave birth to love in the bed / Of war.” They call her by her toponymic epithets that recall her insular centers of worship, and also recall her meretricious Corinthian shrine: “her temple howls with ecstasy.” In the final stanza, finally, we may recall Praxiteles’ revolutionary statue of Aphrodite on Cnidos, the first Greek statue to depict the nude female form. The erotic effect of the statue, the sunlike rays of attraction that penetrate the viewer, is compared to her son’s cupidinous arrows: “Naked radiance / Eternally struck by the / Arrows of lust.” Overall, the song acknowledges the power of lust on the human psyche as akin to a divine power exerted externally. Aphrodite the band channel these feelings into a prayer, not to exorcise these feelings, but to embrace and revel in them. 

Goddess of desire
Rising from the sea
Washing up on Cyprus
Dripping wet with lust

Aphrodite, Aphrodite!
You have my soul
Aphrodite!
Aphrodite!
I have fallen for you

She gave birth to love in the bed
Of war
The pervader of minds
Nature’s ancient whore

Aphrodite, Aphrodite!
You have my soul
Aphrodite!
Aphrodite!
I have fallen for you

Her temple howls with ecstasy
Aphrodite, queen of lust

Cyprea! Kytherea! Oh yeah
Profane eastern queen
Laughing in ecstasy

Aphrodite, Aphrodite!
You have my soul
Aphrodite!
Aphrodite!
I have fallen for you

In the bliss of her kiss
Naked radiance
Eternally struck by the
Arrows of lust

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