Venus Verticordia

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April is sacred to Venus, Mother of the Roman people, the Goddess of joy, Supreme Goddess, love, beauty, fertility, chastity, the heavens, union and reconciliation, luck, myrtle, indulgence, grace, motherhood and domesticity, sexual morality of matronae, funerals and undertakers, the Blessed Isles and victory as patroness of soldiers.

On April 1st the festival of Venus Verticordia known as the Veneralia celebrates the chaste Goddess Venus who changes the human heart. On this day Roman women asked Mater Venus Verticordia for assistance in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage. Although the exact date is unknown, sometime in the late 3rd or early 2nd century a statue was dedicated to Venus Verticordia which may have been kept in a sacullum in the Temple of Venus Obsequens or Venus Erycina [1] until her own Temple was built. Chosen from amongst the final ten of the most chaste Roman matrons from a group of 100, most chaste Sulpicia, the daughter of Gaius Sulpicius Paterculus and wife of Quintus Fulvius Flaccus was deemed worthy to oversee the dedication of the statue of Venus Verticordia (Changer of Hearts):

“ Merito uirorum commemorationi Sulpicia Serui Paterculi filia, Q. Fului Flacci uxor, adicitur. quae, cum senatus libris Sibyllinis per decemuiros inspectis censuisset ut Veneris Verticordiae simulacrum consecraretur, quo facilius uirginum mulierumque mens a libidine ad pudicitiam conuerteretur, et ex omnibus matronis centum, ex centum autem decem sorte ductae de sanctissima femina iudicium facerent, cunctis castitate praelata est.” Valerius Maximus 8.15.12

(Sulpicia, daughter of Ser. Paterculus and wife of Q. Fulvius Flaccus, deserves to be added (among illustrious men). After the Sibylline books had been inspected by the Decemviri, the Senate ordained that an image of Venus Verticordia be consecrated, the more easily to turn the minds of virgins and married women from lust to chastity; and that from all the matrons one hundred and from the one hundred ten chosen by lot should make the judgment, who was the most blameless of the sex. Sulpicia was placed above them all for her purity.)

There are two legends for the Veneralia:

In the first, as already noted, that it was a time when there was a rash of licentiousness of Roman women so in hope of turning matrons and unmarried girls hearts to embrace chastity a vow was made in response to advice from a Sibylline oracle [2] to Venus as the Changer of Hearts to dedicate a statue and a day, April 1st, in her honor.[3] Much later in 114 BC Venus Verticordia was given her own temple to expiate the crimen incesti of the Vestal Virgins who broke their vows of chastity .[4]

Here the second legend comes in. On the journey home to Apulia after the Roman Games the virgin daughter of a Roman knight was struck by lightning and killed while on horseback. The state of her body, her tongue protruding and tunic pulled up to her waste and the accessories and body parts of her horse scattered about her was a dire prodigy. The Sibylline oracle was also consulted in this matter. The meaning became clear as three Vestals were guilty of unchaste conduct in collusion with many Equestrians. All, both male and female, were punished and a Temple to Venus Verticordia was built.[5] The second legend however has more severe implications because the Vestals not only had to be chaste but also Virgins and the loss of virginity of even one Vestal could mean the collapse of the Roman state. A Vestal who broke her vow could not conceal it forever because the Gods would reveal the transgression through prodigies. The foundational story of the Temple of Venus Verticordia tells us that three of the six Vestals were found guilty of crimen incesti, in addition, one of the Vestals had one lover but the other two had relations with numerous knights.

