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An Italian goddess, who, after the Greek mythology influenced the Roman, was identified with Aphrodité, and in Latin literature has the same myths and characteristics (see under Aphrodité), though originally the Italian Venus was a goddess of gardens and of spring. Prior to her identification with Aphrodité she was one of the least important of the native deities; yet her cult was established at Rome at a very early date. A stone altar with an image of Venus Murtea or Murcia stood in the Circus near the place where the altar of Consus was concealed (see Circus), and a sanctuary of the goddess below the Aventine had a myrtle-grove before it. Another ancient name of Venus was Cloacīna, which is said to have been derived from her image having been found in the great sewer (cloaca); but this tale is nothing but a volksetymologie, as the name, which is probably connected with cluere, rather marks her out as “the purifier.” Under this title her statue was erected by Titus Tatius in a temple near the Forum. Venus was also styled Calva (“the bald”) and as such she had two temples near the Capitol. To explain this title the story was told that one of the temples was built by Ancus Marcius because his wife was in danger of losing her hair; others thought that it was a monument of a patriotic act of the Roman women, who, during the siege of the Gauls, cut off their hair and gave it to the men to make strings for their bows; and others again supposed it to refer to the fancies and caprices of lovers, calvere signifying “to tease.” Very likely it refers to the fact that on her wedding-day the bride, either actually or symbolically, cut off a lock of hair to sacrifice it to Venus. (See Matrimonium.) In these, the most ancient surnames of Venus, one can recognize her primitive character and attributes. She is also styled Paeta, as to which see Paetus.

In later times, as her worship became much more extended, her identification with the Greek Aphrodité introduced various new attributes. At the beginning of the Second Punic War the worship of Venus Erycina was introduced from Sicily (see Eryx), and a temple was dedicated to her on the Capitol, to which subsequently another was added outside the Colline Gate. In the year B.C. 114, a Vestal Virgin was killed by lightning; and as the general moral corruption, especially among the Vestals, was believed to be the cause of this disaster, the Sibylline Books (see Sibyllae), upon being consulted, commanded that a temple should be built to Venus Verticordia (the goddess who turns the hearts of men) on the Via Salaria. After the close of the Samnite War, Fabius Gurges founded the worship of Venus Obsequens and Postvorta; Scipio Africanus the younger, that of Venus Genetrix, in which he was afterwards followed by Caesar, who added that of Venus Victrix. The worship of Venus was promoted by Caesar, who traced his descent from Aeneas, who was supposed to be the son of Mars and Venus. (See Aeneas.) The month of April, as the beginning of spring, was thought to be peculiarly sacred to the goddess of love, and recalled also the early Italian conception of her functions. Both ideas are beautifully blended in the magnificent apostrophe to Venus Genetrix with which Lucretius commences his poem De Rerum Natura, in which she is regarded as the creative, vivifying force of Nature, the source of life and strength in all things. Respecting the Greek goddess see Aphrodité.

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