Love's Helping Hand
Throughout the ancient Greek myths, Aphrodite uses her divine powers to further the cause of love. When someone (usually a mortal man) was spurned by his beloved, Aphrodite often stepped in to help him — sometimes even when the man didn't want her help.
Paris and Helen
Perhaps the most famous lovers brought together by Aphrodite were Paris, the handsome son of the king of Troy, and Helen, wife of Menelaus and the woman who would become known as Helen of Troy. Why did Aphrodite bring these two together? The answer lies in an event that happened before Paris and Helen ever laid eyes on each other.
At a wedding attended by the Olympians, the goddess Eris (whose name means “strife”) threw a golden apple into the midst of the festivities. The apple was desirable in itself, but it was also inscribed with the words “for the fairest.” Three goddesses — Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera — claimed the apple. Each believed that she was the fairest, and an argument broke out. Zeus decreed that a judge would settle the dispute. He told Hermes to lead the three goddesses to Paris, who would serve as judge and choose the winner.
Paris couldn't decide who deserved the prize, so each goddess tried to bribe him. Athena offered him wisdom and victory in battle; Hera promised him power and dominion over Asia; and Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris considered each gift and then awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite.
Aphrodite became the young man's protector. She also kept her promise and helped Paris kidnap Helen, who was already married to King Menelaus of Sparta. Paris made his way to Sparta and visited Menelaus's court. There, Aphrodite worked her magic and caused Helen to fall madly in love with the handsome guest. The couple eloped, causing the Trojan War (see Chapter 20).
Milanion and Atalanta
Atalanta was a young woman who was often compared to Artemis. A swift runner and a famous hunter, she wanted nothing to do with men. Her beauty, however, attracted many admirers, and her father insisted that she marry. Atalanta agreed on one condition: She would marry the man who could beat her in a foot race — but any man who lost the race would also lose his life. Despite the high price of failure, many men tried to outrun Atalanta, and many men died.
When Atalanta was born, her father (who didn't want a daughter) abandoned her. She was saved by a mother bear that suckled her. Later, a band of hunters discovered the child and raised her to become a great huntress.
Milanion was one of Atalanta's many admirers, but he stood out from the others because he had Aphrodite on his side. Aphrodite saw that no man could ever beat Atalanta in a foot race. So the goddess came up with a plan. She retrieved three golden apples from her orchard and gave them to Milanion to use during the race.
At the start of the race, Milanion had the apples tucked safely away. The race began, and a burst of speed put Milanion briefly ahead of Atalanta. While he had the lead, he tossed one of the apples off the race course. Atalanta ran after the apple to pick it up. The race continued. Each time Atalanta gained on Milanion, he threw another apple. By distracting Atalanta, he won both the race and the woman.
Aeneas and Dido
Aeneas was the son of Aphrodite and Anchises. After the Trojan War, Aeneas traveled to the city of Carthage in Africa. Deeply concerned for the safety of her son, Aphrodite caused Dido, queen of Carthage, to fall helplessly in love with him. Dido extended her protection to Aeneas, allowing him and his men time to rest and replenish their supplies. Dido and Aeneas met at a cave to make love.
Dido truly loved Aeneas and wanted to marry him. Aeneas, however, wanted to continue his journey. When the Trojans were ready to leave, Aeneas left with them. Distraught by his departure, Dido threw herself into a fire.