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venus: stars, goddesses,

updated tue 10 feb 04


The Chapel of Art on tue 10 feb 04

symbols (was Re: OT Fertility goddesses and fat ladies)

Oh, no you don't, Phil! No way had good old Venus aka Aphrodite
disappeared from view by the 19th century!! Classical mythology
was still alive and very much kicking up until relatively
recently. Only look at how often the mythological subjects of
Greece and Rome were depicted in the arts right through until the
20th century.

You forget this was a very important subject of study at
universities throughout Europe, especially through the thorough
discussion and widespread reading of Homer & Co in the original
Greek! BTW Homer claimed Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and
Dione, whereas it was widely believed she sprang from the sea
foam surrounding the "severed parts" of Uranus who was castrated
by his son Cronos at the instigation of Ge aka Gaea, his wife
(who was known as Terra by the Romans) because she was fed up
with him killing off their children.

We may find it hard to believe it now, but universities only
offered a very limited choice of subjects at one time. A
proficient level of Latin or Greek was required of every
University entrant up to the 1960s and 70s. Nowadays, not even
the Medics have to study Latin, which is a sure sign of its total
demise... But whilst both languages WERE still alive and
flourishing in the halls of Academe, so was the literature and
associated histories, including religions which were naturally
only regarded as mythologies following the assent to absolute
supremacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition (throughout Europe).
Up until quite recently, university graduates could and quite of
did chat in Latin or Greek, so in that sort of climate it would
be very hard to ignore or "forget" such important figures, not
least because so much literature survived, including what verged
on being pornographic, however "learned" it was declared to be!

Indeed there was nothing but reference to either biblical or
mythological legend in Western art up until quite recently. And
whereas past generations would be able to "read" and interpret
such paintings and tableaux quite easily themselves, we have to
be provided with complex explanations so we know what is going
on, with whom and why! Linguistically/academically, it is only
with the decline of Greek and Latin being taught in schools over
the past 20-30-40 years that may have finally killed off poor old
Venus & Co, reducing her to being a planet, picture postcard or a
simple artifact as far as the general population are concerned.

Of course she lives on in the Marian figure so venerated by the
Christian tradition, but she is now heavily disguised by a long
blue frock, wimple and golden halo... This rather fetching
Medieval attire having been added along with the blue eyes and
blond hair to distance her from the Semitic origin of that
particular story line.

Where was I??... No, no, in her "incarnation" as Venus, the Roman
goddess of love (aka Aphrodite by the Greeks) she was the most
beautiful of all the goddesses. She was the wife of Vulcan but
also "bestowed her love" on Mars, Bacchus, Mercury, Neptune and
the two mortals Anchises & Adonis. The myrtle, rose, poppy, apple
and other fruits were sacred to her, as were the dove, sparrow,
swan, swallow, ram, hare and tortoise. She was originally
represented draped, but later nude and the scene of her rising
from the sea was sculpted by Phidias on base of the statue of
Zeus at Olympia and one of the most famous pictures of Apelles
represented the same subject. The Venus of Capua and the Venus of
Milo represent her as Venus Victrix, with one foot on a helmet
and raising a shield.

As Aphrodite she was particularly venerated in Cyprus and the
many very dark-haired brown-skinned depictions again indicate
that the original was not the blond haired, blue eyed beauty of
our own or Boticelli's imagination! As Aphrodite she was also
more overtly associated with sexuality and sexual practices --
and why not when she bestowed love on so many!?! The festivals
held in her name/s certainly sound "rather wild"!! It is
naturally this aspect which no doubt brought the idea of naming
an overtly and sexually explicit object, suspected of being a
fertility symbol a "Venus". It was the perfect name to be adopted
by uptight Victorians who went through life speaking in
euphemisms and code... For the educated few, believe me the very
name "Venus" would immediately have conjured up far more than the
second closest planet to the Sun!!!

I cannot think of a good modern equivalent... Wait a minute, what
was the name of the woman who wrote "The Happy Hooker"? Well, it
would be like naming an artifact after her whilst denying the
public a peek to see it for themselves... Unfortunately we are
too dim to appreciate how that would boggle Great Grandpapa's
mind... After all, we leave nothing to anyone's imagination any
more, do we Ms Jackson?! BTW grandmother would not have been made
privy to what the gentlemen would be sniggering about in the
corner, not least because she was denied the necessary education.

Venus's Lips, Venus's Flytrap, Venus's Slipper, Venus's Girdle...
Lots of references to Venus still in use. And the slipper-- it is
a flower also known as Lady's Slipper again harking back to the
adoption of Venus by Christianity and her transformation into the
absolute opposite of her previous incarnation... Henceforth to be
a virgin mother, no less!?!

Although Northern and elsewhere in Europe & the Near East there
were quite different belief systems in place by the time of Greek
and Roman supremacy, the veneration of a female figure or form is
pretty indisputable throughout most cultures and societies
through the ages. There is absolutely not a single early
civilisation which does not show some evidence of this and it
would be frivolous to claim otherwise. Even in the current
fashion of returning to paganism, the female form again returns
into favour. In this good cop, bad cop world, she is definitely
the good cop at this time.


Janet Kaiser --

>My understanding, is that the progression was from them
>(that is, these ancient or 'pre-historic' female figurine
>forms, whether rotund or not,) being at
>first refered to figuratively, casually, as a 'Venus',
>oweing to the topical familiarity which the Venus de Milo had
>enjoyed in the nineteenth century where these kinds of forms
>were first being brought to the attention of archeology in
>general, and, as well to the public.

The Chapel of Art : Capel Celfyddyd
8 Marine Crescent : Criccieth : Wales : UK
Home of The International Potters' Path
Tel: ++44 (01766) 523570

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