There is a ranking to indicate how affectionate inhabitants of a certain country are. The P.D.A. rankings, an acronym for Public Displays of Affection, measures how often inhabitants of a certain country hold hands, embrace each other, and kiss each other.
Some countries in South America make a good case for being the most passionate, but also one very specific country in Europe makes a good case. Any guesses who is on top of the list?
Indeed, Italians are amongst the most passionate people in the world. Their spreading of love, passionate and articulate language, and exuberant hand gestures are a common part of every conversation. One wonders, do they really need the gestures to get across the passion?
Well, passion has certainly been of great significance in the history of the country. The enchanting, frustrating, and all-consuming emotion helped to elevate Rome from a small city atop a hill to one of the most powerful empires in the history of our world.
It should come as no surprise that one of the most important deities of the ancient Romans was the one that represents this very passion: the Roman goddess Venus.
Venus: Roman Goddess of Love and the Mother of Rome
Venus is the personification of everything that is related to passion. She is often depicted nude, but the passion wasn’t necessarily only related to something like sexual love. Passionate love can apply and be shown in a lot of forms. Think about motherly love, but also sexual love. But, if you would ask any of the ancient Romans you would probably not get a consensus answer about the thing that Venus represented.
Indeed, there is barely an agreed-upon series of consistent character traits for her, almost to the point where it seems like she is separate characters in different myths. This might actually be somewhat true, as we will see later.
Venus was herself quite the flirt. Her fluid sexuality was embraced by male and female lovers alike. She was also the guardian of lovers and prostitutes, and a major figure in Roman religion. Venus was adapted from a goddess of ancient Greece, Aphrodite, with whom she shared a mythological tradition.
During the Punic Wars of the second and third centuries BC, Venus was thought to lend her assistance to the Romans and ensure their victories over the Carthaginians. Her importance as a figure of worship peaked shortly thereafter, though she continued to be venerated until the rise of Christianity in the fourth century. So in total, she enjoyed a high relevance for about 700 years.
Venus and Agriculture
Although she is now mostly recognized as the goddess of love, she is also associated with growth and the cultivation of fields and gardens. The sources that explain why this is the case are, however, very limited. Maybe a good explanation can be that the growing of crops carries within them a certain form of fertility. Without a fertile soil, pollination, and (humanly) love, plants won’t grow.
One of the earliest links between Venus and agriculture comes, weirdly enough, from about 18.000 years before Venus became linked to agriculture. How Venus can date so far back is something we will come back to later.
The Birth of Venus
If we follow the myths as described in Hesiod’s Theogony and the poetry in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the birth of Venus was a result of the defeat of a primordial god by the name of Uranus. Uranus was actually killed by his own children, who are better known as the Titans.
So how was he defeated? Well, he was castrated. Indeed, making Venus was a result of the sea foam that arose after Saturn castrated his father Uranus and his blood fell to the sea.
Still, some see this theory of Venus’ birth as a rather popular theory and argue that the story probably goes differently. So, the exact origins of Venus being born from the castration are somewhat contested..
Still there are more deities believed to be born from this very castration. For example, the Furies also enjoyed such a privilege. Besides that it’s a great way to come into life, being born from the castration would also mean that Venus is much older than many of the other gods in the Roman pantheon, including Jupiter, the king of the pantheon and god of the skies.
Lovers of Venus
As the goddess of love, it’s not hard to imagine that Venus had little trouble finding lovers herself. Many Roman gods actually have multiple lovers and affairs, and so did lucky Venus. Her lovers can be divided into two categories: the divine lovers and the mortal lovers.
Divine Lovers: Vulcan and Mars
The fertility goddess had two main divine lovers: her husband Vulcan and another Roman god by the name of Mars. So the saying ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ has evidently some deep roots in Roman mythology.
Her relationship with Mars was, however, more of aa love affair within Venus’ marriage with Vulcan. Also, it would go a bit too far to call the marriage between Vulcan and Venus a relationship that involved a lot of love.
That is to say, some myths say that the love affair between Venus and Mars was promoted by Vulcan himself, who cunningly trapped them in bed with a net. Indeed, even the myths of the most ancient Roman gods tell us that marriage doesn’t have to equal love.
With Mars, she had a couple of children. Venus gave birth to Timor, the personification of fear who accompanied Mars on the battlefield. Timor had a twin with the name of Metus, the personification of terror.
Outside these two sons, Venus had several daughters with Mars. First of all, Concordia, who was the goddess of harmony and concord. Also, she gave birth to the Cupids, who were a collection of winged love deities who represented the different aspects of love.
Other Divine Children of Venus
Besides the children she bore with Mars, there are a couple of other deities that are ascribed to Venus and have children with her. First, she is seen as the mother of the minor deity Priapus, a fertility god. The father of Priapus is believed to be Bacchus.
