Roman mythology and Greek mythology are two different practices in Italian history but how are these two prevalent ancient mythologies similar? Why did Italy have two separate mythologies in the country when most others tended to limit themselves to one?
This is because while they are most certainly two different philosophies, Roman mythology was derived from Greek mythology. Greek Mythology began as a bunch of stories and myths. Famous storytellers like Homer would orally transmit legends and stories as a part of the Greek cultural traditions.
These stories were not written down until the start of the Roman Empire in the 8th Century. By this time, “many of the Greek city-states were already well-established.
Greece even had founded colonies on the Italian peninsula and Sicily” (Wasson). These city-states would later turn into the start of the Roman Empire. Since there was already that base Greek culture from the city states the Roman culture was greatly influenced by that of the Greek culture.
This can be seen in many aspects of Roman culture but the mythology of Rome had to be adapted to better suit the Roman lifestyle. One example of how the Romans adapted Greek mythology is the gods of Roman Mythology. Since the Romans had the Greek foundation, the gods of Greece carried over into the gods of Rome.
They are predominantly the same gods but with different Roman names. Zeus turned into Jupiter, Poseidon turned into Neptune, Hades turned into Pluto, and many more of the Greek god’s names were changed with the exception of Apollo.
This was due to the fact that the name Apollo was prevalent in both societies.
Both Greece and Rome built temples in certain cities dedicated to a certain god. This became more prevalent when Rome started to turn towards War instead of agriculture. For example, before a battle Roman’s would pray to the god of war, Mars, to ensure the victory in the upcoming fight. They would even make sacrifices to try and appease a certain god in their favor. Roman gods are primarily carbon copies of their Greek origin but there are a few original gods in Roman mythology that are absent in their Greek counterpart. Some of these gods are as follows: Janus, the god of beginnings and ends of all events, Faunus, the god of nature, and Vesta, goddess of family life and the hearth. There would also be social events for these gods other than the sacrifices and prayers made to each respective one.
Faunus, for instance, had an event that thanked him for protecting ting the crops through the harsh winters in December. The Romans viewed the relationship with the gods as a symbiotic grouping. Each side needed something and would give something back in return. The gods wanted to be worshipped and have sacrifices made in their name and in return, the particular god would bless them in whatever way they can. This varies as there was more than one god that controlled life overall. Each god had a specific ritual, sacrifice, or divine prayer that they would demand their mortal subjects do. These rituals displayed you devotion and admiration to whatever god you were praying to and it was paramount that you got the ritual right. An incorrect ritual shows tremendous disrespect and would likely have the opposite effect on what you were trying to accomplish.
When praying to your god of choice, you generally would have brought an offering to appease them. The offerings generally were live animals but there were some exceptions. The sacrifice just had to represent life in some way, shape, or form. Some other sacrifices that were less brutal are milk, cheese, and wine. The Romans did not view death in a negative manner and did not believe in a specific afterlife. There the only view was that the souls of the dead could affect events happening in the land of the living. As a result, funerals tended to be special and lucrative events with no expenses spared.
Since the Romans took the gods from Greek mythology, the origin story stayed the same. Later there would be Roman legends and myths, some original and others derived from Greek mythology, put into the religion. The origin story for Greek mythology starts with an empty abyss of nothingness and chaos. Out of this mass of space, Gaia and other divine entities emerged. Gaia, the earth, gave birth to Uranus, the sky, without the need of a male entity. Uranus then fertilized Gaia in order for her to give birth to the Titans, “six males: Coeus, Crius, Cronus, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Oceanus, and six females: Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Rhea, Theia, Themis, and Tethys”(Origin Story: Greek).
No more titans would be born after these twelve. Cronus, time, would later castrate his father and throw genitals into the ocean. Aphrodite was born from this act and arose from the ocean. Cronus and his sister Rhea would rule over everything with the other Titans as a form of court. Since Cronus had betrayed his father, he became petrified that his offspring would do the same to him. Every time Rhea would give birth to a baby Cronus would eat it. Rhea disliked this and would eventually hide one of her babies, Zeus, and give Cronus a rock disguised as the newborn to eat instead. When Zeus had grown into a man, he tricked his father into eating a poisoned drink. The drink made him throw all of Zeus’s siblings up. With his siblings at his side, Zeus waged a war against his father and the other titans.
Zeus would win this war and cast all the Titans into the abyss. One Titan, Prometheus, did not wish to fight with the other Titans and was spared from the wrath of Zeus. Zeus ordered him to sculpt man from clay and Athena then breathed life into the clay figure. Prometheus then gave man fire, something only the gods were supposed to have. For his treachery, Zeus decided to chain him to a rock to be pecked at by birds and gave Pandora a box filled with all the worlds horrors but also hope, Zeus had the same concerns as his father before him and chose to swallow his first wife, who was already pregnant with their child. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, sprang from his head in armor.
Zeus was able to retain leadership over the gods despite his worries. Roman and Greek mythology are very similar in their lore and gods. To me, they seem like two variants of the same religion but with a little twist to both of them. Like how Catholicism and Baptism are both founded on the basis of Christianity but each has their own subtle differences.
Despite this, they have both remained prominent in the world of history and a topic of interesting myths through the many years since they have been formed. Although generally rejected as a serious religion, you can truly feel the culture of each society in these two mythologies.