The Cypriot Goddess
Cyprus became the centre of cult worship for Aphrodite centred at Paphos where she was supposedly born. It is possible that this cult developed as a result of Cyprus’ contact with Phoenician traders who worshipped the goddess Ishtar, also a love and fertility goddess. From Cyprus the myths of the goddess probably spread to Greece where, over hundreds of years, they were mixed with other local beliefs until Aphrodite took on her established form. The connection between Cyprus and Aphrodite was such a strong one that ancient authors, including Homer, often referred to her simply as the Cypriot goddess.
According to Hesiod, Aphrodite’s myth begins with the goddess Gaia, the earth, creating the God Uranus, the sky, to act as her equal and mate. Every night Uranus and Gaia would make love, many gods and creatures were born from their union including the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the hundred-armed Hekatonkheires. Uranus hated the Cyclopes and feared the Hekatonkheires so he hid them away, deep in the earth causing Gaia great pain. In response Gaia crafted a plot to punish Uranus, beguiling her son Chronos to ambush him. Chronos did so, attacking his father Uranus with a sickle and castrating him. Chronos flung his father’s genitals into the sea which spread a white foam, from which a goddess arose. This goddess was Aphrodite, so named for the foam aphros from which she emerged. She came ashore on Cyprus and was attended by Eros and Desire who led her to Olympus to join the other gods.
Despite the macabre nature of her origin story not all stories associated with her are so gruesome. One of the more cheerful stories involving Aphrodite and Cyprus is that of the myth of Pygmalion. According to the most popular version written by the Roman poet Ovid in his work Metamorphosis, Pygmalion was a lonely Cypriot sculptor who lacked a wife. One day Pygmalion decided to sculpt a statue of his ideal woman. Once he finished his work the lonely Pygmalion became so enamoured with his own work that he fell in love with the statue, however, he despaired that it could not love him back. Eventually, the annual festival honouring Aphrodite came around, and Pygmalion decided to pay his respects at the altar of the goddess. When making his offering, Pygmalion secretly prayed that he could one day be blessed with a wife like his statue. It being her festival, Aphrodite was present at her altar, heard the prayer, and decided to take pity on Pygmalion. When Pygmalion came back home he decided to give the statue a kiss. To his surprise the statue felt warm to the touch, so he decided to kiss it again. Suddenly, the statue came fully to life and his prayers to Aphrodite were granted. Pygmalion and the now alive statue eventually had a daughter who they named Paphos, who according to the myth, gave her name to the city.