“Three had known men at the same time. Of these Marcia had acted by herself, granting her favours to one single knight, and would never have been discovered, had not the investigation into the cases of the others extended and involved her also; Aemilia and Licinia, on the other hand, had a multitude of lovers and carried on their wanton behaviour with each other's help. At first they surrendered themselves to some few privately and secretly, telling each man that he was the only one favoured. Later they themselves bound every one who could suspect and inform against them to certain silence in advance by the price of intercourse with them, and those who had previously enjoyed their favours, though they saw this, yet had to put up with it in order not to be detected through a display of their vexation. So besides holding commerce with various others, now singly, now in groups, sometimes privately, sometimes all together, Licinia enjoyed the society of the brother of Aemilia, and Aemilia that of Licinia's brother. These doings were hidden for a very long time, and though many men and many women, both freemen and slaves, were in the secret, it was kept concealed for a very long period, until one Manius, who seems to have been the first to assist and cooperate in the whole evil, gave information of the matter, because he had not obtained freedom nor any of the other objects of his hope. And since he was very skilful not only at leading women into prostitution, but also in sowing slander and discord among them, . . .” Cassius Dio, ROMAN HISTORY Liber XXVI: 87

Both legends according to Ovid resulted in both the statue and the Temple (and keeping of the festival) being offered in fulfillment of a vow to Venus Verticordia to assure correction of the wanton ways of Roman Matronae and unmarried women making them chaste with positive implications for the welfare of the Roman State. In this respect Venus is the Changer of Hearts.[6]

The chaste matronae and brides of the cultus of Venus Verticordia revered the Goddess each year with festivals and rituals. The women drank a libation of crushed poppies with milk and honey: the potion that Venus drank on her wedding night.

“cum primum cupido Venus est deducta marito, hoc bibit; ex illo tempore nupta fuit.”

(When Venus was first led to Her lusting husband, She drank this; She was a wife thereafter) Ovidus Fasti IV

The statue of the Goddess was taken from her sacullum at the Temple to the baths, all accouterments removed and bathed in the warm waters as part of the ritual during the sacrificium, Her statue was dried, the gold necklaces restored, a wreath of myrtle to adorn her, and lavished in flowers, esp. roses.[7] This assured the patronage of the Goddess and as Changer of Hearts the pudicitia of the matronae and umarried daughters of Roman citizens. Both women and men of all classes, married or unmarried, invoked Venus Verticordia for Her assistance in affairs of the heart, sex, betrothal and marriage. Venus Verticordia persuaded Romans to cherish the traditional sexual proprieties and morality known to please the gods and benefit the State [8]

The cultus of Roman matrons for Venus Verticordia also invoked the Goddess make them desirable and submissive to their husbands. The cultores adopted Dido in the sense of being the first worshipper of the cultus for Venus. Venus, as Mother of Aeneas and thus of all Romans, enters into an agreement with Juno which results in a “marriage.” . In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas spends a night with Dido which is implied in the language of a confarreatio, (patrician marriage ceremony).

The Veneralia festival was an all-female affair; however there is no evidence that males were excluded as no explicit ritual prohibition existed in the all matronae Cult of Venus Verticordia.[9] The purpose of the rituals of Venus Verticordia centers around the importance of both male and female in the physical relationship, so although males did not participate in the rituals they contributed to the fundamental ideology of the cult. As far as we know Vestals, while foundational for the cult, did not participate in the rite.[10] Venus Verticordia ensured that the Vestals and Roman women obeyed the rules assigned to them by the Roman society. The Vestals returned their focus to their duties and as keepers of the flame guaranteed a flourishing society and Roman women set to the task of being chaste (faithful) wives, mothers and daughters.[11]

Rites for the Goddess Fortuna Virilis (Bold Fortune) were also part of this festival with the rites being held at the same time. In the rites of both festivals women sought divine help in their relations with men. The Cult of Fortuna Virilis was the older of the two (and may have been Venus Fortuna Virilis earlier in history) however fell into disrepute. In general, wealthier Roman women sought the assistance of Venus Verticordia and lesser women or prostitutes sought the assistance of Fortuna Virilis. As in the rituals for Venus Verticordia, The jewelry was removed from the statue of Fortuna Virilis and ritually washed, and then flowers and incense were offered to her. Those women and prostitutes, of the ordinary populace, in homage to Fortuna Virilis would strip naked and bath in the mens’ public baths wearing wreaths of myrtle on their heads. They would offer incense for the luck of promoting sexual union and the Goddess would conceal any defects of their bodies. [12]


“Rite deam colitis, Latiae matresque nurusque

et vos, quis vittae longaque vestis abest.

