Temple in ancient city of Odessus reveals Greek Goddess Aphrodite was worshipped by Thracians

Temple in ancient city of Odessus reveals Greek Goddess Aphrodite was worshipped by Thracians

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

A new look into a Thracian temple buried beneath Roman baths is challenging what researchers once thought about the worship of deities in the ancient city of Odessus, now the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. The Thracians, neighbors to ancient Greece, are likely to have worshipped goddess Aphrodite rather than the Thracian goddess Bendis, as previously thought.

According to Archaeology in Bulgaria , new evidence to support this announcement comes from an underground Thracian temple which was buried beneath Roman baths (thermae) between fifth and sixth century A.D. and has since been excavated.

“The Small Roman Thermae were erected on top of an Ancient Thracian temple or sanctuary that honored Ancient Greek god Apollo as well as a female deity that the Varna archaeologists at first believed was Ancient Thracian goddess Bendis but have recently changed their interpretation to believe that it was in fact Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite that the Thracian had worshipped,” reports Archaeology in Bulgaria.

The end arches survive in this part of the ancient Roman bathing complex (thermae) with the roof mostly gone. Representational image. Gordontour/ Flickr

Dr. Alexander Minchev of the Varna Museum of Archaeology believes there to be indisputable evidence to demonstrate this within the temple beneath the ruins of Varna’s Small (South) Roman Thermae.


Bendis was the Thracian hunter goddess. She was known as Artemis to the Greeks, and archaeologists believed that Bendis was the patron of the city of Odessus (which eventually became Varna). However, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and pleasure may have instead been the patron deity of the city.

It is not clear what the evidence might be, however a report cited by Archaeology in Bulgaria says that the space behind an arch in the northern corner of the Small Roman Thermae may provide further information in the ancient Thracian worship of Aphrodite.

Roman thermae ruins in Varna, Bulgaria. Magalle L’Abbe/ Flickr

With this new interpretation, it is not surprising perhaps that in the 1960’s, excavations by local archaeologists found that part of a sanctuary under the Roman baths was dedicated to Greek god Apollo, according to Professor Valentin Pletnyov, Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology.

Bnedis/Artemis (on the right, wearing a Phrygian cap, a short tunic, high boots and an animal skin) and her followers, maybe athletes taking part in the torch relay race in honor of the goddess. Marble votive relief, made in Athens, ca. 400-375 BC. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

Statue of goddess Aphrodite: The Venus de' Medici. Wikimedia Commons

The Varna culture was not a small and inconsequential society that emerged in a little corner of Bulgaria and disappeared quickly into the pages of history. Rather, it was an amazingly advanced civilization, more ancient than the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the first known culture to craft golden artifacts.

The society eventually disintegrated in the fifth millennium B.C. However, the Varna culture remains renowned for its rich heritage. Their skills in metallurgy were unprecedented in Europe and indeed throughout the world, and their society demonstrated many features of a highly advanced and developed civilization, as revealed by the Copper Age necropolis discovered at Varna containing the oldest golden artifacts ever discovered. One grave of 43 was found containing the remains of a high status male and unfathomable riches – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.


More excavation has yet to be done. Stage one of the site project as run by Varna Regional Museum of History, and the Varna Chamber of Commerce and Industry is expected to be completed by the end of March 2015.

Perhaps with these continued investigations more information will come to light changing what we thought we knew about ancient Odessus and the Thracian people.

Featured Image: Famous painting depicts the goddess Aphrodite/Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore. Thought to be based in part on the Venus de' Medici, ancient Greek marble sculpture.

By Liz Leafloor

Greek Mythology

Goddess of: Love and beauty
Symbols: Swan, mirror, apple, scallop shell
Parents: Uranus (or Zeus and Dione)
Children: Eros, Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia, Aeneas
Spouse: Hephaestus
Abode: Mount Olympus
Roman name: Venus

Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty. She is a member of the Twelve Olympian gods who live on Mount Olympus. She is famous for being the most beautiful of the goddesses. She even won a contest!

How was Aphrodite usually pictured?

As you might expect, Aphrodite was usually depicted as a young beautiful woman by the Greeks. She was often pictured with an apple, scallop shell, dove or swan. Eros, the Greek god of love, was sometimes attending to her in art. Aphrodite rode a flying chariot that was pulled by sparrows.

What special powers and skills did she have?

Like all the Greek Olympic gods, Aphrodite was immortal and very powerful. Her special powers were those of love and desire. She had a belt that had the power to cause others to fall in love with the wearer. Some of the other Greek goddesses, such as Hera, would borrow the belt from time to time. Aphrodite had the ability to cause fighting couples to fall in love again.

There are two stories in Greek mythology that tell of Aphrodite's birth. The first says that she was the daughter of Uranus, the Greek god of the sky. She appeared out of the foam of the sea, floating on a scallop shell to the island of Cypress. The second story says that she was the daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Dione. Dione helps tend to Aphrodite's wounds in the story of the Trojan War.

Marriage to Hephaestus

Because many of the gods were in love with Aphrodite, Zeus was afraid that a great battle would break out over her. He arranged a marriage between her and the god Hephaestus. In some ways this was funny to the Greeks as Hephaestus was a lame and ugly god. Aphrodite wasn't faithful to Hephaestus, however, and had affairs with several other gods (Ares, Poseidon, Hermes, Dionysus) and mortals (Adonis, Anchises).

Winning a Beauty Contest

When the goddess Eris was turned away from a party, she tossed a golden apple among the other goddesses that said "To the Fairest" on it. The goddesses Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena all wanted the apple. Zeus decided that a mortal named Paris would decide who deserved the apple.

The three goddesses visited Paris and he had to decide who was the most beautiful. All three goddesses offered him something if he would chose them. Hera offered him power, Athena offered him wisdom and fame, and Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, Helen. Paris chose Aphrodite. However, when Paris stole Helen from a Greek king and took her to Troy, he started the Trojan War.

Aphrodite sided with the Trojans in the Trojan War. This was because both Paris and her son, the hero Aeneas, were Trojans. She also persuaded the god of war, Ares, to support Troy during the war. Aphrodite was very involved in the war, protecting both Paris and Aeneas during battle. At one point she even gets injured and has to return to Mount Olympus for healing.


Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Athena, also spelled Athene, in Greek religion, the city protectress, goddess of war, handicraft, and practical reason, identified by the Romans with Minerva. She was essentially urban and civilized, the antithesis in many respects of Artemis, goddess of the outdoors. Athena was probably a pre-Hellenic goddess and was later taken over by the Greeks. Yet the Greek economy, unlike that of the Minoans, was largely military, so that Athena, while retaining her earlier domestic functions, became a goddess of war.

Who was Athena?

In ancient Greek religion, Athena was a goddess of war, handicraft, and practical reason. Essentially urban and civilized, Athena was probably a pre-Hellenic goddess later taken over by the Greeks. She was widely worshipped, but in modern times she is associated primarily with Athens, to which she gave her name and protection. The Romans identified her with Minerva.

How was Athena born?

Athena, the daughter of Zeus, was produced without a mother and emerged full-grown from his forehead. An alternative story was that Zeus swallowed Metis, the goddess of counsel, while she was pregnant with Athena so that Athena finally emerged from Zeus.

How is Athena usually portrayed?

Athena is customarily portrayed wearing an aegis, body armor, and a helmet and carrying a shield and a lance.

What is Athena's animal symbol?

Athena is associated with birds, particularly the owl, which became famous as the symbol of the city of Athens.

What was Athena's role in the Iliad?

In Homer’s Iliad, Athena, as a war goddess, inspires and fights alongside the Greek heroes her aid is synonymous with military prowess. Representing the intellectual and civilized side of war, she is the divine form of the heroic, martial ideal and personifies excellence in close combat, victory, and glory.

She was the daughter of Zeus, produced without a mother, so that she emerged full-grown from his forehead. There was an alternative story that Zeus swallowed Metis, the goddess of counsel, while she was pregnant with Athena, so that Athena finally emerged from Zeus. Being the favourite child of Zeus, she had great power.

Athena’s association with the acropolises of various Greek cities probably stemmed from the location of the kings’ palaces there. She was thought to have had neither consort nor offspring. She may not have been described as a virgin originally, but virginity was attributed to her very early and was the basis for the interpretation of her epithets Pallas and Parthenos. As a war goddess Athena could not be dominated by other goddesses, such as Aphrodite, and as a palace goddess she could not be violated.

In Homer’s Iliad, Athena, as a war goddess, inspires and fights alongside the Greek heroes her aid is synonymous with military prowess. Also in the Iliad, Zeus, the chief god, specifically assigns the sphere of war to Ares, the god of war, and Athena. Athena’s moral and military superiority to Ares derives in part from the fact that she represents the intellectual and civilized side of war and the virtues of justice and skill, whereas Ares represents mere blood lust. Her superiority also derives in part from the vastly greater variety and importance of her functions and from the patriotism of Homer’s predecessors, Ares being of foreign origin. In the Iliad, Athena is the divine form of the heroic, martial ideal: she personifies excellence in close combat, victory, and glory. The qualities that lead to victory are found on the aegis, or breastplate, that Athena wears when she goes to war: fear, strife, defense, and assault. Athena appears in Homer’s Odyssey as the tutelary deity of Odysseus, and myths from later sources portray her similarly as helper of Perseus and Heracles (Hercules). As the guardian of the welfare of kings, Athena became the goddess of good counsel, of prudent restraint and practical insight, as well as of war.

In post-Mycenaean times the city, especially its citadel, replaced the palace as Athena’s domain. She was widely worshipped, but in modern times she is associated primarily with Athens, to which she gave her name. Her emergence there as city goddess, Athena Polias (“Athena, Guardian of the City”), accompanied the ancient city-state’s transition from monarchy to democracy. She was associated with birds, particularly the owl, which became famous as the city’s own symbol, and with the snake. Her birth and her contest with Poseidon, the sea god, for the suzerainty of the city were depicted on the pediments of the Parthenon, and the great festival of the Panathenaea, in July, was a celebration of her birthday. She was also worshipped in many other cities, notably in Sparta.

Athena became the goddess of crafts and skilled peacetime pursuits in general. She was particularly known as the patroness of spinning and weaving. That she ultimately became allegorized to personify wisdom and righteousness was a natural development of her patronage of skill.

Athena was customarily portrayed wearing body armour and a helmet and carrying a shield and a lance. Two Athenians, the sculptor Phidias and the playwright Aeschylus, contributed significantly to the cultural dissemination of Athena’s image. She inspired three of Phidias’s sculptural masterpieces, including the massive chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Athena Parthenos once housed in the Parthenon and in Aeschylus’s dramatic tragedy Eumenides she founded the Areopagus (Athens’s aristocratic council), and, by breaking a deadlock of the judges in favour of Orestes, the defendant, she set the precedent that a tied vote signified acquittal.


In the 1970s, archaeologists in Bulgaria stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis from the 5th millennium BC, containing the oldest golden artifacts ever discovered, near the modern-day city of Varna. But it was not until they reached grave 43 that they realized the real significance of the finding. Inside burial 43 were the remains of a high status male and unfathomable riches – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period.

Most people have heard of the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley, which are all noted for being the earliest known civilizations to feature urbanization, organized administration, and cultural innovation. But few have heard of the mysterious civilization that emerged on the shores of lakes of the Black Sea some 7,000 years ago in Bulgaria.

The Varna culture, as it has come to be known, was not a small and inconsequential society that emerged in a little corner of Bulgaria and disappeared quickly into the pages of history. Rather, it was an amazingly advanced civilization, more ancient than the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the first known culture to craft golden artifacts. Varna is also now home to the largest known prehistoric necropolis in south-eastern Europe, which reflects a richness in cultural practices, complex funerary rites, an ancient belief system, and the capacity to produce exquisite and expertly-crafted goods. It has come to be known as the cradle of civilization in Europe.

The Rise of the Varna Culture

Evidence suggests that it was between 4600 and 4200 BC, when gold smithing first started in Varna. As advances were made, and craftsmen mastered metallurgy of copper and gold, the inhabitants now had something extremely valuable to trade. Increased contacts with neighbours both north and south eventually opened up trade relations within the Black Sea and Mediterranean region, which was of great importance for the development of the society. The deep bay, along which the settlements of Varna, provided a comfortable harbor for ships sailing across the Black Sea and Varna became a prosperous trading center.

Increased trading activity allowed the metallurgists to accumulate wealth and very quickly, a societal gap developed with metallurgists at the top, followed by merchants in the middle, and farmers making up the lower class. Incredible discoveries made at a nearby cemetery also suggest that Varna had powerful rulers or kings.

And so, the foundations had been laid for the emergence of a powerful and flourishing culture, whose influence permeated the whole of Europe for thousands of years to come.

Discovering ancient Varna

The first evidence of Varna’s ancient civilization came in the form of tools, vessels, utensils, and figurines made from stone, flint, bone, and clay. Then an incredible chance discovery came to light, that made headlines around the world. In October, 1972, excavator operator Raycho Marinov stumbled upon a vast Copper Age necropolis containing the oldest gold artifacts ever discovered. It was to become one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Bulgaria. Extensive excavations were launched (1972–1976) and (1972–1991), revealing for the first time the magnificent civilization of Varna.

More than 300 graves were uncovered in the necropolis, and between them over 22,000 exquisite artifacts were recovered, including 3,000+ items made from gold with a total weight of 6 kilograms. Other precious relics found within the graves included copper, high-quality flint, stone tools, jewellery, shells of Mediterranean mollusks, pottery, obsidian blades, and beads.

Analysis of the graves revealed that the Varna culture had a highly structured society – elite members of society were buried in shrouds with gold ornaments sewn into the cloth wrappings and their graves were laden with treasures, including gold ornaments, heavy copper axes, elegant finery, and richly decorated ceramics, while others had simple burials with few grave goods.

While there were many elite burials uncovered, there was one in particular that stood out amongst the rest – grave 43. Inside grave 43, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a high status male who appears to have been a ruler/leader of some kind – more gold was found within this burial than in the entire rest of the world in that period. The male was buried with a scepter – a symbol of high rank or spiritual power – and wore a sheath of solid gold over his penis.

Sources: The Black Sea Atlantis – The Lost Aurolithic Civilization of Varna, Bulgaria


While there were few concepts universal to all the Greek peoples, some common beliefs were shared by many.


Ancient Greek theology was polytheistic, based on the assumption that there were many gods and goddesses, as well as a range of lesser supernatural beings of various types. There was a hierarchy of deities, with Zeus, the king of the gods, having a level of control over all the others, although he was not almighty. Some deities had dominion over certain aspects of nature. For instance, Zeus was the sky-god, sending thunder and lightning, Poseidon ruled over the sea and earthquakes, Hades projected his remarkable power throughout the realms of death and the Underworld, and Helios controlled the sun. Other deities ruled over abstract concepts for instance Aphrodite controlled love. All significant deities were visualized as "human" in form, although often able to transform themselves into animals or natural phenomena. [1]

While being immortal, the gods were certainly not all-good or even all-powerful. They had to obey fate, known to Greek mythology as the Moirai, [2] which overrode any of their divine powers or wills. For instance, in mythology, it was Odysseus' fate to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, and the gods could only lengthen his journey and make it harder for him, but they could not stop him.

The gods acted like humans and had human vices. [3] They would interact with humans, sometimes even spawning children with them. At times certain gods would be opposed to others, and they would try to outdo each other. In the Iliad, Aphrodite, Ares and Apollo support the Trojan side in the Trojan War, while Hera, Athena and Poseidon support the Greeks (see theomachy).

Some gods were specifically associated with a certain city. Athena was associated with the city of Athens, Apollo with Delphi and Delos, Zeus with Olympia and Aphrodite with Corinth. But other gods were also worshipped in these cities. Other deities were associated with nations outside of Greece Poseidon was associated with Ethiopia and Troy, and Ares with Thrace.

