Venus was the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus was central to many religious festivals, and was venerated in Roman religion under numerous cult titles.
The Romans adapted the myths and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite for Roman art and Latin literature. In the later classical tradition of the West, Venus becomes one of the most widely referenced deities of Greco-Roman mythology as the embodiment of love and sexuality.. Later, under Greek influence, she was equated with Aphrodite and assumed many of her aspects. Venus is the daughter of Jupiter, and some of her lovers include Mars and Vulcan, modeled on the affairs of Aphrodite.
Her cult began in Ardea and Lavinium, Latium. On August 18, 293 BC, her oldest temple was built. August 18 was then a festival called the Vinalia Rustica. The oldest temple known of Venus dates back to 293 BCE, and was inaugurated on August 18. Later, on this date the Vinalia Rustica was observed. A second festival, that of the Veneralia, was celebrated on April 1 in honor of Venus Verticordia, who later became the protector against vice. Her temple was built in 114 BCE.
After the Roman defeat near Lake Trasum in 215 BCE, a temple was built on the Capitol for Venus Erycina. This temple was officially opened on April 23, and a festival, the Vinalia Priora, was instituted to celebrate the occasion. Her importance rose, and that of her cult, through the influence of several Roman political leaders. The dictator Sulla made her his patroness, and both Julius Caesar and the emperor Augustus named her the ancestor of their (Julian) family: the 'gens Julia' was Aeneas, son of Venus and the mortal Anchises.
Julius Caesar introduced the cult of Venus Genetrix, the goddess of motherhood and marriage, and built a temple for her in 46 BCE. He introduced Venus Genetrix as a goddess of motherhood and domesticity. She was also honored in the temple of Mars Ultor. The last great temple of Venus was built by the emperor Hadrianus near the Colosseum in 135 CE. Venus was often referred to with epithet Venus Erycina ("of the heather").
Venus embodies sex, beauty, enticement, seduction and persuasive female charm among the community of immortal gods; in Latin orthography, her name is indistinguishable from the Latin noun venus ("sexual love" and "sexual desire"), from which it derives. Venus has been described as perhaps "the most original creation of the Roman pantheon" and "an ill-defined and assimilative" native goddess, combined "with a strange and exotic Aphrodite".
In myth, Venus-Aphrodite was born of sea-foam. Roman theology presents Venus as the yielding, watery female principle, essential to the generation and balance of life. Her male counterparts in the Roman pantheon, Vulcan and Mars, are active and fiery. Venus absorbs and tempers the male essence, uniting the opposites of male and female in mutual affection. She is essentially assimilative and benign, and embraces several otherwise quite disparate functions, She can give military victory, sexual success, good fortune and prosperity. In one context, she is a goddess of prostitutes; in another, she turns the hearts of men and women from sexual vice to virtue.
Due to her early association with Aphrodite in the interpretatio graeca, it is hard to establish what characteristics the native Italic Venus may have had. In her earliest forms, as a goddess of vegetation and gardens, she was commonly associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Etruscan deity Turan, borrowing aspects from each.
As with most other gods and goddesses in Roman mythology, the literary concept of Venus is mantled in whole-cloth borrowings from the literary Greek mythology of her counterpart, Aphrodite. In some Latin mythology Cupid was the son of Venus and Mars, the god of war. At other times, or in parallel myths and theologies, Venus was understood to be the consort of Vulcan.
Virgil, in compliment to his patron Augustus and the gens Julia, embellished an existing connection between Venus, whom Julius Caesar had adopted as his protectress, and Aeneas. Vergil's Aeneid has Venus lead Aeneas to Latium in her heavenly form, as the morning star, shining brightly before him in the daylight sky.
In the interpretatio romana of the Germanic pantheon during the early centuries AD, Venus became identified with the Germanic goddess Frijjo, giving rise to the loan translation "Friday" for dies Veneris. The historical cognate of the dawn goddess in Germanic tradition, however, would be Ostara.
