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p102 Aphrodisia

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp102‑103 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

APHRODI′SIA (Ἀφροδίσια), festivals celebrated in honour of Aphrodite, in a great number of towns in Greece, but particularly in the island of Cyprus. Her most ancient temple was at Paphos, which was built by Aërias or Cinyras, in whose family the priestly dignity was hereditary (Tacit. Hist. II.3, Annal. III.62; Maxim. Tyr. Serm. 83). No bloody sacrifices were allowed to be offered to her, but only pure fire, flowers, and incense (Virg. Aen. I.416);º and therefore, when Tacitus (Hist. II.3) speaks of victims, we must either suppose, with Ernesti, that they were killed merely that the priest might inspect their intestines, or for the purpose of affording a feast to the persons present at the festival. At all events, however, the altar of the goddess was not allowed to be polluted with the blood of the victims, which were mostly he-goats. Mysteries were also celebrated at Paphos in honour of Aphrodite; and those who were initiated p103offered to the goddess a piece of money, and received in return a measure of salt and a phallus. In the mysteries themselves, they received instructions ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ μοιχικῇ.a A second or new Paphos had been built, according to tradition, after the Trojan war, by the Arcadian Agapenor; and, according to Strabo (XIV p683), men and women from other towns of the island assembled at New Paphos, and went in solemn procession to Old Paphos, a distance of sixty stadia; and the name of the priest of Aphrodite, ἀγήτωρ (Hesych. s.v.), seems to have originated in his heading this procession.b Aphrodite was worshipped in most towns of Cyprus, and in other parts of Greece, such as Cythera, Sparta, Thebes, Elis, &c.; and though no Aphrodisia are mentioned in these places, we have no reason to doubt their existence; we find them expressly mentioned at Corinth and Athens, where they were chiefly celebrated by the numerous prostitutes (Athen. XIII pp574, 579, XIV p659). Another great festival of Aphrodite and Adonis in Sestus is mentioned by Musaeus (Hero and Leand. 42).


Thayer's Notes:

a Not erudition, but prudery in our dictionary: the Greek phrase merely means "the art (or technique) of intercourse".

b ἀγήτωρ = "driver", as of a herd of animals.


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Page updated: 18 Sep 12