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Author Topic: Differences between Roman and Greek deities  (Read 10255 times)
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« Topic Start: December 08, 2010, 03:25:28 pm »

The Romans and Greeks used different names for a group of superficially similar deities. Do you guys think of them interchangeably, or (in your opinions) are there genuine differences between the two? Either from perception/UPG or research.

[For my own part, I know that Aphrodite was allowed to have a lot more fun than Venus. Venus the mother of Aeneas (founder of Rome) and thus grandmother of the Roman Emperors had to be a more stately figure. Anyone else have similar information?

And I feel strangely strongly regarding a recent (possible) deity encounter that it was Diana, and not Artemis. The other name doesn't seem right. Could be subjective though?]


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« Reply #1: December 08, 2010, 03:49:50 pm »

The Romans and Greeks used different names for a group of superficially similar deities. Do you guys think of them interchangeably, or (in your opinions) are there genuine differences between the two? Either from perception/UPG or research.

[For my own part, I know that Aphrodite was allowed to have a lot more fun than Venus. Venus the mother of Aeneas (founder of Rome) and thus grandmother of the Roman Emperors had to be a more stately figure. Anyone else have similar information?

You must remember that Venus started out as more of a fertility/agricultural deity while Aphrodite was heavily associated with sex.

I think that the Greek and Roman Gods are separate entities, but I think it could be possible that some (like the Apollos) could be one in the same.  However, things like this are difficult (if not impossible) to tell.
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« Reply #2: December 08, 2010, 04:29:21 pm »

I think that the Greek and Roman Gods are separate entities, but I think it could be possible that some (like the Apollos) could be one in the same.  However, things like this are difficult (if not impossible) to tell.

I've come to the conclusion some time ago from all that I've read, what makes sense, and all that fun stuff, that the greek and Roman gods were mostly- but not wholly- two separate gods. A lot of Greek mythology was sort of overlaid onto a lot of Roman gods, which has led to come confusion. But Venus, for example, is not Aphrodite and Ceres is not Demeter. (I do believe, however, that gods like this of close associations are related and possibly tied together in some way, and *sometimes* one god is really a different fae for another, but that they're more often different but related.

Apollo would be one example I can think of of both being the same- all of the historical information I've come across pretty strongly inicates that Apollo was imported from the Greeks. He has associated Italic gods but none who seem to have ever been a god who was given a Greek veneer. Latona is one that I'm not sure of- as far as I can tell, I think she is Leto by another name Just try googling her name, and just about every reference indicates that it's the Roman name for Leto.

Offhand, I can't think of any more examples of deities that I believe there to be evidence to be strictly imports from Greece.
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« Reply #3: December 08, 2010, 06:54:09 pm »


There is a similar thread in the Hellenic Reconstruction SIG:
http://www.ecauldron.net/forum/index.php?topic=8227.0
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« Reply #4: December 12, 2010, 06:57:52 pm »

The Romans and Greeks used different names for a group of superficially similar deities. Do you guys think of them interchangeably, or (in your opinions) are there genuine differences between the two? Either from perception/UPG or research.

[For my own part, I know that Aphrodite was allowed to have a lot more fun than Venus. Venus the mother of Aeneas (founder of Rome) and thus grandmother of the Roman Emperors had to be a more stately figure. Anyone else have similar information?

And I feel strangely strongly regarding a recent (possible) deity encounter that it was Diana, and not Artemis. The other name doesn't seem right. Could be subjective though?]





The main thing that must be understood is that while the ancients indeed accepted innumerable amounts of Gods, they also saw Gods of other cultures as mirrors of their own. Mythology was and is, for instance, known to be what it's supposed to be - mythology. Not necessarily real, tales of morality and to try and understand one's world. It is to be noted that many and likely most people in at least the Greek and Roman periods (the periods of which I'm well read) did not necessarily believe in literal mythology. See Cicero for instance.

So - the ancients generally considered eachothers Gods to be the same. For instance, it was said about certain German or Dacian tribes by the Romans that they worshiped principally Mercury (Hermes) and Mars (Ares) - these Gods were not called by their native names, but instead equated with Roman gods who had similar attributes. The fact that each culture viewed these Gods with different aspects obscures the fact that they were broadly similar, and in any case the ancients saw that Gods were generally involved in a variety of activity, not confined to one thing.