Identity of names was not a guarantee of a similar cultus the Greeks themselves were well aware that the Artemis worshipped at Sparta, the virgin huntress, was a very different deity from the Artemis who was a many-breasted fertility goddess at Ephesus. Though the worship of the major deities spread from one locality to another, and though most larger cities boasted temples to several major gods, the identification of different gods with different places remained strong to the end.

Our ancient sources for Greek religion tell us a good deal about cult but very little about creed, in no small measure because the Greeks in general considered what one believed to be much less importance than what one did. [4]


The Greeks believed in an underworld where the spirits of the dead went after death. One of the most widespread areas of this underworld was ruled over by Hades, a brother of Zeus, and was itself also known as Hades (originally called 'the place of Hades'). Other well known realms are Tartarus, a place of torment for the damned, and Elysium, a place of pleasures for the virtuous. In the early Mycenaean religion all the dead went to Hades, but the rise of mystery cults in the Archaic age led to the development of places such as Tartarus and Elysium.

A few Greeks, like Achilles, Alcmene, Amphiaraus Ganymede, Ino, Melicertes, Menelaus, Peleus, and a great number of those who fought in the Trojan and Theban wars, were considered to have been physically immortalized and brought to live forever in either Elysium, the Islands of the Blessed, heaven, the ocean, or beneath the ground. Such beliefs are found in the most ancient of Greek sources, such as Homer and Hesiod. This belief remained strong even into the Christian era. For most people at the moment of death there was, however, no hope of anything but continued existence as a disembodied soul. [5]

Some Greeks, such as the philosophers Pythagoras and Plato, also embraced the idea of reincarnation, though this was only accepted by a few. Epicurus taught that the soul was simply atoms which were dissolved at death, so one ceased to exist on dying.


Greek religion had an extensive mythology. It consisted largely of stories of the gods and how they interacted with humans. Myths often revolved around heroes and their actions, such as Heracles and his twelve labors, Odysseus and his voyage home, Jason and the quest for the Golden Fleece and Theseus and the Minotaur.

Many species existed in Greek mythology. Chief among these were the gods and humans, though the Titans (who predated the Olympian gods) also frequently appeared in Greek myths. Lesser species included the half-man-half-horse centaurs, the nature based nymphs (tree nymphs were dryads, sea nymphs were Nereids) and the half man, half goat satyrs. Some creatures in Greek mythology were monstrous, such as the one-eyed giant Cyclopes, the sea beast Scylla, whirlpool Charybdis, Gorgons, and the half-man, half-bull Minotaur.

There was not a set Greek cosmogony, or creation myth. Different religious groups believed that the world had been created in different ways. One Greek creation myth was told in Hesiod's Theogony. It stated that at first there was only a primordial deity called Chaos, who gave birth to various other primordial gods, such as Gaia, Tartarus and Eros, who then gave birth to more gods, the Titans, who then gave birth to the first Olympians.

The mythology largely survived and was added to in order to form the later Roman mythology. The Greeks and Romans had been literate societies, and much mythology, although initially shared orally, was written down in the forms of epic poetry (such as the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Argonautica) and plays (such as Euripides' The Bacchae and Aristophanes' The Frogs). The mythology became popular in Christian post-Renaissance Europe, where it was often used as a basis for the works of artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo and Rubens.


One of the most important moral concepts to the Greeks was the fear of committing hubris. Hubris constituted many things, from rape to desecration of a corpse, [6] and was a crime in the city-state of Athens. Although pride and vanity were not considered sins themselves, the Greeks emphasized moderation. Pride only became hubris when it went to extremes, like any other vice. The same was thought of eating and drinking. Anything done to excess was not considered proper. Ancient Greeks placed, for example, importance on athletics and intellect equally. In fact many of their competitions included both. Pride was not evil until it became all-consuming or hurtful to others.

Sacred texts

The Greeks had no religious texts they regarded as "revealed" scriptures of sacred origin, but very old texts including Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and the Homeric hymns (regarded as later productions today), Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, and Pindar's Odes were regarded as having authority [7] and perhaps being inspired they usually begin with an invocation to the Muses for inspiration. Plato even wanted to exclude the myths from his ideal state described in the Republic because of their low moral tone.

While some traditions, such as Mystery cults, did uphold certain texts as canonic within their own cult praxis, such texts were respected but not necessarily accepted as canonic outside their circle. In this field, of particular importance are certain texts referring to Orphic cults: multiple copies, ranging from 450 BC–250 AD, have been found in various locations of the Greek world. Even the words of the oracles never turned into a sacred text. Other texts were specially composed for religious events, and some have survived within the lyric tradition although they had a cult function, they were bound to performance and never developed into a common, standard prayer form comparable to the Christian Pater Noster. An exception to this rule were the already named Orphic and Mystery rituals, which, in this, set themselves aside from the rest of the Greek religious system. Finally, some texts called ieri logi (Greek: ιεροί λόγοι ) (sacred texts) by the ancient sources, originated from outside the Greek world, or were supposedly adopted in remote times, representing yet more different traditions within the Greek belief system.


The lack of a unified priestly class meant that a unified, canonic form of the religious texts or practices never existed just as there was no unified, common sacred text for the Greek belief system, there was no standardization of practices. Instead, religious practices were organized on local levels, with priests normally being magistrates for the city or village, or gaining authority from one of the many sanctuaries. Some priestly functions, like the care for a particular local festival, could be given by tradition to a certain family. To a large extent, in the absence of "scriptural" sacred texts, religious practices derived their authority from tradition, and "every omission or deviation arouses deep anxiety and calls forth sanctions". [8]

Greek ceremonies and rituals were mainly performed at altars. These were typically devoted to one or a few gods, and supported a statue of the particular deity. Votive deposits would be left at the altar, such as food, drinks, as well as precious objects. Sometimes animal sacrifices would be performed here, with most of the flesh taken for eating, and the offal burnt as an offering to the gods. Libations, often of wine, would be offered to the gods as well, not only at shrines, but also in everyday life, such as during a symposium.

One ceremony was pharmakos, a ritual involving expelling a symbolic scapegoat such as a slave or an animal, from a city or village in a time of hardship. It was hoped that by casting out the ritual scapegoat, the hardship would go with it.


Worship in Greece typically consisted of sacrificing domestic animals at the altar with hymn and prayer. The altar was outside any temple building, and might not be associated with a temple at all. The animal, which should be perfect of its kind, was decorated with garlands and the like, and led in procession to the altar a girl with a basket on her head containing the concealed knife led the way. After various rituals, the animal was slaughtered over the altar. As it fell, all of the women present "[cried] out in high, shrill tones". Its blood was collected and poured over the altar. It was butchered on the spot and various internal organs, bones and other inedible parts burnt as the deity's portion of the offering, while the meat was removed to be prepared for the participants to eat the leading figures tasted it on the spot. The temple usually kept the skin to sell to tanners. That the humans got more use from the sacrifice than the deity had not escaped the Greeks, and was often the subject of humor in Greek comedy. [9]

The animals used were, in order of preference, bulls or oxen, cows, sheep (the most common sacrifice), goats, pigs (with piglets being the cheapest mammal), and poultry (but rarely other birds or fish). [10] Horses and asses are seen on some vases in the Geometric style (900–750 BC), but are very rarely mentioned in literature they were relatively late introductions to Greece, and it has been suggested that Greek preferences in this matter were established earlier. The Greeks liked to believe that the animal was glad to be sacrificed, and interpreted various behaviors as showing this. Divination by examining parts of the sacrificed animal was much less important than in Roman or Etruscan religion, or Near Eastern religions, but was practiced, especially of the liver, and as part of the cult of Apollo. Generally, the Greeks put more faith in observing the behavior of birds. [11]

For a smaller and simpler offering, a grain of incense could be thrown on the sacred fire, [12] and outside the cities farmers made simple sacrificial gifts of plant produce as the "first fruits" were harvested. [13] The libation, a ritual pouring of fluid, was part of everyday life, and libations with a prayer were often made at home whenever wine was drunk, with just a part of the cup's contents, the rest being drunk. More formal ones might be made onto altars at temples, and other fluids such as olive oil and honey might be used. Although the grand form of sacrifice called the hecatomb (meaning 100 bulls) might in practice only involve a dozen or so, at large festivals the number of cattle sacrificed could run into the hundreds, and the numbers feasting on them well into the thousands.

The evidence of the existence of such practices is clear in some ancient Greek literature, especially in Homer's epics. Throughout the poems, the use of the ritual is apparent at banquets where meat is served, in times of danger or before some important endeavor to gain the favor of the gods. For example, in Homer's Odyssey Eumaeus sacrifices a pig with prayer for his unrecognizable master Odysseus. However, in Homer's Iliad, which partly reflects very early Greek civilization, not every banquet of the princes begins with a sacrifice. [14]

These sacrificial practices share much with recorded forms of sacrificial rituals known from later. Furthermore, throughout the poem, special banquets are held whenever gods indicated their presence by some sign or success in war. Before setting out for Troy, this type of animal sacrifice is offered. Odysseus offers Zeus a sacrificial ram in vain. The occasions of sacrifice in Homer's epic poems may shed some light onto the view of the gods as members of society, rather than as external entities, indicating social ties. Sacrificial rituals played a major role in forming the relationship between humans and the divine. [15]

It has been suggested that the Chthonic deities, distinguished from Olympic deities by typically being offered the holocaust mode of sacrifice, where the offering is wholly burnt, may be remnants of the native Pre-Hellenic religion and that many of the Olympian deities may come from the Proto-Greeks who overran the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula in the late third millennium BC. [16]


Various religious festivals were held in ancient Greece. Many were specific only to a particular deity or city-state. For example, the festival of Lykaia was celebrated in Arcadia in Greece, which was dedicated to the pastoral god Pan. Like the other Panhellenic Games, the ancient Olympic Games were a religious festival, held at the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia. Other festivals centered on Greek theatre, of which the Dionysia in Athens was the most important. More typical festivals featured a procession, large sacrifices and a feast to eat the offerings, and many included entertainments and customs such as visiting friends, wearing fancy dress and unusual behavior in the streets, sometimes risky for bystanders in various ways. Altogether the year in Athens included some 140 days that were religious festivals of some sort, though varying greatly in importance.

Rites of passage

One rite of passage was the amphidromia, celebrated on the fifth or seventh day after the birth of a child. Childbirth was extremely significant to Athenians, especially if the baby was a boy.

The main Greek temple building sat within a larger precinct or temenos, usually surrounded by a peribolos fence or wall the whole is usually called a "sanctuary". The Acropolis of Athens is the most famous example, though this was apparently walled as a citadel before a temple was ever built there. The tenemos might include many subsidiary buildings, sacred groves or springs, animals dedicated to the deity, and sometimes people who had taken sanctuary from the law, which some temples offered, for example to runaway slaves. [17]

The earliest Greek sanctuaries probably lacked temple buildings, though our knowledge of these is limited, and the subject is controversial. A typical early sanctuary seems to have consisted of a tenemos, often around a sacred grove, cave, rock (baetyl) or spring, and perhaps defined only by marker stones at intervals, with an altar for offerings. Many rural sanctuaries probably stayed in this style, but the more popular were gradually able to afford a building to house a cult image, especially in cities. This process was certainly under way by the 9th century, and probably started earlier. [18]

The temple interiors did not serve as meeting places, since the sacrifices and rituals dedicated to the respective deity took place outside them, at altars within the wider precinct of the sanctuary, which might be large. As the centuries passed both the inside of popular temples and the area surrounding them accumulated statues and small shrines or other buildings as gifts, and military trophies, paintings and items in precious metals, effectively turning them into a type of museum.

Some sanctuaries offered oracles, people who were believed to receive divine inspiration in answering questions put by pilgrims. The most famous of these by far was the female priestess called the Pythia at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and that of Zeus at Dodona, but there were many others. Some dealt only with medical, agricultural or other specialized matters, and not all represented gods, like that of the hero Trophonius at Livadeia.

Cult images

The temple was the house of the deity it was dedicated to, who in some sense resided in the cult image in the cella or main room inside, normally facing the only door. The cult image normally took the form of a statue of the deity, typically roughly life-size, but in some cases many times life-size. In early days these were in wood, marble or terracotta, or in the specially prestigious form of a chryselephantine statue using ivory plaques for the visible parts of the body and gold for the clothes, around a wooden framework. The most famous Greek cult images were of this type, including the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, and Phidias's Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon in Athens, both colossal statues, now completely lost. Fragments of two chryselephantine statues from Delphi have been excavated. Bronze cult images were less frequent, at least until Hellenistic times. [19] Early images seem often to have been dressed in real clothes, and at all periods images might wear real jewelry donated by devotees.

The acrolith was another composite form, this time a cost-saving one with a wooden body. A xoanon was a primitive and symbolic wooden image, perhaps comparable to the Hindu lingam many of these were retained and revered for their antiquity, even when a new statue was the main cult image. Xoana had the advantage that they were easy to carry in processions at festivals. The Trojan Palladium, famous from the myths of the Epic Cycle and supposedly ending up in Rome, was one of these. The sacred boulder or baetyl is another very primitive type, found around the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East.

Many of the Greek statues well known from Roman marble copies were originally temple cult images, which in some cases, such as the Apollo Barberini, can be credibly identified. A very few actual originals survive, for example, the bronze Piraeus Athena (2.35 m (7.7 ft) high, including a helmet). The image stood on a base, from the 5th century often carved with reliefs.

It used to be thought that access to the cella of a Greek temple was limited to the priests, and it was entered only rarely by other visitors, except perhaps during important festivals or other special occasions. In recent decades this picture has changed, and scholars now stress the variety of local access rules. Pausanias was a gentlemanly traveller of the 2nd-century AD who declares that the special intention of his travels around Greece was to see cult images, and usually managed to do so. [20]

It was typically necessary to make a sacrifice or gift, and some temples restricted access either to certain days of the year, or by class, race, gender (with either men or women forbidden), or even more tightly. Garlic-eaters were forbidden in one temple, in another women unless they were virgins restrictions typically arose from local ideas of ritual purity or a perceived whim of the deity. In some places visitors were asked to show they spoke Greek elsewhere Dorians were not allowed entry. Some temples could only be viewed from the threshold. Some temples are said never to be opened at all. But generally Greeks, including slaves, had a reasonable expectation of being allowed into the cella. Once inside the cella it was possible to pray to or before the cult image, and sometimes to touch it Cicero saw a bronze image of Heracles with its foot largely worn away by the touch of devotees. [21] Famous cult images such as the Statue of Zeus at Olympia functioned as significant visitor attractions. [22]

The role of women in sacrifices is discussed above. In addition, the only public roles that Greek women could perform were priestesses: [23] either hiereiai, meaning "sacred women" or amphipolis, a term for lesser attendants. As a priestess, they gained social recognition and access to more luxuries than other Greek women that worked or typically stayed in the home. They were mostly from local elite families some roles required virgins, who would typically only serve for a year or so before marriage, while other roles went to married women. Women who voluntarily chose to become priestesses received an increase in social and legal status to the public, and after death, they received a public burial site. Greek priestesses had to be healthy and of a sound mind, the reasoning being that the ones serving the gods had to be as high-quality as their offerings. [24] This was also true for male Greek priests.

