Aphrodite was known as the Greek goddess of love, beauty, sexual desire and fertility. According to Hesiod, she was born when Uranus, father of the gods, was castrated and his genitals thrown into the sea. Uranus's genitalia and the sea foam it mingled with are the supposed parents of Aphrodite, who rose from the foam and was carried by waves to Cyprus. This is why she was named Aphrodite, which literally means "foam-born", and is also known as Kypris and Cytherea. The goddess of love is depicted in many different ways; perhaps the most famous image of her is Botticelli's painting of the sea goddess standing naked atop a giant shell. Other paintings have depicted her as Asian, since ancient Greeks tended to agree that Aphrodite was of both Greek and foreign heritage.
The Graces also lived in Cyprus, and they were three sisters representing beauty, love and pleasure who served as attendants for Aphrodite. One version of the story says that the Graces were eternally joined by the hands in a circular dance that could not be broken; this doesn't seem likely, since the Graces were assigned tasks such as bathing and nursing Aphrodite when she was feeling lonely or depressed.
In Homer's version of her birth, Aphrodite is merely the offspring of Zeus and Dione, a minor goddess and one of his many mistresses. In both stories, Zeus quickly marries Aphrodite to the smith god Hephaestus, because Zeus is afraid that the rest of the gods will fight over the stunningly beautiful goddess. Like her father Zeus, Aphrodite was unable to remain faithful to her husband, and had her fair share of infidelities with such characters as Ares, god of war, and the beautiful mortal Adonis. Hephaestus made the mistake of fashioning a magic girdle for his wife, which caused every man she ever encountered to fall madly in love with her. This girdle was later lent to Hera, who wanted to win her god-king husband's affections during the Trojan War.
Because of his level of experience with women, the prince of Troy, Paris, was asked to name which of the Olympian goddesses was the most beautiful. Hera and Athena offered him power and strength in battle in return for his vote, but Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful mortal woman, Helen of Sparta, who later became Helen of Troy when she ran off and eloped with Paris. Obviously, Paris opted for love and voted for Aphrodite. Aphrodite was blamed for making the Trojan War bloodier and more tragic than it needed to be, by meddling in the affairs of battle in order to spare the lives of Paris and her son Aeneas. Aphrodite went so far as to prevent Paris's death by a fatal blow, transporting herself and him to his bedchamber. She then went to Helen and warned her, "If you do not go to Paris, I will hate you as much as I love you now."
Athena hated her "sweetness and light" sister and commanded the warrior Diomedes to stab her. Aphrodite was wounded in the hand, and immediately returned to Mount Olympus to cry to her mother and father. Zeus instructed her to never again become involved in war, and instead to concentrate on the realms of love and marriage.
The affair of Aphrodite and Ares is very famous, and became quite well known to the rest of the gods after Hephaestus caught his wife and her lover in his own marriage bed. He had become suspicious of his wife and fashioned a trap to catch her and Ares the next time they were together. After being caught, Hephaestus demanded the return of the gifts he had given Aphrodite during their time of courtship. She then ran off to Cyprus and Ares left for Thrace. A line out of the Odyssey quotes Hermes saying that he'd suffer three times as much humiliation as Ares did in order to share the bed of the goddess of sex.
Methods of worshipping the goddess of love in ancient Greece included the Aphrodisiac festival. Priestesses representing Aphrodite were appointed, and sexual intercourse with one of them was considered as sacred as praying or making a sacrifice to the goddess herself.
In paintings and throughout literature, Aphrodite is depicted contradictorily. In some artworks she is shown as self-conscious, modest of her obvious good looks. In others she is shown as very self-aware and comfortable with the fact that she is the most beautiful creature in the world.