The magical Girdle of Aphrodite or Venus (Greek: ἱμάς, himás: 'strap, thong'; κεστός, kestós: 'girdle, belt'; Latin: cingulum Veneri, cestus Veneris), variously interpreted as girdle, belt, breast-band, and otherwise, is one of the erotic accessories of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. According to Homer, the girdle was imbued with the power to inspire the passion of desire in mortals and immortals alike. Hera, in her role as the goddess of marriage, sometimes borrowed it from Aphrodite to mitigate lovers' quarrels, to instigate the bridal contests of suitors, and on at least one occasion to manipulate her husband Zeus.
The earliest mention of the girdle is in Book 14 of the Iliad, when its magical power is sought by Hera, who wants to seduce her husband Zeus, and has arrayed herself in all her finery, when she asks Aphrodite for "love and desire" (φιλότητα καί ἵμερον, philótēta kaí hímeron). Aphrodite immediately understands what she wants and gives her the magic girdle, her "broidered zone, curiously-wrought" (κεστὸν ἱμάντα ποικίλον, kestón himanta poikílon).
She spake, and loosed from her bosom the broidered zone, curiously-wrought, wherein are fashioned all manner of allurements; therein is love, therein desire, therein dalliance—beguilement that steals the wits even of the wise. This she laid in her hands, and spake, and addressed her: "Take now and lay in thy bosom this zone, curiously-wrought, wherein all things are fashioned; I tell thee thou shalt not return with that unaccomplished, whatsoever in thy heart thou desirest."
The scant details of the Homeric account were supplemented and embellished by later authors.
Homer's text suggests that the kestós himás, traditionally translated as "embroidered girdle", may be describing a kind of decorated breast-band (στρόφιον, stróphion), for Aphrodite advises Hera: "Take now and lay in thy bosom this zone". There is at least one example of late-Hellenic sculpture that seems to confirm this, depicting the goddess wrapping a stróphion (from stróphos "twisted band" + the diminutive suffix -ion) around her chest.
Count Du Mesnil du Buisson, in a study of the ornaments that appear on figures of Ishtar, Astarte, Atargatis, and Aphrodite, calls attention to a characteristic ornament consisting of two bands, each of which passes over a shoulder and under the opposite arm and together form a diagonal cross, which he calls sautoir ("saltire"). Depictions of saltires with cords, bands, knots, and tassels suggests magical properties, as these ornaments were sometimes thought to conserve the mana of the wearer. Campbell Bonner argues a possible connection with the Homeric girdle, but also notes other theories.
The Girdle of Venus was a common theme in the arts and literature of Europe, particularly during the Baroque and Neoclassical periods.