Did you know that the modern word “pornography” is associated with Aphrodite? “Porne” (pronounced: POR’ nay) meant prostitute in Attic Greek, and Aphrodite Porne was the patrona of this profession. The earliest use of the word “pornography” emerged in the Victorian era in England and was used to describe writing about prostitutes, ostensibly from a public health perspective. A few decades later, it was used as a way to describe erotic art. Notably, prior to this period in human history, erotic art wasn’t particularly treated as inherently different than other forms of art.
Aphrodite’s cult center in Corinth was notably associated with sex work, as was her temple on Mt Eryx (a site in Sicily that was said to be founded by the hero Aeneas in honor of his mother). The women who plied their trade in these cities (whether they were cis-gender or transgender – both of which were commonplace) considered their work to be under Aphrodite’s guidance and protection. At the end of their careers, whether due to age or marriage, they made sacrifices to Aphrodite of their mirrors and cosmetics at her temples.
Both sex work and erotic art have been evidenced in every human culture, both ancient and modern. Indeed, it could be argued that these extended well into the pre-historic roots of humanity, as we have sculptures and paintings depicting the act of sex well before humans had developed written language. Sculptures in both Mesopotamia and India that are roughly contemporary with the development of written language would indicate that we already revered the sex act as sacred (with distinct religious meanings) long before our first authors and poets were writing about it, such as Enheduanna and her poem that depicted the “Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi.”
The Love Goddess, by her many innumerable names, has been with us for this journey, and continues to be with us as we explore sexuality, sensuality, sex work, and erotic art in all its forms.
[Laurelei Black is an American folkloric Witch, Aphrodite woman, and author.]