Mistress of the East, goddess of the West
: Aphrodite and the development of ancient Greek erotica

  • Briana King

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


My thesis analyses the interlinked complexities of socially constructed sexualities and the identity of Aphrodite from the Archaic to the late-Classical period in order to reinstate a critical connection between ancient Greek conceptions of sex and the divine embodiment of sexuality. Previous scholarship has examined Aphrodite in isolation from sex and sexuality in the ancient Greek world, frequently focusing on her origins in Cyprus and the Near East and/or examining characteristics of her cults in select poleis. Studies on sexuality in ancient Greece often focus on characteristics of hetero/homosexual relationships and/or gender identity. These separate lines of inquiry have led to a notable gap in current scholarship which fails to consider how the cults and iconographies of the Greek goddess of sex relate to ancient Greek explorations of sex. Using a viewership model which unites analyses of Aphrodite and of erotica in various ancient Greek media within a common interpretative framework, I demonstrate that developments in Aphrodite’s cult personae and material representations in regions where Aphrodite was prominently worshipped, including Sparta, Corinth, and Athens, are reflected in changes in ancient social ideals related to sexuality and gendered desirability. The Archaic period cults of an armed Aphrodite reflect the divine dichotomy of love and male-instigated violence, a dichotomy similarly explored in Archaic and early-Classical heroic literature and Athenian sympotic vase paintings. Classical Athenian nuptial vase paintings reflect the Athenian emphasis on Aphrodite’s marriage-related cults during the same period. Praxiteles’s late-Classical Aphrodite of Knidos epitomizes contemporary, changing attitudes towards women’s sexuality and the desirability of the nude female form. By analyzing Aphrodite’s cults and associated iconographies in relation to ancient Greek erotica from the Archaic to late-Classical period in select regions, the various links between the divine embodiment of sexuality and the mortal explorations of sex become evident.
Date of Award1 Jul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorRalph Thomas Anderson (Supervisor), Alex Long (Supervisor) & Matthew Leslie Skuse (Supervisor)


  • Aphrodite
  • Greek erotica
  • Vase painting
  • Sculpture
  • Archaic period to Late Classical
  • Athens, Sparta, Corinth
  • Ancient Near East, Cyprus, Crete,
  • Ishtar
  • Aphrodite Pandemos
  • Aphrodite Ourania
  • Aphrodite en Kepois
  • Aphrodite Areia
  • Mulvey
  • Ancient spectatorship
  • Violence and sexuality
  • Praxiteles
  • Aphrodite of Knidos
  • Ancient Greek sex and sexuality
  • Gender

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • Part (Chapters 1 through 5) embargoed until 4 June 2024

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