Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, has inspired many a love story throughout human history. She is well known for the love she shared with those who came into contact with here, enchanting them into lust and wonder. It is only fitting then, that substances used by humans to fill themselves with this lust be named after her.
There are two main theological stories of how Aphrodite came to be. The most famous was portrayed in Hesiod's Theogony, in which it is told that she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus' genitals and threw them into the sea. The foam created by the genitals gave birth to Aphrodite (her name translates to foam-arisen). Hesiod wrote how the genitals “were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh; with it grew a girl. This scene was portrayed in the famous painting “Venus Rising” in which Aphrodite’s journey to shore riding a giant scallops shell was illustrated.
Maybe somewhat less epic is the second account of her birth states how she was simply the daughter of Zeus, the king of gods, and Dione, who is seen by some as his wife.
Aphrodite is said to be the image of a perfect woman, her beauty and lust were unbearable - to the point were many of the other Gods feared they would fall for her and be plunged into war with each other in an attempt to win her for themselves. For this reason, legend tells how Zeus wed her to Hephaestus, the god of smiting, craftsmanship, fire and volcanoes, as he was ugly and deformed – thereby neutralising any threat. However, this did not stop Aphrodite from sharing her lust. She was said to have taken many lovers, both gods and men. As a result other beings were thought to be born of her love.
As the symbol of passion, love and lust, she is the perfect patron for those looking to gain a boost to their libido, and is the reason these sexual stimulating foods, drinks and drugs are named as they are – aphrodisiacs.
To many, the word aphrodisiacs is unequivocally linked to oysters. While indeed they are said to stimulate our passion, they are by far not the only food to do so. In fact, many foods and herbs throughout the world have an effect on our libido. Considering the sheer amount of stimulating herbs, spread out all over the world, it is safe to assume that aphrodisiacs have been used since the dawn of mankind.
Have you ever found yourself attracted to the natural aroma of a person, or have you ever smelt one of their old shirts and thought of them? It is highly likely that pheromones are what‘s getting you going.
Prior to modern society, it would have been our natural scent and smell that acted as an aphrodisiac, which is also the one of the purposes of perfumes. Before the invention of soaps and perfumes, extracts and oils, the natural body odor of a person would be one of the ways to assess sexual potential of a partner. Our natural odors contain pheromones; these are chemicals that trigger primal responses by members of the same species that inhale them. It is the sex pheromones present within our natural musk that our ancient ancestors would have partly relied on to get their significant other in the mood.
It is worth noting, there is no point going unwashed thinking it will get you a date, you will encounter limited success, to say the least. Nowadays, fragrances and cleanliness have been heavily advertised, and thus seen as desirable. It is also worth mentioning that pheromones are odourless and are not detectable by the human sense of smell; what you smell on an unwashed person is sweat and dirt. It is the unfortunate case though that pheromones are washed away with this when you clean, so it is hard to have one without the other. Saying this, you can still produce pheromones whilst clean, they just won't be present in the amounts our unwashed ancestors had.
It was around the time of Ancient Egypt that we know humans begun to take this concept of smell as attractive one step further - by developing perfumes. Cleopatra, the Egyptian ruler was said to have used perfumes made from bear grease and other ingredients to seduce her lovers. The ancient Romans were so large on the use of perfume to elicit sexual desire that they were reported to go through 2,800 tons of frankincense and 550 tons of myrrh a year. Other ingredients they used were the dried marrow of human bones, menstrual blood and parts of other animals – doesn’t sound to appealing really! These are of course, just a few examples, similar aphrodisiacs would have been found throughout the rest of the world as civilization and understanding developed.
It was also around this time era that theories on how foods could act as an aphrodisiac began to develop. The Roman physician Galen wrote how erections, fertility, lust and potency were caused by “wind”, and that by eating gassy food, (food that causes flatulence), you could restore the wind to your body and sort out all of your sexual problems. Today, aphrodisiacs are seen by most as something that inspires lust, but back then, both desire and sexual function were lumped together – as gas would solve them all. This belief was widely held all the way up until the 18th century.
The notion that smell acts as an aphrodisiac is something that is heavily marketed by our capitalist society. Industry first took the notion in 1882, when the perfume called “Fougere Royal” was released. It was supposed to be used by men to attract women, and the notion that perfumes are sexy still persists to this day.