Venus was a major Roman goddess principally associated with love and beauty, the equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. She was considered the ancestor of the Roman people as the mother of its legendary founder, Aeneas, and played a key role in many Roman religious festivals and myths.
Venus' cult began in Ardea and Lavinium, Latium. On August 18, 293 BC, her oldest-known temple was built, and August 18 became a festival called the Vinalia Rustica. On April 23, 215 BC, a temple was built outside the Colline gate on the Capitol dedicated to Venus to commemorate the Roman defeat at the Battle of Lake Trasimene.
Venus was commonly associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Etruscan deity Turan, borrowing aspects from both. Additionally, Venus has been compared to Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli in Aztec mythology, Kukulcan in Maya mythology, Frigg and Freyja in the Norse mythos, and Ushas in Vedic religion. Ushas is also linked to Venus by a Sanskrit epithet ascribed to her, vanas- ("loveliness; longing, desire"), which is cognate to Venus, suggesting a Proto-Indo-European link via the reconstructed stem *wen- "to desire."
Like other major Roman deities, Venus was ascribed a number of epithets to refer to different aspects or roles of the goddess.
- Venus Cloacina ("Venus the Purifier"), also known as Venus Cluacina, was a fusion of Venus with the Etruscan water goddess Cloacina, likely resulting from a statue of Venus being prominent near the Cloaca Maxima, Rome's sewer system. The statue was erected on the spot where peace was concluded between the Romans and Sabines.
- Venus Erycina ("Venus from Eryx"), also called Venus Erucina, originated on Mount Eryx in western Sicily. Temples were erected to her on the Capitoline Hill and outside the Porta Collina. She embodied "impure" love, and was the patron goddess of prostitutes.
- Venus Felix ("Lucky Venus") was an epithet used for a temple on the Esquiline Hill and for a temple constructed by Hadrian dedicated to "Venus Felix et Roma Aeterna" ("Favorable Venus and Eternal Rome") on the north side of the Via Sacra.
- Venus Genetrix ("Mother Venus") was Venus in her role as the ancestress of the Roman people, a goddess of motherhood and domesticity. A festival was held in her honor on September 26. As Venus was regarded as the mother of the Julian gens in particular, Julius Caesar dedicated a temple to her in Rome.
- Venus Libertina ("Venus the Freedwoman") was an epithet of Venus that probably arose from an error, with Romans mistaking lubentina (possibly meaning "pleasurable" or "passionate") for libertina. Possibly related is Venus Libitina, also called Venus Libentina, Venus Libentia, Venus Lubentina, Venus Lubentini and Venus Lubentia, an epithet that probably arose from confusion between Libitina, a funeral goddess, and the aforementioned lubentina, leading to an amalgamation of Libitina and Venus. A temple was dedicated to Venus Libitina on the Esquiline Hill.
- Venus Obsequens ("Graceful Venus" or "Indulgent Venus") was an epithet to which a temple was dedicated in the late 3rd century BC during the Third Samnite War by Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges. It was built with money fined from women who had been found guilty of adultery. It was the oldest temple of Venus in Rome, and was probably situated at the foot of the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus. Its dedication day, August 19, was celebrated in the Vinalia Rustica. On April 1, the Veneralia was celebrated in honor of Venus Verticordia ("Venus the Changer of Hearts"), the protector against vice. A temple to Venus Verticordia was built in Rome in 114 BC, and dedicated April 1, at the instruction of the Sibylline Books to atone for the inchastity of three Vestal Virgins.
- Venus Victrix ("Venus the Victorious") was an aspect of Venus to which Pompey dedicated a temple at the top of his theater in the Campus Martius in 55 BC. There was also a shrine to Venus Victrix on the Capitoline Hill, and festivals to her on August 12 and October 9. A sacrifice was annually dedicated to her on the latter date. In neo-classical art, this title is often used in the sense of 'Venus Victorious over men's hearts' or in the context of the Judgement of Paris (eg Canova's Venus Victrix, a half-nude reclining portrait of Pauline Bonaparte).
Other significant epithets for Venus included Venus Amica ("Venus the Friend"), Venus Armata ("Armed Venus"), Venus Caelestis ("Celestial Venus"), and Venus Aurea ("Golden Venus").
- Champeaux, J. (1987). Fortuna. Recherches sur le culte de la Fortuna à Rome et dans le monde romain des origines à la mort de César. II Les Transformations de Fortuna sous le République. Rome: Ecole Française de Rome. (pp. 378–395)
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- Lloyd-Morgan, G. (1986). "Roman Venus: public worship and private rites." In M. Henig and A. King (eds.), Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire (pp. 179–188). Oxford: Oxford Committee for Archaeology Monograph 8.
- Nash, E. (1962). Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome Volume 1. London: A. Zwemmer Ltd. (pp. 272–263, 424)
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- Schilling, R. (1982) (2nd ed.). La Religion Romaine de Vénus depuis les origines jusqu'au temps d'Auguste. Paris: Editions E. de Boccard.
- Scullard, H.H. (1981). Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. London: Thames and Hudson. (pp. 97, 107)
- Simon, E. (1990). Die Götter der Römer. Munich: Hirmer Verlag. (pp. 213–228).
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- 'Venus Chiding Cupid for Learning to Cast Accounts' by Sir Joshua Reynolds at the Lady Lever Art Gallery
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