Celestial Classics: Venus

Venus as pictured by NASA’s Mariner 10 probe in 1974 – This is not a true colour image and what you are seeing is not the surface of Venus, but the thick, dense clouds of sulphuric acid particles. (Credit: NASA, Public Domain)

CONTENT WARNING: May contain ancient Gods – Whilst I don’t think there’s any rape in this one, it does contain graphic language because…Venus…She fucks!

There’s a lot to talk about with Venus! I will try and condense and simplify things as much as possible but do expect a long read on this one.

Venus: The Planet

Venus is a planet in our Solar System. It is only a shade smaller than Earth. It is the second planetary object orbiting the Sun, with only Mercury having a closer orbit.

Despite this, owing in large part to its exceptionally slow rotation and dense atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), Venus is the hottest planet in the Solar System, with a surface temperature of around 737K, or 465°C. It is also quite universally hot! There is little temperature difference between the sun-facing side and dark side of the planet, and also very little temperature difference at the poles. Again this is mainly due to the atmosphere as well as heat being transferred by powerful winds. The atmosphere also makes the pressure on Venus’ surface akin to being nearly 1km deep under the sea on Earth!

It orbits the sun once every 225 days (give or take) but rotates on its axis once every 243 days, making one day (rotation around its axis) on Venus longer than one year (duration of one complete orbit of the sun). It also rotates in the opposite direction to almost all the other planets (only Venus and Uranus are known to rotate this way – making the sun rise in the West and set in the East.)

Like Earth, Venus is a terrestrial planet, it is mostly made of rocky stuff (Hopefully mostly Rocky IV so then it can have robots and anti-cold war messages about change). It is relatively inert, almost desert-like, barring the fact that the surface regularly erupts and shifts from volcanic activity.

A topographic globe of Venus based upon radar altimetry data from the Magellan probe. You can see how few features the planet has. (Credit: Henrik Hargitai CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Venus can be seen with the naked eye, in fact it is so visible that, barring a full Moon, nothing in the night sky should be brighter and if you notice something brighter than Venus or the full Moon it is possibly a good hint to worry!

What makes it so bright? Well I’d like to say “Because it is so beautiful!” But it is actually very reflective clouds of sulphuric acid that cover its surface and shroud the entire planet such.

So what’s the upshot? Venus, the planet named after the Roman Goddess of love and beauty, is actually hell.

Very little is known about it on a surface-level because of the difficulty of piercing through the dense clouds of sulphur and heavy atmosphere of carbon dioxide. However we have sent mapping probes to Venus, and even landers! Needless to say they didn’t last long, but we got enough data to put together an idea of the Venusian surface. It’s basically one massive desert, divided by a few ‘continents’ of high land, Ishtar Terra (named for the Babylonian Goddess) and Aphrodite Terra (named for the Greek Goddess). Its highest peak is Maxwell Montes, named after James Clerk Maxwell, the Scottish scientist famous for his work on electro-magnetism.

An amazing conjunction of Mercury (uppermost bright dot), Venus (the brightest dot in the middle) and the Moon (the moon shaped thing near the bottom) – An incredible image and a testament to the intrinsic beauty of our night sky! (Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky, Source, CC-BY-4.0)

Venus’ surface appears to be very young, somewhere in the region of 300-600 million years old, which has, of course, led to a lot of discussion about how the surface changes. It is believed, because of this age and because of the relative lack of erosion of impact craters, that unlike Earth, which constantly shifts and dissipates the energy of its tectonic plates via subduction, effectively ‘recycling’ the surface, Venus just heats up. Eventually this heat and energy build up causes faults and weakness in the crust. This leads to a massive, potentially Venus-wide, subduction event almost completely recycling the entire surface. It takes about 100 million years! So this is far from a cataclysm, but it’s still a remarkable thing.

So was Venus always this sulphur-raining pressurised hellscape? Possibly not, it is believed that if we go back a few billion years Venus may have been positively Earth-like, right down to liquid water. Over the course of time that water began to evaporate, and caused a runaway greenhouse gas effect, leading to Venus being as it is now.

