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Juno and Venus at Carthage and Eryx

Joseph Farrell

University of Pennsylvania

This paper presents a reading of episodes in Aeneid 4 and 5 involving Juno and Venus. Its thesis is that cooperation between Juno and Venus makes sense in an episode set in Carthage, whereas conflict between them makes sense when the scene shifts to Sicily. The reason is that these goddesses were worshipped differently in Carthage, Sicily, and Rome.

The interpretatio Graeca et Romana understood foreign divinities as having specific Greek and Roman counterparts. Juno corresponded to Hera and Venus to Aphrodite. Just as Hera and Aphrodite are not connected in Greek cult, nor are Juno and Venus connected at Rome. Carthaginian religion is different. Hera and Juno’s Punic counterpart is Tanit, patron of marriage and consort of Baal Hammon, head of the Punic pantheon. Aphrodite and Venus correspond to Astarte, whose province was love and sex. It may be too much to say that Astarte was an aspect of Tanit, but they were much more closely associated than Hera was with Aphrodite or Juno with Venus (Feeney 1991; Quinn and Vella 2014; Quinn 2017, 2018). 

A conspiracy between Juno and Venus makes sense in Carthage because of this close association between Tanit and Astarte. In Aeneid 4, Juno petitions Venus to let her pursue a dynastic marriage between Aeneas and Dido arising from the erotic passion that Venus (through Cupid) has inspired in the queen. Venus acquiesces, but unlike the main literary antecedents of the episode (the Homeric “Deception of Zeus” in Iliad 14, Knauer 1964, and Hera’s suborning of Aphrodite in Argonautica 3, Nelis 2001) she has the upper hand in this episode. This reflects her role as Aeneas’s mother and thus the ancestor of Romulus (not to mention Augustus). The Roman senate recognized this role in the 3d c. BCE when it created the cult of Venus Erycina (Gruen 1992). This act underlies events in Aeneid 5.

The sanctuary of the goddess of Mt. Eryx in western Sicily predated Greek and Carthaginian colonization. Greeks identified her with Aphrodite Aineias and connected her with the Aeneas legend. It is often said that Carthaginians equated this goddess with Astarte, but since the distinction between Astarte and Tanit was not entirely clear, we do not know precisely who they considered the goddess of Mt. Eryx to be (Anagnostou-Laoutides 2018). 

The plot of Aeneid 5 reflects the conflict between Carthage and Rome in the First Punic War (Traill 2001, Leigh 2010, Goldberg 2014, Giusti 2018). Accordingly, Venus and Juno resume their antagonistic roles as the “merging” of their identities in book 4 gives way to a separation in book 5. Since the goddesses were worshipped together and perhaps even identified in Carthage, deciding whether the goddess of Eryx was either Tanit or Atarte will have mattered little to the Carthaginians, but deciding whether she was Juno or Venus will have been important to the Romans. The poem dramatizes the separation of the goddesses. When Aeneas leaves Carthage, his fleet finds itself in difficulty thanks to an approaching storm. The poem does not identify the cause of the storm, but in these same waters Juno, the “Queen of the Air” according to ancient natural scientific allegory, sent the storm that almost destroyed Aeneas in book 1. When Aeneas decides to take refuge in nearby Eryx, however, favorable Zephyrs — a wind particularly associated with Venus — take him there without delay. When Aeneas departs at the end of the book, Venus negotiates with Neptune to protect Aeneas against further attack by Juno. 

In sum, book 4, which is set in Carthage, reflects similarities between Tanit and Astarte in the Punic religion, while book 5, which is set in Eryx, reflects the Roman removal of that place from Carthaginian control in the First Punic War by distinguishing between the goddesses according to the Roman state cult. 

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Virgil and Religion

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