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Most of the Roman gods and goddesses were a blend of several religious influences. Many were introduced via the Greek colonies of southern Italy. Many also had their roots in old religions of the Etruscans or Latin tribes. Often the the old Etruscan or Latin name survived but the deity over time became to be seen as the Greek god of equivalent or similar nature. And so it is that the Greek and Roman pantheon look very similar, but for different names.
Jupiter was king of the Gods. The eagle was his messenger. His weapon was the Thunderbolt (thunder and lightning). All other gods were terrified of him, although he was a little scared of his wife Juno! Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto were the three sons of Saturn. They divided up the world between themselves. Jupiter took the air, Neptune had the sea and Pluto ruled under the earth, the home of the Dead. Jupiter means Father Jove (Father in Latin is "pater"). There was a big temple on the Capitol in Rome dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus (which means Jupiter Best and Greatest). The Romans thought that Jupiter guarded their city and looked after them.
Title: King of the godsGreek name: ZeusDay of the Week: ThursdaySolar system: planet JupiterWonder of the World: Statue at OlympiaRelations: Son of SaturnGrandson of UranusHusband of JunoBrother of Neptune Brother of PlutoMany childrenEnglish words: Jovial means jolly.
Juno was the wife of Jupiter and queen of the gods. She was the goddess of women and marriage. Her bird was the peacock. The Romans believed that every man had a spirit that looked after him all his life. This was called his genius. Some people believed each man had both a good genius and a bad genius. Women didnt have a genius, they had a juno instead. The first day in each month (the Kalends) belonged to Juno.
Title: Queen of thegodsGreek name: HeraMonth: JuneRelations: Wife ofJupiterMother of MarsMother of VulcanEnglish wordJunoesque means alarge beautifulwoman.
Neptune Neptune Neptune was the god of the sea. He carried a trident, which had three prongs. He rode a dolphin or a horse. When the sea is rough enough to show white tops to the waves, these are called sea horses. On the right, the back half of the seahorse is a fish. It may seem strange that Neptune was not a more important god, since the Roman Empire was based on the Mediterranean. But the Romans were poor sailors. When Julius Caesar invaded Britain, it was considered an astounding adventure, even though he was just crossing the English Channel. Neptune was the god of earthquakes. He was called the Earth-shaker. He was also the god of horses and horse- racing. The Romans loved watching horse-racing and had great race tracks for chariot racing, such as the Circus Maximus.
Title: God of the seaGreek name:PoseidonSolar system: planetNeptune Relations: Son ofSaturnGrandson of UranusBrother of JupiterBrother of PlutoMany childrenEnglish words: Jovialmeans jolly.
Pluto was the god of the Dead. Romans were afraid to say Plutos real name because they were afraid he might notice them and they would die. Pluto sometimes got confused with the Greek god, Plutus, the god of wealth. This is not surprising, since the names sound alike, and also wealth, like gold, silver or jewels, are found underground, where Pluto ruled. The metal Plutonium is radio-active. It was discovered soon after the planet Pluto. It is not only used for nuclear bombs, it is deadly by itself. It deserves to belong to the god of Death! When someone died, they travelled down to the Underworld. First, they had to cross the River of the Dead, called the Styx. Everyone was buried with a coin, to pay the ferryman, Charon. Then they had to get past Cerberus, a fierce dog with three heads, which would only let the Dead through. Finally they had to come before the Judges of the Dead. The only living man to fight Cerberus was Hercules, the strongest man in the world. He had to bring Cerberus back from the Underworld. (He let it go afterwards.)
Title: God of DeathGreek name: HadesSolar system: dwarf planetPluto Relations: Son ofSaturnBrother of JupiterBrother of NeptuneHusband of ProserpineEnglish word Plutonium
Apollo was the god of the sun. Each day he drove his chariot of fiery horses across the sky to give light to the world. Apollo had a son called Phaethon, who was human. Phaethon nagged at Apollo to let him borrow the sun chariot and fly across the sky. Finally Apollo agreed. Phaethon proudly drove the sun chariot up into the sky, but then he lost control of the horses. The sun chariot dived towards the earth, burning everything. Finally Jupiter had to stop him with a thunder bolt. Apollo was also the god of music, and played the lyre. His most famous temple was at Delphi in Greece, see right. There, his priestess would prophesy the future. But she wasnt easy to understand. One day, a great king asked the priestess if he should invade a nearby kingdom. She said, "If you do this, a great kingdom will be destroyed." He thought that she meant he would be successful, and so started the war. He lost disastrously. It was his own kingdom that got destroyed!