It is contested whether there were gendered divisions when it came to serving a particular god or goddess, who was devoted to what god, gods and/or goddesses could have both priests and priestesses to serve them. Gender specifics did come into play when it came to who would perform certain acts of sacrifice or worship were determined by the significance of the male or female role to that particular god or goddess, a priest would lead the priestess or the reverse. [25] In some Greek cults priestesses served both gods and goddesses, such examples as the Pythia, or female Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, and that at Didyma were priestesses, but both were overseen by male priests. The festival of Dionosyus was practiced by both and the god was served by women and female priestesses, they were known as the Gerarai or the venerable ones. [26]

There were segregated religious festivals in Ancient Greece the Thesmophoria, Plerosia, Kalamaia, Adonia, and Skira were festivals that were only for women. The Thesmophoria festival and many others represented agricultural fertility, which was considered to be closely connected to women by the ancient Greeks. It gave women a religious identity and purpose in Greek religion, in which the role of women in worshipping goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone reinforced traditional lifestyles. The festivals relating to agricultural fertility were valued by the polis because this is what they traditionally worked for, women-centered festivals that involved private matters were less important. In Athens the festivals honoring Demeter were included in the calendar and promoted by Athens, they constructed temples and shrines like the Thesmophorion, where women could perform their rites and worship. [27]

Those who were not satisfied by the public cult of the gods could turn to various mystery religions which operated as cults into which members had to be initiated in order to learn their secrets.

Here, they could find religious consolations that traditional religion could not provide: a chance at mystical awakening, a systematic religious doctrine, a map to the afterlife, a communal worship, and a band of spiritual fellowship.

Some of these mysteries, like the mysteries of Eleusis and Samothrace, were ancient and local. Others were spread from place to place, like the mysteries of Dionysus. During the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire, exotic mystery religions became widespread, not only in Greece, but all across the empire. Some of these were new creations, such as Mithras, while others had been practiced for hundreds of years before, like the Egyptian mysteries of Osiris.


Mainstream Greek religion appears to have developed out of Proto-Indo-European religion and although very little is known about the earliest periods there are suggestive hints that some local elements go back even further than the Bronze Age or Helladic period to the farmers of Neolithic Greece. There was also clearly cultural evolution from the Late Helladic Mycenaean religion of the Mycenaean civilization. Both the literary settings of some important myths and many important sanctuaries relate to locations that were important Helladic centers that had become otherwise unimportant by Greek times. [28]

The Mycenaeans perhaps treated Poseidon, to them a god of earthquakes as well as the sea, as their chief deity, and forms of his name along with several other Olympians are recognizable in records in Linear B, although Apollo and Aphrodite are absent. Only about half of the Mycenaean pantheon seem to survive the Greek Dark Ages though. The archaeological evidence for continuity in religion is far clearer for Crete and Cyprus than the Greek mainland. [29]

Greek religious concepts may also have absorbed the beliefs and practices of earlier, nearby cultures, such as Minoan religion, [30] and other influences came from the Near East, especially via Cyprus. [29] Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, traced many Greek religious practices to Egypt.

The Great Goddess hypothesis, that a Stone Age religion dominated by a female Great Goddess was displaced by a male-dominated Indo-European hierarchy, has been proposed for Greece as for Minoan Crete and other regions, but has not been in favor with specialists for some decades, though the question remains too poorly-evidenced for a clear conclusion at the least the evidence from Minoan art shows more goddesses than gods. [31] The Twelve Olympians, with Zeus as sky father, certainly have a strong Indo-European flavor [32] by the time of the epic works of Homer all are well-established, except for Dionysus. However, several of the Homeric Hymns, probably composed slightly later, are dedicated to him.

Archaic and classical periods

Archaic and Classical Greece saw the development of flourishing cities and of stone-built temples to the gods, which were rather consistent in design across the Greek world. Religion was closely tied to civic life, and priests were mostly drawn from the local elite. Religious works led the development of Greek sculpture, though apparently not the now-vanished Greek painting. While much religious practice was, as well as personal, aimed at developing solidarity within the polis, a number of important sanctuaries developed a "Panhellenic" status, drawing visitors from all over the Greek world. These served as an essential component in the growth and self-consciousness of Greek nationalism. [33]

The mainstream religion of the Greeks did not go unchallenged within Greece. As Greek philosophy developed its ideas about ethics, the Olympians were bound to be found wanting. Several notable philosophers criticized a belief in the gods. The earliest of these was Xenophanes, who chastised the human vices of the gods as well as their anthropomorphic depiction. Plato wrote that there was one supreme god, whom he called the "Form of the Good", and which he believed was the emanation of perfection in the universe. Plato's disciple, Aristotle, also disagreed that polytheistic deities existed, because he could not find enough empirical evidence for it. He believed in a Prime Mover, which had set creation going, but was not connected to or interested in the universe.

Hellenistic period

In the Hellenistic period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the Roman conquest of Greece (146 BC) Greek religion developed in various ways, including expanding over at least some of Alexander's conquests. The new dynasties of diadochi, kings and tyrants often spent lavishly on temples, often following Alexander in trying to insinuate themselves into religious cult this was much easier for the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt, where the traditional ancient Egyptian religion had long had deified monarchs. The enormous raised Pergamon Altar (now in Berlin) and the Altar of Hieron in Sicily are examples of unprecedentedly large constructions of the period.

New cults of imported deities such as Isis from Egypt, Atargatis from Syria, and Cybele from Anatolia became increasingly important, as well as several philosophical movements such as Platonism, stoicism, and Epicureanism both tended to detract from the traditional religion, although many Greeks were able to hold beliefs from more than one of these groups. Serapis was essentially a Hellenistic creation, if not devised then spread in Egypt for political reasons by Ptolemy I Soter as a hybrid of Greek and local styles of deity. Various philosophical movements, including the Orphics and Pythagoreans, began to question the ethics of animal sacrifice, and whether the gods really appreciated it from the surviving texts Empedocles and Theophrastus (both vegetarians) were notable critics. [34] Hellenistic astrology developed late in the period, as another distraction from the traditional practices. Although the traditional myths, festivals and beliefs all continued, these trends probably reduced the grip on the imagination of the traditional pantheon, especially among the educated, but probably more widely in the general population.

Roman Empire

When the Roman Republic conquered Greece in 146 BC, it took much of Greek religion (along with many other aspects of Greek culture such as literary and architectural styles) and incorporated it into its own. The Greek gods were equated with the ancient Roman deities Zeus with Jupiter, Hera with Juno, Poseidon with Neptune, Aphrodite with Venus, Ares with Mars, Artemis with Diana, Athena with Minerva, Hermes with Mercury, Hephaestus with Vulcan, Hestia with Vesta, Demeter with Ceres, Hades with Pluto, Tyche with Fortuna, and Pan with Faunus. Some of the gods, such as Apollo and Bacchus, had earlier been adopted by the Romans. There were also many deities that existed in the Roman religion before its interaction with Greece that were not associated with a Greek deity, including Janus and Quirinus.

The Romans generally did not spend much on new temples in Greece, other that those for their Imperial cult, which were placed in all important cities. Exceptions include Antoninus Pius (r. 138–161 AD), whose commissions include the Baalbec Temple of Bacchus, arguably the most impressive survival from the imperial period (though the Temple of Jupiter-Baal next to it was larger). It could be said the Greek world was by this time well furnished with sanctuaries. Roman governors and emperors often pilfered famous statues from sanctuaries, sometimes leaving contemporary reproductions in their place. Verres, governor of Sicily from 73 to 70 BC, was an early example who, unusually, was prosecuted after his departure.

After the huge Roman conquests beyond Greece, new cults from Egypt and Asia became popular in Greece as well as the western empire.

Decline and suppression

The initial decline of Greco-Roman polytheism was due in part to its syncretic nature, assimilating beliefs and practices from a variety of foreign religious traditions as the Roman Empire expanded [ page needed ] . Greco-Roman philosophical schools incorporated elements of Judaism and Early Christianity, and mystery religions like Christianity and Mithraism also became increasingly popular. Constantine I became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, and the Edict of Milan in 313 AD enacted official tolerance for Christianity within the Empire. Still, in Greece and elsewhere, there is evidence that pagan and Christian communities remained essentially segregated from each other, with little cultural influence flowing between the two [ page needed ] . Urban pagans continued to utilize the civic centers and temple complexes, while Christians set up their own, new places of worship in suburban areas of cities. Contrary to some older scholarship, newly converted Christians did not simply continue worshiping in converted temples rather, new Christian communities were formed as older pagan communities declined and were eventually suppressed and disbanded. [35] [ page needed ]

The Roman Emperor Julian, a nephew of Constantine, initiated an effort to end the ascension of Christianity within the empire and re-organize a syncretic version of Greco-Roman polytheism which he termed, "Hellenism". Later known as “The Apostate”, Julian had been raised Christian but embraced the pagan faith of his ancestors in early adulthood. Taking notice of how Christianity ultimately flourished under suppression, Julian pursued a policy of marginalization but not destruction towards the Church tolerating and at times lending state support toward other prominent faiths (particularly Judaism) when he believed doing so would be likely to weaken Christianity. [36] Julian's Christian training influenced his decision to create a single organized version of the various old pagan traditions, with a centralized priesthood and a coherent body of doctrine, ritual, and liturgy based on Neoplatonism. [37] [38] On the other hand, Julian forbid Christian educators from utilizing many of the great works of philosophy and literature associated with Greco-Roman paganism. Julian believed Christianity had benefited significantly from not only access to but influence over classical education. [39]

Julian's successor Constantinus reversed some of his reforms, but Jovian, [40] Valentinian I, and Valens continued Julian's policy of religious toleration within the Empire, garnering them both praise from pagan writers. [41] Official persecution of paganism in the Eastern Empire began under Theodosius I in 381 AD. [42] Theodosius strictly enforced anti-pagan laws, had priesthoods disbanded, temples destroyed, and actively participated in Christian actions against pagan holy sites. [43] He enacted laws that prohibited worship of pagan gods not only in public, but also within private homes. [37] The last Olympic Games were held in 393 AD, and Theodosius likely suppressed any further attempts to hold the games. [8] Western Empire Emperor Gratian, under the influence of his adviser Ambrose, ended the widespread, unofficial tolerance that had existed in the Western Roman Empire since the reign of Julian. In 382 AD, Gratian appropriated the income and property of the remaining orders of pagan priests, disbanded the Vestal Virgins, removed altars, and confiscated temples. [44]

Despite official suppression by the Roman government, worship of the Greco-Roman gods persisted in some rural and remote regions into the early Middle Ages. A claimed temple to Apollo, with a community of worshipers and associated sacred grove, survived at Monte Cassino until 529 AD, when it was forcefully converted to a Christian chapel by Saint Benedict of Nursia, who destroyed the altar and cut down the grove. [45] Other pagan communities, namely the Maniots, persisted in the Mani Peninsula of Greece until at least the 9th century. [35]

Modern revivals

Greek religion and philosophy have experienced a number of revivals, firstly in the arts, humanities and spirituality of Renaissance Neoplatonism, which was certainly believed by many to have effects in the real world. During the period of time (14th–17th centuries) when the literature and philosophy of the ancient Greeks gained widespread appreciation in Europe, this new popularity did not extend to ancient Greek religion, especially the original theist forms, and most new examinations of Greek philosophy were written within a solidly Christian context. [46]

Early revivalists, with varying degrees of commitment, were the Englishmen John Fransham (1730–1810), interested in Neoplatonism, and Thomas Taylor (1758–1835), who produced the first English translations of many Neoplatonic philosophical and religious texts.

Bulgarian Archaeologists Figure Out Ancient Odessos Thracians Worshiped Greek Goddess Aphrodite, Not Thracian Goddess Bendis

Part of the Small Roman Thermae of ancient Odessus (Odessos) built on top of an Ancient Thracian temple or sanctuary honoring Apollo and Aphrodite, Ancient Greek deities, in Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

Archaeologists from the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna are said to have figured out that the Ancient Thracians who inhabited its precursor, Odessos, worshipped Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite, rather than Thracian goddess Bendis, as previously believed.

It is important to note that the Thracians, who lived right next door to the Ancient Greeks, often worshipped some of the Ancient Greek gods as well as the deities from the Thracian mythology, and sometimes the reverse was also true.

The new interpretation of the local cult of the Thracians in ancient Odessos comes after reconsidering of evidence from a Thracian temple located underneath the ruins of the so called Small (or South) Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Varna, local news site Top Novini has reported.

The Small (South) Roman Thermae were built in the 5th-6th century AD they must not be confused with the Large Roman Thermae built in the 2nd century AD, even though both of these archaeological sites are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna, close to the entrance of Port Varna East.

Ancient Odessos, first a Thracian settlement, and then a Greek colony, became part of the Roman Empire under the name Odessus in 15 AD as the main port of the Roman province of Moesia. It was heavily influenced by Roman culture as testified by the Thermae, i.e. the public baths, with the ruins of both the Small and the Large Thermae being relatively well preserved.

Аfter the city of Odessus started experiencing decline, not unlike the entire Roman Empire, in the 3rd-4th century AD, the Large Thermae were abandoned, and partially destroyed, and the city built smaller public baths that required smaller resources to maintain. They were erected in the 5th-6th century AD on top of what used to be a Thracian sanctuary or temple that was used to worship Ancient Greek god Apollo as well as a female deity.

A view of part of the Small Roman Thermae located next ot a busy boulevard in Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

According to archaeologist Dr. Alexander Minchev from the Varna Museum of Archaeology, the archaeologists thought that the Thracian temple underneath the Roman Thermae was partly dedicated to Thracian goddess Bendis (who was the “equivalent” of Ancient Greek goddess Artemis), and that they worshipped Bendis as the patron of the city of Odessos.

However, Minchev believes that there is undisputable evidence that it was Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite who was worshipped by the Thracians in Odessos as the city patron, and that the temple underneath the Small Roman thermae was dedicated to her.

The report says it is possible that the space behind one of the arches located in the northernmost corner of Varna’s Small Roman Thermae might hide additional information about the ancient cult of the local Thracians for the Ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, according to historians.

The Director of the Varna Museum of Archaeology (also known as Varna Regional Museum of History), Prof. Valentin Pletnyov, is quoted as saying during the excavations of the Small Roman Thermae back in the 1960s the local archaeologists found that a part of the former sanctuary underneath the public baths was dedicated to Ancient Greek god Apollo.

The entrance of the open-air museum of the Small Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo: TV grab from BNT2

The new interpretation about Aphrodite, rather than Bendis, having been the patron of Odessos comes as the Varna Regional Museum of History, the Varna Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and several NGOs have undertaken an initiative for the clean-up of the Small Roman Thermae and the planting of trees, bushes, and flowers on the site.

On Tuesday, March 24, 2015, participants in the project including student volunteers cleaned up the site as phase one of their initiative, which is supposed to be completed by March 27, 2015.

Critics of the initiative for giving the Small Roman Thermae in Varna a more environmentally pleasing makeover, however, have been quick to declare that the planting of trees will do irreparable damage to the ancient site. They warn that as the tree roots grow, they can potentially affect the structures and as well as any additional excavations of the site in the future. It remains to be seen whether their worries are justified, which is doubtful considering the participation of the experts from the Varna Museum of Archaeology in the clean-up initiative.

Part of the ruins of the Large Ancient Roman Thermae in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. Photo by Extrawurst, Wikipedia

Background Infonotes:

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Eneolithic Varna Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts dating back to the 5th millenium BC.

Ancient Odessos is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC. However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia. Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Romes successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century. It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos. The v(val) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing. Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna. It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.

