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Cytherean is an adjective meaning pertaining to Cythera (Greek Κύθηρα, also transliterated Kythera or Kithira), a small island now part of Greece, southeast of the Peloponnesus. It is also an adjective meaning pertaining to the planet Venus.
When planetary scientists began to have a need to discuss Venus in detail, an adjective was needed. Based on Latin principles, the correct adjectival form of the name would be Venerean. However, this term has an unfortunate similarity to the word venereal as in venereal diseases (related to "Venerean" as martial is to "Martian"), and is not generally used by astronomers. The term Venusian is etymologically messy (similar to saying "Earthian" or "Jupiterian"), and a "cleaner" version was desired.
It was suggested that since Venus had a Greek name, as well as a Roman one, this should be used; however, the adjectival form of Aphrodite was "aphrodisial", which again was felt to be unfortunately close to "aphrodisiac", again evoking matters not directly pertaining to astronomy.
A compromise was reached. In Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite was said to have been born from the sea, from which she emerged on a sea shell at the island of Cythera, and as such was sometimes known as Cytherea. The adjective Cytherean was taken from this name and remained popular in scientific literature for some time. Its perhaps forgotten usage in 18th century erotica did not interfere with this choice.
The term has since fallen out of common use. Venusian is the form most frequently used, with others, including Venerean appearing from time to time; the term Cytherean is now mostly found in older scientific papers, but some scientists still stick to the "tasteful" naming. In addition, the word "Cytherean" as an adjective referring to Venus is often found in science fiction of the early and mid 20th century.
- Hanes, Dave. "The Appearance of Venus: Its Importance". Physics P15: The Course Notes, Fall 2012. Retrieved January 1, 2013.
- M. Heydari-Malayeri, An Etymological Dictionary of Astronomy and Astrophysics English-French-Persian. Accessed Oct. 7, 2006
- For example, "when you examine her whole naked figure, which she will permit you to do, if you perform the Cytherean Rites like an able priest". Denlinger, Elizabeth Campbell (2002), "The Garment and the Man: Masculine Desire in "Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies," 1764–1793", Journal of the History of Sexuality (University of Texas Press, hosted at jstor.org), 11, number 3, p. 379, JSTOR 3704587
- Joseph Lazio. Astronomy Frequently Asked Questions. Accessed Oct. 7, 2006
- David W. Hughes. A comparison between terrestrial, Cytherean and lunar impact cratering records". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Volume 334. August 2002. Page 713