by Megan Rudloff
“Never had there been such sensual beauty and impeccable taste, born of the sea foam, adorned in birth with pearls and clams.”
When I reflect on my three-month journey abroad on the small island of Cyprus, my mind drifts back to an ethereal experience near the end of my semester along its southwest coast of the city of Paphos. Jutting out from the beach stand three rocks in a row, all of differing sizes. The rock closest to the shore is the largest, with powerful waves crashing against its sides. To me, this rock formation embodies the lessons I’ve learned and my personal growth during my time in Cyprus. According to Greek mythology, this is the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, desire and beauty.
The official name of the rock formation is Πέτρα του Ρωμιού (Petra Tou Romiou), which translates to “Rock of the Greek.” Tradition says that the goddess (whose name translates in English to “foam-born”) was born from the foam of the sea and was carried to the shore in a clam shell. Hesiod, an 8th century B.C. Greek poet, refers to Aphrodite’s birth in his poem Theogony, and describes Cyprus as the Island of Venus, which the island is still referred to as today. He describes the creation of the world, where Earth and her son, Uranus, have a son, Cronos, who had a hatred for his father. Cronos chops off his father’s genitals and casts them into the sea, when, as Hesiod states, “A white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh. In this foam grew a maiden who was carried to sea girt Cyprus, and it is there where the beautiful and respectable goddess came forth and green grass grew about her beneath her light feet. (Theogony 190-195). Aphrodite’s birth represents a bright light created out of negativity, which is something everyone can relate to on a smaller scale.
With a rich Greek presence in Cyprus, as well as the country’s close proximity to Greece, many cultural influences permeate in Cyprus’ history. Since Aphrodite is a well-known goddess in Greek mythology, it is fascinating to me that unlike countless other gods and goddesses, Aphrodite’s story did not take place in Greece, but rather on the shores of this small island. Visiting the birthplace of Aphrodite, which serves as a symbol for ancient Greek culture and identity, was a sacred experience because countless numbers of Greeks have worshipped the gods for centuries, and I was able to witness where a major part of their religion took place. More specifically, many women worshipped Aphrodite in hopes to be blessed with fertility. It was cathartic to stand on the beach and observe the rough waves strike against the rocky shoreline. Many colored rocks covered the sand, adding to the beauty of the scenery. I picked them up and held them in my hands, admiring their unique shapes and colors. It felt as though I had traveled to another planet – one that was quiet, calm, and serene. Only the sound of the sea rolling to meet the shore filled my ears. I took off my shoes and walked into the cold water, and my feet were cleansed of the beach’s dark sand. The sublimity of this moment is one of the fondest moments of not only my time in Cyprus, but of my life. I stood on this foreign land and began to meditate about my own life and the progress I had made as an individual while traveling abroad.
I faced many challenges during my time overseas – homesickness, problems with friends, handling my new independence and keeping up with my schoolwork. In the beginning, I wondered if studying abroad for a semester was a mistake. Yet each day became a bit easier, and I gradually adapted to my new lifestyle. Although there were bumps along the way of my journey, the majority of my time in Cyprus was filled with joy, curiosity and thankfulness for the opportunity to explore the Mediterranean. As the goddess of love, desire and beauty, Aphrodite has an infamous reputation in Greek mythology. She had many partners and was unfaithful to her husband. She put both mortal and immortal men in a trance of love. She did what she wanted in order to make herself happy. Cyprus had the same effect on me. After witnessing its sandy beaches, clear blue waters, cotton candy sunsets and villages in the mountains, I fell in love with the island. I fell in love with the coffee I ordered every morning at my university, the authentic gyros sold down the street that I ate for dinner most nights, the Turkish side of Cyprus and the shops on Ledras Street where the owners recognized me. The Island of Venus put me in a trance, showing me it was more important to treasure the beautiful aspects of life rather than the material.
It was almost incomprehensible to think that I was standing on a beach halfway across the world, over 5,500 miles away from my home and all that was familiar to me. This became a moment of triumph – a realization of my growth, independence and strength. Aphrodite taught me to give into desires, to love my life, and to live it to the fullest. To take advantage of the short time I had on a tropical island in the Mediterranean. To not wait for second chances, but to dive into every experience with confidence. To be optimistic about any challenge I faced. To leave my journey with no regrets. Aphrodite’s spirit helped me realize my personal goals and expectations during my stay in Cyprus. She is a symbol of the Greek language and culture that I began to take as my own. Although Aphrodite’s story is understood to many as just a myth, her message and what she represents is very clear to me, and she taught me more about myself than I could have ever learned from anyone else.
Read an interview with Megan here