Organization of the Large Roman Thermae in Ancient Odessos / Odessus, in Bulgaria’s Varna. Photo by Varna Museum of Archaeology

The Large (North) Ancient Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna are the ruins of the first and larger public baths that functioned in the Ancient Roman city of Odessus (known as Odessos in Thracian and Greek times). They are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna. With a total of area of 7000 square meters, and a height of 20-22 meters, the thermae in Varna are the largest public building from the Antiquity period unearthed in Bulgaria. The Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Varna are ranked as the fourth largest preserved Roman thermae in Europe after the Baths of Caracalla and Baths of Diocletian in the imperial capital Rome and the baths of Trier, and the largest in the Balkans. They were built in the 2 nd century AD, after the previously Ancient Thracian town and then Greek colony of Odessos was made part of the Roman province of Moesia in 15 AD, and were in use for about 100 years. Coins of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193–211) have been found among their ruins. The Thermae featured facilities such as an apodyterium(changing room), a frigidarium(cold pool), a tepidarium(warm pool), and a caldarium(hot pool) as well as a palaestra(a space with social and athletic functions). They were heated with a hypocaust, an underfloor heating system of pipes. The Roman Thermae in Varna were first seen an archaeological site by Austro-Hungarian researcher E. Kalinka in 1906, and were later excavated by Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are known as the founders of Bulgarian archaeology. They were also excavated in 1959-1971 by a team led by Bulgarian archaeologist M. Mirchev. In 2013, Varna Municipality allocated BGN 150,000 (app. EUR 75,000) for the rehabilitation of the Large Roman Thermae.

The Small (South) Ancient Roman Thermane in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna are the ruins of the later and smaller public baths that functioned in the Ancient Roman city of Odessus (known as Odessos in Thracian and Greek times). They are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna but further south than the Large Roman Thermae. They were built in the 5th-6th century AD as the city of Odessus experienced a decline (at the time the entire Roman Empire was in decline), after the Large Thermae were abandoned and partly destroyed in the 3rd-4th century AD. The Small Roman Thermae were erected on top of an Ancient Thracian temple or sanctuary that honored Ancient Greek god Apollo as well as a female deity that the Varna achaeologists at first believed was Ancient Thracian goddess Bendis but have recently changed their interpretation to believe that it was in fact Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite that the Thracian had worshipped. In 2013, Varna Municipality allocated BGN 130,000 (app. EUR 65,000) for the rehabilitation of the Small Roman Thermae.

Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite, according to Greek mythology, is the goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. Her Roman “equivalent” is the goddess Venus. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus‘s genitals and threw them into the sea, and she arose from the sea foam. According to Homer’s Iliad, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. According to Plato, these two origins were of entirely separate entities: Aphrodite Ourania and Aphrodite Pandemos.

Ancient Thracian goddess Bendis, according to Thracian mythology, is the goddess of the moon and the hunt. Her Greek “equivalent” is Artemis. Bendis was a huntress, and was depicted accompanied by dancing satyrs and maenads. She was also celebrated in Ancient Athens in the Bendideia ceremonial, after her cult was brought to the city by Thracian immigrants.

The Curious Birth of Aphrodite

A typical timeline of Greek mythology begins with the Titans and continues with the Olympians. But the unusual origin of Aphrodite lies somewhere in between these two generations of immortals.

Aphrodite’s story begins with Uranus, the first king of the Titans. Uranus was a primordial deity of the sky and the heavens who married Gaia, the embodiment of Mother Earth.

Uranus and Gaia gave birth to the Titans, the first generation of gods.

Gaia, however, grew angry with her spouse. Chronos was willing to challenge Uranus, so his mother gave him a scythe of adamantine.

The Titan lay in wait until his father came to his mother’s bed. Naked, Uranus was at his most vulnerable.

With a swipe of his sickle, Chronos castrated his father. Defeated, Uranus’ power diminished and Chronos became king.

Chronos threw the severed genitals away, and they landed in the sea. As soon as they hit the water, it began to foam and froth.

From the sea foam, a figure emerged. Aphrodite was born, a motherless being born after the Titans but before the Olympians.

The goddess of beauty made her way toward Cyprus, where the Homeric hymns say the Horai, the female personifications of the seasons, awaited her. They dressed her in gold and flowers and led her to the gods.

The gods were instantly enamoured by this new arrival. The goddesses embraced her and the gods argued over which would win the right to marry her.

Unlucky in Love

While the gods vied for her attention, Aphrodite seemed to have made up her mind quickly. Her connection to Ares would be a constant in her myths, although it often caused her pain.

Long before, Hera had given birth to Hephaestus. He had been abandoned because he was born lame and misshapen.

Hephaestus was taken in by Thetis and Eurynome and had developed his skills as a master smith and metalworker.

Embittered by his mother’s abandonment, Hephaestus began to send gifts of his own making to Mount Olympus. The most impressive of these was a golden throne.

The moment she sat on the chair, however, it magically bound Hera.

The binding of Hera happened to occur at the same time as Zeus was set to decide on the matter of Aphrodite’s marriage. He promised the goddess’s hand to whichever god was able to bring Hephaestus to Olympus.

Aphrodite agreed, believing that the god of war was more than up to the task of overpowering the crippled outcast.

Working as a smith had made the lame god stronger than Ares expected. With showers of flaming metal, the smith drove the warrior away.

Dionysus went to Hephaestus next, but made no move to overcome him. Instead he proposed a truce.

Hephaestus, he reasoned, would win Aphrodite himself if he went to Olympus willingly and released his mother. After many drinks with the god of wine, Hephaestus agreed.

Zeus agreed that Hephaestus had rightfully won the hand of Aphrodite. The goddess of beauty was wed to the deformed god of laborers.

Theirs was not a happy marriage, and Aphrodite never forgot her love for Ares. Through the ages, their affair continued.

The lovers were not able to keep their affair secret, and Hephaestus learned of it from Helios. The embarrassment of Aphrodite and Ares is one of the most memorable scenes in Greek mythology.

After making preparations, Hephaestus told his wife that he was leaving to visit earth. When he left his palace, Aphrodite invited Ares.

As soon as the two were in bed together, Hephaestus sprung his trap. Unbreakable chains dropped down over the lovers, trapping them in the most compromising position.

Hephaestus was not satisfied yet. He called to the other gods to see how foolish his wife and the god of war looked.

The indignity was too much for Aphrodite to bear, and she divorced her husband soon after. By the time of the Trojan War, Homer refers to her as the consort of Ares and gives Hephaestus another wife.

The beautiful goddess had a history of infidelity, though, and even to Ares she was not always faithful.

Various myths tell of her affairs with nearly all the major gods including Hermes, Dionysus, and Poseidon. These were usually short-lived, much different than her long relationship with Ares.

Ares himself was no better. He cheated on her, as well, and caused her great heartache in doing so.

But Aphrodite is remembered more for the affairs she had with mortal men. Sadly, these ended in tragedy.

One of her most famous human loves was Adonis.

Aphrodite had cursed Adonis’s mother for disrespecting her and forced the girl to fall in love with her own father. But when the unfortunate woman gave birth to a son, Aphrodite was taken in by the boy’s beauty and innocence.

She attempted to hide the boy from the other gods, but upon seeing the child Persephone too fell in love with him.

Zeus ordered the goddesses to share custody of Adonis, although he came to prefer the company of Aphrodite.

These two were not the only deities to fall in love with the abnormally handsome young man. Apollo and Heracles were both said to have taken the boy as a lover, too.

The story of Adonis would end tragically. Furious with jealousy, Ares took the form of a wild boar and gored the young man to death.

Aphrodite’s grief was so profound that it became an annual event. Sappho described an elaborate feast of mourning for Adonis taking place on Lesbos each year, and by the 5th century BC the women of Athens held a tribute to him at midsummer.

Anchises was another mortal lover of Aphrodite. The goddess seduced him while disguised as a foreign princess.

When she became pregnant with their son, Aeneas, Aphrodite revealed her true identity. She warned him not to boast of the affair, but the mortal man was unable to resist telling people that he had won the affections of the goddess of beauty herself.

When Zeus heard of this he was enraged. He struck the man with a thunderbolt for bragging in such a way.

Anchises survived, but was forever disabled by the thunder strike. By the time his son Aeneas fought in the Trojan War he could no longer walk.

Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, and sexual pleasure. But while she took her share of all these things, her own love affairs often ended in misfortune.

Aphrodite and Troy

One of the great legends in which Aphrodite played a major role was the saga of the Trojan War. From the beginning, the goddess was intertwined with the human elements of the conflict.

When Eris sent a golden apple to Olympus that was addressed to “the fairest,” the goddess of beauty assumed it was meant for her. Unfortunately, Athena and Hera made the same assumption.

Zeus declared himself to have too many conflicts of interest to make a judgement, so he determined to use a mortal man to settle the matter. Paris, a prince of Troy, would decide which goddess deserved the apple.

Appearing before him, each goddess made promised to win the man’s favor. Aphrodite made the best offer she could as the goddess of love – the heart of the most beautiful woman in the world.

With Aphrodite as the winner, Paris began his affair with Helen. Unfortunately, Helen was married to the king of Sparta, and the angry ruler called upon his allies to avenge the abduction of his wife.

From the beginning, the gods chose sides. Aphrodite had more than one reason to support the Trojans. Troy was the city of Paris and of her son Aeneas.

The goddess took a personal interest in the human heroes of Troy. In The Iliad she appeared to save Paris from a killing blow on the battlefield, transporting him safely to his own bed-chamber.

The same night she appeared to Helen. Tired of the bloodshed and recognizing her own role in it, the queen had forsaken Paris.

Aphrodite tried to persuade her in disguise as an old woman, but Helen was even more disgusted by the goddess’s attempt at manipulation.

Finally, Aphrodite threatened the beautiful queen. Reminding her that the favor of a goddess can be lost faster than it is one, she convinced Helen that it was in her own best interests to resume her affair with Paris.

Aphrodite’s next foray onto the battlefield would nearly cause her doom.

Athena, who had sided with the Greeks, told Diomedes that Aphrodite was the weakest of the immortals. Seeing an opportunity when she attempted to rescue Aeneas from the fray, the soldier lunged at her with a spear.

From the wound flowed ichor, the blood of gods, and Aphrodite was so shocked by the wound that she dropped her son on the battlefield.

She was saved by Apollo, who was also aiding the Trojans. Ares gave her his chariot so she could escape to the safety of Mount Olympus.

As she fled, Diomedes shouted a final taunt, telling her to stick to her realm of beauty and leave the fighting to those who did it best.

Finally, Zeus allowed the gods to fight amongst themselves. That great battle saw Aphrodite and her lover face off against Athena and Hera.

Ares and Athena fought, a battle between the two greatest deities of war. Athena was victorious, leaving Ares stunned and wounded.

In her usual role through the war, Aphrodite came in to take him from the fighting. But she was spotted by Hera, who called out to Athena to move against her.

Athene swept in pursuit, heart full of gladness, and caught up with her and drove a flow at her breasts with her ponderous hand, so that her knees went slack and the heart inside her. Those who both lay sprawled on the generous earth. But Athene stood above them and spoke to them in the winged words of triumph: ‘Now may all who bring their aid to the Trojans be in such case as these … as now Aphrodite came companion in arms to Ares, and faced my fury. So we should long ago have rested after our fighting once having utterly stormed the strong-founded city of Ilion.’

-Homer, Iliad 21. 402 ff

The war would not be decided in that fight, however. The gods stepped back to influence matters indirectly and left the fighting to the humans.

In one of the most horrific scenes of the war, the Trojan hero Hector was killed by Achilles. After dragging the body behind his chariot, Achilles refused to release the corpse back to King Priam for burial.

While most of the gods were horrified by this show of disrespect, as a Trojan supporter Aphrodite was especially sympathetic to Priam’s pain. She drove the Greeks away to prevent further damage to Hector’s body and anointed it with oil to preserve it until his father could come.

She would later have her revenge on Achilles. When he killed the Amazon Penthesilea, Aphrodite caused him to fall in love with the dead woman’s corpse.

In Roman mythology, Aphrodite continued to protect Aeneas long after the war had ended.

The Romans believed that Aeneas wandered for many years after the fall of Troy in search of a new home. He eventually reached Italy and the land of the Latins.

5th Century AD Byzantine Thermae (Public Baths) Discovered in Downtown of Bulgarian Black Sea City Varna

The newly discovered Late Roman / Early Byzantine thermae are the second public baths of ancient Odessos, today’s Varna, dating from the 5th – 6th century AD, after the already known Small (South) Roman Thermae. The much more sizable Large Roman Thermae of Odessos go back earlier, dating to the 2nd century AD. Photo: BTA

The ruins of a building of thermae (public baths) from the 5 th century AD, the time of the early Eastern Roman Empire, today more commonly known as Byzantium, have been discovered in the downtown of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna.

The discovery has added a new layer of information about the life of the Ancient Greek, Thracian, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus), the Antiquity predecessor of today’s Varna.

Bulgaria’s Varna is already known for its especially well preserved Roman baths, or thermae, including both the Large Roman Thermae and the Small Roman Thermae, with the former being the largest known Roman remains from a single structure in Bulgaria, the largest Roman baths in the Balkans, and the fourth largest known Roman public baths in Europe.

In recent years, Varna Municipality built a new visitor center for the Large Roman Thermae of ancient Odessos to enable tourists to see the impressive archaeological site.

The Large Thermae of ancient Odessos were built in the 2 nd century AD, while the Small Thermae were built in the 5 th – 6 th century AD – which is roughly the period that the newly discovered public baths are also dated to.

The newly found thermae in Bulgaria’s Varna have been exposed during the excavation of a private property.

The archaeologists first reached their ruins last year but at first decided that they had discovered a water storage facility with a water fountain as part of a nymphaeum, i.e. an Antiquity Era shrine dedicated to the Nymphs and Aphrodite from Ancient Greek, Thracian, and Roman mythology.

During their 2019 excavations on the site, however, the researchers discovered evidence that the building in question was likely built for the purpose of being used as thermae, i.e. public baths, reveals archaeologist Elina Mircheva from the Varna Museum of Archaeology, who is deputy head of the archaeological team, as cited by BTA.

The excavations have exposed different parts of the Late Antiquity building which have a hypocaust, i.e. Roman underfloor heating, a typical feature of ancient public baths.

The previously unknown Late Antiquity building in downtown Varna from the 400s AD was at first thought to be an urban water reservoir with a shrine dedicated to the Nymphs and Aphrodite, before the discovery of hypocaust (underfloor heating) suggested it was a public bath. Photos: BTA

According to Mircheva, when it was constructed in the early 400s AD, the building in question was certainly meant as thermae (public baths).

Subsequently, it might have been restructured, and possibly used as a water storage facility for early medieval Odessos.

In her words, the newly excavated site is not very big but is extremely rich in terms of archaeological finds and information that can be derived from them.

The material and artifacts confirm that the newly discovered Early Byzantine thermae in the Black Sea city of Varna was in used in the 5 th and 6 th century AD.

A total of more than 200 coins have been discovered in the two rooms of thermae, which are found to have had hypocausts, i.e. underfloor heating.

The building of the previously known Late Roman / Early Byzantine themae in downtown Varna used to be very impressive judging from its rich decoration, including floor mosaics, marble fragments, and luxury plasters in different colors.

While the current excavations there are being wrapped up, Mircheva says a contract has been signed for the excavation of the adjacent property where the rest of the 5 th century AD pubic baths is located.

Archaeologist Elina Mircheva (above) and her colleague and lead archaeologist are seen showing the newly discovered 5th century AD structures. Photos: BTA

In the spring of 2019, archaeologists discovered for the first time one of the fortress gates of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus), namely, its southwestern gate, in Varna, the largest modern-day city on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.

The begging of Varna‘s history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis known for containing the world’s oldest gold treasure dating back to the 5th millenium BC, the Varna Gold Treasure).

Ancient Odessos known as Odessus in Roman times, the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna, was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement. Odessos (Odessus) became part of the Roman Empire (late the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire) in 15 AD. It was called Varna by the Ancient Bulgars after the First Bulgarian Empire conquered it in the late 7 th century AD.

