ANCIENT ROMAN GODS
Early Romans were probably animists, people that believed that spirits inhabited plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena. Their earliest gods were perhaps ancestral gods which were worshiped by families and clan. To these were added the gods of nature, which the Romans saw everywhere, protector gods and gods associated with agriculture and livestock. These gods were viewed as protectors of their flocks and herds, and the guardians of the weather, the seasons, and the fruits of the soil. Jove (Jupiter) was the god of the sky and the elements of the air, the thunder and the lightning. Tellus was the goddess of the earth, and the mother of all living things; Saturn, the god of sowing; and Ceres, the goddess of the harvest; Minerva, the goddess of olives; Flora, of flowers; and Liber, the god of wine. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\]
Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Of the early gods, Jupiter (Iuppiter), Diovis Pater, was the light-father, worshiped on hilltops, whom men called to witness their agreements. Saturn was a god of the crops, and Venus had to do with gardens. Mars was worshiped in connection with agriculture and with war, for the farmer was fighter, too. Vesta was the spirit of the hearth. There were others of whom we know little. The first temple at Rome was built by the Etruscans on the Capitoline Hill, for Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Minerva had come in from Falerii as patron of craftsmen and their guilds, and had also her own temple on the Aventine. Diana was a wood-spirit from Aricia. Hercules came from Tibur as a god of commerce, and Castor from Tusculum. Mercury, god of commerce, as his name shows, came from Cumae. These last three were of Greek origin, naturalized in Italy. Because of the famine in 493 B.C., the Sibylline oracle at Cumae advised bringing in Bacchus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Apollo came from Cumae as god of healing, and his temple was built in 432 B.C. In 293 B.C. Aesculapius was brought from Epidaurus to the island in the Tiber, which is still the site of a hospital. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: The Roman Empire was “crammed full of deities. The citizens of the Roman empire and, within certain limits, even its rulers were extremely tolerant of foreign gods. The oldest and most accepted group of foreign deities were the gods of ancient Greece. These gods had made their home in the Roman world at an early time, along with Greek art and literature. Some of these Greek gods shared Roman names and acquired some Roman characteristics. But many others were simply accepted as they were. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome.]
“For all of their majesty and beauty, however, the Olympian deities seemed not to care about the lives of ordinary human beings. And by the arrival of the common era, with the exception of Demeter and Dionysus, these gods had become largely ceremonial. The devotion of the average Greek or Roman centered on gods of lesser rank, gods who had once been mortal and who, therefore, understood the sufferings of mortals--gods who cared.” <>
See Separate Article on the Greek Gods
Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com
Paganism in the Ancient World
The Romans were call Pagans and their religion has been described as paganism, meaning the worship of many gods. Paula Fredriksen of Boston University wrote for PBS: “Paganism is our designation for what ninety-something percent of the people in the Mediterranean were doing. Jews are a visible minority, and then, everybody is doing lots of other things. Paganism is extremely various. It's local. It's energetic. It has all sorts of different layers. The gods appear to people routinely. People are in contact with their gods. There's an interesting story in the Acts of the Apostles, where Paul and, I can't remember if it's Silas or Barnabus, work a cure in a town and the people who are witnessing him do this decide that it's Zeus and Hermes who have come to town. And the Priests start lugging out an animal to sacrifice and Paul says, "No, no, no, no, you don't ... let me tell you this." And then he starts. But that's an interesting measure of how common the expectation is that gods appear. Gods appear in dreams. People fall asleep every night. So there's a contact between heaven and Earth that's articulated in terms of traditional Roman and Greek culture. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“If you were a pagan person living in the first century, you would have, first of all, the gods of your own family, who[m] you would be responsible to. Some kind of ancestor worship, or perhaps if you were an aristocratic Roman, Venus or one of the other gods might be, as with Julius Caesar's family, might be one of the founding ancestors of your particular household. You would have the gods of the city, itself. And it's those city gods, in combination with the gods of the Empire, that would structure time for you. Because it's the city gods and the civic holidays that give you your days off. Five day holidays that are the feast of this or the feast of that. Literally, when everybody stops working and rich patrons of the city would pay for banquets. <>
“There's all sorts of religions. It's incredibly rich. It's not unlike twentieth century America. You have low-tech religions, like magic. People routinely go to magicians. If you have a sinus infection. If you need somebody to fall in love with you. If you're betting on a horse and you've lost the past three races, you go to a professional. We have magic books that are books of recipes, and they're indexed and you can look up what you need, and the professional will help you. By the way, Jews and also Christians, enter into this magical inheritance, too.... <>
“It's a spiritual universe that's thickly populated with gods and spirits. When you look up into the stars at night, you see thousands of heroes and ... and maybe where your soul will go if you know how to slip the coil and go back through the planetary spheres, and go up. Paganism is the rich native religious stew of traditional society in the Mediterranean. And centuries after even the conversion of Constantine, we find endowments to liturgies, to mystery cults, to different Egyptian and Greco-Roman gods. Paganism continues on even after the conversion to Christianity.” <>
Case for Polytheism
The Romans and Greeks practiced polytheism: the worship of many gods. Polytheists have traditionally been looked down upon by practitioners of the great monotheistic religion which worship only a single god---Judaism, Christianity, Islam---as primitive and barbaric pagans. But who knows maybe they had it right.
Mary Leftowitz, a classics professor at Wellesley College, argues that a lot of world's troubles today can be blamed in monotheism. In the Los Angeles Times she wrote, “The polytheistic Greeks didn't advocate killing those who worshiped a different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided all the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view. ..It suggests that collective decisions often lead to better outcomes. Respect for a diversity of viewpoints informs the cooperative system the Athenians called democracy."
