Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Venus and Mars

As for the famous network of Vulcan, which inclosed Mars and Venus, and caused that inextinguishable laugh in heaven; since the gods themselves could not discern it, we shall not pry into it; Although why Vulcan bound them, Neptune loosed them, and Apollo should first discover them, might afford no vulgar mythology.

Thus does Sir Thomas Browne allude to the union of the goddess of love with the god of war and their subsequent entanglement, caught inflagrante delicto by Vulcan with his cunning network, in  the Discourse, The Garden of Cyrus. However, the Classical myth of Venus, the goddess of love, taming Mars, the god of war, was first elaborated upon by the Renaissance Hermetic scholars Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) and Pico della Mirandola (1463-94) as symbolic of the victory of love over war and the supremacy of Harmony over strife.

Indeed the planet Earth itself orbits between the planets Venus and Mars, symbolically intermediate between peace and war. The Classical myth was also a lesser representation of the coniunctio of the alchemists and more frequently alluded to as the union of  Sol et Luna, Sun and Moon, it was also alluded to as the astrological phenomenon of the Eclipse, an event which continues to exert a fascination upon humanity.

For the alchemist the uniting of the opposites was the primary objective of the 'Great Work' or magnum opus. And it's interesting to note in passing that C.G. Jung's deepest and final writing on alchemy is entitled Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-56).

Paintings - Mars and Venus captured by Vulcan - Luca Giordano 1670's
Below- Mars and Venus united by Love - Paulo Veronese c.1578  
See Also - Vulcan 


teegee said...

Hmm... I'm afraid that the Homeric poet had in mind Hephaistos' having enmeshed Ares and Aphrodite as invisibly and as (momentarily) inseparably as any pair of dogs on a street or other mammals in coitus, so that the Renaissance paintings (very plainly) comment on courtly affairs rather than on that wonderful bit of village humor transported to Olympus. Yes, the Renaissance (and Hellenistic Greece, too) did take the story symbolically (and why not?) but the pre-Archaic epic told it as horse-play. Now, Browne knew both! I'm sure he owned animals and he certainly knew his "sources", both ancient and Renaissance. When I was lecturing once to a group of 12-year-old kids in Louisiana, and I told them that story, they roared with laughter, just as the other gods did on Olympus.

Hydriotaphia said...

Thanks Pat, commentators love to highlight this passage from R.M. and then mock the fact that Browne nevertheless had 11 children forgetting to notice the last two lines-

I could be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction, or that there were any way to perpetuate the world without this triviall and vulgar way of coition; It is the foolishest act a wise man commits in all his life, nor is there any thing that will more deject his coold imagination, when he shall consider what an odde and unworthy piece of folly hee hath committed;

N.B Browne was however no misogynist as he continues in R.M part 2 : 9

I speake not in prejudice, nor am averse from that sweet sexe, but naturally amorous of all that is beautiful.

Osie said...

I don’t know how I missed this post! I have been dwelling on that very quote of Sir TB and Vulcan in general. Very interesting ideas here- I never equated Mars and Venus to the sun and moon, but now that you’ve said it, the saying “hidden in plain sight” comes to mind.

In May I was in Manhattan and wandering about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I stumbled into Mars and Venus United by Love. It is a very striking painting in person. I really love the mythological art from that time. Its no accident that Lorenzo Lotto’s “Venus and Cupid” is displayed on the same wall!