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Venus in Pompeii

Fresco from the 'House of Venus and Mars', Pompeii

Venus was the official patron and guardian of Pompeii. Her large temple would have been visible to anyone approaching the port town by sea and her temple even had its own dedicated road, direct from the Forum.

The goddess of Love is a popular subject in Pompeii's frescos - especially her illicit affair with Mars, the god of War. In many of the paintings he has set down his shield and weapons, and Cupid, Venus's son, plays with his helmet.

Venus and Mars, The House of Punished Love, Pompeii

Venus and Mars, The House of Meleagro, Pompeii

Graffiti in the town show Venus was often called upon by businesses and individuals to bring prosperity. And of course by lovers, to bring them happiness.

May you, my darling, thrive, and may you have the goodwill of Venus Pompeiiana

Methe, slave of Cominia, from Atella, loves Chrestus. May Venus Pompeiiana be dear to them both and may they always live in harmony.

Venus and Cupid in The House of Punished Love, Pompeii

Representations of Venus vary considerably. Sometimes, as when she is painted on the wall of a business, she is fully clothed. A respectable and imposing figure. Even in the frescoes depicting her love affair with Mars in the House of Punished Love, she appears as a wealthy, formidable woman, fully clothed.

At other times, Venus is overtly sexual. She was after all, the patron goddess of prostitutes. Writing my book The Wolf Den, which is set in Pompeii's brothel, I was fascinated to learn that sex workers played an important role in some public religious festivals, one of which was the Vinalia, a wine festival dedicated to Venus on April 23rd.

Fresco from the garden of the House of Venus in the Shell, Pompeii Copyright info

The poet Ovid writes about the Vinalia in his Fasti. He calls on prostitutes to throng Venus's temple, with garlands of mint, myrtle and roses, saying: "Offer incense and pray for beauty and popular favour; pray to be charming and witty".

One of my favourite parts of writing The Wolf Den was reimagining this festival, taking ideas both from Ovid and traditional Catholic celebrations of the Virgin Mary when her statue is paraded in the streets. The Vinalia would have given prostitutes in Pompeii a publicly acknowledged role in the life of their town - and a chance to celebrate in the streets. And it is an event that I imagined my main character Amara using to her own advantage, in her quest to find her freedom...

Erotic fresco above a doorway in the Lupanar, Pompeii's brothel

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