Roman Gods Greek Myths

by Robert Hamilton

Roman myths about their gods were strongly influenced by Greek mythology in a number of important ways. Starting with the fact, that Roman gods and goddesses were not traditionally anthropomorphised[1] by their believers, and were actually perceived as numina[2](spirits), which were thought to inhabit all aspects of life, and therefore the Romans did not develop their own mythology until they subsumed it from the Greeks. The Greeks had a rich collection of mythological stories, which were taught  to them as children, and this is how their religious beliefs were propagated amongst their people.[3] So it was the contact with Greek culture which really began Roman mythology and this can be most clearly seen in Virgil’s Aeneid.

In this twelve book epic poem, Virgil takes inspiration and characters from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to connect the genesis of Rome with the richness of Greek mythology;[4] and the story of Troy.[5]  The hero Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus/Aphrodite,  would journey from Troy to Italy, found Lavinium,[6]  and thus lay the foundations for the creation of Rome. Eventually Aeneas would become a god himself.[7] Virgil uses the Roman pantheon of gods, with Zeus becoming Jupiter;[8] Aphrodite now Venus;[9] Kronos now Saturn;[10] Ares now Mars;[11] Hera now Juno;[12] and thus connects all the known myths about the Greek pantheon of gods with their Roman counterparts. In the great tradition of establishing divine credibility, writers of the day, like Virgil, took what was traditionally accepted as historical fact, or beliefs, and crafted on to these stories new ‘facts’ or branches of truth. [13]  These new parts would legitimise the current rulers of Rome[14] and Rome itself,[15] through their lineage to the gods. Virgil and Ovid were both writing during the reign of Augustus 63 BC– 14 AD, and their work was seen to justify his position and political agenda;[16] Ovid, at times, in a more unwilling[17] and challenging way[18]. When Virgil has Aeneas, in the Aeneid, descending into the underworld[19] he is providing a platform for the gods to speak, to the Roman people, of the divine right of Rome;[20] and of the Julian family.

“In addition, a child of Mars will join company with his grandfather.

Romulus, who will be born to Ilia, of the line of Assaracus.

Look at how the twin plumes of Mars stand tall on his crest,

And his father marks him for the world above with his own symbols.

Look, my son. When he leads them Rome will be glorious.”

Virgil, Aeneid, 6. 775-779

Continued in Roman and Greek History by Robert Hamilton

©Robert Hamilton

 

[1] M.O. Morford & R.J. Lenardon, Classical Mythology, 5thEd, Longman Publishers USA, Chpt 24, p-513.

[2] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, Palgrave Macmillan, Sydney 2012.p- 116 – “spirits that could be a part of almost any object or concept.”

 

[3] J.P. Vernant, ‘Greek Religion’, in M.Eliade (ed) The Encyclopedia of Religion Vol. 6, New York, 1986, p- 99.

 

[4] J.E. Harrison, Mythology, Marshall Jones Co, Boston, 1924, p-14- “It was the supreme genius of the Greeks as contrasted with the Romans that they were image-makers, iconists.”

[5] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 1-7

[6] Plutarch, Makers of Rome, I.Scott-Kilvert (ed), Penguin, 1965. Life of Coriolanus 27

 

 

[7] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 259

 

[8] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 43

 

[9] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 228

 

[10] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 29

 

[11] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 274

 

[12] Virgil, Aeneid, 1. 9-15

 

[13] W.R Johnson, Darkness Visible: A Study of Vergil’s Aeneid , University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1976 , p-128.

 

[14] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 280.

 

[15] Virgil, Aeneid, 6. 752-897

 

[16] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 280.

 

[17] Ovid, Metamorphoses, 15. 745-879

[18] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 298.

 

[19] Virgil, Aeneid, 6. 752-897

 

[20] Campbell. J, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Harper Collins Publishers, London 1993, p-30-31.

[21] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 12

[22] T.P.Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth, Cambridge, 1995, p-58.

[23] A.B. Griffith,  World of Roman Myths [online]. Scholia: Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 15, 2006: 134. – Reviews book by T. P. Wiseman, The Myths of Rome. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2004

[24] T.P.Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth, Cambridge, 1995, p-50.

[25] G.B. Miles, Livy- Reconstructing Early Rome, Cornell University Press, Ithaca & London, p- 137-138.

 

[26] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 1. 72-3

[27] Plutarch, Life of Romulus 1-2

[28] J.N. Bremmer, ‘Romulus and Remus and the foundation of Rome’ in J.N.Bremmer and N.M. Horsfall, Roman Myth and Mythology, London, 1987. p- 25.

[29] J.N. Bremmer, ‘Romulus and Remus and the foundation of Rome’ in J.N.Bremmer and N.M. Horsfall, Roman Myth and Mythology,  p- 27.

[30] T.P.Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth, p-52.