Bacchus was actually a Roman god with whom the Roman goddess Venus had more than one child. For example, the Graces, who are the personifications of grace and beauty, were also believed to be children of the pair. Together with the Cupids, the Graces would represent the persuasion of romance, love, and seduction.
So, who was this Bacchus guy? And why was he able to seduce the goddess of love? Well, Bacchus is actually the god of wine and the feeling of being drunk. Yes, there is a god for that. It seems like this fact brings you the answer to the question why Bacchus was able to seduce Venus.
Bacchus is the son of Jupiter and Semele. Jupiter actually adopted him, since he killed Bacchus’ mother with one of his thunderbolts. Maybe the least that he could do after such an event was indeed adopt him and make sure he would be living well. And living well, he did, in the middle of an abundance of wine.
Venus’ Mortal Lovers
As indicated earlier, Venus had a couple of mortal lovers as well. The most famous lovers of Venus, the mortal ones that is, go by the names of Anchises and Adonis. The former is also known as a Trojan prince of Dardania.
Venus actually used a pretty nifty trick to seduce him. She disguised herself as a Phrygian princess and seduced him. Only after nine months, Venus revealed her divine identity. She presented Anchises with their son Aeneas.
Being seduced by the Venus goddess is obviously quite a good brag. But, Venus warned Anchises never to brag about their affair. If he still did brag about it, he would be struck by a thunderbolt of Jupiter. Unfortunately, Anchises did brag and was crippled by Jupiter’s bolt. Well, at least he got to brag to his mates about dating a goddess.
Adding to the list, Venus was also believed to be the lover of king Butes, with whom she had a son named Eryx. Still, she wasn’t done yet after Butes, since she also had a son with another mortal man. The son is named Astynous and Phaethon is believed to be the father.
It’s hard to imagine that the goddess of love had time to manage all the other love activities that were going on in the world. But maybe that’s because she is a goddess, being able to do what ordinary people have a bit more trouble with.
Worshiping Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love and Fertility
Okay, so we already kind of concluded that Venus is not necessarily referred to as the goddess of passion. She is more so the goddess of love: a personification of flighty, passionate, impulsive, and till a certain extent jealous, love. Also, we concluded that the Romans themselves didn’t really know what she represented exactly.
This last conclusion is also reflected in the many titles that Venus enjoyed. There is, indeed, not ‘one’ Venus, and she is worshiped for a variety of things. The Roman temples that were built for Venus referred to her in various names.
The first known temple to Venus relates to Venus Obsequens, which translates to indulgent Venus. The magnificent temple was erected in 295BC and legend has it that the temple was funded by the fines that were imposed on Roman women or people in general for sexual misdemeanors.
The second form in which she was honored was Venus Verticordia: the Changer of Hearts. Being able to change hearts only solidifies her claim as the goddess of love. Venus Verticordia was the subject of the first Venus temple, built in Latium on 18th of august 293 BC. Under the same name, she was protecting people against sins.
Although it is generally believed that Venus is necessarily based on Aphrodite, the inhabitants of Ancient Rome only found that out in the year 217 BC. This was the year when the first temple for Venus Erycina was built by the Greeks, which honored the Roman interpretation of their goddess Aphrodite.
Besides that, Venus was also associated with another Roman god by the name of Cloacina, who was the goddess of cloaca maxima. A somewhat dubious honor, since the cloaca maxima is the main sewerage system of ancient Rome.
Lastly, Venus was also beloved by the Roman state leaders and Roman people. Julius Caesar and Augustus were some of the leading figures in this. Because of their passion for Venus, she even became honored as the mother of Rome, or Venus Genetrix. Julius Caesar was the first that actually erected a temple for the new mother of Rome.
Some other titles that are common for Venus are Venus Felix (the happy Venus), Venus Victrix (victorious Venus), or Venus Caelestis (heavenly Venus).
The temples of Venus had a wide variety of uses, and the most notorious one came from Julius Caesar himself. Not only did he regard Venus the mother of Rome, he also believed to be a descendant from her. The mortal man that inspired the name of your favorite salad claimed to be the son of Trojan hero Aeneas, one of Venus’ children.
Because Caesar was so fond of Venus, he would widely use her image in, for example, civic architecture and as a face on the ancient Roman coins. The figure of Venus in general became symbolic of Roman power throughout the empire.
Festivals of Venus
April was the month of Venus. It is the beginning of the spring, and therefore the beginning of a new year of fertility. The most well known festivals to honor Venus were also held in this month.
On 1 April a festival was held in honor of Venus Verticordia called Veneralia. On the 23rd, Vinalia Urbana was held: a wine festival belonging to both Venus and Jupiter. Vinalia Rusticia was held on 10 August. It was Venus’ oldest festival and associated with her form as Venus Obsequens. 26 September was the date for the festival of Venus Genetrix, the mother and protector of Rome.
Roman Goddess Venus, Greek Goddess Aphrodite, Or Mesopotomian Goddess Ishtar
The Roman goddess Venus is almost always mentioned in the same breath as the Greek goddess Aphrodite. People are usually more acquainted with the story of Aphrodite, which probably explains why almost any source directly refers to Aphrodite when talking about Venus.
