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From Greek and Roman Mythology & Heroic Legend, by Professor H. Steuding, Translated from the German and Edited by Lionel D. Barnett. The Temple Primers, London: J. M. Dent; 1901; pp. 122-123.


VI.  Deities of Foreign Origin.   § 215.  Towards the end of the royal period the Etruscan culture, and through its medium that of Greece, which was already dominant in Lower Italy, gained influence in Rome also. Notably the Sibylline Books from Cumae, which contained a collection of Greek oracular utterances, led to the introduction of quite a number of Greek worships into Rome. In this process either the qualities of the foreign deity were transferred to one of the numerous native Spirits of Action to which it was itself nearly akin in character, or else the foreign name was adopted together with the foreign conception. Thus Minerva originally was in all probability nothing but the divine power effecting thought and understanding in man, and thereby the tutelary spirit of artistic activity. Her inclusion in the Capitoline trinity (§ 211) she owes solely to her identification with Pallas Athena, whose qualities were transferred to her, except that she did not become a true goddess of war.

§ 216.  Similarly Venus, whose name is connected with venustus and the German Wonne, had in the earliest times no cult in Rome. She is the Greek Aphrodite, who from Lower Italy and afterwards from Mount Eryx in Sicily found entrance into Rome under this name, which perhaps belonged to an Indigital goddess, the ‘giver of delight.’ Her oldest temple was raised in the grove of Libitina, a goddess of pleasure and death, and her by-names Murcia and Cloacina are certainly derived from localities.

Furthermore, Mercurius in the first instance can only have been the Indigital god of merx and mercatura, the spirit of trade; it was only by identification with Hermes that he became a fully developed god. As however he always remained to a far greater degree than the latter the exclusive deity of tradespeople, the purse appears in Italy as his regular attribute.

The case is similar with Hercules. Herakles, the favourite son of Zeus, who dispenses rustic plenty, was confused with the creative Genius which was ascribed to Iuppiter as it was to every man in general. In this quality he was joined in 123 wedlock to the Iuno who represents the productive power of woman; then however this exclusively Italian conception so permeated the purely Greek legend that there arose a variety of contradictions with the tradition of the feud between Hera and Herakles.

§ 217.  The service of Ceres in Rome is on the other hand purely Greek. The name, which in its origin certainly applied to an Indigital goddess, is closely related to cresco and creo; the personality of the goddess however is simply that of Demeter, who was introduced into Rome under the name in the year 496 B.C., and in whose worship so little change was made that even in Rome her priestesses had to be Greek.

Still more ancient, but no less purely Greek, is the worship of Apollo, in whose honour the Ludi Apollinares were held ever after 212 B.C. on July 13, on account of an utterance of the Sibylline Books. And the ruler of the nether world, Dis Pater, the husband of Proserpina, is Pluton-Hades taken over without change; Dis is dives, ‘the rich one,’ a translation of Pluton.

§ 218.  In the year 204 B.C. was brought to Rome the sacred stone of the Magna Mater Idaea of Pessinus, Ma or Ammas. In 186 B.C. it was necessary to forcibly suppress the worship of Bacchus, as it was degraded by excesses. Then came Isis and Sarapis from Alexandria, and finally among many less important cults the Mysteries or secret rites of the Persian sun-god Mithras, which had already incorporated many thoughts and ceremonies of the now advancing Christian faith, so that the latter found in Rome, as in Greece, a soil well prepared to ensure its vigorous growth.

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