 

[31] Livy, History of Rome 1. 4

[32] Apollodorus, The Library 3.9

[33] Apollodorus, The Library 3.12

 

[34] J.N. Bremmer, ‘Romulus and Remus and the foundation of Rome’ in J.N.Bremmer and N.M. Horsfall, Roman Myth and Mythology,  p- 32.

 

[35] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 124.

 

[36] P. Grimal, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Oxford, 1986. p- 468.

 

[37] T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth Vol. 1, Baltimore, 1996. p- 61.

 

[38] Livy, History of Rome 1. 4

 

[39] T.P.Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth, p-52.

[40] T.P.Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth, p-52-53.

 

 

[41] G.B. Miles, Livy- Reconstructing Early Rome, p- 140.

 

 

[42] M.O. Morford & R.J. Lenardon, Classical Mythology, 5thEd, Chpt 24, p-514. Livy, From the Foundation of the City, Preface(sect 6-10)-“ I do not intend to accept or deny the truth of traditional legends about events before and during the founding of the city. These are more suitable for poetic fables than for reliable historical records. But one can excuse ancient legends because they make the origins of the city more august by uniting human and divine actions. If any nation has the right to consider its origins sacred and to ascribe them to the gods, it is the Roman people, for they claim that Mars is their ancestor and the father of the founder [Romulus].”

[43] W.S. Fox, Greek and Roman Mythology, Marshall Jones Co, Boston, 1916, p-288.

[44] J. Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p-35.

[45] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 127.

[46] T.P.Wiseman, The article reviews the book “The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire,” by Clifford Ando, American Historical Review , Jun2009, Vol. 114 Issue 3, p811-812, 2p – “The final chapter of this admirable book reflects on the historic talismans with which the gods guaranteed the rule of Rome. One of them was the stone of the Phrygian Great Mother; another was the Palladion, the statue of Pallas Athene rescued by Aeneas from the fall of Troy. Ando enjoys the irony of Malalas’s story that in 330 Constantine I took the Palladion and buried it secretly in the forum of his Christian capital.”

 

[47] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 118.

[48] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 118.

 

[49] M.O. Morford & R.J. Lenardon, Classical Mythology, 5thEd, Chpt 24, p-513.

[50] M.O. Morford & R.J. Lenardon, Classical Mythology, 5thEd, Chpt 24, p-515.

 

[51] Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.828, 871-872

[52] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 117.

[53] G.S.Kirk, The Nature Of Greek Myth, Harmondsworth, 1974, p.45.

 

[54] Virgil, Aeneid, 6. 752-897

[55] I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, p- 127.

[56] Ovid, Metamorphoses 15. 875-879

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Apollodorus, The Library, Frazer.J.G (ed) Loeb, London : W. Heinemann ; New York : G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1921.

J.N. Bremmer, ‘Romulus and Remus and the foundation of Rome’ in J.N.Bremmer and N.M. Horsfall, Roman Myth and Mythology, London, 1987.

Campbell. J, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Cary.E (trans), Loeb, Harper Collins Publishers, London 1993.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, London : W. Heinemann, 1960-63.

W.S. Fox, Greek and Roman Mythology, Marshall Jones Co, Boston, 1916.

T. Gantz, Early Greek Myth Vol. 1, Baltimore, 1996.

A.B. Griffith,  World of Roman Myths [online]. Scholia: Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 15, 2006: 134. – Reviews book by T. P. Wiseman, The Myths of Rome. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2004

P. Grimal, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Oxford, 1986.

J.E. Harrison, Mythology, Marshall Jones Co, Boston, 1924

W.R Johnson, Darkness Visible: A Study of Vergil’s Aeneid , University of California Press, Los Angeles. 1976.

G.S.Kirk, The Nature Of Greek Myth, Harmondsworth, 1974.

Livy, History of Rome, V. M. Warrior (trans). Indianapolis, Ind. : Hackett ; Lancaster : Gazelle Drake Academic , c2006.

G.B. Miles, Livy- Reconstructing Early Rome, Cornell University Press, Ithaca & London,

M.O. Morford & R.J. Lenardon, Classical Mythology, 5thEdLongman Publishers USA.

Ovid, Metamorphoses

I.Plant, Myth In The Ancient World, Palgrave Macmillan, Sydney 2012.

Plutarch, Makers of Rome – Life of Coriolanus, I.Scott-Kilvert (ed), Penguin, 1965.

Plutarch, Life of Romulus, Dacier (trans), Edinburgh : printed by A. Donaldson and J. Reid. For Alexander Donaldson, and sold at his shops in London and Edinburgh, MDCCLXIII. [1763] 

J.P. Vernant, ‘Greek Religion’, in M.Eliade (ed) The Encyclopedia of Religion Vol. 6, New York, 1986.

Virgil, Aeneid, J.Conington (trans), New York : Thomas Y. Crowell

T.P.Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth, Cambridge, 1995.

T.P.Wiseman, The article reviews the book “The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire,” by Clifford Ando, American Historical Review , Jun2009, Vol. 114 Issue 3

 

 

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