Aphrodite And Her Companions In Cult

The main cultic associates of Aphrodite ndvSr|^oq' are identical with the companions related to her most frequently as attendants in early, mostly erotic mythical contexts: Peitho and the Charites.154 It seems remarkable that the foundation or revival of cults of these goddesses seem to be related to contemporary political circumstances and the needs of the people, "themes of the moment". It would appear to be the case that in times of danger and insecurity people seek to consolidate peace and harmony by deifying these values and ideals and worshipping them in cult.155

We have seen that the early cult at Athens associates Aphrodite ndvSr|^oq with Peitho, and already here Peitho's political meaning becomes discernible, if Apollodorus' explanation that the sanctuary was near the agora is correct. This was the venue for the assembly where persuasion was necessary in order to achieve peaceful concord among the "whole people". Peitho embodies an aspect of Aphrodite which, under the epithet ndvSr|^oq, takes on a political connotation. Thus magistrates who deal with people also make dedications to Peitho.156

The same is true for the Charites, whose cult at Athens had been known since early times.157 The fact that in the late 3rd century BC the PouXsutai offered an altar to Aphrodite and the Charites (see ch. 2.5) has, rightly, been interpreted within the context of the political circumstances in which the dedication was made, namely the reorganisation of democracy in Athens. To this same historical background may be related the fact that the Athenians dedicated a sanctuary to the personified Demos and the Charites, in order to celebrate the generosity and the reciprocal deeds of the Athenian citizens, as we have seen earlier.158 The importance given to the Charites at that time is all the more plausible when we consider that in 5th-century Athens xdpi? was regarded as a specific quality of the Athenian people. This is documented in Thucydides' speech of Pericles, who says that it distinguishes them from others.159 In religious contexts, xdpi? indicates what was given in return for a divine favour. In an inscription dated 500 BC and found on the Acropolis at Athens, a certain Oenobius sets up a statue to Hermes in commemoration, returning a favour. The xdpi? felt by him is reciprocated by an offering which makes the deity well disposed to help in the future.160

The dedication of the PouXsutai signifies the revival of these traditional political values and the "gratitude" for the citizens' solidarity within the community during the period of war. Two more political qualities of the Charites are also well documented: Diodorus (5,73,3) says that the Charites, by evoking the people's "gratitude", influence the community by stimulating individuals to support the common cause and therefore the wealth of the whole people. It is probably also the notion of "gratitude" which makes the magistrates honor the Charites or ask Aphrodite for xdpitsq. The idea of "gratefulness" which the magistrates expect from the people is certainly implied, but when in the 2nd century BC an Eunomia-college asks Aphrodite to present them with xdpitsq and a "life free from harm", it is evident that xdpnxq here means that they ask for a certain "charisma" (not "charm" as one would expect in erotic contexts) to please or to win over the citizens for the sake of the harmony of the whole people.161 Like Peitho, the Charites too embody a particular aspect of Aphrodite's province and, in the same way as Aphrodite is perceived as ndvSr|^oq, they also receive a political interpretation which is related to the well-being of the people. In this sense the Charites imply either the expected "gratitude" of the demos or the "charisma" (or both) which the magistrates need for the good reputation they want to enjoy among the people.

We also have evidence that Eros (even the plurality of Erotes) can receive dedications from agoranomoi, but the significance which the male love-god had in civic contexts and related cults is negligible compared with that of the other cult personifications.162 The cultic environment at Athens demonstrates that Peitho and the Charites are related to civic issues, whereas Eros in his cult association with Aphrodite represents an aspect of her functioning role in fertility and reproduction. That he, in contrast to Aphrodite, Peitho and the Charites, is no political deity, appropriately confirms his different nature and origin.163

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