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Roman Mythology

Mythology of the Roman Republic

But was Roman Republic mythology, therefore, the same as Greek mythology?

No, as noted above, Republican Roman mythology was essentially a mixture of Latin, Etruscan, and Greek concepts. The Romans did admire the Greeks, however, and did try, as noted above, to make their deities syncretic with those of the Greeks. They even applied the Greek idea of divine families, which had not been an aspect of earlier Roman mythology. Thus, Jupiter was seen as the husband of Juno, for example, just as the Greek god Zeus was married to Hera. Earlier, Juno had been more important, a version of Uni-Astarte, a great goddess of the Middle East, ruling Rome as an equal power with Jupiter and Minerva. Still, even in her married state, Juno was more powerful in Rome than Hera was in Greece.

As tempting as it is to simply equate Roman gods with their Greek counterparts, to do so is to oversimplify the particular significance of the Roman deities. Mars, for example, was equated with the Greek god of war, Ares, but in Rome he was a much more important figure than his counterpart in Greece. Mars was a martial god, but more importantly, he was an agrarian one associated with crops. Diana, although she gradually became less important as she became associated with the Greek Artemis, had long been important on the Italic peninsula and remained a more significant figure than her counterpart did in Greece. The goddess Vesta was associated with the rarely mentioned Hestia in Greece, but was a far more important figure as the embodiment of an ancient Indo-European fire cult in connection with the Vestal Virgins. Venus is a good example of how the Roman deities differed from the Greek ones. Like Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (Venus’s name derives from the Vedic word for desire), Venus attained a stature in Rome more like that of Athene in Greece. As the mother of the primary Roman mythological hero, Aeneas, she was no longer an erotic vamp. Her role was to keep Aeneas focused on his goal of establishing the new city in a Roman founding myth later made popular in Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid. The more frivolous aspects of love and desire were associated with Venus’s son Cupid, the Roman version of Eros. The Roman equivalent to Athene was Minerva, who in the Etruscan-Roman period had been part of a ruling triumvirate that also included Juno and Jupiter.



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