But, there is also another deity that should be mentioned. A Mesopotamian deity that went by the name of Ishtar
Who was Aphrodite?
So, Venus and Aphrodite are actually very much intertwined. Many of the names that are related to the Greek Aphrodite do occur in the stories of the Roman Venus. In other times, the names that relate to Aphrodite are translated to a different name, but still widely regarded as the Roman version of figures out of Greek mythology.
The Greek Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, and is attended by the Graces and Eros. Both these entities are frequently pictured at her side. Aphrodite is oftentimes viewed as having two halves that make up a whole: Aphrodite Pandemos, the sensual and earthy side, and Aphrodite Urania, the divine, celestial Aphrodite.
Ishtar: the Mesopotamian Deity that Inspired Aphrodite and Venus
While goddess Venus is believed to be based on the goddess Aphrodite, there is actually another layer to it. It comes in the form of Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess. And not just any goddess.
Ishtar was, like Venus and Aphrodite, one of the most important deities of Mesopotamia. Ishtar was the goddess of sexuality and war, and was widely admired and equally feared. That’s because she was believed to represent both the heated passions of love and sex, as well as the passions of battle.
Ishtar enjoyed a relatively big following, which should be obvious to one of the most celebrated goddesses. Various cults dedicated to the worship of Ishtar appeared as early as the 4th millennium BCE and quickly began to spread across the Middle East before reaching Greece by 3,000 BCE.
However, when the deity Ishtar spread into Greece, her meaning changed quite a bit. That is to say, basically all the war connections were removed or changed. This has mainly to do with the fact that ancient Greeks were quite fond of gender roles, or at least had a different view on them when compared to the territories that we today know as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria.
The Greeks saw war and battle as a role solely for men. Therefore, the Greeks created Aphrodite: the goddess that was just related to love and beauty. She did, however, date a war-related deity every so often. Yet, the idea was that she avoided direct war as much as possible.
The Romans borrowed elements of the Greeks’ mythology and incorporated it into their own. However, Venus had a few new traits that Aphrodite had not
Aphrodite, Venus and their similarities.
If we look at the similarities between Aphrodite and Venus, it is mostly found in the concept itself. That is to say, it is mostly believed that the Romans took over the concept of Aphrodite and named it themselves.
The Romans are very intuitive towards naming their gods and goddess with the names of stars or planets. So to affirm your suspicions, the Roman Venus is indeed named after the planet Venus.
While they have different names, it is still believed that they carry many of the same characteristics. This is mainly due to the fact that we are relatively certain that the Romans took over the deity from Greek thought, slightly adjusting it to ancient Roman principles.
Yet, the Greek Aphrodite definitely came earlier, or at least according to the historical literature that is available to us nowadays.
Aphrodite, Venus and their differences
The greatest differences between the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus can be mostly found in the differences between, well, Greeks and Romans.
For starters, what they represent does definitely differ. Some might say that Venus actually represents a grander image than does Aphrodite. If we purely look at what they supposedly represent, this becomes evident.
As indicated, Aphrodite is considered to be the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality. Venus, on the other hand, is considered the Roman goddess of passion, fertility, vegetation, and the patroness of prostitutes.
It seems indeed that the work of Venus was a bit more scattered and also tapped into the natural world, something which is not as evident in her Greek counterpart. Venus was seen as a protector of the home and the gardens, making her somewhat of a domestic goddess.
The most notable addition by the Romans for Venus was that many of her war connections stripped by the Greeks were restored, as the Romans also saw Venus as a goddess of victory in battle. Again, Julius Caesar was quite influential in that regard, as he was with basically everything he did.
Besides that, it is true that Venus had a lot more explicit relationship as the mother of other gods and goddesses. We already discussed the many lovers and children of Venus, and her role as the mother of Rome. As one of the earliest Roman deities, she is related to many more gods than just described in this article.
But, if we want to know the whole family lineage of Venus, we should do a deep study of the several epic poems in which Venus appeared. It wouldn’t become a lot more clear if we do so, however.
Many stories of mythology in general evolve over time and are interpreted differently. Therefore, sticking to the relationships that are most evident is probably the best way of conveying the story of Venus without giving you a headache.
The Mother of Rome Goes to Sleep
With the fall of the Roman Empire, or Roman state, in the late 5th century, the importance of Venus also vanished. That doesn’t mean that her story isn’t relevant anymore, since many myths carry within them a valuable lesson.
The lesson of Venus might, perhaps, be that love is not only something that should be given to other people on this earth. It is surely possible, combining family love, love for your partners, and love for your friends.
But, the combination as a goddess of fertility and agriculture might perhaps also tell us that this love should not only be applicable to people, but just as well for other beings in this world. For if not, they might be lost, and life for us would also be a lot harder. Or actually, impossible.