“Unlike the monotheistic traditions Greco-Roman polytheism was multicultural...The world, as the Greek philosopher Thales wrote, is full of gods, and all deserve respect and honor. Such a generous understanding of nature called the ancient Greeks and Romans to accept and respect other people's gods and to admire (rather than despise) other nations for their own notions of piety. If the Greeks were in close contact with a particular nation they gave their foreign gods names of their own gods: The Egyptian goddess Isis was Demeter; Horus was Apollo and so on."
Many Roman gods were originally local gods or Greek gods that were woven into the general Roman scheme. Sometimes the transition from Greek to Roman god was simply a matter of changing the name. Other times they went through a more complex metamorphosis.
Some gods were highly regarded in some city-states and ignored in others. And some evolved from spirits. Janus was originally a spirit of the door that represented looking both ways and Venus was originally a sexless garden spirit that was united with Aphrodite to form the great goddess of love. Mars was the first great Roman god.
Household gods were important. Many houses had a lararium, a household shrine dedicated the worship of Lares and Penates, household spirits The Romans also worshiped spirits called Numina that didn't have any shape or form. Each family had its own god, Lar, who protected the house and food supply. These gods tended to be worshiped at home not in temples. Some groups and professions had their own gods and spirits. Sylvanus, for example, was a spirit that helped plowmen and woodcutters.
Gods unique to Roman mythology included: Saturn (god of agriculture); Janus (god of beginnings) was the source of the name January (He was a Numina); Fortuna (goddess of fortune); Terminus (the god of boundaries and endings); Maia (goddess of spring); and Quirinus (the defied Romulus, a war God)
Rome is said to have been founded in 753 B.C. by the twins Romulus and Remus, and the name Rome came from a combination of their names. According to legend they were the sons of Mars and a sleeping beauty. The were suckled by a she wolf and grew up to found Rome. Romulus and the Sabine leader Titus Tatius fought a war that triggered the infamous rape of the Sabine women by the followers of Romulus.
See Greek Gods
Foreign Gods and Myths in Ancient Rome
Romans worshiped gods from Babylon, Persia, Europe and Egypt. Those stationed in remote provinces often worshiped local gods. In England, for example, there were temples dictated to Sulis Minerva, a deity that was a composite of the a Celtic goddess and Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. In Asia minor there were Roman temples built in honor of Diana, the Babylonian goddess of hunting. One of the most opulent temples in Pompeii was dictated to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of fertility.
Local deities found in individual Middle Eastern nations became international during the first three centuries of the Roman empire. Roman citizens worshipped Isis of Egypt, Mithras of Persia, Demeter of Greece, and the great mother Cybele of Phrygia. The cults practiced secret ceremonies and promised their followers afterlife, symbolized by the death and rebirth of their god. [Source: World Almanac]
Many Romans worshiped Mithras, the Persian god of light. Mithras cults performed ritual bull killings in which the participants washed themselves in the animal's blood. Mithras was a favorite among Roman soldiers and almost every army outpost had a shrine dedicated to the Persian God.
Many Roman myths are based on Greek myths. See Religion and Literature Under Ancient Greece.
Role of the Gods in the Care of the Empire and Its Ruler
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “With the exception of a few gods and goddesses who ministered to the private needs of individuals, the role of the Olympian deities was to care for the various aspects of the natural world and of human society. For example, Demeter was the goddess of grain and the harvest, Poseidon ruled over the seas, Athena was the goddess of wisdom, etc. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that in the fourth century B.C., when a young and dashing Alexander the Great conquered all of the territory from Greece to India and bestowed the gifts of Greek culture and civilization on the barbarian regions under his armies' control, in the popular mind he became associated with the youthful version of Dionysus--the god who was also believed to have traveled from Greece to India spreading the fruits of cultivation and civilization. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“Centuries later, when Augustus came to power, he claimed the special protection of Apollo. As previously noted, one reason may be that, according to Homer's Iliad, Apollo had come to the aid of the Trojans, whom the Roman claimed as ancestors. Equally important from Augustus's perspective, however, was the belief that Apollo was also the god of the sun's light and of prophecy. Accordingly, the poets of the Augustan era depicted Apollo as one of the heralds of the return of the Golden Age of human prosperity and happiness. Frequently by inference and occasionally by acclamation, Augustus himself was celebrated by these same poets as the divinely designated agent of the prophecy's fulfillment. <>
“The Emperor as the Symbolic Presence of Zeus/Jupiter on Earth: Even more relevant to the rival message of the Christian gospels, however, was the gradual development of the relationship between the emperor and Zeus (Jupiter) himself, the sovereign ruler of the gods and the world. During Augustus's reign, a number of large imperial cameos were carved on semi-precious stones and distributed as gifts among the emperor's inner circle.
Jupiter, Zeus and the Capitoline Triad
Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University wrote for the BBC: “At a relatively early date, the sky-god Jupiter (generally equated with the Greek god Zeus) took on great importance in the Roman state religion. His main temple in Rome, that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus ('The Best and Greatest') was established on the Capitoline Hill in 509 B.C. at the beginning of the Roman Republic, and was rebuilt several times throughout Roman history. [Source: Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]
“The interior of the temple was divided into three rooms, dedicated not only to Jupiter but also to his consort Juno and the goddess Minerva. Collectively they are known as the Capitoline Triad, and when Roman power had expanded to encompass an empire, the central temple of many Roman cities - in Italy and further afield - was often dedicated to this Capitoline Triad. |::|
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Even in the ancient Greek poems of Homer and Hesiod, Zeus was the ruler of the gods, the most powerful and the most wise. But in these early days, Zeus also was guilty of numerous sexual indiscretions with both goddesses and mortal women. These liaisons resulted in the birth of a number of demi-gods and heroes, for whom the Greeks also established cults. Despite his wisdom and majesty, this early Zeus could also be petty, self-indulgent, and occasionally cruel. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“By the first century before the common era, however, his identity had merged with the more serious Roman god Jupiter. And this new Zeus/Jupiter was to become the supremely just, powerful, and even benevolent protector of the Roman empire. His will for his earthly subjects was frequently equated with divine providence or the unfathomable workings of Fate.” <>
Apollo was the god of the sun, light and music. Originally called Phoebus Apollo and known to both Greeks and Romans as Apollo, he lived on the island of Delos in the east, where he was born, and Delphi to the north of Athens. He drove the chariot of the sun across the sky and had the power to cure illness and inflict it.
