26. Roman myth


Romulus and Remus were thrown into the Tiber by Amulius, who had deposed his brother Numitor, father of Rhea, the mother of the twins. They were suckled by a she-wolf and brought up by a herdsman, Faustulus: the divine child is hidden by shepherds.

Numitor bears a name close to Numa, the great lawgiver (cf. the Greek word nomos = “law”). Numitor is the king of cosmos dethroned by the king of chaos, Amulius ("from a mule?"). During the Lupercus-feast the two brothers R.& R. were taken captive by robbers and brought to the chaos-king Amulius. The robbers are the symbol of chaos. At the Lupercalia, naked men dressed only in a goat's skin are killing, not a wolf, but a dog. We find the old drama,wolf contra goat/bull, but turned upside down: not the goat, but the wolf is giving milk to the divine child, and the chaos-band is not dressed as wolf and panther, but in goat’s skin. We could compare with the myth of the foundation of Thebes: The brothers Amphion and Zethos are hiding among the shepherds, persecuted by king Wolf (Lycos) and taking revenge by means of a bull tearing up the wife of king Lycos.

At the Lupercalia, two young men we acting in an important ritual: In a cave they were smeared with blood on their foreheads. The blood was wiped off with wool, and they had to smile. The wool cleans them from the bloody nature of the wolf, the time of chaos/ the time of the wolf is over, and the goat or sheep can bring fertility to the women slapped with straps of goat's skin. It is all to be seen in the frame of winter, and spring coming with the first of March, the kingdom of the young god, Mars, or his son Romulus. On the first of March, the old Roman New Year, there is a Palm Sunday-like ceremony: official buildings are adorned in a celebration of spring.

The so-called Regifugium, the flight of the king of chaos, is also the end of winter:

With the help of the wife of his brother, Tarquinius Superbus kills his brother and is married to the unfaithful wife.

He kills his father-in-law and becomes king himself. He goes on to kill the husband of his sister. Marcus J. Brutus is acting insane to save his life. He and two sons of Tarquinius visits the oracle of Delphi to bring the god gold hidden in a hollow stick. A prophecy from the god foretells that of all the royal sons, the follower on the throne will be he who first kisses his mother. Brutus fakes a stumble and kisses mother Earth, and later takes upon himself to lead the revolt against the cruel Tarquinius-family, also being guilty of the rape of Lucretia. This is the typical kingship- of-heaven myth: the king of chaos comes to power by killing the highgod = his father or brother/predecessor, taking his wife. His reign is marked by chaos and cruelty, and the young son of the highgod has to hide or act insane. His reign is cosmic order restored, therefore he can only survive by hiding this and adapting himself to the chaotic order. We find the same motif in the Nordic legend of Amleth (told by Saxo): Fengo kills his brother and takes his wife, and the poor Amleth has to act crazy, but in fact he is wisdom incarnate (like Odysseus). He also has to travel with a hollow stick, followed by two companions, and comes back with two hollow sticks filled with gold. The long journey with the two hollow sticks and two companions is the journey of the sun-hero to the far west or to the omphalos of cosmos, the paradise-mountain. He kills his father’s murderer and becomes king.

Jane Harrison (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion,ch.1) has compared the dancing of the Salii with the dancing of the Curetes in Crete, beating their shields to prevent the demonic god, Cronos, from  hearing the cries of the newborn Zeus. She even finds a picture of the Salii with a mysterious child (the young Mars?). It can be compared to similar pictures on Cretan coins of a weapon dance surrounding the divine child.

The Cretan incident is part of the kingship-of-heaven myth: the divine child has to hide until he is strong enough to lead the fight against the king of chaos, cf. Romulus & Remus hiding among the shepherds (the bucolic sphere of the high god). We will find the same setting at the birth of God's son, Jesus, Luke 2; Matt. 2: The chaos king, Herod, with his mind set on murdering the divine child hailed by shepherds.

Also the Immanuel-prophecy of Isaiah foretells the birth of the divine child in a country sinking into deep chaos, returning to a wilderness where only shepherds survive on wild honey and yoghurt.

As already mentioned, the child destined to restore cosmic order often has to act as if insane: Orestes has to murder his father's killer, becomes insane, is healed, and can follow his father on the throne. It seems very likely that the legend of Agamemnon killed by Aegisthes in the bath and entangled in a net is the god for the life fluid and water killed by the god of chaos. Aegisthes (“super-goat”) is an avatar of Dionysos, who, at the old spring festival, the Anthesteria, comes to celebrate hierogamy with the Queen (called basilinna). In the presence of Cheres the men are tasting the new wine. Dionysos has arrived with the host of dead spirits, chaos has come to town and license is permitted, and the Queen is in the hand of the usurper.

