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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. 108-117.


II.  Nature-Spirits and Deities closely akin to the Spirits of Actions.   § 191.  (1)  The only nature-spirits 109 with a fully developed personality in Rome are the representatives of the powers at work in springs and rivers. As in Greece, the former were usually conceived as female beings; they were worshipped in the grove surrounding their spring, but early developed likewise into goddesses of soothsaying and song, as well as into helpers in painful childbirth. On the former ground the Camenae, who were native to a grove before the Porta Capena, were later completely identified with the Greek Muses, whilst the closely allied Egeria, the soothsaying wife of King Numa, who also dwelt in this grove, was mainly invoked as a goddess of birth. Both properties appear in Carmenta, the mother of Evander, who probably gets her name from carmen, ‘prophecy.’ The spring-goddess Iuturna again, whose name was borne by several springs in Latium, was as wife of Ianus made the mother of Fons or Fontus, the spring itself conceived as a god.

§ 192.  Of the river-gods, Pater Tiberinus enjoyed the highest honours in Rome. A special college of priests, the Pontifices or ‘bridge-makers,’ was entrusted with the making of the Pons Sublicius or pile-bridge leading over the river. So highly were they esteemed that they gradually rose to be a board of superintendence in all matters of religion. The high antiquity of their foundation is indicated by a regulation according to which no iron might be used in the building of the bridge. Equally primitive is the sacrifice of the so-called Argei, in which dolls made of reeds were in later times cast down into the stream from this bridge in place of earlier human offerings. In Lavinium again men worshipped the god of the river Numicius, in Umbria the Clitumnus, and in Campania the Volturnus.

§ 193.  By the side of the spirits thus confined to a single spring or river, Neptunus, as representative of water in general, seems in earlier times to stand entirely in the background. To him however were celebrated the Neptunalia in the hottest month, on the 23rd of July, probably to induce him to vouchsafe the needful moisture. He certainly did not become a proper god of the sea until his identification with 110 Poseidon, whose service was introduced into Rome in the year 399 B.C. at the command of the Sibylline Books.

§ 194.  (2)  Among the deities worshipped from the earliest times the following are fairly near to the above mentioned Spirits of Actions — Ianus the god of the door-way (ianus) or of the whole door of the house (ianua), Vesta the goddess of the fire on the hearth, Volcanus the creator of conflagration, the war-god Mars, Saturnus and Consus the gods of seed and harvest, and the whole series of the gods and goddesses active in vegetation.

Ianus developed from being the spirit and guardian of the single door into the representative of entrances in general, and thus into the god of commencement, as both these ideas are thus expressed by the one word initium. Consequently the beginning of the day and of the month, i. e. the morning (Ianus Matutinus) and all the Calends, are sacred to him; his month Ianuarius, which coincides with the beginning of the increase of the day’s length, was promoted later to be the proper commencement of the year.1 On the 9th of January, at the sacrificial festival held in his honour (Agonium), the bellwether of a flock was offered to him originally by the king himself, who obviously had taken the place of the house-father when the domestic worship of Ianus was transferred to the State, and later by the Rex Sacrorum. He is first invoked at the beginning of all actions, particularly in prayers and sacrifices; indeed he is regarded, even in early times, as the very principium and father of the gods.


1  An old goddess of the happy new year is perhaps Diva Angerona, worshipped on the 21st of December, who is represented with her mouth closed or covered by her finger (compare favete linguis, εὐφημοῖτε). On the other hand Anna Peranna or Perenna, the goddess of the expiring year, whose festival was held on the 15th of March, is to be regarded as representing the change of the year.

§ 195.  The god’s chief sanctuary, Ianus Geminus or Quirinus, lay on the northern side of the Forum opposite the temple of Vesta, which was regarded as the hearth of the community; it was the primitive vaulted gateway or 111 entrance of the Forum, which was built on the model of the domestic atrium. The door fixed on the two sides of the passage were kept open as long as an army was in the field, probably because at one time the king himself marched out to the wars, and for him the door of the city, as for the house-father the door of the house, had to remain open until he returned home. Under the arch of the gate stood the statue of the god, with a double face looking towards both the entrance and exit. Though this shape was probably created from Greek models, it nevertheless was certainly meant to express the vigilance appropriate to a door-keeper. Like a real door-keeper (Ianitor) he holds a key and rod or stick (virga) to keep off troublesome intruders; his activity is characterised by the names Patulcius (‘opener’) and Clusivius or Clusius (‘closer’).