Apollo was worshiped by musicians and poets. He was regarded as the handsomest of the Greek gods and was the master of the Oracle of Delphi. His connection with the sun led to associations with agriculture and titles such as “destroyer of locusts," “destroyer of mice," “protector of gain” and “sender of fertilizing dew."
Apollo was the son of Zeus and one of his other wives, the goddess Ledo. When Hera discovered Ledo was pregnant she forbade her offspring from being born on earth. Delos had just been created by Poseidon and was still floating around and not under Hera's authority. That is why Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were born there.
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Not to be confused with the sun itself, which was represented by a special divinity, Helios, Apollo was nonetheless a solar god. Because the Mediterranean sun's rays strike the earth like darts, Apollo was thought of as an archer-god, whose arrows could either wound or heal. He was also the god of song and the lyre, as well as the god of divination and prophecy. His sanctuary at Delphi was one of the most sacred places in the Greek world for revelation and interpretation. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“In the Iliad, Homer's epic narrative of the Trojan War, Apollo allied himself with the Trojans. Since Rome subsequently claimed the Trojans as their ancestors, it is perhaps not surprising that Rome's first emperor, Augustus, placed his reign under Apollo's special protection. To reinforce his association with the god, Augustus built a sanctuary for Apollo next to his palace on the Palatine hill in Rome. Later, the emperor Nero, who fancied himself a musician, would also claim a special association with Apollo. <>
Artemis (Diana to Romans) was the goddess hunting, wild nature and newborn children. The twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus, she appealed to her father to be freed from the obligations of marriage and allowed to remain a wild maiden, hunting in the woods. Zeus agreed and gave Artemis 50 nymphs and packs of hunting dogs as companions. In the forest she found four deer with golden antlers and harnessed them to her golden chariot.
Artemis could be just as cruel as her brother. Once she was spotted naked, bathing with her nymphs, by a mortal. Outraged at being found in such a state, she turned the mortal into a stag and ordered her dogs to devour him.
Artemis was sometimes described as an eternal virgin. Her origins can be traced as far back as Babylon and she may even have evolved from Stone Age earth mothers goddesses that dominated primitive cultures before the Greeks popularized male gods. Artists throughout history have been fascinated with Diana's image. A Raphael painting of her graces the Vatican and a sculpture by a modern Brooklyn artist gave her four buttocks as well as eight pairs of breasts.
Artemis was worshiped throughout most of Europe and the Mediterranean during ancient times and she still has followers today. Statues of her have endowed her with a dozen and half breasts on her chest and bees on her skirt. Some scholars believe the breasts are ova on sacred bees. None of the breasts on the early statues had nipples however, which led one classical scholar to venture they were actually bull's testes.
A large temple devoted of Diana (Artemis) in Ephesus (present-day Turkey) the was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and drew large numbers of pilgrims. Images of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss.
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. Their mother was Leto, one of the many goddesses seduced by Zeus. Like Apollo, Artemis was a goddess of the hunt. She is usually depicted as a kind of tomboy in short tunic, carrying a bow and arrows. Also like her brother, who was associated with the light of the sun, Artemis was associated with the light of the moon. As such, in some regions she was also considered the protectress of the tombs of the dead. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“Very different in origin and appearance is Artemis of Ephesus, whose immense temple came to be known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and whose ardent worshipers form the backdrop for one of the most dramatic encounters in the Book of Acts. This Artemis was a goddess of fertility and fecundity, who probably traveled to the area in and around Ephesus from barbarian regions further east.” <>
Aphrodite (Venus to Romans) was the god of love. Her origin is not clear. Homer wrote she was daughter of Zeus and Dione, a Titan goddess. Others stories have rising from the Poseidon's sea on a cushion of foam (portrayed in the famous Botticelli painting as stepping out of a clamshell) and was carried to the shore by the west wind Zephyrus, who was enchanted by her beauty. Once on land, she was befriended by the Graces---goddesses of beauty---who escorted her to Mt. Olympus, where the gods, with the exception of Hera, found her so beautiful that they decided to accept her.
Aphrodite is widely believed to be a metamorphosis of the Babylonian God Ishtar and other earth-mother goddesses that existed before her. She was similar to other Mediterranean fertility gods like Anat of Syria. Some scholars believe she may have ultimately been Semitic in origin.