But the drinking party of the men is commemorating Orestes and his gloomy state of mind: While the Queen is with Dionysos (here called “of the Swamp”), the men are getting more and more heated by the wine, warming up for revenge. Soon the usurper will be thrown out and order restored.

 In Rome we have the rite of regifugium on the 24th of February[1]: after offering a sacrifice, the rex sacrorum has to flee from forum. Acc to the ancient authors, this is in memory of the flight of Tarqinius Superbus from the town. This king is especially remembered as a tyrant: "an unjust, but powerful man", vir injustus, fortis ad arma tamen.[2] In the ritual, he acts like a king of chaos: “La figure de Tarquin… présente le protagoniste du rituel sous les traits du souverain terrible. Le roi bouffon du règne éphémère assume ici la majesté quon napercoit guère sous le masque risible du prince saturnalice.”[3]

In Greek mythology, the wild hunter is Dionysos followed by his maenads dressed in the skins of panthers. In a procession at night, the Sicyonians carry a statue of Dionysos Baccheios followed by the statue named Lysios: he that brings frenzied violence and madness/mania, and the deliverer and purifier of the same madness. A similar duality is seen at Corinth where two identical statues are called Baccheios and Lysios[4]. Dionysos is both the one who brings mania and the purifier from this madness.

A similar purification is the essence of the Roman month of February (februum = “an instrument for cleaning”). The month of February is marked by Dionysiac rites connected with the Lupercalia: society is cleansed of wolves by men wearing goat’s skin.

Cosmos is restored by Mars, who, in the spring-month of March, recreates society. The 1st of March is the day where those elected are installed in public official authority. It is the old New Year’s day, where the doors of the Regia, the several curias, the flamen's homes and Vesta's temple (while her fire was rekindled) were bedecked with new laurel leaves after the old leaves had been removed[5]. Winter is a time of chaos, the month of February was devoted to “purification”. The young god Mars comes with the new year, spring and life renewed.

It seems as if the oldest agricultural year was a lunar year of 10 months beginning with the spring harvest. The rest of the year from winter solstice to March, was a period without any work being done in the fields, and therefore of no interest seen from an agricultural point of view[6]. This is the reason why the end of the old year is celebrated at the end of December. Later an extra month of 22 or 23 days, the month of merkedonius, was, in some years, squeezed in between Terminalia (23rd of Febr.) and Regifugium, followed by the rest of February consisting of 5 days.

The 23rd of Dec. is the feast for Acca Larentina: “they say that. .the temple-warder of Hercules was idle during the feast and asked the god to shoot dice… The prize was a dinner and a whore. When Hercules won, the warder shut up in the temple a dinner and the most renowned whore of the day, Acca Larentia” (Macr.Sat. I, l0.7-17). This is a very typical ancient rite: at the end of the year there is a feast of orgiastic character joined by the lares, the spirits, cf the name of Larentia. Acca is a goddess, and acc. to Macer's Histories I, Acca was the nurse of Romolus and the wife of Faustulus: she married a rich Etruscan named Carutius, and gave her big estate to her foster-son Romolus. This is the goddess who deserts her husband, the highgod, to give herself to the god of death. (His name being not without connection to the Greek name of Charon, in Etruria the great god of death.) Also Hercules is here a variant of the great hunter. Acca's day is called “black” acc. to Varro de lingua latina,6.23f, and used for ancestor worship.

The strange Acca is both a prostitute & the mother of 12 sons, two qualities that normally do not go together. The 12 sons are the New Year, cf the sons of Jacob. Her husband, Faustulus, is a shepherd, as is Attis. She was herself called lupa ("she-wolf"), which connects her with the rites of Lupercalia. The only possible explanation of these facts is the goddess from Asia Minor hunting here, not in the shape of a leopard, but in the shape of a wolf.

On Etruscan bronze mirrors we find Hercules, called Hercle, standing with a woman, who he obviously wants to take as his property. On the last mirror she is a very tall woman dressed as Minerva, but without weapons, only with the Medusa-head on her breast[7]. She is taken away from another man and mourned for by two smaller persons. Another mirror (Lex.Icon. 361) 3rd cent. B.C. shows a woman taken by violence. It is the old hierogamic motif, the symbol of fertility taken out of its sterile state of mystical primordial totality & unity marked by the symbol of mystical light: the star united to the crescent of the moon. On the last mirror, this unity is represented by the man manly dressed carrying a spear, and the girl showing all her femininity, both by her nakedness and her jewels: ear-rings, necklace, diadem. They represent the androgynous, mystical sphere from which the woman is taken out by the god of fertility, on the first mirror marked with a big symbol of vegetation, which, on the second mirror, is encircling the whole scene. On this mirror the woman has wings, showing that she has come from the land beyond. She shows Hercle the mystical flower, and lifts her skirt to suggest the hierogamy (Lex.Icon. 413, 475-450 B.C.).