In 2017, the accidental discovery of an Early Byzantine U-shaped fortress tower from Odessos confirmed data about the existence of Quaestura Exercitus, a peculiar administrative district in 6 th century AD Byzantium (i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire), under Emperor Justinian I the Great, uniting much of today’s Northern Bulgaria with Cyprus, parts of Anatolia, and the Cyclades.

Learn more about ancient Odessos (Odessus), today’s Varna, and about its Large Roman Thermae and Small Roman Thermae in the Background Infonotes below!

A map showing the known information about the fortress walls of ancient Odessos and modern-day Varna. The known section of the earliest fortress wall (dating back to the Thracian settlement and the Greek colony) is shown in blue. The known sections from the wall built by Roman Emperor Tiberius is shown in purple. The Late Antiquity / Late Roman / Early Byzantine fortress wall is shown in brown. The substantially smaller fortress from Middle Ages, the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, is shown in green. The 18th – 19th century Ottoman fortification is shown in red. The location of the newly discovered Southwestern Gate on the Late Antiquity wall (brown) is circled in red. Map: Sveti Mesta

The dawn of Varnas history dates back to the dawn of human civilization, the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis being especially well known with the discovery of the world’s oldest find of gold artifacts which date back to the 5th millenium BC (the Varna Gold Treasure).

Ancient Odessos(known as Odessus in Roman times) is considered the precursor of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. It was founded by Miletian Greek colonists at the end of 7th century BC, the earliest Greek archaeological material dating back to 600-575 BC.

However, the Greek colony was established within an earlier Ancient Thracian settlement, and the name Odessos had existed before the arrival of the Miletian Greeks and might have been of Carian origin. Odessos as the Roman city of Odessus became part of the Roman Empire in 15 AD when it was incorporated in the Roman province Moesia.

Roman Odessos is especially known today for its well preserved public baths, or thermae, the largest Roman single structure remains in Bulgaria, and the fourth largest Roman public baths known in Europe.

The First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) conquered Odessos (Varna) from Rome‘s successor, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, in the late 7th century.

It is even believed that the peace treaty in which the Byzantine Empire recognized the ceding of its northern territories along the Danube to Bulgaria was signed in Odessos. The wall (rampart) that the first ruler of Danube Bulgaria, Khan (or kanas) Asparuh built at the time as a defense against future Byzantine incursions is still standing.

Numerous Ancient Bulgar settlements around Varna have been excavated, and the First Bulgarian Empire had its first two capitals Pliska (681-893 AD) and Veliki (Great) Preslav (893-970 AD) just 70-80 km to the west of Varna. It is suggested that the name of Varna itself is of Bulgar origin. In the Middle Ages, as a coastal city, Varna changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium several times. It was reconquered for the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) by Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) in 1201 AD.

The Large (North) Ancient Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna are the ruins of the first and larger public baths that functioned in the Ancient Roman city of Odessus (known as Odessos in Thracian and Greek times). They are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna. With a total of area of 7000 square meters, and a height of 20-22 meters, the thermae in Varna are the largest public building from the Antiquity period unearthed in Bulgaria.

The Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Varna are ranked as the fourth largest preserved Roman thermae in Europe after the Baths of Caracalla and Baths of Diocletian in the imperial capital Rome and the baths of Trier, and as the largest in the Balkans. They were built in the 2 nd century AD, after the previously Ancient Thracian town and then Greek colony of Odessos was made part of the Roman province of Moesia in 15 AD, and were in use for about 100 years. Coins of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193–211) have been found among their ruins. The Thermae featured facilities such as an apodyterium (changing room), a frigidarium (cold pool), a tepidarium (warm pool), and a caldarium (hot pool) as well as a palaestra (a space with social and athletic functions). They were heated with a hypocaust, an underfloor heating system of pipes.

The Roman Thermae in Varna were first seen an archaeological site by Austro-Hungarian researcher E. Kalinka in 1906, and were later excavated by Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, who are known as the founders of Bulgarian archaeology. They were also excavated in 1959-1971 by a team led by Bulgarian archaeologist M. Mirchev. In 2013, Varna Municipality allocated BGN 150,000 (app. EUR 75,000) for the rehabilitation of the Large Roman Thermae.

The Small (South) Ancient Roman Thermae in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna are the ruins of the later and smaller public baths that functioned in the Ancient Roman city of Odessus (known as Odessos in Thracian and Greek times). They are located in the southeastern part of today’s Varna but further south than the Large Roman Thermae. They were built in the 5th-6th century AD as the city of Odessus experienced a decline (at the time the entire Roman Empire was in decline), after the Large Thermae were abandoned and partly destroyed in the 3rd-4th century AD.

The Small Roman Thermae were erected on top of an Ancient Thracian temple or sanctuary that honored Ancient Greek god Apollo as well as a female deity that the Varna achaeologists at first believed was Ancient Thracian goddess Bendis but have recently changed their interpretation to believe that it was in fact Ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite that the Thracian had worshipped. In 2013, Varna Municipality allocated BGN 130,000 (app. EUR 65,000) for the rehabilitation of the Small Roman Thermae.

Parthenon Restoration

After centuries of being ruled by the Turks, the Greeks fought for independence in the 1820s. The Acropolis became a combat zone and the Turkish Army removed hundreds of marble blocks from Parthenon ruins. They also used the lead-coated iron clamps which held the blocks together to make bullets.

Finally, in the 1970s, the Greek government got serious about restoring the rapidly-deteriorating Acropolis and the Parthenon, which had become one of the country’s national treasures. They appointed an archaeological committee called the Acropolis Restoration Project.

With Greek architect Manolis Korres at its helm, the committee painstakingly charted every relic in the ruins and used computer technology to identify their original location.

The restoration team plans to supplement original Parthenon artifacts with modern materials that are weather-resistant and corrosion-resistant and that help support the integrity of the structure. Where needed, new marble from the quarry where the original marble was obtained will be used.

Still, the Parthenon will not be restored to its original glory. Instead, it will stay a partial ruin and will feature design elements and artifacts that reflect its rich, diverse history.


Hesiod derives Aphrodite from aphrós ( ἀφρός ) "sea-foam", [4] interpreting the name as "risen from the foam", [5] [4] but most modern scholars regard this as a spurious folk etymology. [4] [6] Early modern scholars of classical mythology attempted to argue that Aphrodite's name was of Greek or Indo-European origin, but these efforts have now been mostly abandoned. [6] Aphrodite's name is generally accepted to be of non-Greek, probably Semitic, origin, but its exact derivation cannot be determined. [6] [7]

Scholars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, accepting Hesiod's "foam" etymology as genuine, analyzed the second part of Aphrodite's name as *-odítē "wanderer" [8] or *-dítē "bright". [9] [10] More recently, Michael Janda, also accepting Hesiod's etymology, has argued in favor of the latter of these interpretations and claims the story of a birth from the foam as an Indo-European mytheme. [11] [12] Similarly, Krzysztof Tomasz Witczak proposes an Indo-European compound *abʰor- "very" and *dʰei- "to shine", also referring to Eos, [13] and Daniel Kölligan has interpreted her name as "shining up from the mist/foam". [14] Other scholars have argued that these hypotheses are unlikely since Aphrodite's attributes are entirely different from those of both Eos and the Vedic deity Ushas. [15] [16]

A number of improbable non-Greek etymologies have also been suggested. One Semitic etymology compares Aphrodite to the Assyrian barīrītu, the name of a female demon that appears in Middle Babylonian and Late Babylonian texts. [17] Hammarström [18] looks to Etruscan, comparing (e)prϑni "lord", an Etruscan honorific loaned into Greek as πρύτανις. [19] [7] [20] This would make the theonym in origin an honorific, "the lady". [21] [7] Most scholars reject this etymology as implausible, [19] [7] [20] especially since Aphrodite actually appears in Etruscan in the borrowed form Apru (from Greek Aphrō, clipped form of Aphrodite). [7] The medieval Etymologicum Magnum (c. 1150) offers a highly contrived etymology, deriving Aphrodite from the compound habrodíaitos ( ἁβροδίαιτος ), "she who lives delicately", from habrós and díaita. The alteration from b to ph is explained as a "familiar" characteristic of Greek "obvious from the Macedonians". [22]

Near Eastern love goddess

The cult of Aphrodite in Greece was imported from, or at least influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia, [23] [24] [25] [26] which, in turn, was influenced by the cult of the Mesopotamian goddess known as "Ishtar" to the East Semitic peoples and as "Inanna" to the Sumerians. [27] [25] [26] Pausanias states that the first to establish a cult of Aphrodite were the Assyrians, followed by the Paphians of Cyprus and then the Phoenicians at Ascalon. The Phoenicians, in turn, taught her worship to the people of Cythera. [28]

Aphrodite took on Inanna-Ishtar's associations with sexuality and procreation. [29] Furthermore, she was known as Ourania (Οὐρανία), which means "heavenly", [30] a title corresponding to Inanna's role as the Queen of Heaven. [30] [31] Early artistic and literary portrayals of Aphrodite are extremely similar on Inanna-Ishtar. [29] Like Inanna-Ishtar, Aphrodite was also a warrior goddess [29] [24] [32] the second-century AD Greek geographer Pausanias records that, in Sparta, Aphrodite was worshipped as Aphrodite Areia, which means "warlike". [33] [34] He also mentions that Aphrodite's most ancient cult statues in Sparta and on Cythera showed her bearing arms. [33] [34] [35] [29] Modern scholars note that Aphrodite's warrior-goddess aspects appear in the oldest strata of her worship [36] and see it as an indication of her Near Eastern origins. [36] [37]

Nineteenth century classical scholars had a general aversion to the idea that ancient Greek religion was at all influenced by the cultures of the Near East, [38] but, even Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker, who argued that Near Eastern influence on Greek culture was largely confined to material culture, [38] admitted that Aphrodite was clearly of Phoenician origin. [38] The significant influence of Near Eastern culture on early Greek religion in general, and on the cult of Aphrodite in particular, [39] is now widely recognized as dating to a period of orientalization during the eighth century BC, [39] when archaic Greece was on the fringes of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. [40]

Indo-European dawn goddess

Some early comparative mythologists opposed to the idea of a Near Eastern origin argued that Aphrodite originated as an aspect of the Greek dawn goddess Eos [41] [42] and that she was therefore ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess *Haéusōs (properly Greek Eos, Latin Aurora, Sanskrit Ushas). [41] [42] Most modern scholars have now rejected the notion of a purely Indo-European Aphrodite, [6] [43] [16] [44] but it is possible that Aphrodite, originally a Semitic deity, may have been influenced by the Indo-European dawn goddess. [44] Both Aphrodite and Eos were known for their erotic beauty and aggressive sexuality [42] and both had relationships with mortal lovers. [42] Both goddesses were associated with the colors red, white, and gold. [42] Michael Janda etymologizes Aphrodite's name as an epithet of Eos meaning "she who rises from the foam [of the ocean]" [12] and points to Hesiod's Theogony account of Aphrodite's birth as an archaic reflex of Indo-European myth. [12] Aphrodite rising out of the waters after Cronus defeats Uranus as a mytheme would then be directly cognate to the Rigvedic myth of Indra defeating Vrtra, liberating Ushas. [11] [12] Another key similarity between Aphrodite and the Indo-European dawn goddess is her close kinship to the Greek sky deity, [44] since both of the main claimants to her paternity (Zeus and Uranus) are sky deities. [45]

Aphrodite's most common cultic epithet was Ourania, meaning "heavenly", [49] [50] but this epithet almost never occurs in literary texts, indicating a purely cultic significance. [51] Another common name for Aphrodite was Pandemos ("For All the Folk"). [52] In her role as Aphrodite Pandemos, Aphrodite was associated with Peithō ( Πείθω ), meaning "persuasion", [53] and could be prayed to for aid in seduction. [53] The character of Pausanias in Plato's Symposium, takes differing cult-practices associated with different epithets of the goddess to claim that Ourania and Pandemos are, in fact, separate goddesses. He asserts that Aphrodite Ourania is the celestial Aphrodite, born from the sea foam after Cronus castrated Uranus, and the older of the two goddesses. According to the Symposium, Aphrodite Ourania is the inspiration of male homosexual desire, specifically the ephebic eros, and pederasty. Aphrodite Pandemos, by contrast, is the younger of the two goddesses: the common Aphrodite, born from the union of Zeus and Dione, and the inspiration of heterosexual desire and sexual promiscuity, the "lesser" of the two loves. [54] [55] Paphian (Παφία), was one of her epithets, after the Paphos in Cyprus where she had emerged from the sea at her birth. [56]

Among the Neoplatonists and, later, their Christian interpreters, Ourania is associated with spiritual love, and Pandemos with physical love (desire). A representation of Ourania with her foot resting on a tortoise came to be seen as emblematic of discretion in conjugal love it was the subject of a chryselephantine sculpture by Phidias for Elis, known only from a parenthetical comment by the geographer Pausanias. [57]

One of Aphrodite's most common literary epithets is Philommeidḗs ( φιλομμειδής ), [58] which means "smile-loving", [58] but is sometimes mistranslated as "laughter-loving". [58] This epithet occurs throughout both of the Homeric epics and the First Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite. [58] Hesiod references it once in his Theogony in the context of Aphrodite's birth, [59] but interprets it as "genital-loving" rather than "smile-loving". [59] Monica Cyrino notes that the epithet may relate to the fact that, in many artistic depictions of Aphrodite, she is shown smiling. [59] Other common literary epithets are Cypris and Cythereia, [60] which derive from her associations with the islands of Cyprus and Cythera respectively. [60]

On Cyprus, Aphrodite was sometimes called Eleemon ("the merciful"). [50] In Athens, she was known as Aphrodite en kopois ("Aphrodite of the Gardens"). [50] At Cape Colias, a town along the Attic coast, she was venerated as Genetyllis "Mother". [50] The Spartans worshipped her as Potnia "Mistress", Enoplios "Armed", Morpho "Shapely", Ambologera "She who Postpones Old Age". [50] Across the Greek world, she was known under epithets such as Melainis "Black One", Skotia "Dark One", Androphonos "Killer of Men", Anosia "Unholy", and Tymborychos "Gravedigger", [48] all of which indicate her darker, more violent nature. [48]

A male version of Aphrodite known as Aphroditus was worshipped in the city of Amathus on Cyprus. [46] [47] [48] Aphroditus was depicted with the figure and dress of a woman, [46] [47] but had a beard, [46] [47] and was shown lifting his dress to reveal an erect phallus. [46] [47] This gesture was believed to be an apotropaic symbol, [61] and was thought to convey good fortune upon the viewer. [61] Eventually, the popularity of Aphroditus waned as the mainstream, fully feminine version of Aphrodite became more popular, [47] but traces of his cult are preserved in the later legends of Hermaphroditus. [47]

Classical period

Aphrodite's main festival, the Aphrodisia, was celebrated across Greece, but particularly in Athens and Corinth. In Athens, the Aphrodisia was celebrated on the fourth day of the month of Hekatombaion in honor of Aphrodite's role in the unification of Attica. [62] [63] During this festival, the priests of Aphrodite would purify the temple of Aphrodite Pandemos on the southwestern slope of the Acropolis with the blood of a sacrificed dove. [64] Next, the altars would be anointed [64] and the cult statues of Aphrodite Pandemos and Peitho would be escorted in a majestic procession to a place where they would be ritually bathed. [65] Aphrodite was also honored in Athens as part of the Arrhephoria festival. [66] The fourth day of every month was sacred to Aphrodite. [67]

Pausanias records that, in Sparta, Aphrodite was worshipped as Aphrodite Areia, which means "warlike". [33] [34] This epithet stresses Aphrodite's connections to Ares, with whom she had extramarital relations. [33] [34] Pausanias also records that, in Sparta [33] [34] and on Cythera, a number of extremely ancient cult statues of Aphrodite portrayed her bearing arms. [35] [50] Other cult statues showed her bound in chains. [50]