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “The daughter of Zeus by yet another minor female deity, Aphrodite was the personification of female beauty. Although all of the Olympian goddesses were beautiful in their way, only Aphrodite exuded charm and seduction. Although she may have originated as a fertility goddess, she is known primarily as the goddess of love. Her devotees ranged from unmarried girls and widows, seeking to obtain husbands, to courtesans, some of whom served in her temples. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that sailors were among her most frequent worshipers! [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“In the Roman world she was also identified with the goddess Venus, the beautiful and seductive goddess who was the mother of Aeneas, the founding hero of Rome according to legend. But since Julius Caesar, his nephew the emperor Augustus, and all of the Roman emperors down to Nero traced their own ancestry back to Aeneas and through him to Venus, her cult emphasized romantic, marital, and especially maternal love. <>
Demeter (Ceres to Romans) was the goddess of fertility and harvest. She was the sister of Zeus and the mother of Persephone, who was greatly loved by everyone, filling Olympus with joy and causing flowers to bloom on earth. Demeter was popular on Earth because of her association with crops and harvests. A large festival was held in her honor around harvest time. Some of the rituals were so secret we have no idea what they were. Ceres is the source of the word "cereal"
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Of the twelve original Olympian deities, Demeter was probably the one who most affected the lives and fortunes of common people. She was the goddess of fertility and of the fruits of the harvest. She was worshipped throughout the Greek world and remained important to her Greek subjects even in the Roman imperial era. She had the reputation of being accessible to the needs of mortals, on whom she bestowed the benefits of the earth's abundance. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“Her primary sanctuary was at Eleusis, in the country beyond the outskirts of Athens. And her cult centered on the reenactment of a story by means of which the Greeks explained the mysteries of the agricultural seasons--how the earth's vegetation seemed to die in winter, only to be reborn again every spring. <>
“In addition to two yearly festivals in which the end of the harvest and the renewal of the planting were commemorated, a major festival was celebrated every five years. The principal object of this festival was the public veneration of Demeter and, for those who qualified, the celebration of her mysteries. Although Romans generally were not admitted to these secret rites, the goddess wisely permitted a few. We know of at least two emperors who were initiated into her mysteries and who supported her cult with material gifts. <>
“Since the proceedings of these mysteries and their rituals remained secret, historians do not know exactly what transpired. It is known, however, that those who participated were granted some assurance of the continued favor of the goddess, both in this life and the next.” <>
Dionysus (Bacchus to Romans) was the god of drama, dance, music, fertility and wine. He was the only god to be born twice and the only one with a mortal parent. Because of his association with drinking, partying, festivals and having a good time it is not surprising that he was one of the most popular gods. Dionysus often traveled is disguise. He was known for appearing and reappearing quickly. When he wanted to make a show he arrived with a procession of nymphs and satyrs.
Dionysus was the son of the beautiful mortal Semele, After conceiving a Dionysus, Semele died from shock when Zeus revealed himself to her in celestial form after Semele had been tricked by Hera to ask Zeus to reveal himself (something no mortal could withstand). Zeus then took the aborted fetus and sewed it into his leg until the infant Dionysus was born.
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “Although not one of the original Olympians, the cult of Dionysus was very old and was celebrated throughout the Greek world and beyond. As the god of the vine and of the pleasures of its cultivation, his cult became associated with that of Demeter at an early time. As with Demeter, his devotees ranged the entire spectrum of the social scale. Likewise, his cultic observance ranged from dignified ceremonies and parades to orgiastic celebrations and festivals. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“Later Rome, fearing that these festivals would lead to civil unrest, attempted to suppress his cult, but it met with very little success. Although the Romans could not curtail the immense popularity of Dionysus, the god's appearance and the legends surrounding his worship did change dramatically over time. <>
“Even though fairly early in his history Dionysus's appearance changed from that of a mature, bearded man of a decidedly rustic quality to a long-haired and somewhat effeminate adolescent with exotic attributes, throughout most of his history his essential character remained that of a charming rogue. He was depicted as the god who brought the joys and ecstasies of the vine, as well as the fruits of civilization, and not only to Greece but also to far-away India and Egypt. But Dionysus also could reduce even people of consequence to madness, if they crossed him. <>
“During the Roman period a new legend developed concerning Dionysus, one that offers intriguing parallels to Christianity. According to this legend, Dionysus was killed while battling the enemies of Zeus. His body was dismembered, but Zeus restored him to immortal life. Henceforth, according to the late first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, Dionysus became a dying and rising god, and a symbol of ever-lasting life. <>
Asclepius, the Healing God
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “The son of Apollo by a mortal woman, Asclepius was taken by his divine father at birth and apprenticed to a wise centaur (a mythical creature, half man and half horse). This centaur, whose name was Chiron, taught Asclepius the healing arts so that he could reduce the sufferings of mortals. With his miraculous cures, Asclepius quickly earned great fame. Motivated by compassion, he even succeeded in restoring the dead to life. But this proved his undoing. Hades complained to Zeus that if this were allowed to continue, the natural order of the universe would be subverted. Zeus agreed and struck Asclepius down with a thunderbolt. In some versions of the story, Asclepius was transformed into a star after his death. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome. <>]
“Asclepius was an immensely popular god, originally in Greece but later also in Rome. By the fourth century before the common era, he had established a number of sanctuaries in Greece, the most important ones being in Cos and Epidauros. Early in the third century B.C., his cult was brought to Rome after the city had been struck by a plague. Asclepius's medical knowledge and divine healing powers fostered two distinct traditions within the Greek world. On the one hand, he served as a divine mentor to the doctors who treated patients at his sanctuary at Cos. On the other hand, at the sanctuary of Epidauros, the god performed miraculous cures in response to the direct petitions of suppliants. <>
“In the early Roman imperial era, Asclepius assumed an even greater religious importance. He had become a savior god. The physically or emotionally afflicted received long-term care and guidance at his sanctuaries, and in return they devoted themselves to his worship and service. <>
“The most famous of devotee of Asclepius during the Roman imperial period was the rhetor and sophist (professional public speaker) Aelius Aristides. Having just embarked on his public career, Aristides was stricken by a complete physical and mental breakdown. After seeking the help of another god to no avail, he visited the shrine of Asclepius in his adoptive city of Smyrna. <>
“During this visit, the god appeared to Aristides in a dream-vision, and this encounter changed his life. Asclepius not only prescribed treatments for his chronic bouts of illness, the god also offered guidance for the conduct of all aspects of his life. Thereafter, Aristides placed himself and his career under the god's protection, making numerous extended visits to the renowned Asclepius sanctuary in Pergamon. In his autobiographical narrative of his numerous encounters with the god, Aristides reveals his special relationship with Asclepius by most often addressing the god as "Savior." <>
Asclepius: A Model for Jesus?
