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An Ancient Latin Name for Venus

Venus, in its aspect as the Morning Star, was known to the early Romans as iubar; not until much later did Lucifer, “the bringer of light,” replace iubar as the designation of the planet Venus in its morning aspect.1 Latin writers derived iubar from the word iuba, meaning “hair.” Varro wrote: eadem Stella vocatur iubar quod iubata “this star is called iubar bacause it is hairy.”2 Varro and Festus compared the Morning Star’s hair to a lion’s mane.3 The image would appear to be that of light scattered in all directions: only some poetic hyperbole could see in today’s bright morning star a hairy apparition resembling a lion’s mane.4

Seneca and Pliny used the word iubar to describe a comet in the sense of a star with hair.5 Modern scholars, however, unable to see how the word “hairy” could possibly be applied to Venus, have sought for different etymologies of iubar, for “the morning star does not appear as a luminous trail, but as a point lightly twinkling.”6 True, it does not now so appear; but that hardly gives us license to reject the ancients’ description of Venus as having been hairy (iubata) in an earlier age.

References

  1. Iubar dicitur Stella Lucifer—Varro, De lingua latina VI.6.
  2. Ibid., loc. cit.
  3. Varro: Quod habet luminem diffusum ut leo in capite iubam - De lingua latina VII. 76; Festus: Quod splendor eius diffunditur in modum iubae leonis (On the Meaning of Words 92.13).
  4. For the association of the lion with the Morning Star. see F.-X. Kugler’s Sibyllinischer Sternkampf und Phaëthon in naturgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung (1927). Beginning with a passage in the Sibylline Oracles (V. 51 6), Kugler traces the association through the literary and artistic traditions of the ancient Near East.
  5. Seneca, Octavia 231: vidimus caelo iubar ardens cometem pandere infestam facem—apparently in reterence to the comet of A.D. 60. Cf. Pliny,. Natural History II.xxiii. 91.
  6. André le Boeuffle, Les noms latins d’astres et de constellations (Paris, 1977), pp. 238-239, ii. 6. The word iubar was also used in Latin to designate the light of the Sun, Moon, and other celestial bodies.

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