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Roman mythology

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Romulus and Remus, the Lupercal, Father Tiber, and thePalatine on a relief from a pedestal dating to the reign
of Trajan (AD 98-117)

Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary
origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans. "Roman
mythology" may also refer to the modern study of these representations, and to the subject matter as
represented in the literature and art of other cultures in any period.
The Romans usually treated their traditional narratives as historical, even when these have
miraculous or supernatural elements. The stories are often concerned with politics and morality, and
how an individual's personal integrity relates to his or her responsibility to the community or Roman
state. Heroism is an important theme. When the stories illuminate Roman religious practices, they
are more concerned with ritual, augury, and institutions than with theology or cosmogony.[1]
The study of Roman religion and myth is complicated by the early influence of Greek religion on
the Italian peninsula during Rome's protohistory, and by the later artistic imitation of Greek literary
models by Roman authors. In matters of theology, the Romans were curiously eager to identify their
own gods with those of theGreeks (interpretatio graeca), and to reinterpret stories about Greek
deities under the names of their Roman counterparts.[2] Rome's early myths and legends also have a
dynamic relationship with Etruscan religion, less documented than that of the Greeks.
While Roman mythology may lack a body of divine narratives as extensive as that found in Greek
literature,[3]Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf is as famous as any image from Greek
mythology except for the Trojan Horse.[4] Because Latin literature was more widely known in Europe
throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, the interpretations of Greek myths by the
Romans often had the greater influence on narrative and pictorial representations of "classical
mythology" than Greek sources. In particular, the versions of Greek myths in Ovid'sMetamorphoses,
written during the reign of Augustus, came to be regarded as canonical.

1 The nature of Roman myth


1.1 Founding myths

1.2 Other myths

2 Religion and myth


2.1 Foreign gods

3 Sources

4 See also

5 References

The nature of Roman myth[edit]

In this wall painting from Pompeii,Venus looks on while the physicianIapyx tends to the wound of her
son,Aeneas; the tearful boy is her grandsonAscanius, also known as Iulus, legendary ancestor of Julius
Caesarand the Julio-Claudian dynasty

Because ritual played the central role in Roman religion that myth did for the Greeks, it is sometimes
doubted that the Romans had much of a native mythology. This perception is a product
of Romanticism and the classical scholarship of the 19th century, which valued Greek civilization as
more "authentically creative."[5] From the Renaissance to the 18th century, however, Roman myths
were an inspiration particularly for European painting.[6] The Roman tradition is rich in historical
myths, or legends, concerning the foundation and rise of the city. These narratives focus on human
actors, with only occasional intervention from deities but a pervasive sense of divinely ordered
destiny. In Rome's earliest period, history and myth have a mutual and complementary relationship.
As T.P. Wiseman notes:
The Roman stories still matter, as they mattered to Dante in 1300 and Shakespeare in 1600 and
the founding fathers of the United States in 1776. What does it take to be a free citizen? Can
a superpower still be a republic? How does well-meaning authority turn into murderous tyranny?[8]

Major sources for Roman myth include the Aeneid of Vergil and the first few books of Livy's history
as well as Dionysius' s Roman Antiquities. Other important sources are the Fasti of Ovid, a six-book
poem structured by the Roman religious calendar, and the fourth book of elegies by Propertius.
Scenes from Roman myth also appear in Roman wall painting, coins, and sculpture,
particularly reliefs.

Founding myths[edit]
Main article: Founding of Rome
The Aeneid and Livy's early history are the best extant sources for Rome's founding myths. Material
from Greek heroic legend was grafted onto this native stock at an early date. The Trojan
prince Aeneas was cast as husband of Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus, patronymical ancestor of
the Latini, and therefore through a convoluted revisionist genealogy as forebear of Romulus and
Remus. By extension, the Trojans were adopted as the mythical ancestors of the Roman people. [9]

Other myths[edit]
Mucius Scaevola in the Presence of Lars Porsenna (early 1640s) byMatthias Stom

The characteristic myths of Rome are often political or moral, that is, they deal with the development
of Roman government in accordance with divine law, as expressed by Roman religion, and with
demonstrations of the individual's adherence to moral expectations (mos maiorum) or failures to do

Rape of the Sabine women, explaining the importance of the Sabines in the formation of
Roman culture, and the growth of Rome through conflict and alliance.

Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second king of Rome who consorted with
the nymph Egeria and established many of Rome's legal and religious institutions.

Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome, whose mysterious origins were freely mythologized
and who was said to have been the lover of the goddess Fortuna.

The Tarpeian Rock, and why it was used for the execution of traitors.
Lucretia, whose self-sacrifice prompted the overthrow of the early Roman monarchy and led
to the establishment of the Republic.

Horatius at the bridge, on the importance of individual valor.

Mucius Scaevola, who thrust his right hand into the fire to prove his loyalty to Rome.

Caeculus and the founding of Praeneste.[10]

Manlius and the geese, about divine intervention at the Gallic siege of Rome.[11]

Stories pertaining to the Nonae Caprotinae and Poplifugia festivals.[12]

Coriolanus, a story of politics and morality.