L. Michael White of the University of Texas at Austin told PBS: “When Christians talked about salvation we have to understand how a pagan would have heard that term. Salvation actually is a term of healing. It's medical, and it apparently was understood to mean deliverance from disease and death. Healing, magic, medical cures are part of the Jesus tradition going way back to ... the early gospel sources, and it continues to be a very important part of Christian tradition. One of the most prominent scenes in all the catacombs is of Jesus as healer. Jesus as magician. This is really something very important within the Roman culture, and apparently health and disease were very important issues all around. It's often suggested that the mortality rate among members of Roman cities might have been as high as fifty percent of all children born died within the first five years of life. So death and disease were all around.... [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]
“One of the most popular deities of all is Asclepius, the healing God, and it's often suggested that Jesus is kind of modeled after a new or a younger Asclepius. Asclepius is often portrayed in some ways similar to Zeus as this great, old bearded god and he also has his wife or consort. Her name is Hygeia. Her name means health in Greek, and so the worship of Asclepius the healer and of health personified as his wife are very prominent cults. Indeed, the equivalent of hospitals for ancient society was really the temple of Asclepius, and we see these in a number of places around the Greek and Roman world. ...[T]he Asclepius cult, very much like Christianity and some of the other new religions of the Greco-Roman world, was a portable cult. You could have temples of Asclepius almost anywhere. Anywhere you're willing to have one built and pay for it. <>
“[W]hat happened in a temple of Asclepius was that one went there to take the cures. It was kind of like a spa. You could go and sleep in the temple. They call that incubating in the temple, and bathe in their ritual baths and offer incense and prayers and buy sacrifices from the cult priests. In order to try to get the god to perform a healing, and it's interesting that we have a mixture of real medicine. That is, real scientific medical practice going on side-by-side with these religious magical kinds of healing practices. So the ancients really thought of the two things going very much hand in hand and everyone knew about Asclepius. He was one of the most important gods around. After all, who else could give you health?” <>
Hercules (Heracles or Herakles to the Greeks and Hercules to Romans) is most popular and celebrated of the Greek heros. He was the son of the mortal Alcmene, who made love to Zeus and her husband on the same night and bore two children: Hercules son of Zeus and Iphicles, son of her husband Amphityon. Hera was angry about her husband's indiscretion and vented her anger at Hercules.
Hercules inherited great strength from his father and began performing heroic deeds at an early age. When Hera place had two serpents placed in his cradle Hercules grabbed them and strangled them. As he was growing up he was trained in the arts of war by Centaurs and heros. When he was a young man two women sought him out. Kakia (vice) promised him an easy life of luxury and wealth if he followed her. Arete (virtue) promised him only glory from fighting evil if he followed her. Hercules followed the latter.
Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “In addition to semi-divine parentage and birth in difficult circumstances, another common feature of the lives of demi-gods is that they encounter ignominy or great misfortune, which they must either overcome before death or resolve through death. After he was grown and married, Herakles was struck with a deadly madness and, mistaking his own wife and children for those of a bitter enemy, he killed them. It was in atonement for this terrible crime that he performed the twelve superhuman labors that rid the world of terrifying monsters and brought new security to the world's inhabitants. Because of his superhuman strength, Herakles was the patron of athletes, and sanctuaries honoring him adorned virtually every gymnasium throughout the Greco-Roman world. But his most important role was that of powerful patron and protector of human beings and gods alike.” [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome. <>]
Porphyry: On Images
Porphyry (A.D. c. 234 – c. 305) was a leading "Neoplatonist", who sought to defend "reason". As Christianity spread, there was a strong, negative intellectual reaction to it among the classically oriented intellectuals. In some of his works he attacks Christian unreason. In others he defends traditional Roman (Pagan) religion. The following fragments, passed on to use by Eusebius (c. A.D. 260-340), are related to cult images and images of Roman-era gods.
Porphyry wrote: Fragment 1: “I speak to those who lawfully may hear: Depart all ye profane, and close the doors. The thoughts of a wise theology, wherein men indicated God and God's powers by images akin to sense, and sketched invisible things in visible forms, I will show to those who have learned to read from the statues as from books the things there written concerning the gods. Nor is it any wonder that the utterly unlearned regard the statues as wood and stone, just as also those who do not understand the written letters look upon the monuments as mere stones, and on the tablets as bits of wood, and on books as woven papyrus.” [Source: “On Images” Porphyry (A.D. 232/3-c.305), drawn from fragments in Eusebius (c. A.D. 260-340), translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford, MIT]
Fragment 2: “As the deity is of the nature of light, and dwells in an atmosphere of ethereal fire, and is invisible to sense that is busy about mortal life, He through translucent matter, as crystal or Parian marble or even ivory, led men on to the conception of his light, and through material gold to the discernment of the fire, and to his undefiled purity, because gold cannot be defiled. On the other hand, black marble was used by many to show his invisibility; and they moulded their gods in human form because the deity is rational, and made these beautiful, because in those is pure and perfect beauty; and in varieties of shape and age, of sitting and standing, and drapery; and some of them male, and some female, virgins, and youths, or married, to represent their diversity. Hence they assigned everything white to the gods of heaven, and the sphere and all things spherical to the cosmos and to the sun and moon in particular, but sometimes also to fortune and to hope: and the circle and things circular to eternity, and to the motion of the heaven, and to the zones and cycles therein; and the segments of circles to the phases of the moon; pyramids and obelisks to the element of fire, and therefore to the gods of Olympus; so again the cone to the sun, and cylinder to the earth, and figures representing parts of the human body to sowing and generation.”
Fragment 4: “They have made Hera the wife of Zeus, because they called the ethereal and aerial power Hera. For the ether is a very subtle air.”
Fragment 5: “And the power of the whole air is Hera, called by a name derived from the air: but the symbol of the sublunar air which is affected by light and darkness is Leto; for she is oblivion caused by the insensibility in sleep, and because souls begotten below the moon are accompanied by forgetfulness of the Divine; and on this account she is also the mother of Apollo and Artemis, who are the sources of light for the night.”