Because of this potential early-career of Venus, however, it is believed there was a possibility for life to have formed on Venus, and then potentially found a means of surviving, particularly as microbial life, in the clouds above Venus. The news of the discovery of biomarkers, in the form of phosphine gas, on Venus actually kick-started the launch of We Lack Discipline. Unfortunately, since the release of the data, doubt has been cast on the discoveries so we’ll wait for the dust to settle on that argument before we speculate any further.

For any physicists out there who always ask about the magnetic fields – Venus barely has one. What little magnetic activity it does exhibit seems to be caused by the interactions with solar winds in the ionosphere, it has no internal, intrinsic magnetic field. Weird, huh?

Venus: The Devil?

Now before we move on to the myth of Venus, the planet Venus, being one of the brightest night-sky objects, has a long and storied history, one aspect of which I want to remark upon.

It has likely been a feature of human life for as long as humans have been humaning (I’m verbing it, it’s a verb now) with the earliest recorded observations believed to have come from the Sumerians around 5000 years ago.

The ‘Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa’ A Babylonian astrological cuneiform tablet from dated to around 700BC, however it appears based on observations of Venus believed to have pre-dated that by around 1,000 years. (Credit: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Obviously that means the ancient Greeks knew of it, but the thing with Venus is that depending on where you are in the world and what time of year it is it can appear as if it is two different objects; Phosphorus, the morning star and Hesperus, the evening star.  

Eventually, around the 6th century BCE some Greek astronomer (credited as Pythagorus by Pliny the Elder) put two-and-two together and realised it was the same thing, but because stars and Gods were linked and the aspects of the Morning and Evening star were already distinct Venus became an object of duality.

Thus, by the time Romans had stolen Greek culture, even though it was known as one object, Venus had two aspects; Lucifer, the morning-star and “light-bringer” and Vesper, the evening-star.

Let’s focus on that first name, though. Lucifer – where have we heard that before? Oh year, that’s right, the Devil! So how did that happen? Via a series of coincidental translations.

Effectively it comes from Isaiah 14:12;

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Now in the original Hebrew this is Isaiah giving a prophetic vision and apparently discussing the King of Babylon, condemning him in his speech. He calls the King “Helel ben shahar” (הֵילֵל בֶּן-שָׁחַר) which means “Shining one, son of the morning.” This would have been, apparently, a reference to the planet Venus specifically.

If we stop – rewind it back – let’s look at Venus in Pre-Jewish, or contemporaneous (at the same time) myths.

You see the motions of Venus in the sky, especially as the Morning Star, see it emerging, brilliant bright, only to be drowned out and cast down by the Sun, by the Dawn. This develops a motif of striving to shine, striving for brilliance, only to inevitably fall. Effectively trying to attain the highest seat in the cosmos only to be cast down into the underworld…Ya dig? Do you see what I’m getting at?

The Seal of Inanna – At one point Inanna and Ishtar are believed to have been separate entities (possibly even reflecting the Morning and Evening Star aspects of Venus) whose identities became combined around the Akkadian era. This cylinder-seal depicts Inanna resting her foot on a lion. If I am the only person who finds it sexy then you can just put that down to my fetish for dominant goddesses, but to me her pose is exceptionally sexual. It is dated around 2,200 BC! (Credit: Sailko CC-BY-3.0)

So for example the Sumerian Inanna, or Ishtar (See the caption text above for how they became one), often considered as a major creation Goddess and Goddess of love is also associated with the planet Venus. One of the myths, as we mentioned in our article about Pluto, talks of Inanna’s descent into the underworld to challenge her sister Ereshkigal, the Goddess of the underworld. For all intents and purposes it seems like a myth based upon the movement of the planets and the stars.

We find potential for a similar motif in other Semitic mythologies, especially the Canaanites, but there is also discussion of the motif of being ‘cast down’ as also relating to the stories of the Fall of Man and the casting of Adam and Eve from Eden.

What they all have in common is this motif of a ‘fall’, usually from heavenly favour or grace, and usually as a result of ambition.

