Dante and Astarte

“Astarte Syriaca” - 1877

MYSTERY: lo! betwixt the sun and moon

Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen

Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen

Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon

Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:

And from her neck's inclining flower-stem lean

Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean

The pulse of hearts to the spheres' dominant tune.

Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel

All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea

The witnesses of Beauty's face to be:

That face, of Love's all-penetrative spell

Amulet, talisman, and oracle,—

Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

The above painting, and the accompanying poem, are both entitled Astarte Syriaca. They were completed in 1877 by the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and both works are plainly a kind of devotional offering to the goddess Venus. They exemplify a broader pattern in Rossetti’s later artworks: portrayals of women as objects of admiration and worship.

These paintings reflect a male perspective of women, and while they are undoubtedly objectifying, a common theme is that the subject is a woman who carries some kind of power, strength or at least status. What we see in these paintings is the Feminine (with a capital F) being placed on a pedestal, figuratively and at times literally. Rossetti’s women are regal, divine figures, alien and mysterious – this is the male gaze at its most worshipful, but also its most obsessive.

“Lady Lilith” - 1873

I recently had the pleasure of viewing some of Rossetti’s paintings in person, and I was struck by just how Venusian they seemed. Portrait after portrait of women, invariably beautiful but also somehow distant and alien, in either a powerful or at least pivotal position, and almost always accompanied by items that an astrologer would associate with Venus: flowers, musical instruments, butterflies, mirrors. Another recurring theme was that many of these paintings are set in gardens or woodlands, with luscious foliage dappled with bursts of bright flowers. These paintings are basically dripping with Venusian symbolism!

So when I looked up Rossetti’s birth time, I was expecting that Venus would be a prominent planet in his chart. But what I saw really blew me away -- this has got to be one of the most Venusian natal charts I have seen in a while:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 4:30am, 12 May 1828, London, U.K. (Rodden rating: A)

When it comes to examining personality, traditional forms of astrology tend to focus on a few key placements, rather than viewing the whole chart as a “map of the psyche.” In my own synthesised approach, I focus on four placements: the rising sign, the Moon, Mercury and the Sun. In particular, I’m looking at the planets that rule those placements – their “dispositors” to use the technical term.

What’s really striking about Rossetti’s natal chart is that all four of these placements (the rising sign, the Moon, Mercury and the Sun) are in Taurus, a sign ruled by Venus! This makes Venus the dispositor of the Moon, Mercury and the Sun; and it also makes her the ruler of the rising sign, the the Lord of the 1st house, sometimes called "the Lord of the Ascendant,” and sometimes called the “chart ruler.” Anyway, the point is that the ruler of the rising sign has a bunch of names because it’s a very important planet!

And in addition to all of that, all four placements are beheld by Venus in Cancer by a sign-based sextile aspect - and two of these aspects are rather close: Mercury is about 2° wide and separating and the Moon about 5° and applying. So again this chart is pointing to Venus as an important planet for Dante’s personality, emotions, intellect, etc.

A portrait of Rossetti at age 22, by his friend William Holman Hunt

Another beautiful feature of this chart is that the Moon and Venus have swapped signs: the Moon is in Venus’ domicile Taurus, while Venus is in the Moon’s domicile, Cancer. Additionally, the Moon is actually applying to a sextile aspect with Venus. In traditional astrology we call this configuration “mutual reception,” where two planets in aspect are placed in each other’s signs. This really rams home the importance of Venus in Rossetti’s chart.

All in all, Venus is absolutely central to understanding the astrology of Rossetti’s character; and based on this chart we would expect him to be have a strongly Venusian personality.

Here’s the thing though - from a traditional standpoint, Rossetti’s Venus’ placement is actually not that hot; for starters it’s in a “cadent” house (the 3rd), and traditionally cadent houses are considered weak or poor placements. Venus is also having a tough time in this chart because she’s sharing the sign Cancer with the malefic (“bad”) planet Saturn, and she’s also in a wide opposition aspect with the other malefic planet, Mars. So while Venus is central to Rossetti’s persona, his mind, his heart, Venus is going to be hard to access. This suggests a person who is extremely Venusian (artistic, creative, beautiful, seeking beauty, creating beauty, indulgent, pleasure-seeking, etc.) but finds it hard to actually access those Venusian goals in some way (cadent house placement, malefics interfering).

But as any astrology book will tell you, the 3rd is the house of communication, so while Dante may have had some trouble with “Venus stuff,” he had no trouble expressing Venusian themes in his artworks.

“The Daydreamer” - 1880

The saving grace here is Jupiter’s trine aspect to Venus - Jupiter is a benefic (“good”) planet, he’s well-placed because he’s in an angular house (the 7th), and he “receives” Venus because she’s in Cancer, the sign of Jupiter’s exaltation. This is all very good news; Jupiter is basically rescuing Venus from what would otherwise be a fairly middling placement, and Jupiter’s placement in the 7th house (love, romance, “the other”) signifies so clearly just how important women were to his art. The intensity of Rossetti’s feelings about women, so clear in his later works, is also clearly shown in his chart by Mercury in the 1st house in a perfect opposition aspect with Jupiter - the opposition is definitely the aspect of obsession and fixation.

This seems very fitting for a man who literally wrote devotional poetry to the goddess Venus, a man who indeed spent the latter part of his life creating portrait after portrait of beautiful, ethereal and otherwordly women, soaked in Venusian symbolism.

“La Viuda Romana (The Roman Widow)” - 1874

Rossetti’s close relationship with his sister Christina Rossetti, an important poet in her own right, is shown by the placement of Venus, the Lord of the Ascendant in the 3rd house of siblings. The Lord of the 3rd house is the Moon, who is extremely powerful in this chart by placement in the angular 1st house and in her exaltation Taurus. The placement in the 1st house, the house of the “self",” suggests that a sibling or siblings will have a strong influence on him.

One of Dante’s many portraits of his sister Christina - 1877

There are other details in this chart worthy of discussion – for example, how his Saturn placement co-present with Venus symbolises his intensely negative reactions to criticism of his artworks, or how the Saturn cycle coincides with major turning points in his career.

But I think I will save that for another time. This has become one of my favourite charts, so I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it in the future.

Me, in my shabby Converse sneakers, contemplating  Astarte Syriaca.

Me, in my shabby Converse sneakers, contemplating Astarte Syriaca.

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