On a mirror from Bolsena can be seen the Etruscan Hermas called Turms with a winged hat and the caduceus. With one hand he is holding around the waist of the child, Marisisminthians (Mars Smintheus),seated on his bent thigh. Then Menrva (Minerva) bathing Marishusrnana in an amphora, then Turan (a goddess), then a young man leaning on his spear, watching. Then a woman, Amatutun, carrying the child, Marishalna, seated in the hollow of her hand. Under the central scene is Hercle with his club and 5 other amphoras. Another mirror from Chiusi shows a young man, Leinth, also with Marishalna on his bent thigh, then Turan, then Minerva pulling the child, Marishusrnana, out of the amphora, and a young man leaning on his spear. On the handle a third goddess called Recial.

In our opinion this shows the god-child Mars being nursed by 3 goddesses, a scene known from the Dura Europos synagogue and explained by E.Goodenough, who has collected much material on this motif.



An Estrusco-Latin basket from Palestrina shows Mars armed and crouching over a large vessel with a sort of boiling substance (water or fire?). Minerva has her left arm around his waist, with her right hand she brings a short stick to his mouth or nose. It looks like the Egyptian “opening of the mouth-ritual’ for the revival of a dead person: by a magic tool, the breath of life is brought back to the god who is in the underworld. A 3-headed Cerberos is shown seated above Mars, and a little Victory hovers over Minerva. Note the kundalini-snake ascending to one of the three heads of Cerberos. Mars is a god dead and reborn, or (which is the same thing raised from the realm of death). Better still: he is the old god, Satres-Hercle, reborn. (Saturn and Hercules belong closely together in Rome, being served with the same ritual.) Perhaps the native Etruscan name for Mars was Laran (also seen as war-god on the mirrors), cf the Roman goddess, Acca Larentia.  Acca is an old baby-word like Attas and Papas, even in Sanskrit its meaning is: “mother”. Larentia is identical with Lara (like the modern Greek name for the master of the underworld, Charos & Charondas). The name for Mars has the old variant, Marmor, with the typical Anatolian reduplication.

Acca L. was the mother of the 12 Arval-brothers, who had to chant the old carmen Arvale[8]:

"Do not allow Plague and Destruction to make incursions into...?  Be thou satiated, savage Mars, leap on the border, stand (guard) .? Help us Marmor, triumpe, triumpe, triumpe, trium(pe,tri)umpe." Their MAGISTER held office from Saturnalia to Saturnalia, their archaic prayer invokes Mars and the Lares.

Mars is the killer and destroyer, born in fire, born in the underworld: ”At a certain stage of furor (rage) he abandons himself to his nature, destroying friend as well as foe”(Dumezil).

The feast for Acca L. was the 23rd of December. It commemorated the orgy in the temple of Hercules, and consisted in the sacrifice for ancestors called PARENTALIA: a meal on Acca L. ‘s grave. The very ancient Roman institution, the curies, observed the end and the beginning of the old year (1st of March) with sacrifices and banquets. The CURIA ACCULEIA celebrated the festival of Acca Larentia. In between, in February, was the archaic festival of cleansing celebrated by the LUPERCI FABIANI and the LUPERCI QUINCTIALIS, each belonging to a curia.

The mirrors confirm that the strange myth about Acca L. given to Hercules as his price of victory (together with a meal: on two mirrors a winged woman is presenting a plate or dish for Hercle, LexIcon 415f) has an Etruscan origin. In Etruscan myth, the result of the union seems to be a boy, Epiur, often seen on mirrors with Hercle and Minerva (LexIcon 154-58). Another mirror shows Hercle with Vile (Jolaos) and the youth called Marshercles  (“Hercle's Mars”). As mentioned above, mirrors show Mars as a child taken out of a crater. To our opinion it is a parallel to the hailing of the epiphany of Eros-Adonis coming back in spring from the realm of death, rising from the box of aromates, the beauty box, in Etruscan myth rising from a jar of wine. Here he is clearly the child of Turan and Laran, cf. Larentia. The old song of the Arval-brothers calls for the help of Mars and the Lares. The wings belonging to the female partner of Hercle, and even to Epiur, is the sure sign of them being Lares, winged demons of the beyond.

Saturn, a veiled god bound with straps of wool, is closely connected to a goddess, Diva Angerona. The feast for Saturn was the 17th of December, the Angeronalia were the 21st of Dec. The cult image of Diva Angerona was a goddess with her mouth sealed and a finger on her lips. Saturn and Angerona are the symbols of time returning to primeval mystical immobility and silence. As the goddess of winter solstice, she is the goddess for the narrow, short day. "One of the reasons for silence, in India and elsewhere, is to concentrate one’s thoughts, one’s will, one’s inner voice, and to obtain from this concentration a magic efficacy...”(Dumezil[9])

In my opinion, the god Saturn could be understood as the god of primeval paradise where all men were equal and nature gave abundant harvests to man living in a state of pastoral simplicity. Saturn rules over the month of December with the feast of Saturnalia. The double-faced Janus is a Near Eastern god: on Near Eastern seals the servant-priest of a god is often pictured with two faces.   


