Ancient Rome was in the news last week when a 2nd century AD marble statue of Aphrodite sold at Sotheby’s in London for a record $24.5 million – reportedly nine times its estimated value.

The purchase at auction, which was made anonymously by phone, cost more than ever paid for an ancient marble. But if you ask me, the price wasn’t the only notable part of the statue. There’s something odd about it.

Consider what you see: a nude woman trying to shield her upper anatomy with one hand and with the other hand holding up her fallen gown, she covers her lower anatomy.

The story as written

Now consider what ancient literature says about Aphrodite. Far from shy, she’s recorded as debauched. For one thing, she was an inveterate adulterer. Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey points to just one of her infidelities.

Yet not only is the relic that sold in London the picture of propriety, even prudery, the same decorum can also be seen in the pose of the original statue on Mount Olympus, 2nc century Rome.

As if to explain, historians Matthew Dillon and Lynda Garland say in their 2005 book “Ancient Rome: From the Early Republic to the Assassination of Julius Caesar” that women were expected to be monogamous and to dress modestly - down to wearing a veil.

It’s safe to say that Aphrodite was neither monogamous nor modest. Frequently unfaithful to her husband, she bore several children by different men. Clearly, emperors like Caligula didn’t have all the fun.

Will the real Aphrodite please stand up

With Aphrodite’s history in mind, you know the way the Old Rome sculpture wrought her – so decorous, so demure - is not her. But a painter of the time stayed true to the text. In a fresco on the walls of Pompei, she’s seen baring her nude self seductively to Mars.

Many centuries later, Tintoretto picked up on the Pompeii image by depicting her nude with only her legs covered.

In this painting, you see her wantonly invite both Mars and Vulcan remove even that covering.

Jacques Louis David also showed her true colors in the painting Mars Being Disarmed by Venus (another name for Aphrodite). His version pictures her undressing Mars. But wait, not all painters living beyond ancient times adhered to text.

Botticelli seemed to take his cue directly from the statue of Aphrodite that got sold in London last week. His version titled The Birth of Venus shows her riding a seashell as she emerges from the sea with her hands covering her anatomy.

And even though the story of Aphrodite is pagan, Botticelli lends a holy purity to the image with a pale light to suggest she is as yet unstained by life on earth.

So, when you think of this goddess’ story as written, Botticelli’s painting, like the statue that renders her so blushing and bashful, seems like a joke.