Role in Mythology: Goddess of love and beauty, goddess of gardens and cultivated fields, mother goddess, fertility goddess
Alternative Names: Venus Verticordia, Venus Erycina, Venus Victrix, Venus Genetrix, Venus Felix, Venus Cloacina
Family Relationships: Daughter of Jupiter and Dione, wife of Vulcan, lover of Mars, mother of Cupid and Aeneas
Symbols: Rose, Myrtle
Greek Equivalent: Aphrodite
Babylonian Equivalent: Ishtar
Phoenician Equivalent: Astarte
According to ancient Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of femininity, love, beauty, and gardens. She was said to have had many romantic exploits with both gods and mortals. Venus came to embody the female attributes of life, sometimes seen as positive, other times as negative. Under the name Venus Verticordia, this goddess was believed to protect the chastity of young girls and women. The Veneralia was celebrated on April 1, in honor of Venus’ protection against vice. At other times, she was viewed as a patroness to prostitutes.
Venus’ association with the Greek goddess Aphrodite is likely linked to her connection with Jupiter. One temple to Venus was dedicated on August 18 or 19, the date of Jupiter’s festival called the Vinalia Rustica. She came to be seen as Jupiter’s daughter, and thus equated with his Greek counterpart’s daughter, Aphrodite. Venus had no myths of her own, and therefore took on those of Aphrodite and the various other goddesses with whom Aphrodite was associated.
The scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, who lived from 116 to 27 B.C., records that Venus was not mentioned in the oldest Roman records. This corresponds to the fact that she had no flamen, or special priests, and no Roman festival. She had, however, been worshiped by the Latins since ancient times, and two Latin temples were dedicated to her. Hence, she was later imported to Rome.
In 215 B.C., a temple to Venus Erycina was dedicated in Rome, and another was built in 181 B.C. The second temple came to be used by courtesans, prostitutes who served wealthy clients, often of the royal house. The day of its founding, April 23, was celebrated as the Vinalia Priora, also called dies meretricum, or “prostitutes’ day.”
A shrine to Venus Cloacina was located in the Forum Romanum. Cloacina is presumed to refer to the goddess of the Cloaca, the sewer drainage system that reduced ground water in the low-lying Forum, allowing the city to be built there. The association with Cloacina may have come from their shared symbol, the myrtle.
Worship of Venus peaked in Rome during the reign of the gens Iulia, the family of Julius Caesar, and also that of Augustus Caesar. Both claimed to have descended from Venus’ son Aeneas, who was said to have founded both Rome and the temple of Aphrodite in Eryx, Sicily. In 55 B.C., Roman triumvir Gnaeus Pompeius (General Pompey) dedicated a temple to Venus Victrix, “Bringer of Victory,” and Julius Caesar did the same for Venus Genetrix, the “Begetting Mother,” in 46 B.C. Venus was also honored at the temple of Mars Ultor. Even as late as 135 A.D., Hadrian built yet another temple to Venus Felix, the “Bringer of Success,” in Rome, near the Colosseum.
Venus’ amorous attributes were reflected among her worshipers. For example, a temple to Venus/Aphrodite was located in the Grecian city of Corinth. The phrase “to Corinthianize” came to mean “to practice immorality,” as sensual activities were a part of the worship of Venus in her temple on the Acrocorinthus hill. Lifestyles in Corinth were rife with “licentiousness [meaning sexually unrestrained behavior] and wanton luxury.”
As with so many ancient deities, Venus’ legacy lives on in the naming of celestial objects. The second planet from the sun is called Venus, as is a spacecraft of the European Space Agency. The planet’s association with Venus dates to ancient Babylon, when the “star” was associated with Ishtar, another equivalent of Venus and Aphrodite. The goddess’s role in romance has also had an effect on elements of popular culture. For example, beginning in ancient times and continuing through the Renaissance, Venus has been a popular subject in the fine arts due to her assumption of the greatest feminine beauty. Today, Venus is a popular brand of women’s hygiene items. A romantic interest is compared to Venus in songs such as “Venus in Blue Jeans” by Bobby Vee, and the help of the goddess herself is invoked in Frankie Avalon’s “Venus.”