CLC 1023: Sex and Culture
Lecture #8: The Cult of Aphrodite
Guest Lecture by Professor Kelly Olson
PLAY (while class is entering): “Can’t Stop the Music” by the Village People (1980); written by
Slide 1: Title Slide –> Attic Red Figure Vase of Aphrodite (c. 410 BCE)
Today Professor Olson will be lecturing to us about the cult of Aphrodite in ancient Greek
culture, and by way of an introductory segue, I’d like to point out a few preliminary connections
between Aphrodite (or Venus as the Romans would call her) and the Fertility Goddesses of Asia
Minor and Mesopotamia.
Slide 2: Aphrodite, Adonis, Eros
Image: Aphrodite and her lover Adonis from around 410 BCE by an
Attic Red Figure vase painter by the name of AISON.
The winged figure is Aphrodite’s son, Eros, the god of love, and he enters the
scene with a tray of fruit while Adonis plays on his lyre and stares rapturously at
Aphrodite’s face as if directly inspired by her beauty.
Aphrodite was always a pleasure-loving goddess, and her delight in music and
banqueting and other luxurious pleasures (including sex with beautiful young
men) would give her a certain reputation for frivolity among the more moralistic
authors among the Ancients.
But this image suggests her rather serious function as a fertility goddess
comparable to Ishtar or Inanna. Adonis, her lover, was a figure probably imported
into Greece from Asia Minor – where he seems to have been worshipped as a god
associated with the transience of living things but also with their miraculous
regeneration in the spring –> a god of sprouting vegetation. The Greeks clearly
linked him with their idea of comic music –> a mythical harmony uniting the parts
of their universe, including the seasons and everything caught up in the whirl of
time, through the pervasive influence of Eros, of divine desire stimulated by
The notion of eroticism as an unstoppable music pervading the cosmos goes back to the
ancient Greeks. As we’ll see today in Professor Olson’s guest lecture