Title: God of the sunGreek name: Apollo is aGreek nameDay of the Week: SundaySolar system: Sun Relations: Son of JupiterBrother of DianaWonder of the World:Colossus at Rhodes
Diana was the goddess of the moon. Her twin brother Apollo was the god of the sun. Diana carried a bow and arrows. She was the goddess of hunting. Once she was bathing in a forest pool. A hunter called Actaeon spied on her. So Diana turned him into a stag and he was chased by his own hunting dogs. She helped women in child- birth, because her mother Leto gave birth to her and her twin brother so easily.
Title: Goddess of themoonGreek name: ArtemisDay of the Week: MondaySolar system: MoonRelations: Son of JupiterSister of ApolloWonder of the World:Temple at Ephesus
The Romans were great soldiers and thought Mars, the god of War, was very important. They said that he was the father of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. When Romulus and Remus were babies, they were left to die. But they were found by a mother wolf, who suckled them. Romulus gave his name to Rome. The Campus Martius or field of Mars, was next to the river Tiber in in ancient Rome. It was used to train soldiers and hold horse races. March was called after Mars because that was when the soldiers started fighting again after winter. Here is a painting of Mars and Venus. Mars is fast asleep. The little fauns with goats legs are playing with his armour. One of them is just about to blow his horn very loud in Marss ear. I wonder what will happen next!
Title: God of warGreek name: AresMonth: MarchDay of the Week:Tuesday Relations: Sonof JupiterFather of Romulus andRemusEnglish word: Martialmeans warlike.Solar system: planetMars
Venus was born in the sea and first came to shore at Cyprus, floating on a scallop shell. There was a Golden Apple with "For the Fairest" written on the side. Venus, Juno and Minerva all wanted it. They decided to let a man, Paris, judge between them. They were all so beautiful that he couldnt make his mind up. So Juno said she would make him powerful. Minerva said she would make him wise. Venus offered him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. He chose Venus, and Helen. Unfortunately Helen was married to someone else, and when Paris carried her off to his home at Troy, her husband came with his allies to get her back. Paris and all his family were killed and Troy was destroyed. One of the few Trojans to survive the Trojan War was Aeneas, the son of Venus. He went to Italy, and was the ancestor of the Romans.
Title: Goddess ofloveGreek name:AphroditeDay of the Week:Friday Relations:Daughter of JupiterMother of CupidSolar system: planetVenus
Cupid was the mischievous little god of love. His weapon was a bow, and anyone hit by one of his arrows fell madly in love. Cupid once scratched himself with one of his own arrows by mistake. He was looking at a woman called Psyche, and fell in love with her. He knew that his mother Venus would be angry, so he hid Psyche away and told her that she must never try to look at him. Psyche thought that she had been captured by a hideous monster, and, of course, couldnt resist taking a peep. She was enchanted by the first sight of her handsome husband, and while playing with his arrows, scratched herself as well. So now they were both desperately in love with each other, see right. Venus drove Psyche away, and she had many adventures before she was allowed to stay with Cupid, and Venus became reconciled to being a mother-in-law!
Title: God of loveGreek name: ErosRelations: Son of VenusEnglish word: Cupiditymeans greediness.
Mercury was the god of travellers. He had a winged hat and sandals, so he could fly. He carried a staff which also has wings and two snakes winding round it. He was also the god of thieves. When he was only a few days old, he stole the cows of Apollo. Mercury made special shoes for the cows and made them walk backwards, so no-one could follow their tracks. Eventually Apollo noticed that Mercury was playing a new musical instrument called a lyre, strung with cow-gut and worked out that Mercury had stolen his cows. Apollo was furious with Mercury, but thought the lyre was wonderful. So they agreed that Mercury could keep the cows and Apollo would get the lyre. Mercury was also the god of science and business. I think that hes the god of the Internet as well!
Title: Messenger of thegodsGreek name: HermesDay of the Week:WednesdaySolar system: planetMercury Relations: Sonof JupiterSon of MaiaEnglish words: Mercury orQuicksilver is a liquidmetal.Mercurial means light-hearted and active.
Minerva was the goddess of wisdom. Her symbol was the owl. Her Greek name was Athene, and Athens was her city. She had a strange birth. One day, Jupiter had a bad headache. Nothing would cure it. Eventually Vulcan split open Jupiters head. Out jumped Minerva in armour with shield and spear! Jupiter felt much better afterwards. Dont try this at home. Minerva was the goddess of arts and crafts. She was particularly good at weaving. Once a woman called Arachne wove a beautiful picture. Minerva tried to find something wrong with it. When she couldnt, she tore it up and turned Arachne into a spider. The spider still weaves beautiful webs. Minerva helped the hero Perseus to kill the gorgon Medusa, who was a monster with snakes instead of hair. Anyone who looked at a gorgon turned to stone! But Minerva told Perseus to look at Medusas reflection in a polished shield. That way he could cut the head off without looking directly at the gorgon. He gave the head to Minerva, who put it on her shield, so it would turn her enemies to stone.
