Venus is the Roman goddess of love, beauty, prosperity, fertility, and victory. She was so important to Romans that they claimed her as their ancestress. According to mythology, her son Aeneas fled from Troy to Italy. He became the ancestor of Remus and Romulus, who founded Rome.
So, in a way, it’s accurate to say that Venus was the mother of Rome. However, Venus had strong ties to Greek mythology, too. The Romans thought she was the same goddess as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. They adopted many of Aphrodite’s symbols, such as roses and myrtle, to represent Venus. Myrtle was so important to this goddess that, during her festival, worshipers and even statues of her wore myrtle wreaths.
Venus’s festival took place on April 1. It was called the Veneralia. Aside from draping Venus in flowers, followers also carefully washed her statue, and promised to fulfill the moral obligations of good Roman wives and husbands. Many men and women also asked her advice on matters of the heart.
Other symbols of Venus included the scallop shell, doves, dolphins, pomegranates, pearls, mirrors, and girdles. Many of these were also adopted from Aphrodite. So was her origin story; she was said to be born of seafoam.
One of the most famous works of Western art depicts this event: Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. It portrays her as standing on a large shell, her hair covering her, surrounded by other mythical figures. This artwork from hundreds of years after the Romans worshiped Venus shows how important her mythology continued to be even after the fall of Rome.
Plenty of other artworks also depict Venus, her birth, and her other myths. In fact, painting Venus was so popular that, after the classical era, any unclothed female figure came to be called a ‘Venus’.
Venus had many titles, representing her importance. These included:
- Venus Cloacina – the Purifier
- Venus Felix – the Lucky, suggesting she could be prayed to for good luck
- Venus Genetrix – Mother, representing her role as mother of rome
- Venus Murcia – Myrtle, representing the importance of this plant to her
- Venus Verticordia – the Changer of Hearts, representing her role in love
- Venus Victrix – Victorious, showing that she was a godess of victory
Later on in the Roman empire, Venus became even more important to Rome. She got new festivals on August 12 and October 9, and a shrine on a famous hill in Rome. Why? Well, Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Many other famous Roman politicians began to vie for her favor, and eventually, as Caeser became the head of a dynasty, she became associated with his legacy.
Venus was married to Vulcan, the god of fire and the forge. Vulcan was notoriously ugly – one of the ugliest of the gods. But he loved her so much that he created a golden carriage to pull her around. The carriage was drawn by doves to match Venus’s own beauty.
Venus was also the mother of Cupid, the god of love. Next time you see a picture of Cupid – maybe on Valentine’s day – you can think of his mother, Venus.
Despite her identification with Aphrodite, Venus was a native Roman goddess who was not adopted from anywhere. Her name is exactly the same as a Roman word for a particular kind of love. That name can be traced all the way back to the language before Latin, to a word meaning “to desire or love”. It’s clear that Venus was with the Romans for a long time.
Because she was the goddess of love, Venus was very important to new brides. They made offerings to her before they got married. Some people also say that they gave their childhood toys to her when they left home to get married.
Venus had many temples in Rome, since she was so important. The earliest known one was founded in 295 BC. Later, in 217 BC, Rome decided to give Venus a newer and even better temple after they lost an important battle. They thought that Venus was on the side of their enemies, and wanted to sway her. From this story, it’s easy to see how important Venus was to victory for the Romans.
You might be wondering why we have a planet named Venus. The planet is, indeed, name after the goddess. It was visible in the ancient night sky at certain times of the year, and looked like a very bright star. Because it was so bright and beautiful, it was named Venus. Ironically, the planet Venus is covered with acid clouds, so the name is not very suitable for a goddess of love and fertility. Nevertheless, the name shows us how much of an impact the Romans had on science.
Although Venus is no longer worshiped by large numbers of people, we still remember her in art and science thanks to her widespread influence.
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