Aphrodisias:

Cult-image of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias:


The sanctuary at Aphrodisias was famous in antiquity for its distinctive cult of the goddess Aphrodite. She originated in the Archaic period or earlier as a local Carian goddess, but by the Hellenistic era she was identified with the Greek Aphrodite and was given a completely new, canonical image. This image is well known from a series of representations found at Aphrodisias and other sites around the Mediterranean. It reflects a carefully designed, unified program that incorporated familiar Hellenstic iconographic vocabulary to make the Aphrodisian goddess a deity who would be recognizable throughout the Graeco-Roman world.

The overall form of the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias recalls her ancient Carian origins and relates her to a series of other Anatolian deities, such as the Artemis of Ephesos. Like them, the Aphrodisian goddess stands in a stiff frontal pose, with her upper arms pressed close to her body and her hands extended forward. Her most distinctive attribute is her heavy overgarment (known as an ependytes) that conceals most of her body. The front of this garment is divided into horizontal zones, each of which is filled with complex figural reliefs whose style and iconography reveal a deliberate design program and attest its Hellenistic date. It is this series of reliefs that distinguishes the Aphrodisian goddess and shows her individual significance. Each motif symbolizes part of the goddess's divine identity and mythological sphere of power; they include the three Graces, Selene, Helios, erotes, and Aphrodite herself, here shown not in her distinctive local guise but in a more traditional Hellenistic mode of presentation: half-nude and seated on a seagoat, accompanied by a dolphin and a triton. Furthermore, the particular division of Aphrodite's ependytes communicates the fundamental conception of Aphrodite as a goddess of earth, heaven, and sea. This interest in the natural divisions of the universe and the use of cosmic iconography are characteristic of the Late Hellenistic era and date the creation of the goddess's image to this time. Although the Aphrodite of Aphrodisias certainly had a long history of local worship, the Hellenistic iconography of her remodelled image gave the goddess a new universality by using concepts and motifs familiar throughout the Graeco-Roman world.

The cult-image of Aphrodite is being studied by Dr. Lisa Brody, a graduate of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

Temple of Aphrodite