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Chapter 9: Aphrodite and Eros


Read the Commentary for Chapter 9.


View some of the vase paintings of Aphrodite from the Perseus Project.

View the painting of Titian that depicts the story of Venus and Adonis.

Search the Links section of this website for information on the poetess Sappho. The gopher file will give you access to a selection of her translated poetry, which you should read.


Compare Apollodorus’ account of the story of Adonis with that of Ovid.

Consult Theocritus 15 for a picture of women attending the Festival of Adonis

Read Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis.” What use does Shakespeare make of the ancient sources? What can be said to be more Shakespearean and less Greek about “Venus and Adonis”?

For Plato, Eros was a force worthy of philosophical consideration. After reading the significant excerpts from the Symposium (MLS pp. 205–212), you may now wish to read the complete dialogue for the different perspectives the other dinner guests have on the nature of the god Eros. Compare the view Socrates has in the Symposium with the description given in what some have called Plato’s companion dialogue, Phaedrus 242d–257a.

Analyze Robert Graves’ poem “Anchises to Aphrodite.”

There has been a great deal of scholarly work on the nature of Eros for the Greeks, and their understanding of sex and sexuality. In Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality, Bruce Thornton has attempted to reevaluate the ancient sources and present a more accurate picture of the attitudes of the Greeks to sex and sexuality and their role in human life. How does this work treat the Platonic view of Eros?

Compact Discs and Videos

After you have studied Catullus’ poem, Attis, you may want to hear Schubert’s song, “Atys.”

Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhaüser is a masterpiece not to be missed that has as its subject the victory of sacred over profane love. The overture and the opening Venusberg scene (this music may be found separately on CD Collections) depict carnal Aphrodite. The Paris version is more voluptuous than the Dresden. Tannhaüser may also be seen on video.

Also everyone should be familiar with the great musical My Fair Lady, by Lerner and Loewe. It is rewarding to study Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the play upon which the musical is based. The excellent film adaptation of Shaw’s play affords an enjoyable opportunity to compare parallel scenes with the musical version.

George Lloyd has composed Vigil of Venus, a musical setting of the Latin text of Pervigilium Veneris, a romantic poem about springtime and love. Take advantage of this pleasurable opportunity to enjoy this important Latin poem.

Some critics consider Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade his best classical composition. Inspired by Plato’s Symposium, sections are entitled Phaedrus, Pausanias; Aristophanes; Erixymachus; Agathon; and Socrates, Alcibiades.

Enjoy hearing at least one of these three very popular songs: “Stupid Cupid,” “Venus,” and “Venus in Blue Jeans.”


Read the Attis (poem 63) of Catullus and its vision of a young man driven to religious frenzy in his worship of the goddess Cybele. Many powerful emotions and questions are evoked by this masterpiece. Why does Attis succumb to such fanaticism? Does his fanatacism relate to fanatical obsessions today? Why his regrets? How is mother Cybele characterized? How is she different from the Venus for whom Cybele’s followers have an inordinate hatred?


Be sure you know what it means to call someone an Adonis. What is an aphrodisiac? How are the words cupidity, eros, and erotic related in meaning; and venereal, venery, and veneration? What is the psyche?

Essay Questions

  1. How does the story of Aphrodite and Adonis parallel that of Cybele and Attis?

  2. How does the Platonic Socrates relate the initial attraction of physical love to the final purpose of love?

  3. Why may we say that the comic tale of the Platonic Aristophanes has an essentially serious purpose?

  4. Discuss the nature and character of Aphrodite, with special attention to the dual tradition of her origin.

  5. Relate the story of Cupid and Psyche and illustrate how it combines elements of myth, folktale, fairy tale, and romance.

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