A Hittite seal shows a god and a goddess, the god enthroned with a three-fold lituus, in front of him an altar carried by two panthers, and in front of the altar his priest with the cross-symbol and a jug for libations. He receives a delegation of three men, each armed with a lituus. Behind them a man with a cup overflowing with water, and over the cup the holy sign of the unity of sun and moon. He is the highgod pouring out the mystical juice of life. The god with the threefold lituus and the panther-table must be the great hunter with the panther as his symbol. His priest is the archetypal ecstatic seen as the merging of male and female personalities (or young & old). The double face is the melting together of two, the sign of the cross shows the melting together of four to one single point.


Archiv für Orientforschung VII, 1931-32,p.113,fig 2f.


The next seal shows the same gods. The young god with short horns and a hairdo like the Syrian Resheph: high pointed hat and a long band of hair going down the neck (see also the picture of Kamosh). Behind his throne the double-faced Janus with the two sticks, symbols of the gate of the sun, receiving a woman approaching him. Next, a person with raised hands praying to a goddess. Finally the highgod with the cup of immortality and a twig from the tree of life. The scene so well known from Assyrian palaces of a winged genius adoring or nursing the tree of life, is seen in front of the old highgod (note the great beard and the longer horns):


E.Meyer, Reich und Kultur der Chetiter,1914,t.IV



Both the lituus, the high pointed hat and the arms raised in adoration are known from Etruscan art, but the most interesting person is the doubled-faced Janus. The arc of triumph is both acc to A.B.Cook (Zeus II,pp.350ff.) and A.L.Frothingham (Rev.Arch.1905 II 216-30) the old Roman Janus-gate. HE IS A FAINT ECHO OF THE ANATOLIAN SUN HERO and spender of the water of life, cf. Janus´s son Fontus (of fons = wellspring).

The races of the quadrigas in the circus in Rome was under the protection of the god Sol. Acc. to Tertullian de spect. 8f. Circus was consecrated to the sun. This seems to go back to the Etruscan period (A.Szabó, "Lustrum und Circus", ARW 36,1939,p.157). An Etruscan mirror, where  the god of the sun, Usil, is bestowing the wreath of victory on a winner in some athletic game, seems to prove this (Szabó p.158; E.Gerhard, Etrus. Spiegel,CCCLXIV). This is important also for the Triumph-ceremony: the name of Tri, as well as the name of the Etruscan king, Tarquinius, brings us back to the Anatolian god, Tarku. The arch of triumph is the gate of the sun, and the meaning of the ceremony is found in some very old rite of apotheosis: dressed as Juppiter, riding in the quadriga of the sun, coming through the gate of the sun, he who is celebratcd chief of arms is hailed as the sun-warrior.

In Rome, Hercules was the founder of ara Saturni (Dionysius Halicarnassus VI 1,4), and the rituals in ara maxima Herculis were identical with those in the temple of Saturn, the last mentioned instituted by the Pelasgians and Hercules, Macr.Sat. 1,8: following an oracle from Dodona, the Pelasgians came to Italy to seek for a swimming island and to bring an offering of “heads to Hades” and “lights”, i.e. human beings, “to the Father” (Saturn) Dionysius Hal. 1,19; Macr.Sat 1,7,31. The swimming “Ambrosian Rocks”, the offering of human beings to Saturn is very typical Tyrian-Punic religion. As late as 216 B.C. two Greeks and two from Gallia were brought as an offering to Saturn. Both Saturn in Rome and Hercules in Italy were the guardians of treasures and both had their heads veiled, like the Punic Saturn (velato capite).

The Roman Saturn is the lord of vegetation: on his temple-ground could be seen a statue of Silvanus, the god of the woods, and the holy fig tree sheltering the divine twins, Romulus and Remus. The slaves ruling over their masters at the Saturnalia is the symbol of return to primitive classless society. Janus raises the gate and is the lord of all beginning.

[1] V.Basanoff, Regifugium, La Fuite du Roi,1943. Plutarch, Quaest.Romanae 63

[2] Ovid Fasti 11,695ff.

[3] Basanoff,pp.169f

[4] M.Detienne, Dionysos at Large,1989, pp.24-26. The same duality in the character of Dionysos is found on Naxos.

[5] Ovid Fasti III 135-42

[6] Basanoff, pp.4f

[7] Lex.Icon. Heracles/Hercle 351

[8] E.Norden,Aus altrömischen Priesterbüchern, 1939,pp.109-280

[9]  Archaic Roman Religion  I,1970, p.336