"Cupid Undoing Venus' Belt by Reynolds (c. 1788)
Few among the red-blooded (Pagan) women of today can resist the allure of Venus. She is among the most celebrated of all the Goddesses, evidenced by the incredible number of artworks that have been made in her honour. Her blessing is that worth courting, for she is the divine embodiment of sexual love and fertility. One of the things that makes her so appealing is that she seems to celebrate female sexuality, but this great Goddess is not just about sex, she is also about love, and about divine, life-affirming protection. Here follows a look at some ancient sources dealing with Venus, so to help us understand her multi-faceted nature a little better.
Venus and ladies of the night
As a Goddess associated so closely with sex it is no surprise that ancient Romans associated her with sex work. In Plautus’ Poenulus one character says:
“It's the Aphrodisia [a Greek festival in honour of Venus’ Hellenic counterpart Aphrodite – the play is set in Greece] … today, at the temple of Venus, there's a fair for the courtesans; there the dealers meet”.
Similarly, Ovid describes a festival in honour of Venus (and Jupiter) celebrated by Roman prostitutes (as well as all Roman women). It was the Vinalia – a wine making festival – which took place on 23 April:
“Street girls, celebrate the divinity of Venus; Venus boosts the profits of working girls. Request beauty and public favour with your incense, request seductive charm and playful words. Give your mistress pleasing mint and her own myrtle and wicker baskets covered in roses. Now you should pack the temple near the Porta Collina … [Ovid, Fasti, Book IV, 865-872]”
And then there is Horace’s Ode to Venus:
“O Venus, the queen of Cnidus* and Paphos [mythical birthplace of Aphrodite], spurn your beloved Cyprus, and summoned by copious incense, come to the lovely shrine of my Glycera [a Greek word denoting a sophisticated and educated courtesan].
And let that passionate boy of yours, Cupid, and the Graces with loosened zones, and the Nymphs, and Youth, less lovely without you, hasten here, and Mercury too.”