Venus, Goddess of Love and Beauty

Venus Sculpture
Venus Anadyomene, Roman, 2nd century c.e. De Agostini / Archivio J. Lange / Getty Images

The Roman equivalent of Aphrodite, Venus was a goddess of love and beauty. Originally, she was believed to be associated with gardens and fruitfulness, but later took on all the aspects of Aphrodite from the Greek traditions. She is considered by many to be the ancestor of the Roman people, and was the lover of the god Vulcan, as well as of the warrior god Mars.

Worship and Celebration

The earliest known temple to Venus was dedicated on the Aventine hill in Rome, around 295 b.c.e.

 However, her cult was based in the city of Lavinium, and her temple  there became the home of a festival known as the Vinalia Rustica. A later temple was dedicated after the defeat of the Roman army near Lake Trasimine during the Second Punic War.

Venus appears to have been very popular amongst the plebian class of Roman society, as evidenced by the existence of temples in areas of the city which were traditionally plebian rather than patrician. A cult to her aspect of Venus Erycina existed near Rome's Colline gate; in this guise, Venus was a goddess primarily of fertility. Another cult honoring Venus Verticordia also existed between the Aventine hill and Circus Maximus.

As often found in Roman gods and goddesses, Venus existed in many different incarnations. As Venus Victrix, she took on the aspect of warrior, and as Venus Genetrix, she was known as the mother of the Roman civilization. During the reign of Julius Caesar, a number of cults were started on her behalf, since Caesar claimed that the family of the Julii were directly descended from Venus.

She is also recognized as a goddess of fortune, as Venus Felix.

Brittany Garcia of Ancient History Encyclopedia says, "Venus' month was April (the beginning of spring and fertility) when most of her festivals were held. On the first of April a festival was held in honor of Venus Verticordia called Veneralia.

On the 23rd, Vinalia Urbana was held which was a wine festival belonging to both Venus (goddess of profane wine) and Jupiter. Vinalia Rusticia was held on August 10th. It was Venus' oldest festival and associated with her form as Venus Obsequens. September 26th was the date for the festival of Venus Genetrix, the mother and protector of Rome." 

The Lovers of Venus

Similar to Aphrodite, Venus took a number of lovers, both mortal and divine. She bore children with Mars, the god of war, but doesn’t seem to have been particularly maternal in nature. In addition to Mars, Venus had children with her husband, Vulcan, and when conflated with Aphrodite, is commonly believed to be the mother of Priapus, conceived during a fling with the god Bacchus (or one of Venus' other lovers).

Scholars have noted that Venus doesn't have many myths of her own, and that many of her stories are borrowed from the tales of Aphrodite.

Venus in Art and Literature

Venus is nearly always portrayed as young and lovely. Throughout the Classical period, a number of statues of Venus were produced by different artists. The statue Aphrodite of Milos, better known as the Venus de Milo, depicts the goddess as classically beautiful, with womanly curves and a knowing smile.

This statue is believed to have been done by Alexandros of Antioch, around 100 b.c.e.

During the European Renaissance period and beyond, it became fashionable for upper class ladies to pose as Venus for paintings or sculptures. One of the best known is that of Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, younger sister of Napoleon. Antonio Canova sculpted her as Venus Victrix, reclined on a lounge, and although Canova wanted to sculpt her in a robe, Pauline apparently insisted on being portrayed nude.

Chaucer wrote regularly of Venus, and she appears in a number of his poems, as well as in The Knight's Tale, in which Palamon compares his lover, Emily, to the goddess. In fact, Chaucer uses the turbulent relationship between Mars and Venus to represent Palamon, the warrior, and Emily, the lovely maiden in the flower garden.