As well as intervening in the lives of mortals, Aphrodite had numerous affairs amongst the gods. She was married to Hephaistos (god of fire and metalworking) but was famously caught sleeping with Ares (god of war). Other divine lovers included Dionysos (god of wine) and Hermes (god of travel and commerce), from whom she gave birth to the fertility deities Priapos and Hermaphroditos, respectively.


Deep in slumber, with one leg flexed and fabric stretched taut around the toes of the other, this feminine-looking figure presents itself for the viewer's pleasure. The exposed buttocks and rotated hips invite us to walk around and behold its beauty.
Hermaphroditos (The Sleeping Hermaphrodite) / Roman
On encountering the sculpture from the other side, however, the viewer's assumption that the figure is female is shattered by the sight of its penis.
Hermaphroditos (The Sleeping Hermaphrodite) / Roman

Hermaphroditos's combination of male and female features was a popular subject in art from the 100s B.C. onward. While the exposed body provides a voyeuristic thrill, its mixed gender raises profound questions about the nature of desire and arousal.
Eros Wearing a Lionskin / Greek


According to some sources, the love god Eros was also one of Aphrodite's offspring. He was often a companion or intermediary for the goddess, but he did not always act with her blessing, and was frequently portrayed as a troublesome child.

A bronze statuette also in the exhibition depicts the goddess brandishing a sandal or a roll of fabric to punish him, recalling an episode in Apollonius of Rhodes's poem Argonautica (270–245 BC), where she complains that Eros "pays no attention and incessantly picks a quarrel."

Learn more about Eros from curator David Saunders on The Iris »


Related Information

On The Iris