Aphrodite was the patron goddess of prostitutes of all varieties, [68] [50] ranging from pornai (cheap street prostitutes typically owned as slaves by wealthy pimps) to hetairai (expensive, well-educated hired companions, who were usually self-employed and sometimes provided sex to their customers). [69] The city of Corinth was renowned throughout the ancient world for its many hetairai, [70] who had a widespread reputation for being among the most skilled, but also the most expensive, prostitutes in the Greek world. [70] Corinth also had a major temple to Aphrodite located on the Acrocorinth [70] and was one of the main centers of her cult. [70] Records of numerous dedications to Aphrodite made by successful courtesans have survived in poems and in pottery inscriptions. [69] References to Aphrodite in association with prostitution are found in Corinth as well as on the islands of Cyprus, Cythera, and Sicily. [71] Aphrodite's Mesopotamian precursor Inanna-Ishtar was also closely associated with prostitution. [72] [73] [71]

Scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries believed that the cult of Aphrodite may have involved ritual prostitution, [73] [71] an assumption based on ambiguous passages in certain ancient texts, particularly a fragment of a skolion by the Boeotian poet Pindar, [74] which mentions prostitutes in Corinth in association with Aphrodite. [74] Modern scholars now dismiss the notion of ritual prostitution in Greece as a "historiographic myth" with no factual basis. [75]

Hellenistic and Roman periods

During the Hellenistic period, the Greeks identified Aphrodite with the ancient Egyptian goddesses Hathor and Isis. [76] [77] [78] Aphrodite was the patron goddess of the Lagid queens [79] and Queen Arsinoe II was identified as her mortal incarnation. [79] Aphrodite was worshipped in Alexandria [79] and had numerous temples in and around the city. [79] Arsinoe II introduced the cult of Adonis to Alexandria and many of the women there partook in it. [79] The Tessarakonteres, a gigantic catamaran galley designed by Archimedes for Ptolemy IV Philopator, had a circular temple to Aphrodite on it with a marble statue of the goddess herself. [79] In the second century BC, Ptolemy VIII Physcon and his wives Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III dedicated a temple to Aphrodite Hathor at Philae. [79] Statuettes of Aphrodite for personal devotion became common in Egypt starting in the early Ptolemaic times and extending until long after Egypt became a Roman province. [79]

The ancient Romans identified Aphrodite with their goddess Venus, [80] who was originally a goddess of agricultural fertility, vegetation, and springtime. [80] According to the Roman historian Livy, Aphrodite and Venus were officially identified in the third century BC [81] when the cult of Venus Erycina was introduced to Rome from the Greek sanctuary of Aphrodite on Mount Eryx in Sicily. [81] After this point, Romans adopted Aphrodite's iconography and myths and applied them to Venus. [81] Because Aphrodite was the mother of the Trojan hero Aeneas in Greek mythology [81] and Roman tradition claimed Aeneas as the founder of Rome, [81] Venus became venerated as Venus Genetrix, the mother of the entire Roman nation. [81] Julius Caesar claimed to be directly descended from Aeneas's son Iulus [82] and became a strong proponent of the cult of Venus. [82] This precedent was later followed by his nephew Augustus and the later emperors claiming succession from him. [82]

This syncretism greatly impacted Greek worship of Aphrodite. [83] During the Roman era, the cults of Aphrodite in many Greek cities began to emphasize her relationship with Troy and Aeneas. [83] They also began to adopt distinctively Roman elements, [83] portraying Aphrodite as more maternal, more militaristic, and more concerned with administrative bureaucracy. [83] She was claimed as a divine guardian by many political magistrates. [83] Appearances of Aphrodite in Greek literature also vastly proliferated, usually showing Aphrodite in a characteristically Roman manner. [84]


Aphrodite is usually said to have been born near her chief center of worship, Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, which is why she is sometimes called "Cyprian", especially in the poetic works of Sappho. The Sanctuary of Aphrodite Paphia, marking her birthplace, was a place of pilgrimage in the ancient world for centuries. [85] Other versions of her myth have her born near the island of Cythera, hence another of her names, "Cytherea". [86] Cythera was a stopping place for trade and culture between Crete and the Peloponesus, [87] so these stories may preserve traces of the migration of Aphrodite's cult from the Middle East to mainland Greece. [88]

According to the version of her birth recounted by Hesiod in his Theogony, [89] [90] Cronus severed Uranus' genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. [90] [91] [92] The foam from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite [4] (hence her name, which Hesiod interprets as "foam-arisen"), [4] while the Giants, the Erinyes (furies), and the Meliae emerged from the drops of his blood. [90] [91] Hesiod states that the genitals "were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh with it a girl grew." Hesiod's account of Aphrodite's birth following Uranus's castration is probably derived from The Song of Kumarbi, [93] [94] an ancient Hittite epic poem in which the god Kumarbi overthrows his father Anu, the god of the sky, and bites off his genitals, causing him to become pregnant and give birth to Anu's children, which include Ishtar and her brother Teshub, the Hittite storm god. [93] [94]

In the Iliad, [95] Aphrodite is described as the daughter of Zeus and Dione. [4] Dione's name appears to be a feminine cognate to Dios and Dion, [4] which are oblique forms of the name Zeus. [4] Zeus and Dione shared a cult at Dodona in northwestern Greece. [4] In Theogony, Hesiod describes Dione as an Oceanid. [96]


Aphrodite is consistently portrayed as a nubile, infinitely desirable adult, having had no childhood. [97] She is often depicted nude. [98] In the Iliad, Aphrodite is the apparently unmarried consort of Ares, the god of war, [99] and the wife of Hephaestus is a different goddess named Charis. [100] Likewise, in Hesiod's Theogony, Aphrodite is unmarried and the wife of Hephaestus is Aglaea, the youngest of the three Charites. [100]

In Book Eight of the Odyssey, [101] however, the blind singer Demodocus describes Aphrodite as the wife of Hephaestus and tells how she committed adultery with Ares during the Trojan War. [100] [102] The sun-god Helios saw Aphrodite and Ares having sex in Hephaestus's bed and warned Hephaestus, who fashioned a net of gold. [102] The next time Ares and Aphrodite had sex together, the net trapped them both. [102] Hephaestus brought all the gods into the bedchamber to laugh at the captured adulterers, [103] but Apollo, Hermes, and Poseidon had sympathy for Ares [104] and Poseidon agreed to pay Hephaestus for Ares's release. [105] Humiliated, Aphrodite returned to Cyprus, where she was attended by the Charites. [105] This narrative probably originated as a Greek folk tale, originally independent of the Odyssey. [106]

Later stories were invented to explain Aphrodite's marriage to Hephaestus. In the most famous story, Zeus hastily married Aphrodite to Hephaestus in order to prevent the other gods from fighting over her. [107] In another version of the myth, Hephaestus gave his mother Hera a golden throne, but when she sat on it, she became trapped and he refused to let her go until she agreed to give him Aphrodite's hand in marriage. [108] Hephaestus was overjoyed to be married to the goddess of beauty, and forged her beautiful jewelry, including a strophion ( στρόφιον ) known as the keston himanta ( κεστὸν ἱμάντα ), [109] a saltire-shaped undergarment (usually translated as "girdle"), [110] which accentuated her breasts [111] and made her even more irresistible to men. [110] Such strophia were commonly used in depictions of the Near Eastern goddesses Ishtar and Atargatis. [110]


Aphrodite is almost always accompanied by Eros, the god of lust and sexual desire. [112] In his Theogony, Hesiod describes Eros as one of the four original primeval forces born at the beginning of time, [112] but, after the birth of Aphrodite from the sea foam, he is joined by Himeros and, together, they become Aphrodite's constant companions. [113] In early Greek art, Eros and Himeros are both shown as idealized handsome youths with wings. [114] The Greek lyric poets regarded the power of Eros and Himeros as dangerous, compulsive, and impossible for anyone to resist. [115] In modern times, Eros is often seen as Aphrodite's son, [116] but this is actually a comparatively late innovation. [117] A scholion on Theocritus's Idylls remarks that the sixth-century BC poet Sappho had described Eros as the son of Aphrodite and Uranus, [118] but the first surviving reference to Eros as Aphrodite's son comes from Apollonius of Rhodes's Argonautica, written in the third century BC, which makes him the son of Aphrodite and Ares. [119] Later, the Romans, who saw Venus as a mother goddess, seized on this idea of Eros as Aphrodite's son and popularized it, [119] making it the predominant portrayal in works on mythology until the present day. [119]

Aphrodite's main attendants were the three Charites, whom Hesiod identifies as the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome and names as Aglaea ("Splendor"), Euphrosyne ("Good Cheer"), and Thalia ("Abundance"). [120] The Charites had been worshipped as goddesses in Greece since the beginning of Greek history, long before Aphrodite was introduced to the pantheon. [100] Aphrodite's other set of attendants was the three Horae (the "Hours"), [100] whom Hesiod identifies as the daughters of Zeus and Themis and names as Eunomia (“Good Order”), Dike (“Justice”), and Eirene (“Peace”). [121] Aphrodite was also sometimes accompanied by Harmonia, her daughter by Ares, and Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera. [122]

The fertility god Priapus was usually considered to be Aphrodite's son by Dionysus, [123] [124] but he was sometimes also described as her son by Hermes, Adonis, or even Zeus. [123] A scholion on Apollonius of Rhodes's Argonautica [125] states that, while Aphrodite was pregnant with Priapus, Hera envied her and applied an evil potion to her belly while she was sleeping to ensure that the child would be hideous. [123] When Aphrodite gave birth, she was horrified to see that the child had a massive, permanently erect penis, a potbelly, and a huge tongue. [123] Aphrodite abandoned the infant to die in the wilderness, but a herdsman found him and raised him, later discovering that Priapus could use his massive penis to aid in the growth of plants. [123]


The First Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (Hymn 5), which was probably composed sometime in the mid-seventh century BC, [126] describes how Zeus once became annoyed with Aphrodite for causing deities to fall in love with mortals, [126] so he caused her to fall in love with Anchises, a handsome mortal shepherd who lived in the foothills beneath Mount Ida near the city of Troy. [126] Aphrodite appears to Anchises in the form of a tall, beautiful, mortal virgin while he is alone in his home. [127] Anchises sees her dressed in bright clothing and gleaming jewelry, with her breasts shining with divine radiance. [128] He asks her if she is Aphrodite and promises to build her an altar on top of the mountain if she will bless him and his family. [129]

Aphrodite lies and tells him that she is not a goddess, but the daughter of one of the noble families of Phrygia. [129] She claims to be able to understand the Trojan language because she had a Trojan nurse as a child and says that she found herself on the mountainside after she was snatched up by Hermes while dancing in a celebration in honor of Artemis, the goddess of virginity. [129] Aphrodite tells Anchises that she is still a virgin [129] and begs him to take her to his parents. [129] Anchises immediately becomes overcome with mad lust for Aphrodite and swears that he will have sex with her. [129] Anchises takes Aphrodite, with her eyes cast downwards, to his bed, which is covered in the furs of lions and bears. [130] He then strips her naked and makes love to her. [130]

After the lovemaking is complete, Aphrodite reveals her true divine form. [131] Anchises is terrified, but Aphrodite consoles him and promises that she will bear him a son. [131] She prophesies that their son will be the demigod Aeneas, who will be raised by the nymphs of the wilderness for five years before going to Troy to become a nobleman like his father. [132] The story of Aeneas's conception is also mentioned in Hesiod's Theogony and in Book II of Homer's Iliad. [132] [133]


The myth of Aphrodite and Adonis is probably derived from the ancient Sumerian legend of Inanna and Dumuzid. [134] [135] [136] The Greek name Ἄδωνις (Adōnis, Greek pronunciation: [ádɔːnis] ) is derived from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning "lord". [137] [136] The earliest known Greek reference to Adonis comes from a fragment of a poem by the Lesbian poetess Sappho (c. 630 – c. 570 BC), in which a chorus of young girls asks Aphrodite what they can do to mourn Adonis's death. [138] Aphrodite replies that they must beat their breasts and tear their tunics. [138] Later references flesh out the story with more details. [139] According to the retelling of the story found in the poem Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD), Adonis was the son of Myrrha, who was cursed by Aphrodite with insatiable lust for her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, after Myrrha's mother bragged that her daughter was more beautiful than the goddess. [140] Driven out after becoming pregnant, Myrrha was changed into a myrrh tree, but still gave birth to Adonis. [141]

Aphrodite found the baby, and took him to the underworld to be fostered by Persephone. [142] She returned for him once he was grown and discovered him to be strikingly handsome. [142] Persephone wanted to keep Adonis, resulting in a custody battle between the two goddesses over whom should rightly possess Adonis. [142] Zeus settled the dispute by decreeing that Adonis would spend one third of the year with Aphrodite, one third with Persephone, and one third with whomever he chose. [142] Adonis chose to spend that time with Aphrodite. [142] Then, one day, while Adonis was hunting, he was wounded by a wild boar and bled to death in Aphrodite's arms. [142]

In different versions of the story, the boar was either sent by Ares, who was jealous that Aphrodite was spending so much time with Adonis, or by Artemis, who wanted revenge against Aphrodite for having killed her devoted follower Hippolytus. [143] The story also provides an etiology for Aphrodite's associations with certain flowers. [143] Reportedly, as she mourned Adonis's death, she caused anemones to grow wherever his blood fell, [143] and declared a festival on the anniversary of his death. [142] In one version of the story, Aphrodite injured herself on a thorn from a rose bush and the rose, which had previously been white, was stained red by her blood. [143] According to Lucian's On the Syrian Goddess, [101] each year during the festival of Adonis, the Adonis River in Lebanon (now known as the Abraham River) ran red with blood. [142]

The myth of Adonis is associated with the festival of the Adonia, which was celebrated by Greek women every year in midsummer. [136] The festival, which was evidently already celebrated in Lesbos by Sappho's time, seems to have first become popular in Athens in the mid-fifth century BC. [136] At the start of the festival, the women would plant a "garden of Adonis", a small garden planted inside a small basket or a shallow piece of broken pottery containing a variety of quick-growing plants, such as lettuce and fennel, or even quick-sprouting grains such as wheat and barley. [136] The women would then climb ladders to the roofs of their houses, where they would place the gardens out under the heat of the summer sun. [136] The plants would sprout in the sunlight, [136] but wither quickly in the heat. [144] Then the women would mourn and lament loudly over the death of Adonis, [145] tearing their clothes and beating their breasts in a public display of grief. [145]

Divine favoritism

In Hesiod's Works and Days, Zeus orders Aphrodite to make Pandora, the first woman, physically beautiful and sexually attractive, [146] so that she may become "an evil men will love to embrace". [147] Aphrodite "spills grace" over Pandora's head [146] and equips her with "painful desire and knee-weakening anguish", thus making her the perfect vessel for evil to enter the world. [148] Aphrodite's attendants, Peitho, the Charites, and the Horae, adorn Pandora with gold and jewelry. [149]

According to one myth, Aphrodite aided Hippomenes, a noble youth who wished to marry Atalanta, a maiden who was renowned throughout the land for her beauty, but who refused to marry any man unless he could outrun her in a footrace. [150] [151] Atalanta was an exceedingly swift runner and she beheaded all of the men who lost to her. [150] [151] Aphrodite gave Hippomenes three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides and instructed him to toss them in front of Atalanta as he raced her. [150] [152] Hippomenes obeyed Aphrodite's order [150] and Atalanta, seeing the beautiful, golden fruits, bent down to pick up each one, allowing Hippomenes to outrun her. [150] [152] In the version of the story from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hippomenes forgets to repay Aphrodite for her aid, [153] [150] so she causes the couple to become inflamed with lust while they are staying at the temple of Cybele. [150] The couple desecrate the temple by having sex in it, leading Cybele to turn them into lions as punishment. [153] [150]

