Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 36: Florence, Part 16

October 1, 2023


Uffizi Gallery

2. "The Birth of Venus" (15th century)

Similar to "Primavera," this is a masterpiece from Botticelli's peak period.

Both of these works were created in memory of Giuliano, the assassinated young prince.

He was Lorenzo de' Medici's brother and a playboy.

Lorenzo had contributed to the height of the Medici family's power.

The goddess of beauty, Venus, depicted in both paintings, was modeled after a woman named Simonetta, whom Giuliano loved.

Both paintings were treasured by the Medici family for over 300 years and kept away from public view.

They were first displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in the 19th century.

"Venus" refers to the English name of the Roman mythological goddess of love and beauty, "Venus" (meaning "charm" in Latin).

In Greek mythology, she is known as "Aphrodite."

The planet of Venus in modern astronomy and copper in alchemy are associated with the name "Venus."


In Greek mythology, numerous children were born from the union of the sky god Uranus and the earth goddess Gaia.

However, due to Uranus' mistreatment of his children, the youngest son, Cronus, conspired with his mother Gaia to seek revenge against his father Uranus.

At the moment Uranus tried to have intercourse with Gaia, Cronus used a giant sickle to cut   Uranus’s penis off and threw it into the sea.

From the semen that flowed from Uranus' penis, a white "foam" (called "Aphros" in Greek) emerged and floated on the sea.

Eventually, the goddess of unparalleled beauty, "Aphrodite (Venus)," was born from this foam.

The god of west wind with large wings, Zephyrus, and the flower goddess, Flora, intertwined together and blew a blessing onto Venus, who rode on a scallop shell, causing roses to fill the sky.

Venus, carried by the waves, drifted to the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.

During the Greek and Roman eras, a bivalve was often used as a symbol for the female genitalia, which is why the scallop shell is depicted in "The Birth of Venus" as if Venus was born from it.

The goddess of the seasons, Horae, is depicted attempting to drape clothing on the freshly born Venus.

  In Cyprus, there was a king named Cinyras, who had a daughter named Myrrha.

Trouble arose when Cinyras' wife (Myrrha's mother) claimed that her daughter Myrrha was more beautiful than the goddess Aphrodite (Venus.)

Because of the audacity that Cinyras' wife didn’t fear even the goddess, Aphrodite took action.

In punishment of Cinyras' wife (Myrrha's mother), Aphrodite caused Myrrha to fall in love with her father, Cinyras, leading to a forbidden union.

Overwhelmed by the sin of incest, Myrrha transformed into a fragrant tree.

Her tears turned into aromatic resin, known as "myrrh."

The resin myrrh is highly valued not only as an incense but also as an antiseptic, sedative, pain reliever, and even a preservative for dead bodies.

When Myrrha transformed into the fragrant tree, she was already pregnant with her father Cinyras' child.

Ten months later, the tree bark split, and a beautiful baby boy emerged, emitting an alluring fragrance.

This boy grew up to be the exquisite youth named Adonis.

Aphrodite, in spite of the goddess of love who could awaken desire in anyone, fell herself for this beautiful youth and made him her lover.

However, their love story was short-lived.

While hunting, young Adonis was attacked, stabbed with tusks and killed by a wild boar.

Aphrodite mourned his death.

Then red roses bloomed from her tears.

And from the ground stained with Adonis' blood, deep-red flowers resembling blood also grew.

But, these deep-red flowers had a fleeting life; a gentle breeze would make their petals scatter.


Therefore, these delicate flowers were named "Anemone," derived from the Greek word for wind, "Anemos."