Far more important was the manner that the God was worshiped, and this more than anything seperated ancient polytheistic religions from eachother. The Romans sacrificed and worshiped in a way distinct from (but similar to) the Greeks, the Celts, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians etc... Remember that ancient religion was not so much about the right belief, but much more about the correct religious path with which to honour the Gods.

Most likely if you'd asked an ancient about the worship of the "principal" Gods, they would have told you that everyone worshiped the same ones.

And in my opinion anyways, the ancients knew the Gods much better than we do today, because of our limited cultural contact with them and lack of religious feeling as a society. But, then again, that's why I'm a reconstructionist, so take what I say with a grain of historical salt. Cheesy
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« Reply #5: December 12, 2010, 11:00:16 pm »

The main thing that must be understood is that while the ancients indeed accepted innumerable amounts of Gods, they also saw Gods of other cultures as mirrors of their own.

The Romans certainly did, but not every culture thought this way.
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« Reply #6: December 13, 2010, 05:59:00 am »

The Romans certainly did, but not every culture thought this way.

I'd have to agree that it comes through most strongly in the translations of the Roman (in the broadest sense) writings that I've read from the earliest centuries BCE to about 300 CE; although there are definitely passages in some of the Greek authors that seem to make it pretty clear that they shared that understanding in the case of some deities, but not others.

I suspect that people were not so different in their basic qualities and thought processes in the eras when Mediterranean polytheisms flourished, which leads me to question whether some of the apparent differences in the descriptions and stories of the most commonly conflated pairings can't be put down to temperamental differences between the cultures, their arising from differing eras and the general tensions between the cultures that could be said to "share" some deities.

I also think that the question is not as 'simple' as a (mostly) yes / (mostly) no situation. It seems that the peoples of the time (whose writings have survived to some extent) understood some deities as absolutely being the same, some as being a 'version of' and some as being simply equivalent.

I'd hunt up references, but I'm crippled for time and my books are all packed from the house move :O I suspect I'd find the quotes I'm looking for in Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, or some of the translations oat Sacred texts, along with some of the other Stoic's (coz that's what I read the most Smiley ).
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« Reply #7: December 13, 2010, 08:48:03 am »


The main thing that must be understood is that while the ancients indeed accepted innumerable amounts of Gods, they also saw Gods of other cultures as mirrors of their own. Mythology was and is, for instance, known to be what it's supposed to be - mythology. Not necessarily real, tales of morality and to try and understand one's world. It is to be noted that many and likely most people in at least the Greek and Roman periods (the periods of which I'm well read) did not necessarily believe in literal mythology. See Cicero for instance.

So - the ancients generally considered eachothers Gods to be the same. For instance, it was said about certain German or Dacian tribes by the Romans that they worshiped principally Mercury (Hermes) and Mars (Ares) - these Gods were not called by their native names, but instead equated with Roman gods who had similar attributes. The fact that each culture viewed these Gods with different aspects obscures the fact that they were broadly similar, and in any case the ancients saw that Gods were generally involved in a variety of activity, not confined to one thing.

I always saw this as Roman political pragmatism rather than any serious conviction. When they moved into a new area, they just glommed the local deities into the Roman pantheon somehow. Conformity to a religious system which, ultimately, included the Roman emperor as God and (more importantly) economic boss was the motivation here. And then one of the big problems the Romans had with Christianity was that it is a monotheistic and Christian God couldn't be comfortably identified with Zeus. The persecution of Christianity wasn't thus a dogmatic thing (as they'd had no problems with the other weird and wonderful religions in the empire), but a political thing - by rejecting Roman faith, you are also rejecting the Roman emperor.

I'd be interested in a reference for the Cicero Smiley
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« Reply #8: December 13, 2010, 02:49:21 pm »

And I feel strangely strongly regarding a recent (possible) deity encounter that it was Diana, and not Artemis. The other name doesn't seem right. Could be subjective though?]
I also have the subjective feeling that Artemis isn't exactly the same as Diana, but somewhat similar. I don't know if identity is the same for deities as it is for humans, so I just have my UPG.
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« Reply #9: December 15, 2010, 07:29:47 pm »

I always saw this as Roman political pragmatism rather than any serious conviction. When they moved into a new area, they just glommed the local deities into the Roman pantheon somehow. Conformity to a religious system which, ultimately, included the Roman emperor as God and (more importantly) economic boss was the motivation here. And then one of the big problems the Romans had with Christianity was that it is a monotheistic and Christian God couldn't be comfortably identified with Zeus. The persecution of Christianity wasn't thus a dogmatic thing (as they'd had no problems with the other weird and wonderful religions in the empire), but a political thing - by rejecting Roman faith, you are also rejecting the Roman emperor.