The myth of Pygmalion is first mentioned by the third-century BC Greek writer Philostephanus of Cyrene, [154] [155] but is first recounted in detail in Ovid's Metamorphoses. [154] According to Ovid, Pygmalion was an exceedingly handsome sculptor from the island of Cyprus, who was so sickened by the immorality of women that he refused to marry. [156] [157] He fell madly and passionately in love with the ivory cult statue he was carving of Aphrodite and longed to marry it. [156] [158] Because Pygmalion was extremely pious and devoted to Aphrodite, [156] [159] the goddess brought the statue to life. [156] [159] Pygmalion married the girl the statue became and they had a son named Paphos, after whom the capital of Cyprus received its name. [156] [159] Pseudo-Apollodorus later mentions "Metharme, daughter of Pygmalion, king of Cyprus". [160]

Anger myths

Aphrodite generously rewarded those who honored her, but also punished those who disrespected her, often quite brutally. [162] A myth described in Apollonius of Rhodes's Argonautica and later summarized in the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus tells how, when the women of the island of Lemnos refused to sacrifice to Aphrodite, the goddess cursed them to stink horribly so that their husbands would never have sex with them. [163] Instead, their husbands started having sex with their Thracian slave-girls. [163] In anger, the women of Lemnos murdered the entire male population of the island, as well as all the Thracian slaves. [163] When Jason and his crew of Argonauts arrived on Lemnos, they mated with the sex-starved women under Aphrodite's approval and repopulated the island. [163] From then on, the women of Lemnos never disrespected Aphrodite again. [163]

In Euripides's tragedy Hippolytus, which was first performed at the City Dionysia in 428 BC, Theseus's son Hippolytus worships only Artemis, the goddess of virginity, and refuses to engage in any form of sexual contact. [163] Aphrodite is infuriated by his prideful behavior [164] and, in the prologue to the play, she declares that, by honoring only Artemis and refusing to venerate her, Hippolytus has directly challenged her authority. [165] Aphrodite therefore causes Hippolytus's stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him, knowing Hippolytus will reject her. [166] After being rejected, Phaedra commits suicide and leaves a suicide note to Theseus telling him that she killed herself because Hippolytus attempted to rape her. [166] Theseus prays to Poseidon to kill Hippolytus for his transgression. [167] Poseidon sends a wild bull to scare Hippolytus's horses as he is riding by the sea in his chariot, causing the horses to bolt and smash the chariot against the cliffs, dragging Hippolytus to a bloody death across the rocky shoreline. [167] The play concludes with Artemis vowing to kill Aphrodite's own mortal beloved (presumably Adonis) in revenge. [168]

Glaucus of Corinth angered Aphrodite by refusing to let his horses for chariot racing mate, since doing so would hinder their speed. [169] During the chariot race at the funeral games of King Pelias, Aphrodite drove his horses mad and they tore him apart. [170] Polyphonte was a young woman who chose a virginal life with Artemis instead of marriage and children, as favoured by Aphrodite. Aphrodite cursed her, causing her to have children by a bear. The resulting offspring, Agrius and Oreius, were wild cannibals who incurred the hatred of Zeus. Ultimately, he transformed all the members of the family into birds of ill omen. [171]

According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, jealous Aphrodite who cursed goddess of dawn to be perpetually in love and have an insatiable sexual desire because once had Eos lain with Aphrodite's sweetheart Ares, the god of war. [172] According to Ovid in his Metamorphoses (book 10.238 ff.), Propoetides who are the daughters of Propoetus from the city of Amathus on the island of Cyprus denied Aphrodite's divinity and failing to worship her properly. Therefore, Aphrodite turn them into the world's first prostitutes. [173] According to Diodorous, Rhodian sea nymphe Halia's six sons by Poseidon arrogantly refused to let Aphrodite land upon their shore, the goddess cursed them with insanity. In their madness, they raped Halia. As punishment, Poseidon buried them in the island's sea-caverns. [174] Bellerophon's descendant Xanthius had two children. Leucippus and an unnamed daughter. Through the wrath of Aphrodite (reasons unknown), Leucippus fell in love with his own sister. They started a secret relationship but the girl was already betrothed to another man and he went on to inform her father Xanthius, without telling him the name of the seducer. Xanthius went straight to his daughter's chamber, where she was together with Leucippus right at the moment. On hearing him enter, she tried to escape, but Xanthius hit her with a dagger, thinking that he was slaying the seducer, and killed her. Leucippus, failing to recognize his father at first, slew him. When the truth was revealed, he had to leave the country and took part in colonization of Crete and the lands in Asia Minor. [175] Queen Cenchreis of Cyprus and wife of King Cinyras bragged her daughter Myrrha more beautiful than Aphrodite. Therefore, Myrrha was cursed by Aphrodite with insatiable lust for her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus and he slept with her unknowingly in dark. she eventually transformed into the myrrh tree and gave birth to Adonis in this form. [176] [140] [176] [141] [177] Cinyras has also three another daughters and their names Braesia, Laogora, Orsedice. These girls by reason of the wrath of Aphrodite (reasons unknown) cohabited with foreigners, and ended their life in Egypt. [178] Mousa Clio derided the goddess' own love for Adonis. Therefore, Clio fell in love with Pierus, son of Magnes and bore Hyacinth. [179] Aegialeia was a daughter of Adrastus and Amphithea and she was married to Diomedes. Because of anger of Aphrodite, whom Diomedes had wounded in the war against Troy, She had multiple lovers, including a certain Hippolytus. [180] [181] when Aegiale went so far as to threaten his life, he fled to Italy. [181] [182] In one of the versions of the legend, Pasiphae did not make offerings to the goddess Venus [Aphrodite]. Because of this Venus [Aphrodite] inspired in her an unnatural love for a bull [183] or she cursed her because she was Helios's daughter who revealed her adultery to Hephaistos. [184] Lysippe, mother of Tanais by Berossos. Her son only venerated Ares and was fully devoted to war, neglecting love and marriage. Aphrodite cursed him with falling in love with his own mother. Preferring to die rather than give up his chastity, he threw himself into the river Amazonius, which was subsequently renamed Tanais. [185] According to Pseudo-Hyginus At the behest of Zeus, Orpheus's mother mousa Kalliope judged the dispute between the goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone over Adonis and she decided that each should possess him half of the year. But Venus [Aphrodite], angry because she had not been granted what she thought was her right. Therefore, Venus [Aphrodite] inspired love the women in Thrace for Orpheus and they eventually tore him limb from limb because each to seek Orpheus for herself. [186]

Judgment of Paris and Trojan War

The myth of the Judgement of Paris is mentioned briefly in the Iliad, [187] but is described in depth in an epitome of the Cypria, a lost poem of the Epic Cycle, [188] which records that all the gods and goddesses as well as various mortals were invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (the eventual parents of Achilles). [187] Only Eris, goddess of discord, was not invited. [188] She was annoyed at this, so she arrived with a golden apple inscribed with the word καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, "for the fairest"), which she threw among the goddesses. [189] Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all claimed to be the fairest, and thus the rightful owner of the apple. [189]

The goddesses chose to place the matter before Zeus, who, not wanting to favor one of the goddesses, put the choice into the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. [189] After bathing in the spring of Mount Ida where Troy was situated, the goddesses appeared before Paris for his decision. [189] In the extant ancient depictions of the Judgement of Paris, Aphrodite is only occasionally represented nude, and Athena and Hera are always fully clothed. [190] Since the Renaissance, however, Western paintings have typically portrayed all three goddesses as completely naked. [190]

All three goddesses were ideally beautiful and Paris could not decide between them, so they resorted to bribes. [189] Hera tried to bribe Paris with power over all Asia and Europe, [189] and Athena offered wisdom, fame and glory in battle, [189] but Aphrodite promised Paris that, if he were to choose her as the fairest, she would let him marry the most beautiful woman on earth. [191] This woman was Helen, who was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. [191] Paris selected Aphrodite and awarded her the apple. [191] The other two goddesses were enraged and, as a direct result, sided with the Greeks in the Trojan War. [191]

Aphrodite plays an important and active role throughout the entirety of Homer's Iliad. [192] In Book III, she rescues Paris from Menelaus after he foolishly challenges him to a one-on-one duel. [193] She then appears to Helen in the form of an old woman and attempts to persuade her to have sex with Paris, [194] reminding her of his physical beauty and athletic prowess. [195] Helen immediately recognizes Aphrodite by her beautiful neck, perfect breasts, and flashing eyes [196] and chides the goddess, addressing her as her equal. [197] Aphrodite sharply rebukes Helen, reminding her that, if she vexes her, she will punish her just as much as she has favored her already. [198] Helen demurely obeys Aphrodite's command. [198]

In Book V, Aphrodite charges into battle to rescue her son Aeneas from the Greek hero Diomedes. [199] Diomedes recognizes Aphrodite as a "weakling" goddess [199] and, thrusting his spear, nicks her wrist through her "ambrosial robe". [200] Aphrodite borrows Ares's chariot to ride back to Mount Olympus. [201] Zeus chides her for putting herself in danger, [201] [202] reminding her that "her specialty is love, not war." [201] According to Walter Burkert, this scene directly parallels a scene from Tablet VI of the Epic of Gilgamesh in which Ishtar, Aphrodite's Akkadian precursor, cries to her mother Antu after the hero Gilgamesh rejects her sexual advances, but is mildly rebuked by her father Anu. [203] In Book XIV of the Iliad, during the Dios Apate episode, Aphrodite lends her kestos himas to Hera for the purpose of seducing Zeus and distracting him from the combat while Poseidon aids the Greek forces on the beach. [204] In the Theomachia in Book XXI, Aphrodite again enters the battlefield to carry Ares away after he is wounded. [201] [205]


Eleusinian Mysteries (Greek: Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια ) was the name of the mysteries of the city Eleusis.

The name of the city Eleusis is Pre-Greek, and may be related with the name of the goddess Eileithyia. [9] Her name Ἐλυσία ( Elysia) in Laconia and Messene, probably relates her with the month Eleusinios and Eleusis, [10] but this is debated. [11]

The ancient Greek word "mystery" ( μυστήριον ) means "mystery or secret rite" [12] and is related with the verb myéō ( μυέω ), which means initiation into the mysteries, [13] and the noun mýstēs ( μύστης ), which means one initiated. [14] The word mystikós ( μυστικός ) means "connected with the mysteries", or "private, secret" (as in Modern Greek). [15]

The Mysteries are related to a myth concerning Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility as recounted in one of the Homeric Hymns (c. 650 BC). According to the hymn, Demeter's daughter Persephone (also referred to as Kore, "maiden") was assigned the task of painting all the flowers of the earth. Before completion, she was seized by Hades, the god of the underworld, who took her to his underworld kingdom. Distraught, Demeter searched high and low for her daughter. Because of her distress, and in an effort to coerce Zeus to allow the return of her daughter, she caused a terrible drought in which the people suffered and starved, depriving the gods of sacrifice and worship. As a result, Zeus relented and allowed Persephone to return to her mother. [16]

According to the myth, during her search Demeter traveled long distances and had many minor adventures along the way. In one she taught the secrets of agriculture to Triptolemus. [17] Finally, by consulting Zeus, Demeter reunited with her daughter and the earth returned to its former verdure and prosperity: the first spring.

Zeus, pressed by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, forced Hades to return Persephone. However, it was a rule of the Fates that whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Before Persephone was released to Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, (either six or four according to the telling) which forced her to return to the underworld for some months each year. She was obliged to remain with Hades for six or four months (one month per seed) and lived above ground with her mother for the rest of the year. This left a long period of time when Demeter was unhappy due to Persephone's absence, neglecting to cultivate the earth. When Persephone returned to the surface, Demeter became joyful and cared for the earth again.

In the central foundation document of the mystery, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter line 415, Persephone is said to stay in Hades during winter and return in the spring of the year: "This was the day [of Persephone's return], at the very beginning of bountiful springtime." [18]

Persephone's rebirth is symbolic of the rebirth of all plant life and the symbol of eternity of life that flows from the generations that spring from each other. [19]

However, a scholar has proposed a different version, [20] according to which the four months during which Persephone is with Hades correspond to the dry Greek summer, a period during which plants are threatened with drought. [21]

The Eleusinian Mysteries are believed to be of considerable antiquity. Some findings in the temple Eleusinion in Attica suggest that their basis was an old agrarian cult. [22] Some practices of the mysteries seem to have been influenced by the religious practices of the Mycenaean period and thus predating the Greek Dark Ages. [3] [4] Excavations showed that a private building existed under the Telesterion in the Mycenean period, and it seems that originally the cult of Demeter was private. In the Homeric Hymn is mentioned the palace of the king Keleos. [23]

One line of thought by modern scholars has been that the Mysteries were intended "to elevate man above the human sphere into the divine and to assure his redemption by making him a god and so conferring immortality upon him". [24]

Some scholars argued that the Eleusinian cult was a continuation of a Minoan cult, [25] and that Demeter was a poppy goddess who brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis. [26] [27] Some useful information from the Mycenean period can be taken from the study of the cult of Despoina, (the precursor goddess of Persephone), and the cult of Eileithyia who was the goddess of childbirth. The megaron of Despoina at Lycosura is quite similar with the Telesterion of Eleusis, [28] and Demeter is united with the god Poseidon, bearing a daughter, the unnamable Despoina (the mistress). [29] In the cave of Amnisos at Crete, the goddess Eileithyia is related with the annual birth of the divine child, and she is connected with Enesidaon (The Earth Shaker), [30] who is the chthonic aspect of Poseidon. [31]

At Eleusis inscriptions refer to "the Goddesses" accompanied by the agricultural god Triptolemus (probably son of Ge and Oceanus), [32] and "the God and the Goddess" (Persephone and Plouton) accompanied by Eubuleus who probably led the way back from the underworld. [33] The myth was represented in a cycle with three phases: the "descent", the "search", and the "ascent" (Greek "anodos") with contrasted emotions from sorrow to joy which roused the mystae to exultation. The main theme was the ascent of Persephone and the reunion with her mother Demeter. [34] At the beginning of the feast, the priests filled two special vessels and poured them out, the one towards the west, and the other towards the east. The people looking both to the sky and the earth shouted in a magical rhyme "rain and conceive". In a ritual, a child was initiated from the hearth (the divine fire). The name pais (child) appears in the Mycenean inscriptions, [35] It was the ritual of the "divine child" who originally was Ploutos. In the Homeric hymn the ritual is connected with the myth of the agricultural god Triptolemus. [36] The goddess of nature survived in the mysteries where the following words were uttered: "Mighty Potnia bore a great son". [3] Potnia (Linear B po-ti-ni-ja : lady or mistress), is a Mycenaean title applied to goddesses. [37] and probably the translation of a similar title of Pre-Greek origin. [38] The high point of the celebration was "an ear of grain cut in silence", which represented the force of the new life. The idea of immortality didn't exist in the mysteries at the beginning, but the initiated believed that they would have a better fate in the underworld. Death remained a reality, but at the same time a new beginning like the plant which grows from the buried seed. [4] A depiction from the old palace of Phaistos is very close to the image of the "anodos" of Persephone. An armless and legless deity grows out of the ground, and her head turns to a large flower. [39]

According to Mylonas, the lesser mysteries were held "as a rule once a year in the early spring in the month of flowers, the Anthesterion," while "the Greater Mysteries were held once a year and every fourth year they were celebrated with special splendor in what was known as the penteteris. [40] Kerenyi concurs with this assessment: "The Lesser Mysteries were held at Agrai in the month of Anthesterion, our February. The initiates were not even admitted to the epopteia [Greater Mysteries] in the same year, but only in September of the following year." [41] This cycle continued for about two millennia. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, King Celeus is said to have been one of the first people to learn the secret rites and mysteries of her cult. He was also one of her original priests, along with Diocles, Eumolpos, Polyxeinus and Triptolemus, Celeus' son, who had supposedly learned agriculture from Demeter. [42]

Under Peisistratos of Athens, the Eleusinian Mysteries became pan-Hellenic, and pilgrims flocked from Greece and beyond to participate. Around 300 BC, the state took over control of the Mysteries they were controlled by two families, the Eumolpidae and the Kerykes. This led to a vast increase in the number of initiates. The only requirements for membership were freedom from "blood guilt" [ citation needed ] , meaning never having committed murder, and not being a "barbarian" (being unable to speak Greek). Men, women and even slaves were allowed initiation. [43]

Participants Edit

To participate in these mysteries one had to swear a vow of secrecy.

