THE ROMAN VISION: GREEK MYTHS AND ROMAN REALITIES
Roman culture, including Roman mythology, often borrows elements from other
cultures such as the Etruscans and the Greeks.
Roman myth is heavily patriarchal, befitting a society where, at least early and
by law, the pater familias (male head of household) had power of life and
death over everyone in his household.
The Roman emperor Augustus boasted that he had transformed Rome into a city
of marble; the reconstruction did not involve demolition, however, but adding
false-front marble columns to brick buildings.
The Romans, feeling culturally inferior to the Greeks, had adopted Greek
literature and mythology, while changing names and adapting the concepts to
fit their ideas and values.
Through the works of Roman writers such as Virgil and Ovid, classical
mythology was transmitted to the later Western culture.
According to the myth of Romulus and Remus, Rhea Silvia was assigned to the
office of Vestal Virgin by her uncle Amulius, a usurper of the throne who
hoped to prevent her from producing heirs. Seduced by Mars, she bore twin
sons, Romulus and Remus.
Amulius set the infants adrift in a basket, but they survived and were nursed by a
she-wolf. When adult, they restored their father to the throne of his city, Alba
NOTE: Worldwide, myths about the birth and upbringing of culture heroes include stories
about the child being put in a basket and set adrift on the waters of the river or the ocean,
usually in order to save the child’s life from persecutors; however, such stories also reflect
a common custom of exposing unwanted babies, placing them in the hands of the gods. In
the Judeo-Christian tradition, the story of Moses is the most familiar one. The Norse and
German tradition tells of Siegfried (Sigurd), whose mother placed him in a glass vessel,
which accidentally fell in the river; the boy arrived safely on an island in the ocean where a
doe nursed him along with her young. The Hindu tradition tells of Kunti, who threw her
son into the river, where he was rescued by a charioteer who raised the boy as his own,
calling him Vasusena, later known for his great generosity. The Polynesian god Maui was
born prematurely, and his mother Taranga cast him into the sea to prevent him from
becoming an evil spirit; the sea deities preserved the child and put him ashore, where he