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Origin of the Roman Race

written by: Noreen Gunnell • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

Ancient Romans loved all things Greek. In the highest form of flattery, the Romans copied Greek architecture, sculpture, and mythology. Learn the Roman names for Greek gods the tale of the origins of the Roman race in the Aeneas myth.

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    Essentially, the Roman gods and myths are the Greek gods and myths. The names and myth locale may differ, but the Romans were enamored by all things Greek and, predictably, changed little else.

    While the Roman mythology is basically Greek in origin, it is often the Roman names for the gods and goddesses which are more familiar. It is Cupid who adorns windows, doors, and greeting cards on Valentine’s Day-not Eros.

    Likewise, the statue of Aphrodite found in 1820 on the island of Melos is commonly known as the Venus de Milo, not Aphrodite of Melos.

    Gods and Goddesses 

    Familiarize yourself with the Roman names for Greek gods and goddesses by printing out this photo

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    Justification of Power: Roman Figures

    True to form, Romans would also follow the Greek example of using the gods and heroes to justify power or privilege. Just as Alexander the Great established a lineage with the Greek mythical heroes Herakles and Achilles, Roman emperors would do anything to reinforce the notion they descended from gods and heroes. The first Roman emperor, Octavian, would take the name Augustus which means sacred. Virgil, a Roman poet, composed the Aeneid in which Aeneas, a Trojan hero, is depicted as the father of the Roman race and an ancestor of Augustus.

    Aeneas was the son of the Roman goddess Venus who, prior to his birth, predicted he would rule the Trojans and come to head a dynasty. When Troy fell, Aeneas fled the city with his son, and carrying his own father on his back. His wife, Creusa, did not make it out and when Aeneas returned to find her, she appeared to him in a vision and told him to abandon his search and leave. Aeneas traveled to Mount Ida where the Trojans regrouped and constructed ships.

    He and the Trojans moved on to Thrace, Delos, and Crete. Either through an oracle or dream, each place revealed a portion of Aeneas’s path to him, finally pointing him towards Italy. The Roman goddess Juno knew Aeneas was destined to begin a race so powerful it would destroy Carthage, a city in northern Africa that she favored. In an attempt to prevent him from reaching Italy she commanded the wind god Aeolus to send the hurricanes.

    Aeneas and his fellow survivors retreated to Carthage where Venus, in an attempt to bring joy to her son, had Cupid cause Queen Dido to fall in love with him. Juno seized the chance to keep Aeneas in Carthage and created a rainstorm while he and Dido were hunting, forcing them into a cave. The two made love and Aeneas became unsure of continuing his journey. The Roman god Jupiter, however, sent the gods' messenger Mercury to tell Aeneas to fulfill his destiny.

    Aeneas told Dido of his intentions. Distraught, Dido asked her sister Anna to help her burn all that reminded her of Aeneas. As the Trojan ships sailed off, Dido cursed her lover and all his descendants to conflict with Carthage. Than, she impaled herself on a sword he had left behind and fell into the bonfire.

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    Creation of the Roman Race

    Once in Italy, Aeneas sought council from the Sybil, a well-known prophetess. She warned him of war and conflict ahead. Aeneas asked the Sybil to take him to Hades so he could see his father, Anchises, who had died during their journey. The prophetess escorts him to Hades and they are granted passage over the river Styx.

    They pass through different areas of the underworld designated for certain types of souls: children, suicides, those who died for love-(here Aeneas sees Queen Dido who refuses to acknowledge his declaration of love), heroes, and a fiery river that enclosed the eternally punished.

    Finally, they reached the lush home of the blessed and were greeted by Anchises who showed Aeneas a group of unborn souls who would be his descendants. He tells Aeneas they will be the result of his marriage to an Italian princess, Lavinia. Aeneas returns to the world and sails to Latium, a city at the base of the Tiber river. Its king, Latinus, had recently dreamed his daughter Lavinia would marry a stranger and so sent her to Aeneas despite her engagement to Turnus, the king of a Rutulian tribe nearby.800px-Joseph Mallord William Turner 004 

    Juno, frustrated over her unsuccessful attempt to thwart Aeneas’s journey to Italy, decided to bring Turnus over to her side. She incited a fight between the Trojans and Latins in which two Latins were killed. Enraged, the Latins joined Turnus to expel the Trojans. Aeneas, in turn, allied with the neighboring Arcadians. His mother Venus presented him with a sword crafted by Vulcan, the god of metalwork.

    She claimed it would make her son invincible, but Juno persisted, informing Turnus of Aeneas’s journey to gather support. Turnus attacked Aeneas’s camp in his absence and a battle ensued. Eventually, amongst further interference from Juno, Turnus and Aeneas agreed to a one-on-one fight. Aeneas was victorious, married Lavinia, and founded the Roman race.

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