Four categories of people participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:

    , priestesses, and hierophants.
  1. Initiates, undergoing the ceremony for the first time.
  2. Others who had already participated at least once. They were eligible for the fourth category.
  3. Those who had attained épopteia (Greek: ἐποπτεία) (English: "contemplation"), who had learned the secrets of the greatest mysteries of Demeter.

Priesthood Edit

The priesthood officiating at the Eleusinian Mysteries and in the sanctuary was divided in to several offices with different tasks.

Six categories of priests officiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries:

  1. Hierophantes – male high priest, an office inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families. [44]
  2. High Priestess of Demeter – an office inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families. [44]
  3. Dadouchos – men serving as torch bearers, the second-highest male role next to Hierophantes. [44]
  4. Dadouchousa Priestess – a female priestess who assisted the Dadouchos, an office inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families. [44]
  5. Hierophantides – two married priestesses, one serving Demeter, and the other Persephone. [44]
  6. Panageis ('the holy') or melissae ('bees') – a group of priestesses who lived a life secluded from men. [44]

The office of Hierophant, High Priestess, and Dadouchousa priestess were all inherited within the Phileidae or Eumolpidae families, and the Hierophant and the High Priestess were of equal rank. [44] It was the task of the High Priestess to impersonate the roles of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone in the enactement during the Mysteries, and at Eleusis events were dated by the name of the reigning High Priestess. [44]

Secrets Edit

The outline below is only a capsule summary much of the concrete information about the Eleusinian Mysteries was never written down. For example, only initiates knew what the kiste, a sacred chest, and the calathus, a lidded basket, contained.

Hippolytus of Rome, one of the Church Fathers writing in the early 3rd century AD, discloses in Refutation of All Heresies that "the Athenians, while initiating people into the Eleusinian rites, likewise display to those who are being admitted to the highest grade at these mysteries, the mighty, and marvellous, and most perfect secret suitable for one initiated into the highest mystic truths: an ear of grain in silence reaped." [45]

Lesser Mysteries Edit

There were two Eleusinian Mysteries, the Greater and the Lesser. According to Thomas Taylor, "the dramatic shows of the Lesser Mysteries occultly signified the miseries of the soul while in subjection to the body, so those of the Greater obscurely intimated, by mystic and splendid visions, the felicity of the soul both here and hereafter, when purified from the defilements of a material nature and constantly elevated to the realities of intellectual [spiritual] vision." According to Plato, "the ultimate design of the Mysteries . was to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, . a perfect enjoyment of intellectual [spiritual] good." [46]

The Lesser Mysteries took place in the month of Anthesteria – the eight month of the Attic calendar, falling in mid winter around February or March – under the direction of Athens' archon basileus. In order to qualify for initiation, participants would sacrifice a piglet to Demeter and Persephone, and then ritually purify themselves in the river Illisos. Upon completion of the Lesser Mysteries, participants were deemed mystai ("initiates") worthy of witnessing the Greater Mysteries.

Greater Mysteries Edit

The Greater Mysteries took place in Boedromion – the third month of the Attic calendar, falling in late summer around September or October – and lasted ten days.

The first act (on the 14th of Boedromion) was the bringing of the sacred objects from Eleusis to the Eleusinion, a temple at the base of the Acropolis of Athens.

On the 15th of Boedromion, a day called the Gathering (Agyrmos), the priests (hierophantes, those who show the sacred ones) declared the start of the rites (prorrhesis), and carried out the sacrifice (hiereía deúro, hither the victims).

The seawards initiates (halade mystai) started out in Athens on 16th Boedromion with the celebrants washing themselves in the sea at Phaleron.

On the 17th, the participants began the Epidauria, a festival for Asklepios named after his main sanctuary at Epidauros. This "festival within a festival" celebrated the healer's arrival at Athens with his daughter Hygieia, and consisted of a procession leading to the Eleusinion, during which the mystai apparently stayed at home, a great sacrifice, and an all-night feast (pannykhís). [47]

The procession to Eleusis began at Kerameikos (the Athenian cemetery) on the 18th, and from there the people walked to Eleusis, along the Sacred Way (Ἱερὰ Ὁδός, Hierá Hodós), swinging branches called bacchoi. At a certain spot along the way, they shouted obscenities in commemoration of Iambe (or Baubo), an old woman who, by cracking dirty jokes, had made Demeter smile as she mourned the loss of her daughter. The procession also shouted "Íakch', O Íakche!", possibly an epithet for Dionysus, or a separate deity Iacchus, son of Persephone or Demeter. [48]

Upon reaching Eleusis, there was an all-night vigil (pannychis) according to Mylonas [49] and Kerenyi. [50] perhaps commemorating Demeter's search for Persephone. At some point, initiates had a special drink (kykeon), of barley and pennyroyal, which has led to speculation about its chemicals perhaps having psychotropic effects from the Ergot fungi.

Discovery of fragments of ergot (fungi containing LSD like psychedelic alkaloids) in a temple dedicated to the two Eleusinian Goddesses excavated at the Mas Castellar site (Girona, Spain) provided legitimacy for this theory. Ergot fragments were found inside a vase and within the dental calculus of a 25-year-old man, providing evidence of Ergot being consumed (Juan-Stresserras, 2002). This finding seems to support the hypothesis of ergot as an ingredient of the Eleusinian kykeon.

Inside the Telesterion Edit

On the 19th of Boedromion, initiates entered a great hall called Telesterion in the center stood the Palace (Anaktoron), which only the hierophants could enter, where sacred objects were stored. Before mystai could enter the Telesterion, they would recite, "I have fasted, I have drunk the kykeon, I have taken from the kiste (box) and after working it have put it back in the calathus (open basket). [51]

It is widely supposed that the rites inside the Telesterion comprised three elements:

  1. dromena (things done), a dramatic reenactment of the Demeter/Persephone myth
  2. deiknumena (things shown), displayed sacred objects, in which the hierophant played an essential role
  3. legomena (things said), commentaries that accompanied the deiknumena. [52]

Combined, these three elements were known as the aporrheta ("unrepeatables") the penalty for divulging them was death.

Athenagoras of Athens, Cicero, and other ancient writers cite that it was for this crime (among others) that Diagoras was condemned to death in Athens [53] [54] the tragic playwright Aeschylus was allegedly tried for revealing secrets of the Mysteries in some of his plays, but was acquitted. [55] The ban on divulging the core ritual of the Mysteries was thus absolute, which is probably why we know almost nothing about what transpired there.

As to the climax of the Mysteries, there are two modern theories.

Some hold that the priests were the ones to reveal the visions of the holy night, consisting of a fire that represented the possibility of life after death, and various sacred objects. Others hold this explanation to be insufficient to account for the power and longevity of the Mysteries, and that the experiences must have been internal and mediated by a powerful psychoactive ingredient contained in the kykeon drink (see Entheogenic theories below).

Following this section of the Mysteries was an all-night feast (Pannychis) [56] accompanied by dancing and merriment. The dances took place in the Rharian Field, rumored to be the first spot where grain grew. A bull sacrifice also took place late that night or early the next morning. That day (22nd Boedromion), the initiates honored the dead by pouring libations from special vessels.

On the 23rd of Boedromion, the Mysteries ended and everyone returned home. [57]

In 170 AD, the Temple of Demeter was sacked by the Sarmatians but was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was then allowed to become the only lay person ever to enter the anaktoron. As Christianity gained in popularity in the 4th and 5th centuries, Eleusis's prestige began to fade. The last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian, reigned from 361 to 363 after about fifty years of Christian rule. Julian attempted to restore the Eleusinian Mysteries and was the last emperor to be initiated into them. [58]

The Roman emperor Theodosius I closed the sanctuaries by decree during the Persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire about 30 years later, in 392 AD. The last remnants of the Mysteries were wiped out in 396 AD, when Arian Christians under Alaric, King of the Goths, destroyed and desecrated the old sacred sites. [59] [60] The closing of the Eleusinian Mysteries in the 4th century is reported by Eunapius, a historian and biographer of the Greek philosophers. Eunapius had been initiated by the last legitimate Hierophant, who had been commissioned by the emperor Julian to restore the Mysteries, which had by then fallen into decay. According to Eunapius, the last Hierophant was a usurper, "the man from Thespiae who held the rank of Father in the mysteries of Mithras".

According to historian Hans Kloft, despite the destruction of the Eleusinian Mysteries, elements of the cult survived in the Greek countryside. There, Demeter's rites and religious duties were partially transferred by peasants and shepherds onto Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, who gradually became the local patron of agriculture and "heir" to the pagan mother goddess. [60]

There are many paintings and pieces of pottery that depict various aspects of the Mysteries. The Eleusinian Relief, from the late 5th century BC, displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens is a representative example. Triptolemus is depicted receiving seeds from Demeter and teaching mankind how to work the fields to grow crops, with Persephone holding her hand over his head to protect him. [61] Vases and other works of relief sculpture, from the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries BC, depict Triptolemus holding an ear of corn, sitting on a winged throne or chariot, surrounded by Persephone and Demeter with pine torches. The monumental Protoattic amphora from the middle of the 7th century BC, with the depiction of Medusa's beheading by Perseus and the blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus and his companions on its neck, is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Eleusis which is located inside the archaeological site of Eleusis.

The Ninnion Tablet, found in the same museum, depicts Demeter, followed by Persephone and Iacchus, and then the procession of initiates. Then, Demeter is sitting on the kiste inside the Telesterion, with Persephone holding a torch and introducing the initiates. The initiates each hold a bacchoi. The second row of initiates were led by Iakchos, a priest who held torches for the ceremonies. He is standing near the omphalos while an unknown female (probably a priestess of Demeter) sat nearby on the kiste, holding a scepter and a vessel filled with kykeon. Pannychis is also represented.

In Shakespeare's The Tempest, the masque that Prospero conjures to celebrate the troth-pledging of Miranda and Ferdinand echoes the Eleusinian Mysteries, although it uses the Roman names for the deities involved – Ceres, Iris, Dis and others – instead of the Greek. It is interesting that a play which is so steeped in esoteric imagery from alchemy and hermeticism should draw on the Mysteries for its central masque sequence. [ citation needed ]

Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) borrowed terms and interpretations from the late 19th and early-20th century classical scholarship in German and French as a source of metaphors for his reframing of psychoanalytic treatment into a spiritualistic ritual of initiation and rebirth. The Eleusinian mysteries, particularly the qualities of the Kore, figured prominently in his writings. [62]

Dimitris Lyacos in the second book of the Poena Damni trilogy With the People from the Bridge, a contemporary, avant-garde play focusing on the return of the dead and the myth of the revenant combines elements from the Eleusinian mysteries as well as early Christian tradition in order to convey a view of collective salvation. The text uses the pomegranate symbol in order to hint at the residence of the dead in the underworld and their periodical return to the world of the living. [63]

Octavio Vazquez's symphonic poem Eleusis draws on the Eleusinian Mysteries and on other Western esoteric traditions. [64] Commissioned by the Sociedad General de Autores y Editores and the RTVE Symphony Orchestra, it was premiered in 2015 by the RTVE Orchestra and conductor Adrian Leaper at the Teatro Monumental in Madrid.

Numerous scholars have proposed that the power of the Eleusinian Mysteries came from the kykeon's functioning as an entheogen, or psychedelic agent. [7] The use of potions or philtres for magical or religious purposes was relatively common in Greece and the ancient world. [65] The initiates, sensitized by their fast and prepared by preceding ceremonies (see set and setting), may have been propelled by the effects of a powerful psychoactive potion into revelatory mind states with profound spiritual and intellectual ramifications. [66] In opposition to this idea, other pointedly skeptical scholars note the lack of any solid evidence and stress the collective rather than individual character of initiation into the Mysteries. [67] Indirect evidence in support of the entheogenic theory is that in 415 BC Athenian aristocrat Alcibiades was condemned partly because he took part in an "Eleusinian mystery" in a private house. [68]

Many psychoactive agents have been proposed as the significant element of kykeon, though without consensus or conclusive evidence. These include the ergot, a fungal parasite of the barley or rye grain, which contains the alkaloids ergotamine, a precursor to LSD, and ergonovine. [66] [69] However, modern attempts to prepare a kykeon using ergot-parasitized barley have yielded inconclusive results, though Alexander Shulgin and Ann Shulgin describe both ergonovine and LSA to be known to produce LSD-like effects. [70] [71]

Discovery of fragments of Ergot (fungi containing LSD-like psychedelic alkaloids) in a temple dedicated to the two Eleusinian Goddesses excavated at the Mas Castellar site (Girona, Spain) provided legitimacy for this theory. Ergot fragments were found inside a vase and within the dental calculus of a 25-year-old man, providing evidence of Ergot being consumed. This finding seems to support the hypothesis of ergot as an ingredient of the Eleusinian kykeon. [72]

Psychoactive mushrooms are another candidate. Terence McKenna speculated that the mysteries were focused around a variety of Psilocybe. Other entheogenic fungi, such as Amanita muscaria, have also been suggested. [73] A recent hypothesis suggests that the ancient Egyptians cultivated Psilocybe cubensis on barley and associated it with the deity Osiris. [74]

Another candidate for the psychoactive drug is an opioid derived from the poppy. The cult of the goddess Demeter may have brought the poppy from Crete to Eleusis it is certain that opium was produced in Crete. [75]

Another theory is that the psychoactive agent in kykeon is DMT, which occurs in many wild plants of the Mediterranean, including Phalaris and/or Acacia. [76] To be active orally (like in ayahuasca) it must be combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor such as Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala), which grows throughout the Mediterranean.

Alternatively, J. Nigro Sansonese (1994), using the mythography supplied by Mylonas, hypothesizes that the Mysteries of Eleusis were a series of practical initiations into trance involving proprioception of the human nervous system induced by breath control (similar to samyama in yoga). [77] Sansonese speculates that the kisté, a box holding sacred objects opened by the hierophant, is actually an esoteric reference to the initiate's skull, within which is seen a sacred light and are heard sacred sounds, but only after instruction in trance practice. Similarly, the seed-filled chambers of a pomegranate, a fruit associated with the founding of the cult, esoterically describe proprioception of the initiate's heart during trance.

Since 1985, Aquarian Tabernacle Church has performed a modern continuation of the Eleusinian Mysteries, as the Spring Mysteries Festival. These mysteries, held every year in honour of Demeter and Persephone, explore universal concepts and truths from the perspective of the seeker of hidden knowledge.

It occurs on the weekend of Easter every year. The first year back in the modern age was 1985. [78]

Watch the video: Ο Ναός του Ιλισού Άρτεμις Αγροτέρα - 3D αναπαράσταση (May 2022).