In terms of religion, the Romans believed in a polytheistic faith; the people recognised and worshipped multiple gods and goddesses. These supernatural being experiences were moulded into short narratives known collectively as Roman mythology. Roman deities and their linked myths were vital to ancient society, they presented educational teachings including the obedience of moral expectations, the development of Roman law and the outcome of defying authority. Much of Roman mythology has been adapted and borrowed from the ancient Greek world due to the high level of influence held over the Roman empire.
Sister and wife of Jupiter, Juno presided over every aspect of a woman’s life. She was the goddess of childbirth, the protector of the state, and associated with the symbol of a stag. Relating to Greek Mythology Juno mirrored Hera.
The myth of Aeneas depicts the Goddess Juno and her failed attempt to prevent the creation of the Rome. Juno, worried that a prophecy of her beloved Carthage’s downfall by a city known as Rome, attempted to interfere with the journey of Aeneas, the founder of the Roman race. Her plan was succeeding, Aeneas was distracted by the love of Queen Dido and almost did not return. However, several other gods intervened.
First born of Saturn and sister to Jupiter, Vesta was the Goddess of the home, the hearth and domestic life. She was a central part of Roman society; she tended to the homes of Roman citizens and embodied the hub of activity. Vestal was a virgin Goddess with virgin followers coined the ‘Vestal Virgins’. Her frequent form was that of a clothed woman with a kettle and flowers in hand, accompanied by a donkey. The Greek equivalent to Vesta is Hestia.
In a myth Vesta acquires her donkey friend through an almost claim of her virginity. Mother Goddess Cybele hosts a celebration that leads to an inebriated Vesta resting and a lustful Priapus ready to pounce until Silenus’s donkey sounds the alarm.
Minerva was the Daughter of Jupiter. It is said she was birthed from him and burst free from his head. Noted as the goddess of medicine, handicrafts, poetry and the arts, Minerva was renowned for her chastity, strategic warfare and her sense of justice. Due to her impeccable knowledge and wisdom her attributed animal was that of an owl. Counterpart of the Greek Goddess Athena, similar narratives and characteristics are accredited.
There are multiple accounts depicting Minerva in myths in which she delivers just punishment, for example the tale of Medusa and the story of Arachne. Both of these narratives involve an act of defiance against the Gods; Medusa through her sexual activity with Neptune and Arachne’s depiction of the deities’ shortcomings.
The goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility and even prostitution is Venus. Her origins circle the castration of the Sky God Caelus and his spillage into sea foam. As the goddess of passion and lust it is only fair that Venus had multiple lovers both mortal and immortal. Thus she birthed numerous offspring such as: the twins Timor and Metust, the personifications of fear and terror, Concordia, Goddess of harmony, Cupid, Hermaphroditos who depicts both effeminacy and androgyny and lastly Fortuna the personification of luck and fate.
Venus was coined the ‘ancestor of the Roman people’ through her son Aeneas whom merged the native Italians with Trojans. Venus is alike to the Greek Goddess of love, Aphrodite. An infamous narrative of Venus is her love story with the young Adonis; whilst on Earth a young hunter caught her eye, they fell in love but tragedy stuck, Adonis provoked a wild boar and passed away leaving Venus devastated.
The goddess of agriculture and fertility, Ceres ensured the abundance of annual harvests, protecting plebians and farmers. Ceres shared her origins with Jupiter, Juno and Vesta as children of Saturn. In her depictions she is working a plough or grasping grains. Similar to Demeter, Ceres’s daughter, Proserpina, was kidnapped by Pluto resulting in a distraught Ceres unable to attend to her duties leading to no crops. A deal was made to appease both Ceres and Pluto and so Proserpina’s time was split between the mortal world and the underworld. This was the creation of the seasons.
Goddess of the Hunt, Diana was the patroness of the countryside, crossroads, hunters and the moon. She remained a virgin deity and took the name of protector of childbirth from her first minutes of life. Portrayed wearing a gold cloak and purple boots, shooting golden arrows surrounded by her hunting dogs, Diana was a fierce huntress with links to Artemis.
The narrative of Actaeon demonstrates the unforgiving nature of Diana; bathing after a hunt, Actaeon a young hunter, witnesses the Goddess uncovered. Outraged she transforms into a deer, whereby his own hunting dogs devour him.