Another chief seat of his ancient worship was the hill called from his name the Ianiculum, on which King Ancus Martius constructed a fortification to guard the trade-route leading from Etruria into the harbour of the Tiber at the foot of the hill. Thus from being a god of ingoing and outgoing he came to be the guardian of traffic and shipping; his head, with the prow of a ship, was put on the oldest Roman coin, the As, and later the real harbour-god Portunus was represented in a shape resembling his.

§ 196.  Vesta, like the Hestia of the Greeks, embodies the power at work in the fire of the hearth, — a power which men worshipped in the fire itself without a special figure of the goddess. The city too had its communal hearth with its Vesta and Penates, which in Rome stood in a little round temple on the southern side of the Forum. The service of the goddess was performed by six virgins who were chosen by the Pontifex Maximus in their childhood and were compelled to remain unwedded for thirty years. If one of these Vestals allowed the sacred fire to go out or became guilty of unchastity, she was condemned by the Pontifex Maximus to the severest penalties; and the holy fire had to be kindled anew by means of the ancient fire-drill or later by burning-glasses. 112 The Vestalia, the chief festival of the goddess, fell on the 9th of June; on this day the matrons presented offerings of food on the communal hearth.

§ 197.  A complement and counterpart to this benefactress of mankind is Volcanus, representing the power of fire destroying all the works of man’s hand, that is, as god of conflagration. As on this account he had to be kept far from the houses of the city, he had his temple outside in the Campus Martius. His chief festival, the Volcanalia, was celebrated on the 23rd of August, at the time when after the harvest-home the full garners especially needed his protection. In order that he might assuage the fire when once broken out he was styled also Mulciber, mitis, or quietus. He may have been in the first instance connected with the lightning-fire, because the latter also causes conflagrations; he is however invoked in old prayers together with Maia, the goddess of earth’s fertility worshipped in May, and so it appears more probable that his influence was seen generally in the fire of the lightning and sun under all circumstances. It was perhaps only through identification with Hephaistos that he became god of the smith’s craft and of volcanoes.

§ 198.  Saturnus, Consus, and Ops, the deities protecting agriculture, have preserved in the same way as Volcanus the character of spirits of actions. Saturnus or Saeturnus is the god of sowing; after the completion of the autumn sowing the festival of the Saturnalia was held in his honour from the 17th to the 21st or 23rd of December with revelry, exchange of gifts, and liberation of slaves from their wonted toils. The wax candles which regularly formed a part of the presents undoubtedly typified the now beginning increase in the sun’s light, which permitted the hope that the seed hidden in the earth would thrive. His old sanctuary and his temple, which was built by Tarquinius Superbus, stood on the slope leading from the Forum to the Capitol.

Consus on the other hand is the god of harvest, the deus condendi or deity of the stowing-away of the fields’ produce. As this however was originally stored in subterranean chambers, 113 the old altar of Consus in the Circus Maximus was commonly hidden in the earth, and only dug up and laid bare for sacrificial uses during the festival of the Consualia, which were celebrated with races on the 21st of August and the 15th of December.

Ops Consiva, i. e. Ops as wife of Consus, is closely connected with the latter. She represents the opima frugum copia, or “foison plenty,” which is stowed away at harvest-time; her two feasts, the Opiconsivia and the Opalia, are separated from those of her husband by an interval of only three days. Later Saturnus was identified with Kronos, Ops with Rhea, and many peculiarities of the Greek cult were transferred to the Roman.

§ 199.  (3)  The vital energy at work in wood and field was ascribed to the activity of various creative and receptive gods and goddesses. Peasants and herdsmen who thought that they owed to them the produce of the soil and increase of their herds paid honour to them; and like their worshippers the gods dwelt by preference in shadowy groves and by purling springs. Their character was as simple and rustic as the minds of their worshippers, and everything that was dear to the countryman was placed under their protection.

