Jupiter’s humble beginnings as sky god and chief god of the Latins can be traced to the region of Italy first settled by early Romans. Some early flint stones were preserved in the Capitol, where he was worshipped as Jupiter Feretrius, "The Oldest."
Jupiter’s greatest influence as sky god was through his omens of thunder and lightning. He caused rain to fall on the farms and vineyards of the land and kept the crops well-watered. By the middle of the third century B.C.,
Jupiter had become the prime protector of Rome and was called Jupiter Optimus ("The Best") Maximus ("The Greatest"). With such an all-encompassing title, Jupiter began to assume a variety of roles that were important to a rising class of educated and wealthy Romans.
The business of governing the people involved the implementation of Roman laws, and Jupiter became, in addition to his agricultural roles, guardian of the law, protector of justice and virtue, and defender of truth. He was known to hand out harsh punishment to perjurers. He was the god upon whom the most solemn oaths were sworn, and he became identified with the goddess of good faith, Fides.
In the first century B.C., the Roman poet Ovid composed a lyrical version of the Roman calendar called Fasti. In this poem, Ovid created mythological stories about Jupiter and King Numa Pompilius, using events that had happened much later than Numa’s reign around 700 B.C.
One myth claimed that Jupiter gave King Numa instructions for performing ritual purification and cleansing after lightning struck by sacrificing onions, hair, and fish instead of humans. Another myth alleged that Jupiter had caused a shield, or ancile, to fall from the sky as his gift to King Numa.
The king was so delighted with his gift from Jupiter that he had eleven copies of the figure-eight-shaped shield made and locked away in the office of the chief priest for safekeeping. The king claimed that Jupiter’s ancile gave him the right to exercise his power over other communities.
Jupiter, by his supreme rank and power, was the sovereign god of the Romans. He was always listed first among the gods or priests, and his symbol was a scepter, the Roman symbol of power. It is no wonder, then, that Jupiter eventually assumed the attributes of Zeus, the supreme god of the Greeks.
Just as Zeus was ruler of the Greek pantheon (their collection of gods and goddesses), Jupiter was ruler of the Roman pantheon. Legend credits Jupiter with having granted Neptune dominion over the sea and Pluto dominion over the Underworld.
The second deity in the Capitoline Triad, Juno, was an early Italian goddess who presided over everything associated with women, especially marriage and childbirth. Juno was protector of women, and she was worshipped under several different names. She presided over marriages as Juno Pronuba, aided women in childbirth as Juno Lucina, and was the special counselor and protector of the Roman state as Juno Regina.
After the Romans created their own pantheon of gods and goddesses, Juno became queen of the goddesses, the female counterpart of Jupiter. In March, when all nature was being renewed, Juno (goddess of marriage and childbirth) was honored during the festival known as Matronalia.
Although the festival was celebrated in early spring, the month of June is named after Juno, and it is today considered by many people to be the perfect time of year to be married.
Juno was also worshipped in the temple ad Monetam next to the Roman mint on Capitoline Hill. In this temple, she was known as Juno Moneta ("Adviser"). After the Etruscan city Veii was conquered in 396 B.C., Juno Regina (Queen Juno) was invited to come to Rome.
By accepting the invitation, it is believed she came willingly and thus deprived the Etruscans of her protection. Under the influence of the Greeks, Juno became the wife and sister of Jupiter, and her greatest power and mythology came from Hera, her Greek counterpart.
Minerva, introduced to the Romans by the Etruscans in the late eighth or early seventh century b.c., was the third member of the Capitoline Triad. The Romans regarded her as the goddess of all activities involving mental skill. She was also known as the goddess of war, crafts, and science.
After Minerva became associated with the Greek goddess Athena, she acquired a more expanded mythology. One story tells that Minerva sprang from the head of Jupiter fully clothed in armor and ready for battle. Minerva was credited with having invented the trumpet and flute, as well as utensils and tools. She was worshipped as goddess of the arts of women, which included the arts of cooking and weaving.
Although Minerva was vain, she did not take lovers. She was known to be quite modest, and was said to have blinded a man who happened to have witnessed her bathing in a stream. Minerva’s favorite bird was the owl, for which we remember her to this day: The owl remains a symbol of wisdom.
Label: Roman mythology