The Roman god Jupiter
The Roman god Jupiter was father of the gods: It is highly likely that all the western deities were, in fact, an elaboration of the earlier Indo-European deities and that even the name “Iuppiter” is a derivation of an earlier Indo-European form such as “Iou-Pater” or “Dieu Pater” (Dieu-pater meaning “god-father” in Latin). Note how the word dies, diei is Latin for “day” or “of the day”. We hence have a very credible archaic form which implied a meaning along the lines of “Father-light” or “father of the light”, highly credible when we consider the mythology surrounding Jupiter.
As with all mythology, there are various versions of any one story. The mythology around Jupiter is no less varied, starting with the mythology around his provenance: The starry sky (ie closely associated with night-time) called Caelus (Uranus), a deity of almost unlimited power, united with the earth known as Gaia. Hesiod tells us their union produced many offspring, amongst which were four gigantic deities of which the fourth was the Titan Saturn, a deity which had the power to rule over “time”. Caelus (Uranus) was fearful of losing power to his offspring and so reserved a dominating and terrible future for all of them.
Jupiter and Saturn
Gaia, unhappy with Caelus (Uranus’) evil habits fashioned a flint scythe and convinced her four titan offspring to do away with Caelus. Saturn, the youngest out of the four dared use the sickle and helped by his brothers and sisters, surprised and immobilised Caelus as he descended over the earth; and castrated him with the scythe. Caelus’s anger generated the furies from the sea, whilst his genitals which fell in the sea are said to have generated the goddess Venus.
Caelus hence lost his power and Saturn (time) took power of all creation, imposing the cycles of minutes, days, years, eras, over the cycle of life followed by death and regeneration. What is telling is what came later:
Saturn, fearful that the events which preceded him would repeat themselves and hence seeing the possibility that one of his own offspring might depose him, chose to cannibalise them as and when they were born. A horrifying image rendered timeless by Goya’s painting.
As had happened between Caelus and Gaia, so Saturn’s consort Ops (or Opis, meaning abundance or even work, ploughing, entered the Roman pantheon via the Sabines), chose to rebel against the fate reserved by Saturn for her children and hence interestingly, fate also applied to Saturn himself: Ops chose to hide the birth of one of these and feed Saturn a stone instead. The child in question was Jupiter, who once grown to manhood managed to take Saturn’s scythe, the very one he had used to subdue Caelus, and slew/banished him.
One version of the account would have Saturn retreat in fear to Latium – the region of central Italy where the Romans and Latins resided. The very name “Latium” stems from the Latin word “latere”: to hide. Another version would have him cut to pieces and sent to the underworld. By and large, his fate within Roman belief was that of retreating to Latium, where sorry for the past ways he was meant to have ruled an unrepeatable golden age. This golden age was celebrated by the Romans yearly, in the latter half of December, during the winter solstice (shortest day) in a carnivalesque festivity known as “Saturnalia”.
The father and grandfather of Jupiter were hence that pervasive universal law of the transient nature of everything about us which is subjected to cycles of life, death, and regeneration which formed the very essence of numerous philosophical thought streams, such as Greek atomism, or in Roman literary terms Ovid’s inspiring book “metamorphoses”.
According to Greek mythology once subdued and mutilated, Ops (Rhea) fed Saturn (Cronus) a powerful drink which induced him to regurgitate the offspring he had swallowed. Ops then massaged the regurgitated offspring with an unguent which revived the children/deities, of which Jupiter was the youngest. A simpler Roman version would have Saturn simply regurgitate the swallowed children as a result of his digestive system attempting to rid itself of the swallowed the rock. The regurgitated elder brothers and sisters of Jupiter were: Vesta (the eldest, Greek Demeter), Pluto, Juno, Ceres, and Neptune.
The titans were defeated after a ten year war and their dominions divided amongst Jupiter’s brothers: Pluto (greek Hades) was given the underworld, Neptune (greek Poseidon) the seas and oceans, Jupiter (greek Zeus) power over the skies. All of them shared their interest in the world/land (Tellus, Gaia).
Hyginus, libertus of emperor Augustus writes: “Itaque Iuppiter orbis imperium obtinuit quod cum fratribus divisit: maris regnum Neptuno, inferorum sedem Plutoni; caelum autem sibi attribuit, terra communis possessio fuit. Neptunus in marinis cavernis vivebat, tridente terras quatiebat et insulas regno suo adiciebat; delphini vehebant deum concha caerulea per aequora mari. Sacra erant Neptuno pinus, taurus et equus. Pluto in imis inferis vivebat, sad saepe migris equis, ex tenebrarum regno in lucem veniebat et homines secum in inferorum umbras ducebat. Sacra erat Plutoni cupressus. Nigrarum ovium sacrificium ei gratum erat. Iuppiter a summo Olympo orbem terrarum imperio regit tranquillo, sapientam maxime colit et iustitiam, dii et homines Iovem patrem et dominum appellant”
“And so Jupiter achieved mastery of the universe which he shared with his brothers: rule of the seas to Neptune, the underworld to Pluto, and the skies to himself. The earth was of common possession. Neptune lived in marine caverns, with his trident he shook the lands and islands which bordered with his dominions; dolphins carried the god on a blue shell through the water of the seas. Sacred to Neptune were the pine, bull and horse. Pluto lived in the farthest underworld but would often ride his horses from the kingdom of shadows out to the light and lead men down with him to the shadows below. Sacred to Pluto was the cypress. He was pleased by the sacrifice of black sheep. Jupiter held supreme power over the earth from the highest tranquility of Olympus, honouring wisdom and justice, the gods and men call Jupiter father and lord.”