Fragment 6: “The ruling principle of the power of earth is called Hestia, of whom a statue representing her as a virgin is usually set up on the hearth; but inasmuch as the power is productive, they symbolize her by the form of a woman with prominent breasts. The name Rhea they gave to the power of rocky and mountainous land, and Demeter to that of level and productive land. Demeter in other respects is the same as Rhea, but differs in the fact that she gives birth to Kore by Zeus, that is, she produces the shoot from the seeds of plants. And on this account her statue is crowned with ears of corn, and poppies are set round her as a symbol of productiveness.”
Porphyry: On Images: Fragment 3
Porphyry (A.D. c. 234 – c. 305) wrote in Fragment 3: 'Now look at the wisdom of the Greeks, and examine it as follows. The authors of the Orphic hymns supposed Zeus to be the mind of the world, and that he created all things therein,containing the world in himself. Therefore in their theological systems they have handed down their opinions concerning him thus:'
“Zeus was the first, Zeus last, the lightning's lord,
Zeus head, Zeus centre, all things are from Zeus.
Zeus born a male, Zeus virgin undefiled;
Zeus the firm base of earth and starry heaven;
Zeus sovereign, Zeus alone first cause of all:
One power divine, great ruler of the world,
One kingly form, encircling all things here,
Fire, water, earth, and ether, night and day;
Wisdom, first parent, and delightful Love:
For in Zeus' mighty body these all lie.
His head and beauteous face the radiant heaven
Reveals and round him float in shining waves
The golden tresses of the twinkling stars.
On either side bulls' horns of gold are seen,
Sunrise and sunset, footpaths of the gods.
His eyes the Sun, the Moon's responsive light;
His mind immortal ether, sovereign truth,
Hears and considers all; nor any speech,
Nor cry, nor noise, nor ominous voice escapes
The ear of Zeus, great Kronos' mightier son:
Such his immortal head, and such his thought.
His radiant body, boundless, undisturbed
In strength of mighty limbs was formed thus:
The god's broad-spreading shoulders, breast and back
Air's wide expanse displays; on either side
Grow wings, wherewith throughout all space he flies.
Earth the all-mother, with her lofty hills,
His sacred belly forms; the swelling flood
Of hoarse resounding Ocean girds his waist.
His feet the deeply rooted ground upholds,
And dismal Tartarus, and earth's utmost bounds.
All things he hides, then from his heart again
In godlike action brings to gladsome light. [Source: “On Images” Porphyry (A.D. 232/3-c.305), drawn from fragments in Eusebius (c. A.D. 260-340), translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford, MIT]
“Zeus, therefore, is the whole world, animal of animals, and god of gods; but Zeus, that is, inasmuch as he is the mind from which he brings forth all things, and by his thoughts creates them. When the theologians had explained the nature of god in this manner, to make an image such as their description indicated was neither possible, nor, if any one thought of it, could he show the look of life, and intelligence, and forethought by the figure of a sphere.
“But they have made the representation of Zeus in human form, because mind was that according to which he wrought, and by generative laws brought all things to completion; and he is seated, as indicating the steadfastness of his power: and his upper parts are bare, because he is manifested in the intellectual and the heavenly parts of the world; but his feet are clothed, because he is invisible in the things that lie hidden below. And he holds his sceptre in his left hand, because most close to that side of the body dwells the heart, the most commanding and intelligent organ: for the creative mind is the sovereign of the world. And in his right hand he holds forth either an eagle, because he is master of the gods who traverse the air, as the eagle is master of the birds that fly aloft - or a victory, because he is himself victorious over all things.”
Porphyry: On Images: Fragment 7
Porphyry (A.D. c. 234 – c. 305) wrote in Fragment 7: “But since there was in the seeds cast into the earth a certain power, which the sun in passing round to the lower hemisphere drags down at the time of the winter solstice, Kore is the seminal power, and Pluto the sun passing under the earth, and traversing the unseen world at the time of the winter solstice; and he is said to carry off Kore, who, while hidden beneath the earth, is lamented by her mother Demeter. [Source: “On Images” Porphyry (A.D. 232/3-c.305), drawn from fragments in Eusebius (c. A.D. 260-340), translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford, MIT]
“The power which produces hard-shelled fruits, and the fruits of plants in general, is named Dionysus. But observe the images of these also. For Kore bears symbols of the production of the plants which grow above the earth in the crops: and Dionysus has horns in common with Kore, and is of female form, indicating the union of male and female forces in the generation of the hard shelled fruits.
“But Pluto, the ravisher of Kore, has a helmet as a symbol of the unseen pole, and his shortened sceptre as an emblem of his kingdom of the nether world; and his dog indicates the generation of the fruits in its threefold division - the sowing of the seed, its reception by the earth, its growing up. For he is called a dog, not because souls are his food, but because of the earth's fertility, for which Pluto provides when he carries off Kore.
“Attis, too, and Adonis are related to the analogy of fruits. Attis is the symbol of the blossoms which appear early in the spring, and fall off before the complete fertilization; whence they further attributed castration to him, from the fruits not having attained to seminal perfection: but Adonis was the symbol of the cutting of the perfect fruits.
“Silenus was the symbol of the wind's motion, which contributes no few benefits to the world. And the flowery and brilliant wreath upon his head is symbolic of the revolution of the heaven, and the hair with which his lower limbs are surrounded is an indication of the density of the air near the earth.
“Since there was also a power partaking of the prophetic faculty, the power is called Themis, because of its telling what is appointed and fixed for each person.