Ceres was the Earth goddess and goddess of corn. She carried the cornucopia, a horn full of vegetables and fruit. Her daughter was Proserpine. Pluto fell in love with Proserpine, and carried her off to the Underworld. Ceres searched everywhere, but couldnt find her. Eventually Ceres refused to let the plants grow any more, and everyone begun to die of hunger. So Pluto admitted he had Proserpine, but said she could only go back home if she had eaten none of the food of the Dead. Proserpine had eaten almost nothing, as she was so sad at being kept underground, but she had eaten six seeds from a pomergranate. This means that she could go home, but had to return to her husband for six months every year. When this happens, Ceres stops everything growing, and winter comes.
Vulcan was the smith ofthe gods, and madeJupiters thunderbolts.His smithy was in thevolcano Etna, in Sicily,where you can see firefrom his forge. Once, hemade Jupiter angry, andJupiter threw him out ofHeaven. Vulcan fell toEarth and broke both legs,which made him lame. Thispicture from a Greek vaseshows him in a sort ofwinged wheel-chair.He made women of gold tohelp him in his smithy -possibly the first robots!
Title: the smith godGreek name:HephaestusRelations: Son ofJupiterEnglish word:volcano
Bacchus was the god of wine. He was accompanied by Maenads, or wild dancing women, see right. They carried the thyrsus, a staff of giant fennel, covered with ivy leaves, with a pine cone on top. There is a wonderful description of a Bacchanalia, or feast in honour of Bacchus, in Prince Caspian, one of the Narnia books, by C.S.Lewis. Bacchus was also the god of the theatre, since the first plays in Greece were performed in his honour. There were tragedies, serious stories about heroes and gods, and comedies, which laughed at politicians and were often very rude!
Title: God of wine Greek name: Dionysos Relations:
Saturn was god of Time and his weapon was a scythe. He is called Old Father Time. Saturn ruled the gods before Jupiter. Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto were his children. They represent Air, Water and Death, the three things that Time cannot kill. The Romans had a mid- winter festival in honour of Saturn, called the Saturnalia. It lasted seven days, and there was much merrymaking. Public business was suspended and schools were closed. Parents gave toys to their children and there was a public banquet. That is why we eat so much at Christmas, give presents and go to parties.
SaturnTitle: God of timeGreek name: CronosDay of the Week:SaturdaySolar system: planetSaturn Relations: Sonof Uranus and GaiaFather of JupiterFather of PlutoFather of NeptuneEnglish word:Saturnine means seriousand gloomy.
Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, the centre of the Roman home. She was a quiet well-behaved goddess, who didnt join in the arguments and fights of the other gods. She was protector of the sacred flame, which was supposed to have been brought from Troy to Rome by the hero Aeneus. The flame was relit every March 1st and had to be kept alight all year. If this flame ever went out, disaster would fall on Rome. The flame was kept alive by the Vestal Virgins. These priestesses were chosen when they were as young as six years old. They had to stay as priestesses for thirty years, and were not allowed to marry. In Roman homes, every day, during a meal, a small cake was thrown on the fire for Vesta. It was good luck if it burnt with a crackle
Title: Goddess of thehomeGreek name: HestiaRelations: Sister ofJupiter
Janus kept the gate of Heaven, so he became the god of doors and gates. He was very important, because a house is only as strong as its doors. His temple in Rome had its doors thrown open in times of War, and closed in times of Peace. They were usually open! The Emperor Augustus closed the doors of the temple, since he brought peace to the Roman Empire. Janus had two faces, one looking forwards and one looking back, since a door can let you in, or let you out. The first month of the year is named after him. In January, we look back at the last year, and forward to the next.
Uranus was a shadowly figure right at the start of time. He came before Saturn, who came before Jupiter. He was not worshipped by the Romans, so there is no picture of him. Uranus was the sky, and his wife Gaia was the earth. They had many children, including giants. They had a violent argument and split up. Ever since the earth and sky have been apart. Uranium is a radio-active metal used for nuclear power. It was called after the planet Uranus, as it was discovered about the same time.
Title: Uranus was godof the sky and Gaiawas goddess of theearthGreek name: Uranusand Gaia are GreeknamesSolar system: planetUranus Relations:Parents of SaturnEnglish word:Uranium
On the right, this is a picture of Flora, the goddess of flowers, rather than Maia, the goddess of Growth, but they were similar goddesses. In the Middle Ages, people went out Maying on the first of May. They would go to the fields and woods, collecting flowers and enjoying the sunshine. This might have been in honour of Maia, the goddess of May, or Flora, the goddess of flowers. Today, we still have the first Monday in May as a holiday. Sometimes people dance round a maypole.
Title: Goddess of growthMonth: MayRelations: Mother ofMercuryEnglish word: May is thehawthorn in flower.