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Aphrodite: The Incarnation of Beauty

Matthew Shirfield

Across the centuries the concept of beauty has long been placed under scrutiny by great canonical thinkers. Theodor W. Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory claims that “Beauty is not the platonically pure beginning but rather something that originated in the renunciation of what was once feared, which only as a result of this renunciation […] became the ugly.”

Viacheslav Ivanov formulated his ‘three principles of the beautiful’: the sublime, earthly beauty, and chaos, interpreted as the ‘ugly.’ The sublime is reached in an ascent from chaos towards the divine; earthly beauty is reached in the descent towards the earth.

Ivanov’s conceptual explanation of beauty is intriguingly encapsulated in his interpretation of the birth of Aphrodite, the Mediterranean Greek Goddess of Beauty. This deity was born from the foam of the sea fertilized by Uranus’s castrated genitals. Heavenly order fertilized the sea of the Earth Gaia, forming Aphrodite.

The Goddess emerges from the chaotic depths of the sea and rises towards the imperceptible sublime of heaven. She then descends from the sublime and assumes her perceptible earthly form of beauty which verges on the evocation of sexual love.

Aphrodite is associated with the earlier Middle Eastern Goddess Ishtar and the later Roman Goddess Venus. The Goddess presided over marriages as well as paradoxically serving as a patron for prostitutes. Aphrodite is also heralded as a seafaring Goddess as well as Goddess of War, foreshadowing her mythological attraction and love affair with the God of War, Ares.

Aphrodite is an embodiment of the ineffable concepts of life, an incarnation of Beauty. After many centuries a new yearning for Beauty has arisen, challenging the superfluous hollow commercialisation of twentieth-century contemporary culture. Perhaps it is in our times that one may fully understand Oscar Wilde’s poignant plea:


“Spirit of Beauty tarry yet a-while!

Although the cheating merchants of the mart

With iron roads profane our lovely isle,

And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,

Ay! though the crowded factories beget

The blind-worm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!”


Praxiteles, ‘Aphrodite of Knidos’, c. 350 B.C.

Sandro Botticelli, ‘The Birth of Venus’, 1485-6.

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