“In all these ways, then, the power of the earth finds an interpretation and is worshipped: as a virgin and Hestia, she holds the centre; as a mother she nourishes; as Rhea she makes rocks and dwells on mountains; as Demeter, she produces herbage; and as Themis, she utters oracles: while the seminal law which descends into her bosom is figured as Priapus, the influence of which on dry crops is called Kore, and on soft fruits and shellfruits is called Dionysus. For Kore was carried off by Pluto, that is, the sun going; down beneath the earth at seed-time; but Dionysus begins to sprout according to the conditions of the power which, while young, is hidden beneath the earth, yet produces fine fruits, and is an ally of the power in the blossom symbolized by Attis, and of the cutting of the ripened corn symbolized by Adonis.
“Also the power of the wind which pervades all things is formed into a figure of Silenus, and the perversion to frenzy into a figure of a Bacchante, as also the impulse which excites to lust is represented by the Satyrs. These, then, are the symbols by which the power of the earth is revealed.”
Porphyry: On Images: Fragment 8
Porphyry (A.D. c. 234 – c. 305) wrote in Fragment 8: “The whole power productive of water they called Oceanus, and named its symbolic figure Tethys. But of the whole, the drinking-water produced is called Achelous; and the sea-water Poseidon; while again that which makes the sea, inasmuch as it is productive, is Amphitrite. Of the sweet waters the particular powers are called Nymphs, and those of the sea-waters Nereids. [Source: “On Images” Porphyry (A.D. 232/3-c.305), drawn from fragments in Eusebius (c. A.D. 260-340), translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford, MIT]
“Again, the power of fire they called Hephaestus, and have made his image in the form of a man, but put on it a blue cap as a symbol of the revolution of the heavens, because the archetypal and purest form of fire is there. But the fire brought down from heaven to earth is less intense, and wants the strengthening and support which is found in matter: wherefore he is lame, as needing matter to support him.
“Also they supposed a power of this kind to belong to the sun and called it Apollo, from the pulsation of his beams. There are also nine Muses singing to his lyre, which are the sublunar sphere, and seven spheres of the planets, and one of the fixed stars. And they crowned him with laurel, partly because the plant is full of fire, and therefore hated by daemons; and partly because it crackles in burning, to represent the god's prophetic art.
“But inasmuch as the sun wards off the evils of the earth, they called him Heracles (from his clashing against the air) in passing from east to west. And they invented fables of his performing twelve labours, as the symbol of the division of the signs of the zodiac in heaven; and they arrayed him with a club and a lion's skin, the one as an indication of his uneven motion, and the other representative of his strength in "Leo" the sign of the zodiac.
“Of the sun's healing power Asclepius is the symbol, and to him they have given the staff as a sign of the support and rest of the sick, and the serpent is wound round it, as significant of his preservation of body and soul: for the animal is most full of spirit, and shuffles off the weakness of the body. It seems also to have a great faculty for healing: for it found the remedy for giving clear sight, and is said in a legend to know a certain plant which restores life.
“But the fiery power of his revolving and circling motion, whereby he ripens the crops, is called Dionysus, not in the same sense as the power which produces the juicy fruits, but either from the sun's rotation, or from his completing his orbit in the heaven. And whereas he revolves round the cosmical seasons and is the maker of "times and tides," the sun is on this account called Horus.
“Of his power over agriculture, whereon depend the gifts of wealth, the symbol is Pluto. He has, however, equally the power of destroying, on which account they make Sarapis share the temple of Pluto: and the purple tunic they make the symbol of the light that has sunk beneath the earth, and the sceptre broken at the top that of his power below, and the posture of the hand the symbol of his departure into the unseen world.
“Cerberus is represented with three heads, because the positions of the sun above the earth are three-rising, midday, and setting.
“The moon, conceived according to her brightness, they called Artemis, as it were, "cutting the air." And Artemis, though herself a virgin, presides over childbirth, because the power of the new moon is helpful to parturition.
“What Apollo is to the sun, that Athena is to the moon: for the moon is a symbol of wisdom, and so a kind of Athena.
“But, again, the moon is Hecate, the symbol of her varying phases and of her power dependent on the phases. Wherefore her power appears in three forms, having as symbol of the new moon the figure in the white robe and golden sandals, and torches lighted: the basket, which she bears when she has mounted high, is the symbol of the cultivation of the crops, which she makes to grow up according to the increase of her light: and again the symbol of the full moon is the goddess of the brazen sandals.
“Or even from the branch of olive one might infer her fiery nature, and from the poppy her productiveness, and the multitude of the souls who find an abode in her as in a city, for the poppy is an emblem of a city. She bears a bow, like Artemis, because of the sharpness of the pangs of labour.
“And, again, the Fates are referred to her powers, Clotho to the generative, and Lachesis to the nutritive, and Atropos to the inexorable will of the deity.
“Also, the power productive of corn-crops, which is Demeter, they associate with her, as producing power in her. The moon is also a supporter of Kore. They set Dionysus also beside her, both on account of their growth of horns, and because of the region of clouds lying beneath the lower world.
“The power of Kronos they perceived to be sluggish and slow and cold, and therefore attributed to him the power of time: and they figure him standing, and grey-headed, to indicate that time is growing old.
“The Curetes, attending on Chronos, are symbols of the seasons, because time journeys on through seasons.
“Of the Hours, some are the Olympian, belonging to the sun, which also open the gates in the air: and others are earthly, belonging to Demeter, and hold a basket, one symbolic of the flowers of spring, and the other of the wheat-ears of summer.
“The power of Ares they perceived to be fiery, and represented it as causing war and bloodshed, and capable both of harm and benefit.
“The star of Aphrodite they observed as tending to fecundity, being the cause of desire and offspring, and represented it as a woman because of generation, and as beautiful, because it is also the evening star -
“"Hesper, the fairest star that shines in heaven." [Homer, Iliad 22:318]
“And Eros they set by her because of desire. She veils her breasts and other parts, because their power is the source of generation and nourishment. She comes from the sea, a watery element, and warm, and in constant movement, and foaming because of its commotion, whereby they intimate the seminal power.
