Venus in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
the goddess of love among the Romans, and more especially of
sensual love. Previously to her identification with the
Greek Aphrodite, she was one of the least important
divinities in the religion of the Romans, and it is observed
by the ancients themselves, that her name was not mentioned
in any of the documents relating to the kingly period of
Roman history. (Macr. 1.12.) This is further evident from
the fact that at no time a festival was celebrated in honour
of Venus, for the Vinalia (on the 23d of April and 19th of
August) were quite a different festival, and were connected
with this goddess only by a misinterpretation of the name
(Dict. of Ant. s. v. Vinalia), which led courtesans to
regard the 23d of April as a holiday of their own, and to
worship the goddess on that day in their peculiar way in a
temple outside the city. (Ov. Fast. 4.865.) In later times
several other solemnities were celebrated to Venus in the
month of April, partly because that month being the
beginning of spring, was thought to be particularly sacred
to the goddess of love, and partly because the belief had
gradually gained ground that Venus, as the beloved of Mars,
was concerned in the origin of the Roman people. This latter
point gained support from the legend which made Aeneas a son
of Anchises and Aphrodite (identified with Venus ; see Ov.
Fast. 4.135; Plut. Num. 19; Macrob. l.c.; Laur. Lyd. De
Mens. 4.45). There was at Lavinium a sanctuary of Venus
common to all Latium, the ceremonies at which were performed
by the people of Ardea, but its age cannot be defined.
(Strab. p. 232.) At Rome we may notice the following
circumstances as proving the worship of Venus to have been
established there at an early time. There was a stone chapel
with an image of Venus Murtea or Murcia in the Circus near
to the spot where the altar of Consus was concealed. (Fest.
p. 149, ed. Miller; Apul. Met. 6.395 ; Tertull. De Spect. 8;
Varro, De L. L. 5.154; Liv. 1.33; August. De Civ. Dei,
4.16.) The surname Murtea or Murcia shows that the myrtle-
tree stood in some relation to the goddess, and it is
actually said that in ancient times there was a myrtle grove
in front of her sanctuary below the Aventine. (Plin. Nat.
15.36; Serv. ad Aen. 1.724; Plut. Quaest. Rom. 20.) It must
however be observed that some of the ecclesiastical writers
preferred taking the surname Murcia in the sense of "
stupid" or " dull" (from murcus). Another ancient surname of
Venus was Cloacina, which, according to Lactantius (1.20),
was derived from the fact that her image was found in the
great sewer (cloaca), and was set up by the Sabine king, T.
Tatius, in a temple near the forum. (Comp. Liv. 3.48 ;
Plaut. Curcul. 4.1. 10.) If Venus had been one of the
divinities of the lower world, this story might be
intelligible enough, but as such was not the case, it
appears to be nothing but an etymological inference from the
name. Cloaca is connected with cluere, Cluilia, Cloelia,
κλύζειν, luere (i. e. purgare), and there is a tradition
that T. Tatius and Roranlus, after the war which had arisen
out of the rape of the Sabine women, ordered their subjects
to purify themselves before the image of Venus Cluacina.
(Plin. Nat. 15.29 ; comp. Serv. ad Aen. 1.724, where purgare
must be read for pugnare.) This explanation agrees perfectly
with the belief of the ancients that T. Tatius was the
founder of marriage; and Venus Cloacina, accordingly, is the
goddess presiding over and purifying the sexual intercourse
in marriage. A third ancient surname of the goddess is
Calva, under which she had two temples in the neighbourhood
of the Capitol. Some believed that one of them had been
built by Ancus Marcius, because his wife was in danger of
losing her hair ; others thought that it was a monument of a
patriotic act of the Roman women, who during the siege of
the Gauls cut off their hair and gave it to the men to make
strings for their bows, and others again to the fancies and
caprices of lovers, calvere signifying " to teaze." (Serv.
ad Aen. 1.724; Lactant. 1.20; Nonius, p. 6.) But it probably
refers to the fact that on her wedding day the bride, either
actually or symbolically, cut off a lock of hair to
sacrifice it to Venus. (Pers. Sat. 2.70, with the Schol.) In
these, the most ancient surnames of Venus, we must recognise
her primitive character and attributes. In later times her
worship became much more extended, and the identification
with the Greek Aphrodite introduced various new attributes.
At the beginning of the second Punic war, the worship of
Venus Erycina or Erucina was introduced from Sicily, and a
temple was dedicated to her on the Capitol, to which
subsequently another was added outside the Colline gate.
(Liv. 22.9, 10, 23.30, 31, 40.34; Ov. Rem. Am. 549; P.
Victor, Reg. Urb. v.) In the year B. C. 114, a Vestal virgin
was killed by lightning, and her body was found naked; as
the general moral corruption, especially among the Vestals,
was believed to be the cause of this disaster, the Sibylline
books were consulted which contained the order to build a
temple of Venus Verticordia (the goddess who turns the
hearts of men) on the via Salaria. (Ov. Fast. 4.160; V. Max.
8.15.12.) After the close of the Samnite war, Fabius Gurges
founded the worship of Venus Obsequens and Postvota; Scipio
Africanus the younger that of Venus Genitrix, in which he
was afterwards followed by Caesar, who added that of Venus
Victrix. (Serv. ad Aen. 1.724.) The antiquity of the worship
of Venus Militaris, Barbata and Equestris is unknown (Serv.
l.c.; Macr. 3.8); but the sanctuaries of Venus Rhamnusia,
Placida, and Alma are all of a very late date. (P. Vict.
Reg. Urb. v. x. xii.) Lastly, we may remark, that Venus is
also said to have presided over gardens. (Varro, De R. R.
1.1; Plin. Nat. 19.4; Fest. p. 58, ed. Müller ; compare
Hartung, Die Relig. der Röm. vol. ii. p. 248, &c.) - A
Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology,
William Smith, Ed.
Venus in Wikipedia
Venus was a Roman goddess principally associated with love,
beauty and fertility, who played a key role in many Roman
religious festivals and myths. From the third century BC, the
increasing Hellenization of Roman upper classes identified her
as the equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite...