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Chapter 5: The Temple of Aphrodite

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".

There can be no doubt that the Minoans were aware of the value of Kythera as a stop-over port on the way to the Greek mainland. Subsequent evidence as to the location of Skandia and the archaeological discoveries at Kastri and Paliopoli complete the picture described by Pausanias. The religious practices during the Cretan occupation of the island are not documented. A recent discovery near the church of Agios Georgios at Paliopoli, in 1992, unearthed for the first time numerous statuettes, suggesting the extension of Cretan religious practices on Kythera. It is logical to assume that, as in Crete, caves or other carefully chosen locations would have been used by Cretan cult members to practise their religious ceremonies. It is not known if this ceased when the Cretans departed from Kythera. The Phoenicians would have also practised their religion and amongst the many deities worshipped was Astarte. The success of the Phoenicians at all levels of trade in the Greek seas provides an explanation for the presence of the most revered statue of the goddess. The impressive ceremonies and the devotion towards this new deity by the Kytherians soon became known to the Greeks on the mainland. Homer not only makes reference to the goddess but also calls her "Kytheria", revealing the magnitude of honour the Kytherians bestowed upon this goddess. We have already mentioned how the Greek mind in Theogonia took these foreign religious beliefs and transformed them to satisfy local customs. Soon the memory of Astarte was dead and a new and beautiful Aphrodite was born out of the crystal clear waters of Kythera. Aphrodite literally possessed the minds of the locals who worshipped her as the celestial (heavenly) goddess. The temple that was built in her honour was much revered, and Kythera became known as the "very holy" island. Aphrodite is depicted in early Kytherian coins and in everyday utensils. Myths, stories, poems, plays and works of art, for centuries continued to depict her beauty.

Every single place of religious importance in the Greek and Roman world of the classical era displays a variety of representations of the goddess Aphrodite. The worship of Aphrodite in Kythera for a very long time influenced the life of the people more than any other event or occupying force. This influence was so powerful that it wiped from the island's history the memory of any earlier religions which may have existed there. From Kythera, Aphrodite was quickly adopted by all the other Greek states. She took her place amongst the Hellenic Pantheon and became one of the most revered deities. The early beliefs were soon pushed aside and from an early xoanon (a roughly carved wooden statue) she was transformed to a most attractive statue with her female figure being depicted in many different ways. Theogonia and other "official" interpretations left aside, as far as Kytherians were concerned, Aphrodite had come out of the calm clear waters where the Ionian, the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas met. This union and acceptance of Aphrodite also heralded the beginnings of the uniting of the various Greek strains into one nation. Kythera is the earliest example of Hellenism as it became known some years later. Here, in the most "holy" island, and under the arches other most revered temple, everyone felt free, equal and united in spirit. Here, there was no Greek or barbarian. Such a feeling and such a temple brought to Kythera not only fame but wealth and much needed foreign trade. It is ironic that at the present time as the population of Kythera has again dwindled to approximately 3,000, the future of the island depends once more on foreign visitors, be they from Australia, America, Europe or even from as near as Athens.

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