Venus was offered official (state-sponsored) cult in certain festivals of the Roman calendar. Her sacred month was April (Latin Mensis Aprilis) which Roman etymologists understood to derive from aperire, "to open," with reference to the springtime blossoming of trees and flowers.
Veneralia (April 1) was held in honour of Venus Verticordia ("Venus the Changer of Hearts"), and Fortuna Virilis (Virile or strong Good Fortune), whose cult was probably by far the older of the two. Venus Verticordia was invented in 220 BC, in response to advice from a Sibylline oracle during the last tears of Rome's Punic Wars, when a series of prodigies was taken to signify divine displeasure at sexual offenses among Romans of every category and class, including several men and three Vestal Virgins.
Her statue was dedicated by a young woman, chosen as the most pudica (sexually pure) in Rome by a committee of Roman matrons. At first, this statue was probably housed within Fortuna Virilis' temple, perhaps as divine reinforcement against the perceived moral and religious failings of its cult.
In 114 BC Venus Verticordia was given her own temple. She was meant to persuade Romans of both sexes and every class, whether married or unmarried, to cherish the traditional sexual proprieties and morality known to please the gods and benefit the State. During her rites, her cult image was taken from her temple to the men's baths, where it was undressed and washed in warm water by her female attendants, then garlanded with myrtle. Women and men asked Venus Verticordia's help in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage. For Ovid, Venus's acceptance of the epithet and its attendant responsibilities represented a change of heart in the goddess herself.
Vinalia urbana (April 23), a wine festival shared by Venus and Jupiter, king of the gods. Venus was patron of "profane" wine, for everyday human use. Jupiter was patron of the strongest, purest, sacrificial grade wine, and controlled the weather on which the autumn grape-harvest would depend. At this festival, men and women alike drank the new vintage of ordinary, non-sacral wine in honor of Venus, whose powers had provided humankind with this gift. Upper-class women gathered at Venus's Capitoline temple, where a libation of the previous year's vintage, sacred to Jupiter, was poured into a nearby ditch. Common girls (vulgares puellae) and prostitutes gathered at Venus' temple just outside the Colline gate, where they offered her myrtle, mint, and rushes concealed in rose-bunches and asked her for "beauty and popular favour", and to be made "charming and witty".
Vinalia Rustica (August 19), originally a rustic Latin festival of wine, vegetable growth and fertility. This was almost certainly Venus' oldest festival and was associated with her earliest known form, Venus Obsequens. Kitchen gardens and market-gardens, and presumably vineyards were dedicated to her. Roman opinions differed on whose festival it was. Varro insists that the day was sacred to Jupiter, whose control of the weather governed the ripening of the grapes; but the sacrificial victim, a female lamb (agna), may be evidence that it once belonged to Venus alone.
Festival of Venus Genetrix (September 26) held from 46 BC at her Temple in the Forum of Caesar, in fulfillment of a promise to the goddess by Julius Caesar, in return for his victory. Its rites are not known.
Her cults may represent the religiously legitimate charm and seduction of the divine by mortals, in contrast to the formal, contractual relations between most members of Rome's official pantheon and the state, and the unofficial, illicit manipulation of divine forces through magic.
Images of Venus have been found in domestic murals, mosaics and household shrines (lararia). Petronius, in his Satyricon, places an image of Venus among the Lares of the freedman Trimalchio's lararium. Prospective brides offered Venus a gift "before the wedding"; the nature of the gift, and its timing, are unknown. Some Roman sources say that girls who come of age offer their toys to Venus; it is unclear where the offering is made, and others say this gift is to the Lares. In dice-games, a popular pastime among Romans of all classes, the luckiest, best possible roll was known as "Venus".
Venus' signs were for the most part the same as Aphrodite's. They included roses, which were offered in Venus' Porta Collina rites, and above all, myrtle (Latin murtos), which was cultivated for its white, sweetly scented flowers, aromatic, evergreen leaves and its various medical-magical properties. Before its adoption into Venus' cults, myrtle was used in the purification rites of Cloacina, the Etruscan-Roman goddess of Rome's main sewer; later, Cloacina's association with Venus' sacred plant made her Venus Cloacina. Likewise, Roman folk-etymology transformed the ancient, obscure goddess Murcia into "Venus of the Myrtles, whom we now call Murcia". Venus' statues and her worshipers wore myrtle crowns at her festivals.
