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History > General History > Chapter 4: Aphrodite on Kythera

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submitted by Site Administrator on 29.06.2003

Chapter 4: Aphrodite on Kythera

Many thanks to Peter Vanges and the Kytherian Association of Australia for their kind permission to reproduce this excerpt from Kythera, a History (1993), a hard cover book which is still available from the Association. For the contact information, please see the Associations section under "Culture".

The introduction by the Phoenicians of the worship of Astarte (Aphrodite) to the island is of great importance. The historian Herodotus says that the cult of Aphrodite was brought from Palestine. It was not only that the worship of a new deity gave life and added to the life of the island, but there was also the fact that the statue brought to Kythera was the oldest and most revered one in all the world. It goes without saying that such a treasure had to be housed in a temple befitting its significance. Thus a splendid temple in honour of Aphrodite was built at Paliopoli. Today, nothing remains of this majestic temple. Fortunately, we have enough written evidence to allow us to reconstruct in our minds the famous temple and its location.

Homer when referring to Kythera, uses the word "zathea" meaning "all holy". He also mentions two Kytherians who took part in the expedition against Troy - Amphidamas and Lycophron. Hesiod speaks of the goddess Aphrodite, daughter of Uranus, as being born out of the sea of Kythera and calls her "Kytheria". Other writers making references to Kythera and Aphrodite are Thucydides, Aristotle the Philosopher, Heraclides from Pontos, Strabo, Pliny the Roman, Pausanias, Stefanos of Byzantium and many others. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Temple of Aphrodite existed and its location easily identified. Its destruction is a great loss for history and an even greater loss for Kythera. The famous archaeologist Schlieman, having visited Kythera in A.D.1874 placed the temple of Aphrodite between two small churches. As late as the latter part of the 18th century, two upright columns were still standing in this location, and known to the locals as Kolonnes. Current evidence lends support to the argument that the temple was built on a terrace between the present-day churches of Agios Georgia and Agios Kosmas. Indeed, in the chapel of Agios Kosmas on the hill of Paliocastio, one can clearly distinguish the remains of columns, archaic Doric capitals a number of large cut blocks and a part of an architrave which suggest that a temple was nearby. When Jacob Spon and George Wheler visited the island in A.D. 1675-6, they recognised the ancient city o Skandia and after a considerable walk came upon two Doric columns still standing. In 1876 the archaeologist, Othon Rieman, came to Kythera and recorded that there were no visible remains of Skandia or the city of Kythera except for the two columns. In his maps, Louremberg includes another temple in honour of Helen of Troy, not far from the Temple of Aphrodite. Kootwyek also mentions the remains of many buildings and nearby "beautiful remains of an old temple", probably that of Aphrodite. Hand-written records kept by Emmanuel Mormoris reveal that many ancient tombs which Castellan had seen were no longer visible had been submerged during the big earthquake in June 1798. The above evidence leaves no doubt as to the approximate location of the temple. What is not known is its size. We can assume that such a temple would have been an impressive one befitting the world-wide reputation of the celestial Aphrodite.

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