Roman Myths
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Roman Myths : Gods, Heroes, Villains and Legends of Ancient Rome

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Description

In ancient Rome (753 BC - 476 AD) mythology was integral to various aspects of society, from religion, to politics, to the founding of the city. Today, we may encounter the legacy of these stories before we encounter the stories themselves, whether this is in day-to-day speech, the 18th century art on display at the Louvre, or the works of William Shakespeare.
The Roman tendency to accept their mythology as part of history creates a degree of uncertainty around the historical basis of the figures featured in these legendary tales. Truth, fiction, or both, the significance of mythology to this people is palpable.
From Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome to Lucretia and the Republic; from Livy and the Dii Consentes to Virgil's Aeneid; from Dis Pater in the underworld to Jupiter, god of the sky.
Illustrated with 180 colour and black-and-white photographs, artworks, and maps, Roman Myths is an engaging and informative book, offering an introduction to Roman mythology, its roots, and its ongoing importance.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 192 x 250 x 20mm | 900g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 150 photos, artworks and maps; 150 Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1838861645
  • 9781838861643

Table of contents

Contents to include

INTRODUCTION

MYTHOLOGY AND THE FOUDING OF ROME

Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus were twin brothers who founded Rome, sons to Rhea Silva and, depending on discrepancies between versions of the myth, either Mars or Hercules. A prophecy foretold that the twins would overthrow their great uncle, Amulius, and so they were abandoned. A she-wolf nurtured the brothers until a shepherd, Faustulus, adopted them as his own, raising them with his wife. Years later, the twins fulfilled what the prophecy had foretold of them and killed Amulius. They resolved to establish a city, bringing about the founding of Rome, but disagreements between the brothers led Romulus to kill Remus.

DEITIES AND RELIGION

Deities
Depicting the 217 BC Lectisternium (banquet), Livy speaks of twelve major gods. In this account, deities appear in male-female partnerships: Jupiter and Juno, Apollo and Diana, Neptune and Minerva, Vulcan and Vesta, Mercury and Ceres, and Mars and Venus, together comprising the Dii Consentes. The twenty most prominent deities (di selecti) include the twelve already mentioned, as well as Janus, Luna, Orcus, Saturn, Genius, Sol, Liber, Tellus. Jupiter was the father of many of these deities - and indeed many others - including Minerva, goddess of wisdom, Vulcan, god of fire, and Diana, goddess of the moon and nature.

Borrowed deities
Many Roman deities have counterparts in Greek mythology: Zeus and Poseidon of ancient Greece respectively become Jupiter and Neptune in ancient Rome. However, deities were not only borrowed from Greece: the more territories that Rome conquered, the more deities they would adopt. Various deities originate from the continued observation of other religions, such as those from Italian settlements. This practice introduced gods such as Mithras, around whom an entire mystery religion, Mirthraism, was constructed, based on the Persian worship of Mithra.

Janus
A god with two faces and no Greek equivalent, Janus was wholly Roman and ever- present. Janus frequently featured in ceremonies - including those dedicated to a different deity - and represented transitions of many kinds, including beginnings and endings, doorways, and time.

The Underworld
A volcanic crater, Avernus, appearing in Virgil's Aeneid, was thought to be the entrance to the underworld. Prominent deities of the underworld include Dis Pater and Orcus, who were closely linked with one another - and with Pluto - and later combined. Other deities of the underworld include Dea Tacita, goddess of the dead, Mors, the personification of death, Viduus, the god who would divide the soul and the body following death, and Libitina, goddess of burials and funerals.

Triads
A polytheistic people, the Romans first worshipped the Archaic Triad: Jupiter, god of the sky, Mars, god of war, and Quirinus, likely to be a Sabine god of war. The Capitoline Triad later replaced this pantheon, comprised of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva: the king of gods, the queen of heaven, and the goddess of wisdom, respectively. Including two goddesses and one god, this triad is unusual in its gender balance.

CONSTELLATIONS
The Ptolemy of Alexandria, a Greco-Roman astronomer, produced a collection of 48 constellations, covering the section of sky that he could see. This catalogue has its roots in another, created by Hipparchus. While this collection is not exhaustive, it provides the basis for the constellations we still observe today.
The mythology surrounding these constellations is often of Greek origin, but alternate versions exist in Roman mythology with the names of deities substituted. This is the case with Pisces, which originally details the story of Aphrodite and Eros against Typhon: the Roman version instead features Venus and Cupid.

FESTIVALS AND FEASTS
Feriae publicae (public holidays) in Roman tradition can be trisected into feriae stativae, feriae conceptivae, and fariae imperative. The first of these refers to festivals and celebrations that took place on the same day each year, or each month, as with the Kalends. Feriae conceptivae, while annual events, did not have a fixed date. Compitalia falls under the heading of feriae conceptivae, taking place between 17 December and 5 January (Ianuarius), though this time frame was considerably narrower later in the Empire. Feriae imperativae were a response to another event, and took place at the instruction of a political superior. The more significant the event that the festival was responding to, the longer the festival would last. Livy's writing details a nine-day festival that responded to a shower of stones thought to reflect the anger of the Alban gods.

ROMAN WRITING

Roman authors
Prominent writers of the time include Dionysius of Halicarnassus - a Greek historian - Livy, and Virgil. Virgil's Aeneid depicts Aeneas, a Trojan hero, travelling to Italy and fighting a war against the Latins. Aeneas's arrival provides a link between the figures of Roman mythology and the figures of Greek mythology: Aeneas was said to be an ancestor of Remus and Romulus. The Aeneid borrows stylistically from its literary predecessors, namely Homer's Iliad.

Fables and morality
Many Roman legends double as fables, such as those translated and Latinised by Phaedrus. Stories Latinised include 'The Dog carrying some Meat across a River', a story of greed and envy, and 'Of the Vices of Men', a story warning against the judgment of others.

POLITICS
In some cases, Roman mythology reflects the nature of Roman government, such as with Lucretia and Mucius Scaevola. The themes appearing in these myths include loyalty, revolution, and the monarchy. Phaedrus's fables and their accompanying morals often possessed a political quality.

LEGACY OF ROMAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS
The names of several Roman deities - and their Greek counterparts - are embedded into our day-to-day language, our solar system, and even our calendar. Words such as iris, trivia, and aura are also the names of Greco-Roman deities. Roman legend frequently finds its way into art and literature, as is the case with Oath of the Horatii, a 1784 painting by Jacques-Louis David featuring a scene of a war between Rome and Alba Longa. This painting portrays the perceived significance of patriotism, a common notion in more political Roman legends such as Coriolanus and Julius Caesar.
The Roman legend of Coriolanus depicts an obstinate leader who favoured the aristocracy. Caius Marcius Coriolanus was a traitor to Rome, leading Volscian armies against the city. As the Volscians were on the brink of securing Rome, Coriolanus's resolve was broken by pleas from his wife and mother, and the armies withdrew under his order. Discrepancies between versions of this legend mean it is uncertain if Coriolanus was killed or exiled. However, in William Shakespeare's tragedy by the same name - depicting a similar betrayal alongside the mistreatment of plebeians in a highly political setting - Coriolanus is killed.
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About Martin J Dougherty

Martin J. Dougherty is the author of Greek Myths, Norse Myths, Vikings, Celts, The Ancient Warrior and many more titles. A former defence consultant, he has appeared on and acted as a consultant for numerous historical television programmes.
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