If you visit Turkey–and hey, who doesn’t love visiting increasingly intolerant authoritarian dictatorships?–it’s definitely worth strolling the nicely overgrowing ruins of Aphrodisias (Ἀφροδισιάς), a place originally erected in honor of a local cult’s goddess of fertility who has come to be known most widely as Aphrodite, goddess of love.
Lots of different areas had their own interpretations and names for her: Cytherea, Cypris, Acidalia, Cerigo, Ourania, Artemis and Ashtart among them. “Aphrodite” is Greek, “Lady of Ephesus” Anatolian, and “Venus” is Roman, but they’re all basically the same cult image, reinterpreted and adapted for local and/or religious purposes usually involving fertility.
The most widely known Greek origin myth for Aphrodite says she was actually Uranus’s cock and balls, which, for complicated reasons, his son Cronus lopped off with a sickle and threw into the ocean. Uranus’s discarded junk then transformed into Aphrodite and emerged from the sea foam (aphros) as a probably nude, “nubile, infinitely desirable adult” woman who, in later interpretations, was also portrayed as “vain, ill-tempered, and easily offended.” The holiday of Aphrodisia in (ancient) Greece often involved people worshipping Aphrodite by having sex with her priestesses, and ritual prostitution was practiced in the shrines and temples.
This adds a bit of frisson to touring these ruins, and I wondered if anyone’s ever tried doing historically accurate immersive tour experiences in Aphrodisias involving a boatload of people on a bus disembarking, being fitted with togas, robes, tunics or whatever was in fashion in the area about 1900 years ago, then strolling out into a temple, tetrapylon, odeon or stadium for some heated old-time religious worship.