The Roman myth of Venus and Mars is familiar to all of us. Venus, the Goddess of Love has a passionate affair with Mars, the God of War, but there is more to the story than merely a passionate affair. Much of this story has relevance to today, and is in fact timeless.
The Story of Venus, Mars and Vulcan
Venus (Aphrodite or Venus de Milo in Greece) is betrothed to pragmatic and hardnosed Vulcan, Roman God of Fire, but she finds him too prosaic. She has a passionate affair with Mars (Ares in Greece), the product of which is a beautiful daughter, Harmonia. But Vulcan suspects what is going on. Being a blacksmith, he fashions a fine metallic mesh were Venus and Mars gets ensnared on a couch. They are then both humiliated in front of the other gods on mount Olympus. I decided to use this story to say something about modern-day love and shame in one of my novels. But firstly a few facts about Venus and Mars.
Facts about Venus and Mars
Mars, son of Jupiter and Juno, was unpopular with everyone. He liked to fight, although whether he won or lost mattered little. He just liked trouble, havoc and bloodshed. With his companion, Discordia, they carried a band of spirits with them, pain, panic, famine and oblivion.
Venus was born of the sea. Unlike Mars, she was not into creating havoc, but caused it if someone scorned her vanity. After she heard that the prince of Troy, Paris claimed that Venus’ half sister, Helen Queen of Sparta was the fairest of the land, Venus was so angered this caused the Trojan War. However, her otherwise merciful and soft nature was perfect for absorbing Mars’ vigor and maleness.
Botticelli’s Painting Venus and Mars
A classic painting Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli (1485) informs on the dynamism of these two Roman gods. After passionately making love to Venus, Mars submits to the 'little death' (sleep after sex). During Mars' exquisite slumber, mischievous satyrs play with his weapons of war. One blows a conch shell into Mars’ ear, but nothing rouses him. On the top right, we see wasps, likely a symbol of the stings of love, or perhaps the Vespucci family. Meanwhile, Venus sits composed and vigilant. The message love conquers war is clear. She is more powerful now.
Venus and Mars in Novels
How could I resist using this mythological love story in one of my novels, A Hard Lesson? I first wrote this modern-day love story when I was 17. One of the main characters, Kurt is a pyromaniac (a fire obsessive, like Vulcan). He is also a controlling and blackmailing psychopathic leader of a criminal clique. He does not approve of the time that his friend, Josh spends with his teacher, Sarah who is helping him with his dyslexia. Kurt decides to humiliate the two of them in front of his other cronies.
Only in later years did I discover the parallels between the characters in my story and the story of Venus and Mars. In A Hard Lesson, I decided to interweave this Roman myth into my modern-day tale via assignments Sarah sets Josh on erotic art. It added another layer to the story and a deeper meaning. Ultimately, A Hard Lesson is about love and shame.
Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian
Another ancient love story featured within this novel can be found in Titian’s painting, Bacchus and Ariadne, (1520)based on Greek myth. As Josh and Sarah visit the National Gallery in London, they view the painting and Sarah can see how the painting speaks of her present situation. Bacchus is the God of Wine who on first meeting Ariadne falls desperately in love with her. But Ariadne has just been abandoned by her previous lover, Theseus. Similarly, Sarah has recently been abandoned by her former boyfriend, Frank, who just so happens to belong to Kurt’s criminal clique.
Modern Day Venus and Mars
The full story of Venus and Mars is not greatly known. The theme is not only about love but also about secrets and shame. The Roman God, Vulcan is a manipulative and scornful character who is bent on exposing Venus’ affair with Mars. With such parallels within my novel, I decided to use it to add an extra dimension to the ultimate fate of the characters.
A Hard Lesson by Charles J Harwood Copyright is asserted © 2012
Further themes of this novel
Venus and Mars, Tempera and oil on poplar (1485) Sandro Botticelli, The National Gallery, London
Bacchus and Ariadne, oil on panel (1520) Tiziano Vecellio (Titian), The National Gallery, London
The National Gallery Guidebook (1977) Homan Potterton: Thames and Hudson, London