Roman generals given an ovation, a lesser form of Roman triumph, wore a myrtle crown to purify themselves and their armies of blood-guilt. The ovation was assimilated to Venus Victrix ("Victorious Venus"), who was held to have granted and purified its relatively "easy" victory.
Myrtle was thought a particularly potent aphrodisiac. The female pudendum, particularly the clitoris, was known as murtos (myrtle). As goddess of love and sex, Venus played an essential role at Roman prenuptial rites and wedding nights, so myrtle and roses were used in bridal bouquets; but the marriage itself was under the authority of Juno, not Venus; so myrtle was excluded from the bridal crown.
In the rites to Bona Dea, a goddess of female chastity, Venus, myrtle and anything male were not only excluded, but unmentionable. The wine used at these rites was not Venus' ordinary, everyday wine but Jupiter's wine, the strongest, sacrificial grade, which was otherwise reserved for the Roman gods, and for Roman men. For the duration of the festival it was euphemistically referred to as "honey". Under these special circumstances, the women could get virtuously, religiously drunk on strong wine, safe from Venus' temptations. Outside of this context, ordinary wine (that is, Venus' wine) tinctured with myrtle oil was thought a particularly suitable drink for women.
Venus' first Roman temple was dedicated to Venus Obsequens ("Propitious Venus") in 293 BC, on the Esquiline Hill, supposedly subsidized by fines imposed on Roman women for sexual misdemeanours. Shortly after 217 BC, a temple was founded on the Capitoline Hill to house the image of Venus Erycina, captured from the Sicilian town of Eryx. Another temple to Venus Erycina as a fertility deity was built around 181, just outside the Colline Gate.
Pompey the Great's theatre, dedicated in 55 BC on the Campus Martius, included a large temple to Venus Victrix; his rival Julius Caesar vowed and built a temple to Venus in his new-built forum. In 135 AD the Emperor Hadrian inaugurated a temple to Venus Felix (Lucky Venus) and the goddess Roma Aeterna (Eternal Rome) on Rome's Velian Hill. It was the largest temple in Ancient Rome.
In the late Roman Republican era, Vitruvius recommends that any new temple to Venus be sited according to rules laid down by the Etruscan haruspices, and built "near to the gate" of the city, where it would be less likely to contaminate "the matrons and youth with the influence of lust". He finds the Corinthian style, slender, elegant, enriched with ornamental leaves and surmounted by volutes, appropriate to Venus' character and disposition.
Vitruvius recommends the widest possible spacing between the temple columns, producing a light and airy space, and he offers Venus's temple in Caesar's forum as an example of how not to do it; the densely spaced, thickset columns darken the interior, hide the temple doors and crowd the walkways, so that matrons who wish to honor the goddess must enter her temple in single file, rather than arm-in arm.
The earliest known cult to Venus in Rome was the cult to Venus Obsequens, ("Propitious Venus"), vowed by Q. Fabius Gurges, supposedly in the heat of battle, in return for his victory over the Samnites. According to tradition, the temple and cult were funded by fines imposed on Roman women for sexual misdemeanors. Its rites and character were probably influenced by or based on Greek Aphrodite's cults, already diffused in various forms throughout Italian Magna Graeca. The dedication date connects this form of Venus to the Vinalia festival.
A second, rather different cult to Venus was created during the opening episodes of the Second Punic War between Rome, Carthage and their respective allies. After Rome's catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Lake Trasimene, the Sibylline oracle suggested that the so-called Venus of Eryx (Venus Erycina), who belonged to Carthage's Sicilian allies, might be persuaded to change her allegiance.
