The worst-kept secret of womanhood is perhaps the unrelenting societal pressure to conform to arbitrary, cookie-cutter beauty norms. And while women today face an unprecedented high bar when it comes to appearances (thank you filters, Instagram, Photoshop, cosmetic procedures, and all the rest!), unreasonable beauty standards are nothing new. In fact, they date back at least to 458 B.C.E. when the playwright Aeschylus dreamt up the ultimate embodiment of unattainable beauty: Aphrodite.
Born from the foam in the waters of Paphos, on the island of Cyprus, Aphrodite has a couple of origin stories. According to Hesiod's "Theogony," she rose from the sea when the Titan Cronus killed his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea (um, yikes). But Homer's "Iliad" says Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. However she came into the world of Greek mythology, the Goddess of Love and Beauty is best known for her stunning aesthetic, but she's also a powerful, immortal deity capable of stirring up romance among gods and mortals. Here are seven of the most beautiful facts you may not know about Aphrodite.
1. Her Belt Held Special Powers
Aphrodite was such a force, even her accessories held otherworldly abilities. Her belt (sometimes called a "magic girdle") had the power to inspire desire and cause men and gods to hopelessly fall for whoever's wearing it. She was generous with that trinket too — she loaned it to Queen Hera so she could distract Zeus from the Trojan War.
2. She Was Married ... but Still Looking
Zeus married Aphrodite off to Hephaestus who was known for being ... well, ugly. Apparently the King of the Gods felt some kind of poetic justice in matching the stunning goddess up with someone who was less than a looker. But marriage didn't stop Aphrodite from getting hers — her long list of lovers included gods like Ares and men like Anchises. But she perhaps had the strongest connection to Adonis, who was also kind of her surrogate son? Mythology is crazy.
3. She Didn't Take Rejection Well
Aphrodite could have had just about any god or man she wanted — just about. The few who somehow resisted her allure didn't meet very happy endings. Take Hippolytus for example. He chose Artemis over Aphrodite, so the latter made his stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him and both wound up dead. No one said the goddess of beauty was merciful.
4. She Didn't Have a Signature Style
Aphrodite is depicted in a multitude of different ways, and the array of classical artworks dedicated to her image all portray her differently. Aside from overwhelming beauty, she's not known for any distinctive features or attributes. But she is often presented in perfectly symmetrical, totally nude glory. In addition to her magic belt, she's also often depicted with an apple, scallop shell, dove or swan.
5. Artists Are Obsessed With Her
Aphrodite has inspired more works of art than any other figure in classical mythology, and you can spot her in thousands of paintings and sculptures, as well as literary tributes. She is perhaps most famously known as the inspiration for the Venus de Milo, one of the Louvre's most prized pieces of statuary.
6. Did We Mention She Was Fierce?
Aphrodite didn't just have it out for those who denied her advances — she also wasn't down for disrespect of any kind. A man named Glaucus once insulted her, so she clapped back by feeding his horses magic water that caused them to turn on him during a chariot race. The horses not only crushed him but ate his body. Aphrodite was not bothered in the slightest.
7. She Wasn't a Regular Mom, She Was a Cool Mom
It's unclear whether his daddy was Zeus, Ares or Hermes, but Eros (a.k.a. Cupid) had one cool mom: Aphrodite. Although he's usually depicted as a mischievous little guy, Eros was a fiercely loyal kid who Aphrodite often brought along with her on official love business. Cupid may not have been her only offspring — sources say she was also mom to Phobos, Deimos, Harmonia and Aeneas.