Without doubt, Aphrodite earned her reputation for frivolity and promiscuity as a result of her very liberated sexuality. However, this reputation was not so much a condemnation of her behavior as it was a fear of her uncontrollable nature.
Aphrodite was one of the most unique of the Greek deities in the freedom of her sexual life. Aphrodite's charms came from her magic cestus, an embroidered girdle that, in both gods and men, aroused passion for the wearer. So great were Aphrodite's seductive abilities that every god, including the great Zeus, desired her as his wife.
However, Aphrodite was too proud for any of her suitors and rejected them all. As a punishment, Zeus made her the wife of Hephaestus, the homely and lame smith-god. This union did nothing to curb Aphrodite's actions, and she discouraged Hephaestus from sharing her bed in additon to being unfaithful to him.
Perhaps the most celebrated of Aphrodite's affairs was her relationship with Ares, the god of war. Although such a union may at first seem incongruous, it is actually a match of two divinities of the same nature. Aphrodite, the beautiful maiden who attracts the attention of the most powerful of the gods only to decline him, refuses to be controlled by her marriage to Hephaestus--she will not be denied freedom in the area of her dominion. Likewise Ares, an alternately rageful and cowardly god, can never be predicted in his actions. Aphrodite's rebellious nature is reinforced by the creation of many children by her liason with Ares. In addition, Phobos and Deimos, Anteros, and Harmonia were even passed off as the offspring of Hephaestus.
Unfortunately, the two were discovered by Helios, the sun, on an occasion when they slept too late. Helios told Hephaestus, who conspired to trap them.
"And when Hephaestus heard the grievous tale, he went his way to his smithy, pondering evil in the deep of his heart, and set on the anvil block the great anvil and forged bonds which might not be broken or loosed, that the lovers might bide fast where they were...So the two went to the couch, and lay them down to sleep, and about them clung the cunning bonds of the wise Hephaestus" (Homer's Odyssey).
Hephaestus' trap did nothing to deter Aphrodite from her extramarital activities, and the goddess had many children by both gods and mortals. Many of these children were associated with different aspects of love and sexuality. By Zeus she became the mother of Eros, the creator of sensual love. Eros often appeared as a winged infant equipped with a bow and a quiver full of love darts which never missed their mark and took effect on both god and man. His half-brother Anteros, son of Ares, punished those who failed to return the love of others. By Hermes she was the mother of Hermaphroditus, who was welded with a nymph into a body with both sexes. By Dionysus she had two sons, Hymen and Priapus. While Hymen was worshipped as the god of marriage, the monstrously ugly Priapus represented human lust.
The most prominent of Aphrodite's mortal children was Aeneas, her son by the shepherd Anchises. Aeneas became the founder of the nation of Italy, and the mythical ancestor of the Roman people.
Aphrodite's offspring show just how total her control over love and other passions truly was. Through her children, she had power over all areas of human emotion. As all people, despite their character or position in life, possessed some capacity for feeling, Aphrodite's influence was perhaps more widespread than that of any other god.