Venus Victrix

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871
Rhyme: abbaaccadedeff
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 205

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life, 110-111


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet is full of ominous suggestions that ripple out from its reference to the Judgment of Paris and the disastrous consequences that followed from Paris casting his lot for, and with, Venus. The power of “love's tumultuous trance” (line 6) is scarcely benign, and the second quatrain of the octave can hardly not recall in this case “the sea” that figures so strongly in so many of the tales of the Matter of Troy. In the end, if Love “breathes low the sweetest” name of the beloved into the lover's ear, as Venus breathed the name of “Helen” in the ear of Paris, the smiling sea that DGR's poem evokes (lines 6-7) has to be seen (by the reader) as full of unseen (by the lover) threats.

Baum wrestles with the sonnet because of contradictions that emerge through his exclusively biographical focus, which seems to be controlled by line 4's “gold-shadowed”. Baum clearly takes this to be a coded reference to DGR's dead wife. But although that is the received reading for the line, as well as the reading in the two other manuscripts (including the one he gave to Jane Morris), the original reading (uncancelled) was “deep-shadowed”, as we see in the Fitzwilliam copy. In any case, DGR has organized “The House of Life” sequence so that the beloveds' identities can mutate into each other as well as into various other forms. The transformational possibilities are particularly evident in this sonnet, where the lady appears through a palimpsest of four goddesses.

Textual History: Composition

Three manuscripts survive, the earliest being the corrected copy in the Fitzwilliam compilation of “The House of Life”. The two other are the fair copy made for Jane Morris and the Kelmscott Love sonnets sequence and the Brancroft collection's late copy torn from a notebook.

Printing History

First printed in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 18-1871.raw.xml