Satan descends upon the Earth, another masterful Doré etching. The thematic motif of the ‘fall from the heavens’ is associated with Venus dating back thousands of years to the Sumerian tradition. The use of that traditional mythos in Isaiah 14:12 led to the prophet Isaiah referring to an unnamed King of Babylon as ‘The Morning Star’, which translated into the Latin Vulgate would render as the name ‘Lucifer’ who became associated with the Biblical Satan…By these accidents, legends are made! (Credit: Gustave Doré, Public Domain)

So let’s go back to Isaiah and put what is being said into context. Isaiah is not necessarily speaking of a truly heavenly body, of an angel, as is proposed by many Christian interpretations, but is rather using a widely known mythos to describe the inevitable decline of an unnamed King of Babylon to a group of people seeking inspiration. Several identities have been proposed for this King, including a very political ‘every-king’, which would vibe with God’s ideas quite well given that He was supposedly opposed to Kings.

However what then happened in Christianity is the application of this term used to either denote a specific King, or group of Kings, via a mythology and associate it with ‘Satan’. This happened via a few scholars, such as Tertullian and Origen of Alexandria, early Christian scholars who noted similarities in motif between the Satan of the New Testament and the ‘King’ of Isaiah, thus equating the figures of enmity in the Old Testament with the Devil of the New Testament. However, none of these people seemed to have used the term ‘Lucifer’ in these comparisons.

The personification of Hesperus, the Evening Star. I discovered a new thing whilst reading up for this article. The semantic puzzle by Gottlob Frege on the notion of names. He said “Der Morgenstern ist der Abendstern” or, ‘The Morning Star is the Evening Star’. It was anglicised as “Hesperus is Phospherus” but the point is to denote differences between ‘sense’ and ‘reference’. The notion that ‘the morning star is the evening star’ highlights perfectly his point. These are two distinct names of the same phenomenon, therefore for as nonsensical as the sentence may seem it is actually incredibly informative – However for it to be information you would have to understand to what those names refer! The upshot of it is language is fucking hard! (Credit: Anton Raphael Mengs, Public Domain)

In fact, we can’t quite pinpoint exactly where the Latin name for Venus, for the Morning Star, Lucifer, came to be used as synonymous with Satan or the Devil.

After that the identification of Lucifer, Venus, the Morning Star and Lucifer, Satan, the Devil becomes self-evident. To the extent that mythologies are built around those identities that are, most likely, from mistranslation and misinterpretation! People claim the Devil specifically called himself Lucifer to mock Jesus, the light-bringer, by aping his name. The motif of Lucifer, the angel, being cast from heaven, mimicking those earlier myths dating all the way back to Babylon, is astounding.

In this tale we can see everything I find so fascinating about comparative mythology. The ability of humans to take stories, even singular elements of stories, one line from Isaiah, and craft it into an entire mythos, is incredible. Not only that but those misattributions, misinterpretations and mistranslations then lead directly into behavioural and cultural movements, foundational ethics of entire belief systems are manifest through this mythos. It’s a remarkable thing, it truly is, and no doubt influences a lot of the Greco-Roman Pantheon as we’ve been discovering throughout this series.

Venus: The Goddess of Love

But, who is Venus – by that very name – really?

Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” possibly one of the most famous of renaissance paintings and a stunning depiction of Venus. I believe it’s in the Uffizi in Florence. I highly recommend Florence, beautiful city, great food, tons of history, including the nearby Roman and Pre-Roman Etruscan ruins of Fiesole and excellent art like this and Michelangelo’s David. (Credit: Sandro Botticelli, Public Domain)

She is the Goddess of love, beauty, general sexiness, families and victory. In her guise as Goddess of families, Venus Genetrix, or Venus the Mother, Julius Caesar claimed direct descent from the Goddess and she is believed to have given birth to the entire Roman people through the myth of Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises.

Her Greek equivalent is Aphrodite and they share a lot of similarities, not least in their mainline myths and stories, however Venus to the Romans took on an awful lot of different aspects not seen in Aphrodite.

