Introduction to Women's Studies andvenusmirror.gif (2809 bytes) Classical Studies: 
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite


I. Outline

1) Lines 1-32: Invocation to Muse; "deeds of golden Aphrodite;"description of three virgin goddesses not under her influence:

  • Athene
  • Artemis
  • Hestia

2) 33-60: Aphrodite's influence over Zeus; he makes her fall in love with Anchises, a handsome shepherd (born to Trojan royalty)

3) 61-90: Aphrodite beautifies herself on Cyprus;
journeys to Mt. Ida (near Troy); meets with Anchises

4) 91-120: Anchises appeals to Aphrodite as a goddess;
she tells a fictitious story about her Phrygian background

5) 121-154: She continues her fictitious story and tells how she was destined by the gods to be his wife;
Anchises responds enthusiastically and wants to make her his wife immediately

6) 155-184: Anchises leads Aphrodite to his bed; he sleeps;
she assumes her divine appearance (epiphany);
she wakes him

7) 185-217: Anchises appeals to divine pity; Aphrodite tells him about the son, Aeneas, she will bear him;
she gives the example of Ganymede and Zeus to explain her actions

8) 218-251: She next tells of Eos ( Dawn)'s love for Tithonus and reasons why she has to leave Anchises

9) 252-291: Aphrodite explains the reasons for her shame;
she tells how Aeneas will be raised;
she commands Anchises to tell no one of her identity;
she threatens punishment from Zeus if Anchises does not comply;
the poet says farewell.

II. Background on Mythology

1) Athena and Artemis are both virgin daughters of Zeus (by two different mothers, Metis for Athena--if we follow Hesiod--and Leto for Artemis).

Note that both Athena and Artemis have connections with both men and women and that both can be destructive as well as life-enhancing. For those of you who know mythology by the Roman names, Athena="Minerva" and "Artemis= "Diana".

2) Hestia is the virgin daughter of Cronus and Rhea. She, like Athena and Artemis, was a virgin by choice as stressed in this hymn by her refusing the courtship of Poseidon (her brother) and Apollo (her nephew). Instead she chose the profession of "hearth protectress" without which the house/family and city were endangered. Note that Zeus sponsors Hestia's right to virginity but makes Aphrodite fall in love with Anchises (and so loses her virginity?--not specified but possible).

3) While Zeus is the brother of Hestia, by some accounts he is the father of Aphrodite. I mention this possible paternity because in other versions, such as Hesiod's, she is born from the castrated sex of Ouranos (Sky). Plato later tries to make sense of these two accounts by describing in his Symposium how there are two kinds of sexual ways of life: those who follow Heavenly Aphrodite (child only of Sky) are homosexuals while thosewho follow Common or Everyone's Aphrodite (child of Zeus and Dione) are heterosexuals.

4) Perhaps most confusing (at least as far as ascertaining the relevance to this hymn) are the stories of Ganymedes and Tithonus. Both men are Trojans (like Anchises) and both are loved by deities (like Aphrodite).

Ganymedes' story involves the homosexual love felt for him by Zeus, who took the young man from his father Tros, made him his immortal nectar-steward, gave to Tros immortal horses as a kind of compensation, and sent his son Hermes (Argos slayer) to explain to Tros what had happened. Tithonus' story involves the heterosexual love of Eos (Dawn) who asked Zeus to give Tithonus immortality but forgot to ask for immortal youth for her beloved.

We shall discuss in class the possible relevance of these references to Aphrodite's account of her relationship with Anchises.

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