aurea marmoreo redimicula demite collo,

demite divitias: tota lavanda dea est.

aurea siccato redimicula reddite collo:

nunc alii flores, nunc nova danda rosa est.

vos quoque sub viridi myrto iubet ipsa lavari:

causaque cur iubeat, discite, certa subest.

litore siccabat rorantes nuda capillos:

viderunt satyri, turba proterva, deam.

sensit et opposita texit sua corpora myrto:

tuta fuit facto, vosque referre iubet.

discite nunc, quare Fortunae tura Virili

detis eo, gelida qui locus umet aqua.

accipit ille locus posito velamine cunctas

et vitium nudi corporis omne videt;

ut tegat hoc celetque viros, Fortuna Virilis

praestat et hoc parvo ture rogata facit.

nec pigeat tritum niveo cum lacte papaver

sumere et expressis mella liquata favis:

cum primum cupido Venus est deducta marito,

hoc bibit; ex illo tempore nupta fuit.

supplicibus verbis illam placate: sub illa

et forma et mores et bona fama manet.

Roma pudicitia proavorum tempore lapsa est:

Cumaeam, veteres, consuluistis anum.

templa iubet fieri Veneri: quibus ordine factis

inde Venus verso nomina corde tenet.

semper ad Aeneadas placido, pulcherrima, voltu

respice, totque tuas, diva, tuere nurus.

Dum loquor, elatae metuendus acumine caudae” Ovidus Fasti IV

(Duly do ye worship the goddess, ye Latin mothers and brides, and ye, too, who wear not the fillets and long robe. Take off the golden necklaces from the marble neck of the goddess; take off her gauds; the goddess must be washed from top to toe. Then dry her neck and restore to it her golden necklaces; now give her other flowers, now give her the fresh-blown rose. Ye, too, she herself bids bathe under the green myrtle, and there is a certain reason for her command; learn what it is. Naked, she was drying on the shore her oozy locks, when the satyrs, a wanton crew, espied the goddess. She perceived it, and screened her body by myrtle interposed: that done, she was safe, and she bids you do the same. Learn now why ye give incense to Virile Fortune in the place which reeks of warm water. All women strip when they enter that place, and every blemish on the naked body is plain to see; Virile Fortune undertakes to conceal the blemish and to hide it from the men, and this she does for the consideration of a little incense. Nor grudge to take poppy pounded with snowy milk and liquid honey squeezed from the comb; when Venus was first escorted to her eager spouse, she drank that draught: from that time she was a bride. Propitiate her with supplications; beauty and virtue and good fame are in her keeping. In the time of our forefathers Rome had fallen from a state of chastity, and the ancients consulted the old woman of Cumae. She ordered a temple to be built to Venus, and when that was duly done, Venus took the name of Changer of the Heart (Verticordia) from the event. Fairest of goddesses, ever behold the sons of Aenas with look benign, and guard thine offspring’s numerous wives.)

[1] L. Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, Baltimore 1992, p. 211

[2] Sibylline Books Val. Max., 8. 15. 12, the Cumaean Sibyl Ovidus, Fasti, 4. 155 - 62.

[3] Val. Max., 8.15.12

[4] Carter, Jesse Benedict, "The Cognomina of the Goddess 'Fortuna,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association , Vol. 31, 1900, p. 66.

[5] Livy, Epit., 63; Dio Cass., 26-87 Plut. Quaest. Rom. 83; Obsequens 37

[6] Ovidus, Fasti., 4.160

[7] Ovidus Fasti 4

[8] Langlands, p. 59, citing Ovid, Fasti, 4. 155 - 62. Romans considered personal ethics or mentality to be functions of the heart.

[9] Plut., Num., 19

[10] Staples, Ariadne, From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins: Sex and Category in Roman religion, Routledge, 1998, pp. 105 - 9.

[11] Takacs, Sarolta A., Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion, University of Texas press, 2008, p. 43

[12] Lydus, Mens., 4, 65 Praenestine Fasti, CIL, 1, p. 314

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