Aphrodite is usually seen as a goddess of procreation, but not necessarily motherhood. The stories of her sons, however, show that the goddess of love could be a devoted and protective mother all the same.
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Like many of the Greek gods, Aphrodite had a large family of her own. Most of her children were born from her legendary love affair with the god of war, Ares.
These sons were daimones, minor gods, who were closely associated with the powers of their parents. Aphrodite was often shown surrounded by one group of her sons, the Erotes, who represented various forms of love.
Arguably her most famous son was Eros, the god of love. Aphrodite was often shown as particularly devoted to her son, who unlike the majority of personifications had a distinct personality and eventually stories centered around him as a character.
She also had one mortal son. Aeneas was a hero of the Trojan War who went on to become the founding father of Rome.
Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of beauty, passion, and love. Like many of the Greek gods, she was known to have had a complex and often sordid personal life.
According to legend, she had been married to Hephaestus. The beautiful goddess was not happy with her lame and unattractive husband, however, and carried on an affair with Ares during her marriage.
In some sources, Aphrodite had given birth to children during her marriage to Hephaestus. It was understood however that they were not sons of the smith god, a fact which he realized when the affair with Ares was made known to him.
Once the affair was discovered, Hephaestus and Aphrodite ended their marriage. He went on to marry one of the Graces, while Aphrodite continued her relationship with Ares.
The goddess of beauty and the god of war had several children together. As was common in mythology the number and names of these offspring vary according to source, location, and time, but many of the names remain consistent.
Their sons were daimones, minor deities who served as personifications of a single idea. These sons were often associated with one of their parents more than the other.
Two of these were Deimos and Phobos, the personifications of fear and dread. They accompanied their father into battle.
Their other sons formed a group known as the Erotes, representations of specific forms of love. Numbering between three and six, they formed their mother’s retinue.
The most famous son of Aphrodite and Ares was one of the Erotes, and was the only one of them to take on a more prominent role in the hierarchy of Olympus. Eros was the god of romantic love.
Like his brothers, Eros served his mother as a faithful assistant. He shot his arrows to cause men and women, even gods, to fall deeply in love.
Eros often used his powers mischievously, a trait that earned him the particular ire of Zeus after the king of the gods repeatedly fell in love with both goddesses and human women.
He also used his arrows to cause harm, particularly to those who had angered his mother. Under orders from Aphrodite he could cause unfortunate romances between mismatched couples or even cause a beautiful maiden to fall in love with a horrific monster.
This was to be the fate of one princess in a late myth. Instead of piercing Psyche’s heart, however, Eros grazed his own finger and was instead consumed by love for the human girl.
Aphrodite was displeased at the match, as a human wife was of far too low a status for her favorite son. She was usually seen as being especially close and affectionate with Eros, but his love for Psyche angered her so much that she threatened to strip him of his status entirely.
After many trials, however, Zeus allowed Psyche to become a goddess, both out of pity and a hope that marriage would temper Eros’s mischief. Aphrodite’s concerns about her son’s marriage were removed and she became, once more, a doting and loving mother to him.
While Eros was Aphrodite’s most famous son with Ares, she had children by other lovers as well.
She and Hermes had a brief affair that resulted in the birth of Hermaphroditus. The handsome minor god took on both male and female traits, becoming the patron deity of effeminate men and those born intersex.
She was sometimes said to have been the mother of Priapus, whose father was Dionysus. The rustic fertility god was worshipped in Asia Minor but became especially popular in Rome for the pornographic connotations of his cult.
The Romans were also particularly fond of Aphrodite’s only human child. The legendary hero Aeneas was said to have been the founder of Italy as well as the son of Aphrodite.
Because Aphrodite had caused so much trouble by making him fall in love with mortal women, Zeus ordered Eros to inflict the same love on his mother. Aphrodite fell madly in love with a lowly human farmer named Anchisus.
Anchisus was related to King Priam of Troy, so when the Trojan War broke out Aeneas fought on the side of his family. Aphrodite sided with Troy as well, both out of concern for her son and because of her own role in causing Paris and Helen to fall in love with one another.
Zeus had hoped that Aphrodite would learn the pain caused by having a mortal child and seeing them die, but the goddess was determined that her son would not be harmed in the war.
Aphrodite did everything in her power to keep her human son safe during the Trojan War. Despite being a great warrior in his own right, Aeneas was wounded in battle and carried to Pergamon by his mother to heal.
Even Poseidon, who sided with the Greek forces in the war, protected Aeneas from harm. Fate had decreed that the young man would become a king and no god could interfere with such a destiny.
While Aeneas appeared in the Iliad and other Greek works, the Romans expanded on his myth. They believed that the gods had ordered Aeneas to flee after the fall of Troy and he had traveled, in a voyage that paralleled that of Odysseus, to Italy.
