By the fourth century B.C., Mars, the Roman god of war, had already assumed the form and shape of a warrior. He was portrayed wearing armor and a crested
helmet and carrying a shield. In preparation for war, Roman soldiers practiced vigorous drilling exercises on the Campus Martius, or "field of Mars," located beyond the city walls next to the Tiber River.
Mars was worshipped on the Capitol in a temple that he shared with Jupiter and Quirinus, another god of war. The Roman army would gather at the site of the temple Mars Gradvisu before leaving for war. Still another temple - one that he shared with Venus - was built on the Forum Augustus. This temple was known as Mars Ultor ("The Avenger").
There were several festivals held in honor of Mars. The most notable festival was the Armilustrium, which was celebrated in October when the military weapons of the soldiers were ritually purified and then stored away for winter. Wars were often begun or continued in spring; thus, the month of March (Martius) was named after the god Mars.
Mars became identified with Ares, the Greek god of war. Unlike Mars, however, Ares was cruel and vain. Mars was said to have been the husband of Bellona, a serpent-haired goddess who represented conflict as well as peace. Bellona was sometimes described as being the feminine side of Mars.
As the daughter of Jupiter, she was protected by her father, who believed all the gods wanted to take her hand in marriage. So Jupiter arranged for his daughter to marry Vulcan, the god of volcanic fire, who was the most steady and reliable of the gods - and one of the ugliest.
There are two legends associated with the god Vulcan. The first is that he was born weak and crippled, and that his mother, Juno, unable to look at him, threw him off Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the Greek gods. Seven days later, Vulcan landed in the sea, where he was rescued by nymphs. They took him to the island of Lemnos in the northern Aegean and cared for him.
The second legend claims that Vulcan took his mother Juno’s side during a family argument and that his father, Jupiter, threw him off Mount Olympus. In this version, too, Vulcan fell for seven days, but this time he landed directly on the island of Lemnos.
Regardless of Vulcan’s beginnings, he was thrilled to have been given Venus' hand in marriage. Vulcan wanted so much to please his new wife that he fashioned beautiful gold jewelry for her and even made her a finely woven gold girdle to wrap around her thin young waist. The gold girdle, however, only made Venus more irresistible to men.
Vulcan became perpetually jealous of his beautiful wife and was always accusing her of adulterous affairs. His jealousy was not unfounded. Venus spent a great deal of time with other men, and her favorite lover was the god Mars. One day, Vulcan sneaked up on his wife, who was lying in the arms of Mars, and threw a finely woven net over them so that they could not get free.
The angry husband took the illicit lovers to the Olympian gods and asked that they be punished for their affair. The gods, however, laughed at the sight of the embarrassed couple wrapped in each other’s arms and set them free.
Paris, a Trojan prince, awarded Venus a golden apple, the prize for the most beautiful goddess. Jupiter had been asked to choose the most beautiful goddess from among Juno, Minerva, and Venus, but he had feared the wrath of the losers. So, he asked the mortal Paris to give the award.
Paris had a difficult time trying to decide among the goddesses until, finally, they volunteered to help him. Each goddess agreed to offer him a gift, and the gift of his choice would name the winner. Minerva offered him great wisdom and great luck in war. Juno offered him all of Asia and great power. Venus offered to give him the most beautiful woman in the world.
Because Paris adored beautiful women, he chose Venus’ gift and asked for Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Greece. Venus helped Paris abduct Helen from Sparta, and
the Greek world went to war over the incident - it caused the Trojan War.
Apollo was the son of Jupiter and the goddess Latona, known as the "hidden one." Apollo’s twin sister was the goddess Diana. Apollo and Diana were very protective of their mother and quick to defend her. One day, Queen Niobe of Thebes, the principal city in Boeotia, an early Greek territory, bragged to Latona that she was a superior woman because she had given birth to fourteen children and Latona had only given birth to twins.
Angered by the queen's smugness, Apollo and Diana decided to make the queen childless so that their own mother would be the better woman. The queen had seven boys and seven girls - so Apollo killed the boys, and Diana killed the girls.
Although Apollo was known to have had many romances, some legends say that he never married. He was, however, one of the first gods to fall in love with a member of the same sex - a handsome Spartan prince named Hyacinthus, who was also loved by Favonius, god of the west wind.
Hyacinthus returned Apollo’s love, but he would not return the affection of Favonius. So one day when Apollo and Hyacinthus were out in a field throwing the discus, Favonius blew the discus toward Hyacinthus' head. It struck the young prince in the skull and killed him. In the pool of blood that formed beside his head, Apollo made a flower spring forth from the earth: a hyacinth.
Other legends claimed that Apollo loved a beautiful young woman named Daphne, who would not return his love. Daphne, in fact, became irritated by the god's persistent attentions. When Apollo refused to leave her alone, she asked her father, the river god Peneus, for help.
Because water gods always had the power of transformation, Peneus transformed his daughter into a beautiful laurel tree. Apollo then claimed the laurel tree as his own, and laurel leaves became his symbol.
According to another legend, Apollo eventually married a nymph named Larissa. The couple was very happy, and Apollo believed that, at last, he had found true love. But one day his favorite bird, the crow (who, at that time, had pure white feathers), came to him and told him that his beautiful wife had been unfaithful to him. Apollo flew into a rage and shot Larissa with one of his sharp arrows.
Although he had not intended to kill her, Larissa was fatally injured and Apollo could not make her return to life. Angry that he had lost the woman he loved, Apollo turned on the crow that had delivered the news and changed his white feathers into black. Then, he forbade the crow to ever fly among other birds.
Apollo’s symbols are a lyre, which represents harmony, and a bow, which represents his power to destroy. Apollo was known to be kind and forgiving, but mean and vicious, as well.
Label: Roman mythology