Faunus, the husband or father of Fauna, who was generally invoked as Bona Dea, is designated as the ‘kindly god’ by his name, which is derived from favere, ‘to be favourable.’ He appears in human form under the Greek name of Evander, ‘the goodman,’ who was said to have founded the first settlement on the site of the later Rome. Of this Evander the story was also told that he set up the oldest sanctuary of Faunus in a cavern on the Palatine Hill and established the festival of the Lupercalia held there on the 15th of February, in which the Luperci or priests of Faunus Lupercus (‘Wolf-Faunus’), naked but for a girdle of a goat’s skin, sought to secure fertility for men, beasts, and fields by running round the old domain of the city. In agreement with this Faunus was himself figured as naked, with a goat’s skin, crown, horn of plenty, and drinking-horn. 114

§ 200.  Very near to him is Silvanus, the forest-spirit, whose activity however, as his very name indicates, is concerned more exclusively with the woodlands, and hence in art he has a pine crown in his hair and a twig of pine on his arm. Like Faunus, he terrifies the lonely wanderer by the prophetic voices of the forest; Silvanus however is especially the guardian of boundaries and of property in general.

In the luxuriant fertility of the fields and vineyards again men saw specifically the energy of Liber and his wife Libera; these, like Iuppiter Liber, were characterised by their names as the liberal dispensers of plenty, but later were regularly identified with Dionysos and Persephone. The latter’s name was changed in Italy into the form Proserpina, probably under the influence of the Indigital goddess presiding over the seed’s upward climbing (proserpere; see § 190).

In the same way too the gardens and their fruit-trees stand under the special guardianship of Vertumnus, who changes his form as the garden in the different seasons changes its appearance, and of Pomona, the comely bestower of fruit; both were characterised by the pruning-knife.

§ 201.  Among the goddesses of fertility Fauna or Bona Dea takes highest rank. Her most venerated sanctuary at Rome, the foundation of which was commemorated on the 1st of May, lay at the foot of the Aventine; her chief festival however was celebrated by the Vestal Virgins and the noblest matrons of Rome, to the exclusion of all men, at the beginning of December with a secret sacrifice in the house of a praetor or consul, who seems here to have taken the place of the king. In works of art she appears as a fully clad seated woman; like her husband Faunus she holds a horn of plenty in her arm.

Besides the above mentioned Libera and Pomona, Feronia, Flora, Pales, and perhaps Diana are akin to the Bona Dea.

The Feronia of Central Italy had her chief places of worship in a grove at Capena on Soracte in Etruria and in another near Tarracina in the neighbourhood of the Pomptine Marshes; in Rome a festival in her honour was held in the 115 middle of November on the Campus Martius. She is always invoked as bestowing a blessing on the harvest; as however slaves enjoyed many liberties on all harvest festivals, the emancipation of slaves was often performed in the temple of this goddess.

§ 202.  Flora, also native to Central Italy, is in a more restricted sense the goddess of flowers, and hence also the dispenser of fertility. In Rome she possessed a very ancient temple upon the Quirinal. On the 28th of April was celebrated the flower-festival of the Floralia with wild dances and coarse jests; scenic shows and circus games were later added. With her was connected Robigus, the god guarding the corn from mildew (robigo).

Pales on the other hand is the patron deity of pastures and herds of cattle; her name indeed is connected with pasco ‘graze’ (compare Pan, § 90). In Rome she had her seat upon the Palatine, which probably derives its name from her; on the 21st of April the Parilia were held in her honour, in which sheep and stables were cleansed and sanctified by water and bloodless sacrifices. With the same purpose herdsmen and herds leaped between piles of blazing straw, much as at the festival of Feronia, and in Germany at the Osterfeuer and Johannisfeuer.

