Roman Religion (2)

Capitoline TriadAs lord of the heavens, Jupiter, served as the principal member in Roman mythology; he was the protector of males and was worshipped as the god of light, rain, storms, thunder, and lightning. His domain included law and social order; hence, he determined the course of human affairs. As protector and guardian of the legal system, he defended jus­tice and virtue. All Romans were alleged descendants of Mars, his son and the god of war, and as such they were directly related to the principal deity. In essence, Jupiter was a heavenly father who gave birth to a nation through his son, and as the guardian of law he revealed divine will through various emissaries and guaranteed justice.

His wife, Juno, was perceived as queen of heaven, and she watched over the lives of women and accompanied them from birth to death. The root of her name is the same as that for Jupiter, “to shine.” As special counselor of the state, she was called regina, “queen” and was responsible for protecting the finances of the empire. She was goddess of fertility and childbirth, and the month June was considered the most favor­able to get married. As the protector of women, to her name they appealed for fertility and a happy marriage. In effect, Juno was a maternal deity whose son established a new nation; as the queen of heaven she assisted those who petitioned and was responsible for mothers and newborn children.

The third member of the Roman trinity was Minerva, the virgin goddess of wisdom, commerce, poetry, medicine, magic, and music. She was personified as rational, calculating, and inventive, and she directed daily life as the great goddess of the state. To women she conferred sewing, spinning, weaving, art, and crafts, and she directed men in the dangers of war, when victory was gained through cunning, prudence, courage, and perseverance. For this reason, Minerva was represented with a helmet and shield; in fact, her worship spread at the expense of Mars, the god of war.

As a result, she excelled as a virgin goddess to whom people prayed for wisdom and assistance; she sat next to her father in the heavens and facilitated men and women obtain the attributes expected in Rome, for she was the great goddess of the state. However, like Jupiter and Juno, her role was politically motivated, so private life required a host of semi-divine beings, usually accepted guardian spirits, valiant heroes, or honorable ancestors. These gods and goddesses served numerous specific functions, and prominent clans exercised divine influence throughout life and even beyond the grave. While most semi-divine entities were mythological or legendary characters, some were historical figures whose accomplishments remained viable and useful to the state.

to be continued …