In many ways the two goddesses were the same person because they were both said to be beautiful and carried the mantle as goddesses of love and fertility. However, the tradition is much different since both were borrowed from other traditions (Venus came, in part, from the Aphrodite tradition), so were not unique to the pantheons they occupied. The goddesses were both also associated with multiple trysts, often playing the gods and men they had interactions with against each other. The stories of their affairs and lives have become important in myth and in reality as many women identify with the characters of these two. Two pieces, The Odyssey by Homer and The Lusiads by Camoes, are examined herein as classic pieces of literature in which the goddesses served a crucial part in the story.
Aphrodite: The Odyssey
The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of the most famous books to come from the classical ancient canon, and they continue to be read and regarded as masterpieces of the classical mythical genre. The first book, The Iliad, is the story of the Greek war with the Trojans famous for the deceptively arranged horse taken in by Troy. One of the combatants on the Greek side was a young man named Odysseus who matured during the war and the short voyage home which became an adventure retold in The Odyssey. Aphrodite plays a part in The Iliad as she is the reason why Helen was stolen from Greece (due to the madness of Aphrodite) (Homer 30), but she plays but a minor part. She is seen more in The Odyssey as a sometimes protector of Odysseus as he makes his way home to Penelope.
After they have been on the voyage for a little while, a bard sings the song about how Ares and Aphrodite consort in her husband Hephaestus' house. Her husband has been very good to her, but she is unsatisfied with the type of husband he has been and longs after the bad boy credibility of Ares. All is going well until Hephaestus is told of what is happening under his own roof. The bard continues to tell the tale of betrayal and intrigue while Odysseus and his company listen. They are charmed, but it seems that the story reminds Odysseus of his own beautiful wife and the men that were left behind who are probably making life difficult for her. The infidelity of Aphrodite in this sequence is something that the Greeks in the story seem to take for granted as just another of the characteristics of Aphrodite. She is also called laughing Aphrodite at the end of the story (Homer 64), so not only does she cheat on her husband, the fact does not seem to bother her in the least.
Hephaestus was not one who was going to take the affair lightly. Although he was a god known for his patience, he could only take so much. Since Zeus had given Aphrodite to him as a wife, he was willing to make the most of it and keep her out if the trouble that Zeus had originally believed that she would get into with the other gods because of her beauty and playful manner. She seems, from the way she acted when married, to have agreed reluctantly. When Hephaestus found out about the affair, he arranged a surprise for them. He went out for the days and Ares suggested that he and Aphrodite should use Hephaestus's couch for their "sport" (Homer 63). The two were secretly being watched by Hephaestus and he trapped them. Then he would have killed the lovers, but Aphrodite appealed to her father and she was allowed to escape as was Ares, but the two went their separate ways (Homer 64).
The story that the bard tells, shows exactly the type of person Aphrodite is. She is interested in her own pleasure and she does not care who she hurts to get it. She is also someone who the other gods find irresistible and it is hard for them to control themselves when they are around her. All succumb to Aphrodite's madness whether the victim be god or human.
During the story it compares people to Aphrodite to speak of their beauty often. Helen is first compared to her and then Penelope. It seems when a woman has the look of Aphrodite, she inspires the same madness that Aphrodite produced during her own conquests. Although this was not the goal of Helen, and especially not Penelope who longed for her husband, it is what happened to the men around them.
In the end, it does not seem to be a benefit to Penelope to look like Aphrodite and inspire the madness that the men demonstrate toward her. Odysseus calls them "wicked suitors" (Homer 165) and though he does not seem to be worried about Penelope's faithfulness, he is worried how he will dispense with the men. Penelope at the same time asks Diana to her die and take care of her As Aphrodite had been known to do with young motherless children. Both are having dilemmas that the talk to different gods about, and Odysseus is able to kill the suitors and restore his life as it was before he left.
Venus: The Lusiads
This is a different type of tale because it deals with a real occasion that has been historically documented. But the author, Camoes, chooses to add the celestial to this story of danger and exploration by a Portuguese sailor named De Gama (Camoes xxxiv). The story is a classic one of an explorer going out into previously unseen, at least by Europeans, waters. Vasco de Gama was a Portuguese sailor who sailed the route taken by many in later times around the tip of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope that took them almost to Brazil as they went South around Africa. Because of the shape of the land and the prevailing current of the seas, they could not sail directly down the coast of the continent so no one had ever done it before. All expeditions prior to this one had been made overland. De Gama, and his fellows braved the boredom and terror of the sea to make the trip.
In Camoes book they are aided along there was by the patron of sailors, Venus. This is a very different story from the Odyssey in that it actually happened, and the fact that the Roman type of Aphrodite, Venus, is portrayed much differently than the unfaithful and maddening Greek goddess. Venus helps the sailors out of a great deal of trouble throughout the book.
In this book, the rival of the sailors is Bacchus. For some reason he does not want the sailors to make the trip, and he constantly tries to interfere and end both the trip and their lives. Luckily "Venus protects them" (Camoes xxxix). Unfortunately Bacchus is not done with them and sends them on their journey with a treacherous pilot, but Venus remains with them. At one point a storm breaks out when Poseidon is influenced to do so at Bacchus insistence. Camoes relates that "Venus again shines forth in person solving the discord as the star of love" (Camoes xliv). Bacchus is constantly the devil to the Venus god and protector of the men of the fleet. When Bacchus shows up to ruin the journey, Venus descends to aid the sailors.
The book actually does not mention Venus more than a few times, but it always seems to paint her as both a tragic figure and a protector. She is someone who is always sad at the fate of the sailors, but the poetry seems to suggest that she has also suffered a loss herself. Canto 1.xxxiii tells why she loves the Portuguese and is willing to assist them on their journey. It says
"For all their qualities which she hath seen,
And to her loved of ancient Roman can trace;
For their brave hearts, and for their great star's sheen
And for their tongue, which, as her fancy deems,
With slight corruption e'en the Latin seems" (Camoes 19)
They remind her of her beloved ancient romans because of their braveness and their language. She is mentioned again in canto 4.cvi as sad when she pleads for the life of her son, and in canto 5.vnher beauty is recalled by the sailors. This is a very different person than the Aphrodite of The Odyssey.
Similarities and Differences
It is very difficult to see similarities between the two goddesses. Although they are supposedly from the same root, and occupy the same job as goddesses in their separate but equal pantheons, they are very different if one is to judge them from these two books. However they are similar in one thing, they are both described as very beautiful. When Aphrodite's beauty is talked about in The Odyssey she seems to be very vain and…