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The story of Mars and Venus caught in a net is one of the adulterous lovers exposed by a cuckolded husband. The earliest form of the story that we have appears in Book 8 of the Greek poet Homer's Odyssey, likely written in the 8th century B.C.E. The main roles in the play are the Goddess Venus, an adulterous, sensual woman fond of sex and society; Mars a god both handsome and virile, exciting and aggressive; and Vulcan the forger, a powerful but old god, twisted and lame.
Some scholars say the story is a morality play about how ridicule kills passion, others that the story is describing how passion survives only when it is secret, and once discovered, it cannot last.
The Tale of the Bronze Net
The story is that the goddess Venus was married to Vulcan, god of the night and blacksmithing and an ugly and lame old man. Mars, handsome, young, and clean-built, is irresistible to her, and they make passionate love in Vulcan's marriage bed. The god Apollo saw what they were about and told Vulcan.
Vulcan went to his forge and created a snare made of bronze chains so fine that not even the gods could see them, and he spread them across his marriage bed, draping them all over the bed-posts. Then he told Venus he was leaving for Lemnos. When Venus and Mars took advantage of Vulcan's absence, they were caught in the net, unable to stir hand or foot.
The Lovers Caught
Of course, Vulcan hadn't really left for Lemnos and instead found them and shouted to Venus's father Jove, who came ushering in the other gods to witness his cuckolding, including Mercury, Apollo, and Neptune-all the goddesses stayed away in shame. The gods roared with laughter to see the lovers caught, and one of them (Mercury) makes a joke that he wouldn't mind being caught in the trap himself.
Vulcan demands his dowry back from Jove, and Neptune bargains for the freedom of Mars and Venus, promising that if Mars doesn't pay the dowry back he would pay it himself. Vulcan agrees and loosens the chains, and Venus goes off to Cyprus and Mars to Thrace.
Other Mentions and Illusions
The story also appears in Book II of the Roman poet Ovid's Ars Amatoria, written in 2 C.E., and a briefer form in Book 4 of his Metamorphoses, written 8 C.E. In Ovid, the tale ends after the gods are laughing at the netted lovers-there is no bargaining for the freedom of Mars, and Ovid's Vulcan is described as more malicious than enraged. In Homer's Odyssey, Venus returns to Cyprus, in Ovid she remains with Vulcan.
Other literary connections to the Venus and Mars story, albeit some less strict to the plot, include the first poem William Shakespeare ever published, called Venus and Adonis published in 1593. The Venus and Mars netted story is also significantly mentioned in the English poet John Dryden's All for Love, or the World Well Lost. That is a tale about Cleopatra and Marc Anthony, but Dryden makes it about passion in general and what does or does not sustain it.
- Castellani V. 1980. Two Divine Scandals: Ovid Met. 2.680 ff. and 4.171 ff. and His Sources. Transactions of the American Philological Association 110:37-50.
- Kloesel LF. 1990. The play of desire: Vulcan's net and other stories of passion in "All for Love". The Eighteenth Century 31(3):227-244.
- Miller RP. 1959. The Myth of Mars's Hot Minion in Venus and Adonis. ELH (English Literary History) 26(4):470-481.