their subjects are faith, love, fasting, prayer, wars (a somewhat mysterious setting forth of the conflict between Rome and Persia under the imagery of Daniel), the sons of the covenant (monks or ascetics), penitents, the resurrection, humility, pastors. Those numbered 11-22, written in 344, are almost all directed against the Jews; the subjects are circumcision, passover, the sabbath, persuasion (the encyclical letter referred to above), distinction of meats, the substitution of the Gentiles for the Jews, that Christ is the Son of God, virginity and holiness, whether the Jews have been finally rejected or are yet to be restored, provision for the poor, persecution, death and the last times. The 23rd homily, on the “grape kernel” (Is. lxv. 8), written in 344, forms an appendix on the Messianic fulfilment of prophecy, together with a treatment of the chronology from Adam to Christ. Aphraates impresses a reader favourably by his moral earnestness, his guilelessness, his moderation in controversy, the simplicity of his style and language, his saturation with the ideas and words of Scripture. On the other hand, he is full of cumbrous repetition, he lacks precision in argument and is prone to digression, his quotations from Scripture are often inappropriate, and he is greatly influenced by Jewish exegesis. He is particularly fond of arguments about numbers. How wholly he and his surroundings were untouched by the Arian conflict may be judged from the 17th homily—“that Christ is the Son of God.” He argues that, as the name “God” or “Son of God” was given in the O.T. to men who were worthy, and as God does not withhold from men a share in His attributes—such as sovereignty and fatherhood—it was fitting that Christ who has wrought salvation for mankind should obtain this highest name. From the frequency of his quotations, Aphraates is a specially important witness to the form in which the Gospels were read in the Syriac church in his day; Zahn and others have shown that he—mainly at least—used the Diatessaron. Finally, he bears important contemporary witness to the sufferings of the Christian church in Persia under Sapor (Shapur) II. as well as the moral evils which had infected the church, to the sympathy of Persian Christians with the cause of the Roman empire, to the condition of early monastic institutions, to the practice of the Syriac church in regard to Easter, &c.
APHRODITE, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, counterpart of the Roman Venus. Although her myth and cult were essentially Semitic, she soon became Hellenized and was admitted to a place among the deities of Olympus. Some mythologists hold that there already existed in the Greek system an earlier goddess of love, of similar attributes, who was absorbed by the Asiatic importation; and one writer (A. Enmann) goes so far as to deny the oriental origin of Aphrodite altogether. It is therefore necessary first to examine the nature and characteristics of her Eastern prototype, and then to see how far they reappear in the Greek Aphrodite.
Among the Semitic peoples (with the notable exception of the Hebrews) a supreme female deity was worshipped under different names—the Assyrian Ishtar, the Phoenician Ashtoreth (Astarte), the Syrian Atargatis (Derketo), the Babylonian Belit (Mylitta), the Arabian Ilat (Al-ilat). The article “Aphrodite” in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie is based upon the theory that all these were originally moon-goddesses, on which assumption all their functions are explained. This view, however, has not met with general acceptance, on the ground that, in Semitic mythology, the moon is always a male divinity; and that the full moon and crescent, found as attributes of Astarte, are due to a misinterpretation of the sun’s disk and cow’s horns of Isis, the result of the dependence of Syrian religious art upon Egypt. On the other hand, there is some evidence in ancient authorities (Herodian v. 6, 10; Lucian, De Dea Syria, 4) that Astarte and the moon were considered identical.
This oriental Aphrodite was worshipped as the bestower of all animal and vegetable fruitfulness, and under this aspect especially as a goddess of women. This worship was degraded by repulsive practices (e.g. religious prostitution, self-mutilation), which subsequently made their way to centres of Phoenician influence, such as Corinth and Mount Eryx in Sicily. In this connexion may be mentioned the idea of a divinity, half male, half female, uniting in itself the active and passive functions of creation, a symbol of luxuriant growth and productivity. Such was the bearded Aphrodite of Cyprus, called Aphroditos by Aristophanes according to Macrobius, who mentions a statue of the androgynous divinity in his Saturnalia (iii. 8. 2; see also Hermaphroditus). The moon, by its connexion with menstruation, and as the cause of the fertilizing dew, was regarded as exercising an influence over the entire animal and vegetable creation.
The Eastern Aphrodite was closely related to the sea and the element of moisture; in fact, some consider that she made her first appearance on Greek soil rather as a marine divinity than as a nature goddess. According to Syrian ideas, as a fish goddess, she represented the fructifying power of water. At Ascalon there was a lake full of fish near the temple of Atargatis-Derketo, into which she was said to have been thrown together with her son Ichthys (fish) as a punishment for her arrogance, and to have been devoured by fishes; according to another version, ashamed of her amour with a beautiful youth, which resulted in the birth of Semiramis, she attempted to drown herself, but was changed into a fish with human face (see Atargatis). At Hierapolis (Bambyce) there was a pool with an altar in the middle, sacred to the goddess, where a festival was held, at which her images were carried into the water. Her connexion with the sea is explained by the influence of the moon on the tides, and the idea that the moon, like the sun and the stars, came up from the ocean.
The oriental Aphrodite is connected with the lower world, and came to be looked upon as one of its divinities. Thus, Ishtar descends to the kingdom of Ilat the queen of the dead, to find the means of restoring her favourite Tammuz (Adon, Adonis) to life. During her stay all animal and vegetable productivity ceases, to begin again with her return to earth—a clear indication of the conception of her as a goddess of fertility. This legend, which strikingly resembles that of Persephone, probably refers to the decay of vegetation in winter, and the reawakening of nature in spring (cf. Hyacinthus). The lunar theory connects it with the disappearance of the moon at the time of change or during an eclipse.
Another aspect of her character is that of a warlike goddess, armed with spear or bow, sometimes wearing a mural crown, as sovereign lady and protectress of the locality where she was worshipped. The spear and arrows are identified with the beams of the sun and moon.
The attributes of the goddess were the ram, the he-goat, the dove, certain fish, the cypress, myrtle and pomegranate, the animals being symbolical of fertility, the plants remedies against sterility.
The worship of Aphrodite at an early date was introduced into Cyprus, Cythera and Crete by Phoenician colonists, whence it spread over the whole of Greece, and as far west as Italy and Sicily. In Crete she has been identified with Ariadne, who, according to one version of her story, was put ashore in Cyprus, where she died and was buried in a grove called after the name
- No satisfactory etymology of the name has been given; although the first part is usually referred to ἀφρός (“the sea foam”), it is equally probable that it is of Eastern origin. F. Homoll (Jahrbücher für classische Philologie, cxxv., 1882) explains it as a corruption of Ashtoreth; for other derivations see O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, ii. p. 1348, note 2.