According to mythology, Cyprus is the island of Aphrodite, that enigmatic goddess of love.

Her birth from the waves, a favourite theme of European artists, was described by the poet Hesiod in his Theogeny, written in the 8th century BC. In the beginning, he writes, there was chaos, and from this chaos there appeared Gaea, the deep breasted earth. Gaea bore Uranus, the sky, `whom she made her equal in grandeur; so that he entirely covered her`. Gaea and Uranus united, producing first the Titans, six male and six female, then the Cyclopes, with their single eye set in their foreheads, and lastly three monsters. Uranus condemned his offspring to captivity in the bowels of the earth, but a sad, and then angry Gaea planned her revenge. Her son and confederate, Cronus (one of the Titans) lay in wait until his father fell asleep at Gaea`s side one night. He then drew forth a steel sickle, fashioned by his mother and mutilated Uranus, casting the bleeding genitals into the sea. The severed organs broke into a white foam from which arose the beautiful young goddess Aphrodite, `who was first carried towards the divine Cythera and thence as far as Cyprus surrounded by waves`, where she landed at sandy Paphos. Here she was met by the Horae, or Seasons, dressed in precious garments, and conducted to the assembly of the gods.

Mythologists, who regard myths as a reflection of social and historical events and conflicts, have devised the following sequence to account for this story; Gaea, the mother earth, who came into being without male assistance, represents a matriarchal society existing in prehistoric times. In contrast, Aphrodite came into existence from the male organ alone, with no role for the mother, and this has been held to represent a patriarchal society. Thus this myth is supposed to signify the change from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society.

Aphrodite is the essence of female seductive beauty and the object of male desire. Hesiod attributes her with `gracious laughter, sweet deceits, the charms and delights of love`. She is often accompanied by Eros, with his bow and quiver full of passion tipped arrows, and Himeros, the personification of tender desire.

Ironically, the ill favoured Hephaestus, god of the forge, obtained Aphrodite for his wife, but the goddess of love did not lack amorous adventure. In the Odyssey, Homer tells of her affair with Ares, the god of war; the lovers eagerly took advantage of Hephaestus` absence, but the infidelity of his wife was reported to him by Helios, who sees all. In response, Hephaestus forged a net invisibly fine, yet unbreakably strong, and contrived to ensnare the couple as they slept on his couch. He then called on Zeus and the Immortals to witness their adultery, and the sight of helpless couple inspired the gods to Olympian laughter, throwing the awakening Ares and Aphrodite into the utmost confusion.

The connection between Aphrodite and Hephaestus is of particular significance to Cyprus, bearing in mind the importance of copper and copper working, to the island. Excavations by archaeologists at the city of Enkomi showed that the forges where copper was worked were associated with temple complexes. Furthermore, a male and a naked female statuette were found, each standing on an ingot of copper.

The myths in which Aphrodite features are many, and her emergence as a cult figure in Cyprus has been connected to the story of Pygmalion. This sculptor, sometimes referred to as the King of Amathus, carved such a captivating female image in ivory that he fell in love with it. Aphrodite took pity on Pygmalion as he caressed the curves of his inert creation, and breathed life into the statue, which began to return the sculptors ardour.

The union of Pygmalion and Galataea - so named on account of her milk white skin - produced Paphos, whose son kinyras founded the city of Paphos where he raised a temple to Aphrodite renowned in ancient times.

Metharme, the wife of the priest-king Kinyras, foolishly boasted that er daughter Myrrha (Smyrna) excelled Aphrodite in beauty. The orned goddess retaliated by inspiring in Myrrha a lust for her father. ie night, when Kinyras was in his cups, an incestuous union took we. However, when Kinyras discovered that he was both father and andfather to his daughter`s unborn child, he sought to hunt and slay Aphrodite saved Myrrha from his fury by transforming her into a tree which some months later bore her son Adonis.

Aphroddite fell for the comely youth, and concealed him from rivals in which she entrusted to Persephone, the goddess of the underworld. Persephone could not resist opening the chest, and captivated by its contents, she took Adonis as her lover. Aphrodite appealed to Zeus against this perfidy, and he passed the problem on to the Muse, Cal ope. She judged that Adonis should spend one third of the year with Aphrodite, one third with Persephone and the remaining third alone, to recover from his exert ions.

According to another version, Adonis was fatally gored by a wild boar. From his blood sprang the wild anemones, and from Aphrodite`s tears, the rock roses which carpet the fields of Cyprus late each winter.

This symbolism has suggested the identity of Adonis with Tammuz, the oriental god of vegetation, whose spouse was Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess. The conclusion that Aphrodite herself is a transformation of Astarte - the Phoenicians were early colonisers of Cyprus - was mooted long ago by Herodotus. is clear that in prehistoric times, gods acquired aspects according to the movements of and the interaction between, the various races in the region. No doubt the primitive female fertility idols found in Neolithic sites in Cyprus were the pegs on which the developing features of the goddess were hung.

Whatever her origin, Aphrodite became a potent goddess in Cyprus, and her temple in Paphos was famous throughout the Mediterranean basin at least as far back as Homeric times, and attracted pilgrims up until the 4th century AD.