Jupiter’s many wives and offspring:
Given his supreme position as father of the gods and heavens (note not as a creator), Jupiter is associated with a multitude of spouses and offspring:
Other children of Jupiter include:
- With Maia he fathered Mercury – God of trade and commerce.
- With Dione he fathered Venus – Goddess of love (although note that there are multiple myths regarding her birth, amongst which that she was born of the sea as a result of Caelus’ genitals being cast into it by Saturn.
- With his sister Ceres he was father of Proserpine – goddess of Spring (she was dragged to the underworld as spouse of Pluto/Hades and was allowed to return to the world for 6 months in the year)
- With his sister Juno he fathered Vulcanus and Mars – gods of fire and war.
- With Latona he fathered Apollo – God of the sun (a great tale is told of Apollo by Ovid in Metamorphoses)
- Also with Latona he fathered Diana – Goddess of Hunting and the Moon, the hare was sacred to her. One of the three maiden goddesses who swore never to marry, together with Vesta and Minerva
- Minerva, born from Jupiter’s head(!) – Goddess of wisdom, the owl was sacred to her. She was also inventor of music.
- The three graces – personifications of the arts.
- Bacchus and Hercules were both born of Jupiter’s affairs with mortal women: Many other offspring generated of Jupiter’s extramarital affairs which he had in a variety of guises, such as a cloud, a swan, pigeon, horse or bull in order to avoid being caught by his wife Juno.
Jupiter in Roman society & the earthly power of Kings
Jupiter held an extremely prominent role in Roman society and as such had numerous epithets of which the most common were “iuppiter tonans” (thunderer) and “iuppiter optimus maximus” (best and greatest, who’s festivity was celebrated with the “Ludi Magni” games held every year in the Circus Maximus). Since the earliest days of Rome he had a temple dedicated to him which was worked over several reigns of the Roman kings until its final completion in 509BC on the Capitoline hill – it lasted over 1000 years and was eventually taken apart in the Christian era.
In the very earliest days of Rome, when the city still had kings, it was necessary to have divine blessing for a king or ruler to be given the “imperium”. Such a divine blessing, from Jupiter, came by way of a ceremony. We have a relatively well detailed reconstruction and accounts relating to the election of King Numa Pompilius on the Capitoline hill (yes, where the temple to Jupiter was erected):
Whilst the population was assembled in the comitium the king ascended the Capitoline hill and entered the templum – a square sacred area surrounded by trees – and stood to the right hand side of the aruspice, chief priest who with his curved staff would look to the sky, to the South East, across the forum and in line with the via Sacra, towards the Alban hills, he would subdivide the sky into quadrants and look for propitious birds. After which invocation to the gods the aruspice would lay his right hand on the head of the King, hence empowering him with divine right, sanctioned by Jupiter.
Jupiter formed part of the “Capitoline triad” of deities which at first included Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus (deified Romulus) and later changed to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. As such he remained the principal deity of Rome’s official establishment until replaced by Christ. One of three high priests called the flamens was dedicated to Jupiter, it was the “flamen dialis” (There were 3 flamines maiores – stemming from the indo-european word “bramin” one each for Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus ). The flamen dialis had numerous obligations leading to a pretty complicated daily life, but on the other hand some very significant priviliges.
The Flamen Dialis was a nobleman with an odd mix of limitations and privileges:
The Flamen Dialis had to….
|Be married by the traditional ceremony
||All work stopped when he passed, befitting the jovial atmosphere of Jove!
|Spend no more than three nights out of his marital bed
||Use the curule chair – proper only for high ranking magistrates and Consuls.
|Not spend any nights out of the city
||A place in the Senate
|Shave with a bronze razor
||Have a Lictor accompany him around.
|Wear a hat made from the skin of a sacrificial beast
||Wear the toga praetexta
|Never touch cadavers, nor participate in funerals
||Travel about town in a carriage
|His clothes must have no knots
|Only a free man can cut his hair or nails, which must be buried under a holy tree
|Cannot consume fermented drinks or raw meat
|Mustn’t see or mention certain plants such as Ivy, Vine and Beans.
Given Jupiter’s direct association with Roman rule, a temple to Jupiter or to the Capitoline triad was built as part of public works which occurred in cities ruled by Rome. A good example is to be had at Pompeii. Rome was great because the Romans were the people who honoured Jupiter most greatly.
Jupiter’s predominant position within Roman society also put him at the head of the Roman army: The eagle on roman military insignia was the symbol of Jupiter’s supremacy. This specific symbol was introduced by Marius (previously there were various, such as boars and other beasts). When marching it preceded them as if lead by divine right. In republican times it was silver with a golden lightning in its claws whilst in teh imperial period it was gold. The one example we have of the republican version is to be seen on Augustus’ Prima Porta statue.
Losing the insignia was equivalent to attracting the wrath of the gods – something to be avoided at all costs. An example of this is to be had from Augustus’ “res gestae” paragraph 30 :
“Signa militaria complur[a per] alios d[u]ces ami[ssa] devicti[s hostibu]s re[cipe]ravi ex Hispania et Gallia et a Dalmateis. Parthos trium exercitum Romanorum spolia et signa re[ddere] mihi supplicesque amicitiam populi Romani petere coegi. Ea autem si[gn]a in penetrali, quod est in templo Martis Ultoris, reposui.”
“Having won the enemies, I recovered from Spain, Gaul and Dalmatia many insignia lost by other generals. I forced the Parthians to return spoils and insignia of three roman armies and to beg the friendship of the Roman people. I then placed those insignia in the sacred perimeter within the temple of Mars Ultor”.
See List of Ancient Roman Gods