Venus was born after Saturn lopped off Uranus’ cock and balls, the subsequent spilling of blood and spunk and caused the foam of the seas, from which Venus was born as an adult Goddess.   This birth-from-water gives us a couple of things. One she is unflinchingly feminine (especially according to Varro), fertile (much food, by way of fishing, would have come from the seas), flowing, yielding (sexism at the time meant women were considered subservient), but also powerful and giving. In a way this ‘yielding’ nature of Venus reflects in her interactions with mortals, too. She is altogether more casual, less formal, like a tide she comes and goes seemingly as she pleases between the mortal and divine worlds.

Another Venus, this one from the Casa di Venus at Pompeii, a fresco by an unknown artist likely done in the 1st century CE (definitely before 79 CE because that’s when Pompeii got buried by ash and pyroclastic flow). (Credit: Public Domain)

Now, for a Goddess of love, desire, fertility etc. it should come as no surprise…Venus fucks. She fucks. Oh, how she fucks! Most of the stories about her involve fuck. There’s a whole lot of fuck in Venus, I can tell you.

Before we get into the tales of some of these fucks I want to discuss the social context of them because this surprises me. Very little is made of the ethical or moral nature of Venus’ fucking, which given how sexist Greek and Roman societies were seems odd to me. If I had to offer any explanation I would say Gods have their own rules and, for as liberally free with her love as Venus was, she was slightly more demanding of her mortal subjects – on the one hand she had aspects specifically worshipped by prostitutes and on the other hand she could induce those prone to vice to virtue. She has one set of rules and we have quite another, but even so to find such a positive depiction of feminine sexuality, and many Romans of note (Sulla, Pompey and Caesar among them) associating, proudly, with Venus (and specifically in Caesar’s case, by claiming descent, associating proudly with her penchant for fucking) is actually awesome.

A hint of Pre-Raphaelite influence makes this a stunning presentation of Venus meeting Anchises. The lion and lioness are particularly beautiful and an excellent portent of the sexual coupling that is to occur. Unfortunately there is no similarly beautiful portrait of ‘Anchises Boasting about Fucking a Goddess to his Mates in the Pub’. (Credit: William Blake Richmond, Public Domain)

So, Venus fucks. I’ve mentioned her liaison with Anchises, the father of Aeneas. Allegedly she disguised herself as a Princess to seduce Anchises but warned him not to boast of his conquest lest it upset Zeus. Now, I don’t know how many people reading are heterosexual males but that’s like asking a kid not to eat the cookie or you’ll tell them off. They’re going to eat the cookie. Anchises could not resist shouting “I FUCKED THE ACTUAL GODDESS OF LOVE, EMBODIMENT OF BEAUTY HERSELF!” from the rooftops and, who can blame him? Well, apparently Zeus who thunderstruck the poor bugger and permanently disabled him (disabling his legs, blinding him or in some versions apparently killing him!).

Doesn’t matter; had sex – with a Goddess – Of love – actually most beautiful thing in all the worlds both human and divine.

Again, people who are sexually attracted to females, would you give up your sight (or the use of your legs) for a few nights of passion with the literal embodiment of female beauty? Especially if you’re a male and she can give you kids? I want God kids! That’s like – a weirdly specific dream of mine! I’d totally do it and Zeus be damned! I think there’s supposed to be some sort of moral lesson in discretion in the tale of Anchises but, I definitely don’t get it and I’m fairly certain this is one of the pitfalls of heterosexual masculinity.

Famously Venus was married to Vulcan, the God of fire, volcanoes and blacksmithing. Allegedly this only happened because Vulcan kidnapped his mother Juno and Venus was offered as a sort of ransom. I won’t go too much into the myth of Vulcan (because he’s a potentially weird Celestial Classic too) but apparently he was no looker when he was a kid, and as a result he got picked on by the other Gods and eventually tossed from Olympus for a laugh (or out of horror at his appearance) giving him a permanent limp. Needless to say he didn’t take kindly to this treatment and when forging gifts for the other Gods made a trapped throne for Juno. The upshot was that Vulcan and Venus got married, though they have no known children together.

