Aphrodite and MirrorsOctober 12, 2009
Over the years, many people have thought that the connection between Aphrodite and mirrors is the goddess’ due to pride – or, worse, to vanity. This has simultaneously evolved with the impression of her as a weak, fragile god who has no desire that is not sexual in nature. The mirror becomes, under this impression, merely a way in which she can satisfy her need to witness her beauty. However, this idea creates far too human an impression of something divine, otherworldly—it creates human explanations for the actions of the gods, as though expecting the gods to abide by our moral rules of conduct. The gods, though, do not abide by our rules: they abide by their own social order, something that is at once incredibly alien and familiar to us.
The mirror is an often-seen attribute of Aphrodite; it is as linked to her as Dionysos’ wine or Zeus’ thunderbolts. The mirror is a key part in unlocking exactly who Aphrodite is – as the myths told in Ancient Greece are oftentimes man-made, even if they may be divinely inspired.
The astrological symbol for the planet Venus—named for the Roman’s goddess of love, Venus, who was often identified with the Greek Aphrodite—is the same symbol as that used for the biological female: a circle with a small cross beneath. In alchemy, the Venus symbol also stands for the metal copper, and this provides an interesting link between copper, females and mirrors – in antiquity, polished copper or bronze was used in mirrors. The Venus symbol is also thought to represent the very mirror of Venus or Aphrodite: therefore the connection between Aphrodite and mirrors becomes ever more pronounced.
In times both modern and ancient, the mirror is implicitly connected to beauty and the imagination – all of which are connected to Aphrodite. The Roman writer Apuleius makes the connection between Venus-Aphrodite and mirrors: ‘Bands of Tritoni sported here and there on the waters, one softly blowing on his echoing shell, another fending off with silk parasol the heat of the hostile sun, a third holding a mirror before his mistress’s face, while others, yoked in pairs to her chariot, swam below.’ (Apuleius, The Golden Ass 4.31.) Here both the Triton-drawn chariot and silk parasol have symbolic connections – the first identifying her as a goddess intimately linked to the sea, who can control the sometimes-vicious Tritoni, and the second linking her to the delicacy of love, which blossoms or fades beneath her influence, here shown as the ‘hostile sun.’
Further symbolism of the mirror shows a connection to secrets—both the hiding and revealing of them, as linking to Aphrodite’s epithets Kythereia (as ‘she has keuthomenon [love hidden] within herself’ – Suidas s.v. Kythereia) and Kypris (as ‘she furnishes kuoporis [pregnancy]’ – Suidas s.v. Kypris)—and, as such, to the intense, secret-shattering aspects of light. This links back to the planet Venus, which in Ancient Greece was ruled by two gods, one of which was named Eôsphoros (bringer of dawn) or Phôsphoros (bringer of light); identifying Aphrodite’s sacred planet, Venus, as a bringer of light. This, in turn, is further confirmed by her epithets Dia (divine, shining) and Khryseê (golden).
The mirror also, in turn, symbolises revelation and truth: the mirror often shows the face, and the eyes, as shown in the painting Venus At Her Mirror or Rokeby Venus of Venus-Aphrodite by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez, in which the goddess gazes into the mirror with only her face revealed. The eyes, in turn, are the paths to truth: they are the “window to the soul”, or, ever-more interestingly, the “mirror of the soul.” Aphrodite, in gazing into the mirror, is therefore not merely enjoying the sight of her own beauty, but is acknowledging the truth of all that resides within her – for, as Aphrodite Ourania, she is that which keeps together the entire kosmos and continues the survival of all.
In conclusion, then, Aphrodite’s mirror is not merely a symbol of pride or vanity, but rather of the truth of survival – sometimes harsh, sometimes gentle. It symbolises the truth of the human body, the imagination of humans and gods, and the nature and prolonged existence of all that there is and ever was.