I'd be interested in a reference for the Cicero Smiley

This wasn't simply confined to the Romans, however. The Greeks and the Macedonians practiced this kind of deistic equivalence as well, when they conquered vast swathes of the Near East.

Also, the Proto-Indo European Gods mostly have a common source and great similarities if one is to study them objectively (IE: Georges Dumezil) and therefore looking at them as the same Gods with simply different aspects is, in my mind, understandable.

But since this is religion this is kind of subjective. Wink
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« Reply #10: December 15, 2010, 08:30:41 pm »

But since this is religion this is kind of subjective. Wink

"The deities of X People and Y People are the same" or "looking at the deities of these two cultures as the same is understandable" is kind of subjective.  "X People historically viewed their gods as equivalent to the gods of Y People" or "X People's religion developed from the same source as Y People's"...  not so much.  Wink

(Point?  Not sure I have a point, beyond clarifying through nitpick.  Don't mind me...  ::wanders off mumbling:: )
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« Reply #11: December 15, 2010, 09:57:35 pm »

This wasn't simply confined to the Romans, however. The Greeks and the Macedonians practiced this kind of deistic equivalence as well, when they conquered vast swathes of the Near East.

This was much later in history than most Greek Recons focus on. That's one of the problems with statements about many ancient religions: they were practiced over a relatively long period of time and the beliefs and practices oiften were somewhat different at different times.
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« Reply #12: December 18, 2010, 02:03:36 am »

"The deities of X People and Y People are the same" or "looking at the deities of these two cultures as the same is understandable" is kind of subjective.  "X People historically viewed their gods as equivalent to the gods of Y People" or "X People's religion developed from the same source as Y People's"...  not so much.  Wink

(Point?  Not sure I have a point, beyond clarifying through nitpick.  Don't mind me...  ::wanders off mumbling:: )

Yes, that's a very valid point, Star. However since I don't have the books in front of me or in my current location to back up my assertation with unassailable facts, and since I'm not prone to going on massive research hunts on the internet to cite sources anymore, I'm just going to have to leave it as what I said - subjective, barring sources. Smiley

Also good point Randall - which enables us to cherry pick which period we're talking about! Smiley
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« Reply #13: December 18, 2010, 07:22:10 am »

Yes, that's a very valid point, Star. However since I don't have the books in front of me or in my current location to back up my assertation with unassailable facts, and since I'm not prone to going on massive research hunts on the internet to cite sources anymore, I'm just going to have to leave it as what I said - subjective, barring sources. Smiley

::confused::  I don't want to derail this too far, so I may not pursue this beyond this message, but--I don't think that not having sources to hand makes it subjective.  It's still objective, it's just that you don't happen to have the support for it handy.  (If there are no sources in existence you might have a better case, although I'm not sure that "no one knows" is really the same thing as "subjective" either...  But "there are sources, I just can't provide them right this second" is definitely not what "subjective" means.)

Am I just misreading what you're trying to say?...
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« Reply #14: December 18, 2010, 10:47:53 pm »

The Romans and Greeks used different names for a group of superficially similar deities. Do you guys think of them interchangeably, or (in your opinions) are there genuine differences between the two? Either from perception/UPG or research.

[For my own part, I know that Aphrodite was allowed to have a lot more fun than Venus. Venus the mother of Aeneas (founder of Rome) and thus grandmother of the Roman Emperors had to be a more stately figure. Anyone else have similar information?

And I feel strangely strongly regarding a recent (possible) deity encounter that it was Diana, and not Artemis. The other name doesn't seem right. Could be subjective though?]




Artemis and Diana are not the same.  Diana seems a bit more...mature.  Also, if I recall correctly, Artemis was always a virgin, while Diana would occasionally take lovers.
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