There he defeated local tribes and allied with powerful leaders to establish the beginnings of what would be Rome. Some of the Republic’s most powerful families, including the Julii, traced their lineage to Aphrodite’s son.
My Modern Interpretation
Most of Aphrodite’s children were minor gods, daimones, whose names reflected their purpose. These gods typically had few official cults or legends, but were associated with the god or goddess whose domains they most fell under the umbrella of.
These gods were often interpreted as their parents, and myths sometimes sprang up that explained their creation.
Hermaphroditus, for example, was a minor god who probably arose from cultic images of Aphrodite herself. A story was later rationalized to make him the son of her and Hermes, another god associated with fertility and sexuality, to fit his function and existing iconography.
Priapus was similarly linked to Aphrodite and Dionysus. As a rustic god he was associated with the wild retinue of the god of wine, but the figure’s overt eroticism linked him to the goddess of passion and pleasure.
It makes sense, then, for Aphrodite to be the mother of the various types of love as personified by the Erotes. Because of her connection to Ares, she was also assumed to be the mother of the minor war gods that were associated with him.
While Eros could be categorized as a daimone in some ways, he had a much more distinct personality and mythology than most of the minor deities. But, like his siblings, his powers were so closely associated with those of Aphrodite that there was a logical connection between the two.
While Aphrodite and Ares appear to be opposites, representing love and war, their children sometimes reflected the connection between the two as well as the powers of one or the other.
Both love and warfare were categorized by uncontrollable emotions, which were embodied by the children of Aphrodite and Ares. Deimos, for example, could be taken to represent the dread and terror felt by soldiers facing battle or the dread of losing a lover.
The emotions caused by Aphrodite and her children could also incite the wars associated with her partner. Most famously, she led to the Trojan War by causing Paris and Helen, who was already married to a Greek king, to fall in love.
Aphrodite’s only mortal child served a different purpose in later eras. Aeneas as a king continued the tradition of kingdoms tracing their foundations back to the gods.
Most of the great heroes in Greek legends were the children of gods. This served to explain their above-average strength, courage, or intelligence.
Aeneas was not only an exceptional fighter in the Trojan War, but he was marked by his piety. Such attributes would, according to the logic of the Greek world, make him favored by the gods if not the child of one of them.
The Romans chose Aeneas, who had a relatively small role in the Iliad, as the legendary founder of their nation. This was a common practice meant to establish the legitimacy and divine blessing of a kingdom.
The Romans used Aeneas to link their culture to that of Greece and show themselves as heirs to Greek tradition. While they used local names for the gods, they took much of their mythology and cultural tradition directly from Greek sources.
The Romans created an elaborate legend for Aeneas that directly mirrored familiar stories from archaic Greece. They centered this legend around a figure that was favored by the gods and destined to be a great king to further cement their claim to be a legitimate successor to the Greek world.
The Romans also made themselves unique by claiming Aeneas as their ancestor. While many cities and kingdoms claimed to have been founded by sons of Zeus or Poseidon, only Rome could claim descent from Aphrodite as she had only one human child.
Tracing lineage back to a god not only legitimized a state; it did the same for powerful families. One of Rome’s oldest patrician families, that of Julius Caesar and by extension the later emperors, claimed direct descent from Aphrodite/Venus through her human son.
Claiming this lineage was a way for the elite to claim their status as divinely ordained. No matter how many generations passed, having the blood of a goddess meant that their status was a reflection of the natural order and was unquestionably justified.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, had several children according to various sources.
Most of these were children of her famous partner, Ares. The sons of Aphrodite and the god of warfare were daimones, or minor gods who represented a single aspect of life.
In the case of Aphrodite’s children, they represented particular emotions. The Erotes, or types of love, were associated most closely with their mother while others were more negatively associated with their father.
The most famous of the Erotes was Eros, the personification of love itself. Unlike most daimones he had his own myths and a relatively complex characterization.
Aphrodite was also said to be the mother of certain children born to other gods.
Hermaphroditus, the god of androgyny, probably originated from cultic images of Aphrodite but was explained as the son of her and Hermes. Priapus, a rustic god noted for his sexual organs, was the son of Dionysus for his characteristics of hedonism.
Aphrodite’s only mortal son was Aeneas. The hero’s birth was devised by Zeus so that Aphrodite could feel the pain of losing a human child the same way he had so often.
Aeneas was a hero of the Trojan War, in which he was protected by his mother and respected even by opposing gods.
The Romans created a legend in which Aeneas fled west after the war, establishing himself as a ruler in Italy. This founding myth paralleled those of Greek states and allowed the Romans to claim descendancy from Aphrodite.
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The connection to a Greek hero also legitimized Rome as a part of the classical world. Through Aphrodite’s son, Rome and its leaders could claim a connection to Greek culture and the gods of Olympus.