The Etruscan city of Corythus as the "cradle" of Trojan and Italian civilization.[13]

The arrival of the Great Mother (Cybele) in Rome.[14]

Religion and myth[edit]

Main article: Religion in ancient Rome
Divine narrative played a more important role in the system of Greek religious belief than among the
Romans, for whom ritual and cult were primary. Although Roman religion was not based
on scriptures and exegesis, priestly literature was one of the earliest written forms of Latin prose.
The books (libri) and commentaries (commentarii) of theCollege of Pontiffs and of
the augurs contained religious procedures, prayers, and rulings and opinions on points of religious
law.[16] Although at least some of this archived material was available for consultation by the Roman
senate, it was often occultum genus litterarum,[17] an arcane form of literature to which by definition
only priests had access.[18] Prophecies pertaining to world history and Rome's destiny turn up
fortuitously at critical junctures in history, discovered suddenly in the nebulous Sibylline books, which
according to legend were purchased by Tarquin the Proud in the late 6th century BC from
the Cumaean Sibyl. Some aspects of archaic Roman religion were preserved by the lost theological
works of the 1st-century BC scholar Varro, known through other classical and Christian authors.

Capitoline Triad

At the head of the earliest pantheon were the so-called Archaic Triad of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus,
whose flamens were of the highest order, and Janus and Vesta. According to tradition, the founder of
Roman religion was Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second king of Rome, who was believed to have
had as his consort and adviser a Roman goddess or nymph of fountains and prophecy, Egeria. The
Etruscan-influenced Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva later became central to official
religion, replacing the Archaic Triad an unusual example within Indo-European religion of a
supreme triad formed of two female deities and only one male. The cult of Diana was established on
the Aventine Hill, but the most famous Roman manifestation of this goddess may be Diana
Nemorensis, owing to the attention paid to her cult by J.G. Frazer in the mythographical classic The
Golden Bough.
The gods represented distinctly the practical needs of daily life, and they were scrupulously
accorded the rites and offerings considered proper. Early Roman divinities included a host of
"specialist gods" whose names were invoked in the carrying out of various specific activities.
Fragments of old ritual accompanying such acts as plowing or sowing reveal that at every stage of
the operation a separate deity was invoked, the name of each deity being regularly derived from the
verb for the operation. Tutelary deities were particularly important in ancient Rome.
Thus, Janus and Vesta guarded the door and hearth, the Lares protected the field and
house, Pales the pasture, Saturn the sowing, Ceres the growth of the grain, Pomona the fruit,
and Consus and Ops the harvest. Even the majestic Jupiter, the ruler of the gods, was honored for
the aid his rains might give to the farms and vineyards. In his more encompassing character he was
considered, through his weapon of lightning, the director of human activity and, by his widespread
domain, the protector of the Romans in their military activities beyond the borders of their own
community. Prominent in early times were the gods Mars and Quirinus, who were often identified

with each other. Mars was a god of war; he was honored in March and October. Quirinus is thought
by modern scholars to have been the patron of the armed community in time of peace.
The 19th-century scholar Georg Wissowa[19] thought that the Romans distinguished two classes of
gods, the di indigetes and the di novensides or novensiles: the indigetes were the original gods of
the Roman state, their names and nature indicated by the titles of the earliest priests and by the
fixed festivals of the calendar, with 30 such gods honored by special festivals; the novensides were
later divinities whose cults were introduced to the city in the historical period, usually at a known date
and in response to a specific crisis or felt need. Arnaldo Momigliano and others, however, have
argued that this distinction cannot be maintained.[20] During the war with Hannibal, any distinction
between "indigenous" and "immigrant" gods begins to fade, and the Romans embraced diverse gods
from various cultures as a sign of strength and universal divine favor.[21]

Foreign gods[edit]

Mithras in a Roman wall painting

The absorption of neighboring local gods took place as the Roman state conquered the surrounding
territory. The Romans commonly granted the local gods of the conquered territory the same honors
as the earlier gods of the Roman state religion. In addition to Castor and Pollux, the conquered
settlements in Italy seem to have contributed to the Roman
pantheon Diana, Minerva, Hercules, Venus, and deities of lesser rank, some of whom were Italic
divinities, others originally derived from the Greek culture of Magna Graecia. In 203 BC, the cult
object embodying Cybele was brought from Pessinus in Phrygia and welcomed with
due ceremony to Rome, centuries before the territory was annexed formally.
Both Lucretius and Catullus, poets contemporary in the mid-1st century BC, offer disapproving
glimpses of her wildly ecstatic cult.
In some instances, deities of an enemy power were formally invited through the ritual of evocatio to
take up their abode in new sanctuaries at Rome.
Communities of foreigners (peregrini) and former slaves (libertini) continued their own religious
practices within the city. In this way Mithras came to Rome and his popularity within the Roman
army spread his cult as far afield as Roman Britain. The important Roman deities were eventually
identified with the more anthropomorphic Greek gods and goddesses, and assumed many of their
attributes and myths.