“Hermes is the representative of reason and speech, which both accomplish and interpret all things. The phallic Hermes represents vigour, but also indicates the generative law that pervades all things.
“Further, reason is composite: in the sun it is called Hermes; in the moon Hecate; and that which is in the All Hermopan, for the generative and creative reason extends over all things. Hermanubis also is composite, and as it were half Greek, being found among the Egyptians also. Since speech is also connected with the power of love, Eros represents this power: wherefore Eros is represented as the son of Hermes, but as an infant, because of his sudden impulses of desire.
“They made Pan the symbol of the universe, and gave him his horns as symbols of sun and moon, and the fawn skin as emblem of the stars in heaven, or of the variety of the universe.
Porphyry: On Images: Fragment 10
Porphyry (A.D. c. 234 – c. 305) wrote in Fragment 10: “The Demiurge, whom the Egyptians call Cneph, is of human form, but with a skin of dark blue, holding a girdle and a sceptre, and crowned with a royal wing on his head, because reason is hard to discover, and wrapt up in secret, and not conspicuous, and because it is life-giving, and because it is a king, and because it has an intelligent motion: wherefore the characteristic wing is put upon his head. [Source: “On Images” Porphyry (A.D. 232/3-c.305), drawn from fragments in Eusebius (c. A.D. 260-340), translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford, MIT]
“This god, they say, puts forth from his mouth an egg, from which is born a god who is called by themselves Phtha, but by the Greeks Hephaestus; and the egg they interpret as the world. To this god the sheep is consecrated, because the ancients used to drink milk.
“The representation of the world itself they figured thus: the statue is like a man having feet joined together, and clothed from head to foot with a robe of many colours, and has on the head a golden sphere, the first to represent its immobility, the second the many-coloured nature of the stars, and the third because the world is spherical.
“The sun they indicate sometimes by a man embarked on a ship, the ship set on a crocodile. And the ship indicates the sun's motion in a liquid element: the crocodile potable water in which the sun travels. The figure of the sun thus signified that his revolution takes place through air that is liquid and sweet.
“The power of the earth, both the celestial and terrestrial earth, they called Isis, because of the equality, which is the source of justice: but they call the moon the celestial earth, and the vegetative earth, on which we live, they call the terrestrial.
“Demeter has the same meaning among the Greeks as Isis amongs the Egyptians: and, again, Kore and Dionysus among the Greeks the same as Isis and Osiris among the Egyptians. Isis is that which nourishes and raises up the fruits of the earth; and Osiris among the Egyptians is that which supplies the fructifying power, which they propitiate with lamentations as it disappears into the earth in the sowing, and as it is consumed by us for food.
“Osiris is also taken for the river-power of the Nile: when, however, they signify the terrestrial earth, Osiris is taken as the fructifying power; but when the celestial, Osiris is the Nile, which they suppose to come down from heaven: this also they bewail, in order to propitiate the power when failing and becoming exhausted. And the Isis who, in the legends, is wedded to Osiris is the land of Egypt, and therefore she is made equal to him, and conceives, and produces the fruits; and on this account Osiris has been described by tradition as the husband of Isis, and her brother, and her son.
“At the city Elephantine there is an image worshipped, which in other respects is fashioned in the likeness of a man and sitting; it is of a blue colour, and has a ram's head, and a diadem bearing the horns of a goat, above which is a quoit-shaped circle. He sits with a vessel of clay beside him, on which he is moulding the figure of a man. And from having the face of a ram and the horns of a goat he indicates the conjunction of sun and moon in the sign of the Ram, while the colour of blue indicates that the moon in that conjunction brings rain.
“The second appearance of the moon is held sacred in the city of Apollo: and its symbol is a man with a hawk-like face, subduing with a hunting-spear Typhon in the likeness of a hippopotamus. The image is white in colour, the whiteness representing the illumination of the moon, and the hawk-like face the fact that it derives light and breath from the sun. For the hawk they consecrate to the sun, and make it their symbol of light and breath, because of its swift motion, and its soaring up on high, where the light is. And the hippopotamus represents, the Western sky, because of its swallowing up into itself the stars which traverse it.
“In this city Horus is worshipped as a god. But the city of Eileithyia worships the third appearance of the moon: and her statue is fashioned into a flying vulture, whose plumage consists of precious stones. And its likeness to a vulture signifies that the moon is what produces the winds: for they think that the vulture conceives from the wind, and declares that they are all hen birds.
“In the mysteries at Eleusis the hierophant is dressed up to represent the demiurge, and the torch-bearer the sun, the priest at the altar the moon, and the sacred herald Hermes.
“Moreover a man is admitted by the Egyptians among their objects of worship. For there is a village in Egypt called Anabis, in which a man is worshipped, and sacrifice offered to him, and the victims burned upon his altars: and after a little while he would eat the things that had been prepared for him as for a man.
“They did not, however, believe the animals to be gods, but regarded them as likenesses and symbols of gods; and this is shown by the fact that in many places oxen dedicated to the gods are sacrificed at their monthly festivals and in their religious services. For they consecrated oxen to the sun and moon.
“The ox called Mnevis which is dedicated to the sun in Heliopolis, is the largest of oxen, very black, chiefly because much sunshine blackens men's bodies. And its tail and all its body are covered with hair that bristles backwards unlike other cattle, just as the sun makes its course in the opposite direction to the heaven. Its testicles are very large, since desire is produced by heat, and the sun is said to fertilize nature.
“To the moon they dedicated a bull which they call Apis, which also is more black than others, and bears symbols of sun and moon, because the light of the moon is from the sun. The blackness of his body is an emblem of the sun, and so is the beetle-like mark under his tongue; and the symbol of the moon is the semicircle, and the gibbous figure.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2018