In 217 BC the Romans laid siege to Eryx, captured the goddess' image and brought it to Rome. Once there, this "foreign Venus", who probably combined elements of Aphrodite and a more warlike Carthaginian-Phoenician Astarte, was shorn of her more overtly Carthaginian characteristics and installed as one of Rome's twelve Dii consentes in a temple on the Capitoline Hill.
As Rome's foundation myth made Venus-Aphrodite the divine ancestor of the Roman people, this may have been understood as a homecoming, rather than arrival. Rome eventually defeated Carthage; thereafter, Venus was firmly connected both to Rome's growing political and military hegemony and its mythical Trojan past. Venus' links with Troy can be traced (via Aphrodite) to the epic, mythic history of the Trojan War, and the Judgement of Paris, in which the Trojan prince Paris chose Aphrodite over Hera and Athena, setting off a train of events that led to war between the Greeks and Trojans, and eventually to Troy's destruction.
In Rome's foundation myth, this victorious Venus was the divine mother of the Trojan prince Aeneas, and thus a divine ancestor of the Roman people as a whole, in her form as Venus Genetrix. Another temple to Venus Erycina as a fertility deity was established in a traditionally plebeian district just outside the Colline Gate, beyond the pomerium.
Towards the end of the Roman republic, some leading Romans laid more personal claims to Venus' favour. Sulla adopted Felix as a surname, acknowledging his debt to heaven-sent good fortune and his particular debt to Venus Felix, for his extraordinarily fortunate political and military career.
His protege Pompey competed for Venus' favours. He celebrated his triumph of 54 BC with coins that showed her crowned with triumphal laurels, and built a lavishly appointed theatre and temple complex dedicated to Venus Victrix.
Pompey's erstwhile ally and later opponent Julius Caesar went still further, claiming the favors of Venus Victrix in his military success and Venus Genetrix as a personal, divine ancestress - apparently a long-standing family tradition among the Julii. Caesar's heir, Augustus, adopted both claims as evidence of his inherent fitness for office and divine approval of his rule. Augustus' new temple to Mars Ultor, divine father of Rome's legendary founder Romulus, would have underlined the point, with the image of avenging Mars "almost certainly" accompanied by that of his divine consort Venus, and possibly a statue of the deceased and deified Caesar.
The Emperor Hadrian's temple to Venus and the goddess Roma Aeterna (Eternal Rome) made Venus the protective genetrix of the entire Roman state, its people and fortunes.
Venus de Milo, is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, it is believed to depict Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans). It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) high. The arms and original plinth were lost following the discovery. From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; earlier, it was mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles. It is currently on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The Birth of Venus is a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a fully grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore (which is related to the Venus Anadyomene motif). The painting is held in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The iconography of Birth of Venus is very similar to a description of the event (or rather, a description of a sculpture of the event) in a poem by Angelo Poliziano, the Stanze per la giostra. No single text provides the precise content of the painting, however, which has led scholars to propose many sources and interpretations. Art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found a Neoplatonic interpretation, which was most clearly articulated by Ernst Gombrich, to be the most enduring way to understand the painting.
For Plato - and so for the members of the Florentine Platonic Academy - Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love in them. Plato further argued that contemplation of physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty. So, looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the Creator. A Neoplatonic reading of Botticelli's Birth of Venus suggests that 15th-century viewers would have looked at the painting and felt their minds lifted to the realm of divine love.
More recently, questions have arisen about Neoplatonism as the dominant intellectual system of late 15th-century Florence, and scholars have indicated that there might be other ways to interpret Botticelli's mythological paintings. In particular, both Primavera and Birth of Venus have been seen as wedding paintings that suggest appropriate behaviors for brides and grooms.
Venus became a popular subject of painting and sculpture during the Renaissance period in Europe. As a "classical" figure for whom nudity was her natural state, it was socially acceptable to depict her unclothed. As the goddess of sexuality, a degree of erotic beauty in her presentation was justified, which appealed to many artists and their patrons. Over time, venus came to refer to any artistic depiction in post-classical art of a nude woman, even when there was no indication that the subject was the goddess.
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