§ 203.  Finally Diana too belongs in all probability to this series of goddesses of fertility. Like the others, she was worshipped in well-watered groves (Diana Nemorensis), particularly on Mount Tifata near Capua and at Aricia in the neighbourhood of Tusculum. At Aricia her priesthood devolved upon him who slew her former priest with a branch broken off in the holy grove — obviously a kind of human sacrifice offered with the aid of the goddess herself, who was potent in her trees. In Rome her ancient temple lay on the Aventine, and here, as throughout Italy, her chief festival was celebrated on the Ides of August, on which day Vertumnus also received a sacrifice. In Aricia a torchlight procession was brought to her in the early morning; in the same way Pales at sunrise and Flora were celebrated with kindling of 116 lights.2 Like Feronia she protects slaves, and in particular those who had taken refuge in her sacred wood and were being pursues like the hunted deer. Like the Bona Dea also she is worshipped above all by women, and invoked as giver of fertility and of easy childbirth. This quality is perhaps the reason that several of her temples, especially those at Tusculum, Aricia, and Rome, were regarded as the federal sanctuaries of various Latin tribes. Afterwards Diana, as a goddess of groves and fertility, was completely identified with Artemis, and thence became the goddess of the chase, and finally also the moon-goddess, a conception which only her festival on the Ides can justify us in attributing to the native Diana.


2  The Mater Matuta too, for whom the Matralia (‘matron’s festival’) were held, was a goddess both of dawn and of birth.

§ 204.  (4)  A god worshipped from the earliest times by all the tribes of Central Italy is Mars, Marmar (‘Slayer’ ?), Mamers or Mavors, who bears the ancient by-name Gradivus (‘the approaching one,’ i. e. apparently ‘the foot-soldier’). He is closely related to the Spirits of Actions in so far as he represents mainly the divine power at work in war, although his activity is not restricted to so narrow a field as that of the Indigetes of later times who arose from the artificial wit of priests.

§ 205.  In the old king’s house at Rome, the Regia, were preserved the sacred spear of Mars and a shield that had fallen from heaven (ancile), on the model of which King Numa had caused eleven other shields to be made. Furnished with these, the twelve Palatine Salii (‘Springers’), the priests of Mars, performed armed dances in the god’s sacred month while singing ancient songs in which he was called upon to protect the meadows, field-produce, and vineyards. That this ceremony marks the beginning of the war-season, which was limited to the summer, is made fairly clear by the significance of his other festivals; for on the 27th of February and on the 14th of March were held near the old altar of Mars in the middle of the Campus Martius the 117 Equirria, consisting of a review of horses and a chariot-race, and again on the 19th and 23rd of the same month, at the festivals of the Quinquatrus and Tubilustrium, weapons and military trumpets were examined and purified. Similarly after the end of the war-season, on the 19th of October, a purification of weapons (Armilustrium) was held; and to the Equirria of spring certainly corresponded the sacrifice of the ‘October Horse,’ as on the 15th of October a horse that had been a winner in the preceding chariot-race was slaughtered to Mars. Moreover the dedication of the so-called ver sacrum, i. e. the vow made on the occasion of severe misfortunes to sacrifice the expected produce of the coming spring, whether man, cattle, or fruits, shews Mars to be a god of war, for it was in stress of war as a rule that this vow was made.

Men regarded as sacred to him the wolf, the type of blood-shed, and the woodpecker (picus), whose beak, piercing trees as a battering-ram pierces gates, and plume-like head-feathers suggested the idea of a bird of war. Hence it was a she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, for the war-god himself was their father and thus the ancestor of the warlike Romans.

§ 206.  So closely akin to Mars was Quirinus, the chief god of the Sabines settled on the Quirinal Hill, that it was possible for the worship of the two to completely coalesce. Nevertheless there remained by the side of the Flamen Martialis or special priest of Mars a particular Flamen Quirinalis, and by the side of the Palatine Salii of Mars there were twelve special Salii of Quirinus who had their seat on the Quirinal. While Mars however was regarded as the father of Romulus, Quirinus was in later times quite identified with Romulus. The ritual of the Quirinalia, held on the 17th of February, seems to afford a further indication that he too was looked upon as an ancestral god.

Next :
Mythology and Religion of the Romans :

I.  Iuppiter and Iuno.

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