Cyprus is known as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty. Accounts concerning her origins vary. According to Hesiod, she was born when Cronus, the son of Uranus (sky) and Gaea (earth), castrated his father with a sickle and tossed the severed genitals into the sea which began to foam. From the aphros (foam) emerged the goddess on the south west coast of the island near the town of Pafos at a place called Petra tou Romiou.
Homer provides a different genealogy of Aphrodite. As he would have it, Gaea was born of Chaos, and Uranus was born of Gaea. Their two offspring, Cronus and Rhea, married and brought forth Zeus. In turn, Zeus and Dione were the parents of Aphrodite. Aphrodite was married to Hephaistus, the lame god of the forge. According to mythology, Aphrodite’s passionate love affair with her brother Ares, the god of war, produced three sons and a daughter. So disgraced were both deities in the eyes of the rest of the gods that eventually Aphrodite fled Greece and found a new home on Cyprus.
Myths are part of the fabric of society and may at times provide clues to events. Many a scholar have used myths as stepping stones in their search of the historical past. In the case of Aphrodite, archaeological findings have revealed aspects of the goddess which differ from those attributed to her by Greek mythology. What is certain is that throughout antiquity Cyprus was one of the most important places, if not the most famous, where Aphrodite was worshipped. There were many sanctuaries on the island dedicated to her, the most famous in Pafos, at a place called Omphalos (navel), which was considered to be on an equal footing with Delphi.
Aphrodite of Cyprus was not merely the blonde goddess of love, grace and beauty who indulged in amorous whims, as often depicted in simplistic mythology. She was also an ancient divinity with origins linked to the worship of the powers of life; a goddess of fertility of oriental origins who was worshipped on the island since the Iron Age, and whom the Cypriots presumably did not at that time call Aphrodite; a local divinity who was adopted by the Greeks when they arrived on the island and who was renamed Aphrodite, when Greek culture began to strongly influence local religion during the firth century B.C.; a divinity whose cult was maintained on the island for centuries, even while Christianity was spreading.
From the scripts of ancient Greek poets and mythological tradition to contemporary Cypriot culture, Aphrodite has been almost synonymous with Cyprus. Whether known as Kypris (the Cyprian), or Pafia (named after the town of Pafos), the goddess has been above all a Cypriot goddess, permeating Cypriot life through the ages. Even today, the name Aphrodite is widely used for girls on the island; it is also the band name of a popular Cyprus wine.