Skip to content

See Plan your visit for health and safety information including mandatory check-in and use of face masks.

Marble statue of a female figure, her arms crossing her body, the right hand missing. Her hair is tied up in a top-knot and then loose locks fall down onto each shoulder. By her side is a tiny figure, with head missing. - click to view larger image
Statue of Aphrodite

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Unlike men, Ancient Greek women are rarely depicted naked. Among the exceptions are prostitutes, Amazons and the goddess Aphrodite. Like so many others, this statue of Aphrodite is a copy of the lost original. The original sculpture dates to the 3rd century BCE. This copy belongs to the 1st century CE. It was supposedly found in a well and once belonged to the maverick poet and devoted lover of Greece, Lord Byron.

The statue depicts Aphrodite in a very typical pose with one arm covering her breast and a hand covering her genitals. It is an arrangement referred to by art historians as the pudicitia, or modesty pose.

She is accompanied by Eros, the god of wild, passionate, uncontrolled love, who rides a dolphin with a cuttlefish in its mouth. Aphrodite was a goddess with strong marine connections. According to Hesiod, the name Aphrodite means ‘the one from the foam’. The name is supposedly a reference to her emergence from the sea, when the castrated genitals of the sky god Uranus flew down from heaven and landed in the sea near Cyprus (or in some versions, the island of Kythera). From the mixing of the genitals and the sea, Aphrodite was born. She was a popular goddess with sailors who would often offer prayers and sacrifices to her prior to undertaking long sea voyages. A number of important sanctuaries of Aphrodite are located near the sea.

In addition to her maritime associations, Aphrodite’s primary identification was as the goddess of love and fertility. It was this aspect that caused her to become embroiled in the events surrounding the Trojan War. When Paris, the young Trojan prince, declared Aphrodite the most beautiful of the goddesses, she rewarded him by arranging for Helen to fall in love with Paris and abandon her husband, and steal away with him to Troy. It was this event that triggered the Trojan War. During the Trojan War, Aphrodite frequently intervened on the side of the Trojans. On one occasion, the goddess even manifested on the battlefield to whisk her beloved Paris away to safety, just before a fatal blow could be delivered by Helen’s husband, King Menelaos. She was even wounded in battle. The hero Diomedes piercing her wrist with his spear and causing her to take flight. Love may be powerful, but it is not invulnerable.

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.

© National Museum of Australia 2007–21. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 17 December 2021

Return to Top