What Are the Major Elements of Roman Mythology?
Much of Roman mythology was borrowed from Greek culture and assimilated into its own. Early Rome was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy, religion, and society. Romans incorporated the Greek gods into Roman mythology and religion, attributing to them the same creation myths and powers, but giving them Latin names. For instance, the Greek god Zeus, the ruling god on Mount Olympus, home of the gods, was called Jupiter by the Romans. One Roman myth created by Romans and central to their culture was that of the founding of Rome.
In ancient Greco-Roman culture, myth was not considered fiction. It represented traditional stories handed down through generations that explained the temperaments of the various gods and their powers. These stories were treated as truth, and the actions of the gods were always considered to be at play in people’s lives. Respect for the gods was incorporated into religious practices as a way of receiving their protection and preventing their disfavor. The gods had favored people and animals and sometimes interacted with humans in animal or human form, including sexual relations.
The Roman mythology of the founding of Rome begins in Virgil’s Aeneid, the story of the Trojan War fought over the abduction of Helen, the wife of Spartan King Menelaus, by Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy. Aeneas, son of a Trojan Prince and the goddess Venus and cousin to King Priam, lead Troy’s refugees to Italy after the country fell to the Greek armies. He carried his father all the way to the new country on his shoulders, armed with the Sword of Troy.
In Roman mythology, the descendants of Aeneas settled in the ancient Italian city of Numitor. The twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome, were born of a union between the daughter of Numitor’s king, Rhea Silvia, and the god Mars. The King’s brother, fearing that the sons would someday take the throne, threw them into the River Tiber in a trough. The brothers were rescued by a she-wolf, an animal sacred to Mars, which fed them her milk, brought them food and guarded over them.
When the brothers grew to manhood, Romulus chose the spot where the city should be built. After Remus taunted him over the small size of the city walls, Romulus killed his brother. When the city was finished, Rome’s early inhabitants were refugees and criminals. Lacking enough women, the Romans stole their wives from the Italian Sabine Tribe. The Sabines and Romans eventually went to war over the abductions, but the women, having grown fond of their new Roman husbands, intervened and peace was made. Romulus and the Sabine king ruled together for a time.
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