Gods and Goddesses - Early Pantheism of the Romans
The gods and goddesses of the ancient "village" of Rome originated as the faceless and formless deities that supported farmers in their efforts with the land. The large number of Roman gods and goddesses can most likely be explained by the pantheistic belief of "numen," which holds that gods and spirits inhabit places, objects and living things. The early Romans believed that everything in nature was inhabited by numina.
Even though the early Romans placed little importance on the personalities of their gods and goddesses, they did care about their functions. The Romans integrated their worship of mythological deities into all aspects of their personal and public lives. Nothing better exhibits the extent of this worship in every day life as in the household cult of the Dii Familiaris. In this system, every family had a guardian spirit known as the Lar Familiaris. This spirit was honored at all family functions, including sacrifices at funerals. The creative force that engenders an individual and allows him or her to grow, learn and act morally was known as the Genius for men and the Luna for women. This spirit stayed with an individual until death. The worship of Roman gods and goddesses in Dii Familiaris went as far as to assign a protector spirit to different areas of the house. For instance, Forculus protects the door, Limentinus the threshold, Cardea the hinges, and Vesta the hearth.
Gods and Goddesses - Later Expansion of Roman Mythology
The gods and goddesses of Rome began taking on the forms that we would recognize today during the dynasty of the Etruscan kings that ruled in the 6th century BC. During this period, the Romans adapted a group of three Etruscan gods as the focus of state worship. These gods were worshiped at the grand temple on the Capitoline Hill, and, as such, became known as the Capitoline triad. The triad consisted of Jupiter (Zeus), Juno (Hera), and Minerva (Athena). Once the rule of the Etruscan dynasty ended in 509 BC, Rome became a republic. The Roman Republic was ruled by two chief magistrates, each of whom was elected to a one-year term. During this period, the Capitoline temple became the focus of public worship.
As Rome's power grew and its sphere of influence expanded, the Roman Empire encountered the older and richer tradition of Greek mythology. The Romans also came into contact with the beliefs of other eastern Mediterranean Sea cultures. As a result, Romans began to adopt various foreign gods and religious customs. In many cases, gods and heroes from foreign cultures were given temples in Rome. The acceptance of Greek gods and goddesses had the biggest influence on Roman mythology. The earliest Greek deities adopted by the Romans were Castor and Polydeuces in 484 BC. Later in the 5th century BC, the Greek god Apollo was introduced. Apollo would eventually symbolize Roman virtue and austerity. Other Roman gods that took on Greek characteristics included Diana (Artemis), Mercury (Hermes), Neptune (Poseidon), Venus (Aphrodite), and Vulcan (Hephaestus).
Gods and Goddesses - The Lasting Effects
The gods and goddesses of ancient mythology are no longer worshipped by any formal religions of modern times. However, the legacy of the Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities continues throughout the world. In particular, the arts have been greatly influenced by mythology. Many well-known masterpieces in painting, music, literature and theater use themes from mythology. Today, the influence of ancient gods and goddesses shows no sign of diminishing. Computer games frequently use stories of the ancient gods and goddesses as a backdrop for their quest orientated games. Motion pictures and TV shows that utilize characters or themes from mythology are still popular. It seems that the moral and intellectual themes of the stories behind ancient gods and goddesses have proven easily adaptable to many cultures over many centuries. It shows mankind's inherent need to explore origins, meaning and morality -- it shows mankind's need to explain why he is here and where he is going…