Vulcan (the grumpy looking cuckold to the right) suprising Mars (the man in the helmet with an evil look on his face) and Venus (the beautiful woman) whilst the Gods (top right) watch on like a bunch of horny voyeurs. Apparently when Venus fucked Mars it upset Vulcan quite a bit so he trapped them under a net – that is what is depicted here. But this is one of those paintings where there is so much going on. Mars really does look like an evil, smug twat, what are there two seagulls kissing beneath Vulcan and why does he seem more keen to watch than to trap them? It’s all kicking off! (Credit: Alexandre Charles Guillemot, Public Domain)

Venus then fucked Mars, whilst married to Vulcan. Venus and Mars had many children together, including Timor and Metus, the personifications of fear and terror, Concordia, the goddest of hamony and the Cupids – Winged deities of love often depicted as chubby babies with heart-shaped bows.

She is alleged to have fucked Adonis, potentially fucked Mercury, possibly fucked Jupiter and maybe fucked Bacchus and given birth to Priapus the fertility God with the comically oversized erection.

So, major gods, minor gods and mortals, Venus fucks! She also gave birth to fear and terror, which is both irritating and respectable.

The roots of Aphrodite-Venus are ancient for the Greco-Romans themselves, she probably traces her way back to Inanna/Ishtar of the Sumerian/Babylonian tradition, herself considered a creational Goddess of love and beauty. What becomes apparent, certainly in the Roman tradition, is that Venus adopts the very notion of femininity itself. She becomes woman, in all her complex forms. She is Mother (Venus Genetrix), Purifier (Venus Cloacina), lover (Venus Erycina), bringer of luck (Venus Felix), freedom (Venus Libertina), indulgence (Venus Obsequens), the material universal (Venus Physica), the heavenly universal (Venus Urania), the changer of hearts (Venus Verticordia), the victor (Venus Victrix) and, apparently, she has a fine arse (Venus Kallipygos).

Venus Kallipygos – Literally translates to ‘Venus with the beautiful buttocks’! Apparently a specific object of worship for the Syracusians, what has been created is a testament to the divine nature present in the eroticism of feminine beauty – This statue is to the female form what so many Ancient Greek statues were to sexy muscle-boys! An inspiration they seemed to enjoy a lot more than shapely women! (Credit: ho visto nina volare CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Those are all different aspects of Venus, whether they be associated with other gods or goddesses, whether they be specific, local cults of Venus or whether they just be celebrating a particular aspect of her, Venus clearly had a broad appeal to the Romans. Again, it would be less remarkable to me if they were not such a patriarchal society, but they were! I’ve made points of it in various other articles – whilst they didn’t necessarily define their sex and gender roles as we do today the male was dominant over the female – that was just a given in Roman society.

Yet it is also clear how important the female was to the Romans, their multiple cults to Venus being some aspect of proof that they recognised the complexity of the female life, the womanly character and the importance of women. It is a shame they did not open their society up as much as they did their Pantheon!

So here’s to Venus! The beautiful, shining embodiment of the feminine, a prodigious fucker, a hell planet, our Morning Star and almost certainly not the Devil!

Fancy some more Celestial bodies and their accompanying myths?
Catch up with the Celestial Classics Series so far!

Celestial Classics: Introduction – The basics of why the ancients are linked to the skies.
Celestial Classics: Vesta – Roman Goddess of hearth and home, associated with willies.
Celestial Classics: Ceres – Roman equivalent of Greek Demeter, goddess of agriculture.
Celestial Classics: Proserpina – Greek Persephone, goddess of the underworld.
Celestial Classics: Orion – The hunter so renowned the Gods put him in the sky.
Celestial Classics: Pluto and Orpheus – The God of the Underworld and his fav poet!

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

An overly curious lovechild of Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs and the kitsch pen section of Paperchase. Karl is on a mission to expose the seedy underbelly of academia, and thus making it appealing to wrong 'uns.

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