Gods and English Words: The Roman Gods 1 (Advanced)

Georg petel naptun 1628 29 01Neptune, by Georg PetelGods in the Roman pantheon have, like their Greek counterparts, left their mark on the English language. They pop up most obviously in the names of celestial bodies and in the calendar. Six of the planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune - are Roman gods, as are two of the dwarf planets - Ceres and Pluto. In addition, Roman gods appear as the names of some of the months, with January, March and June, (and through political expediency July, after Julius Caesar was deified by the Roman Senate in 42 BC), belonging to this group. Augustus Caesar also muscled his way into the calendar, by taking over the Roman month of Sextilis "sixth month". The Roman gods even have a representative in the gods of the days of the week, Saturn gatecrashing an eclectic party of Germanic fellow-deities every Saturday. On top of this, English has taken a number of words derived from the names of the gods, many of which are in common or everyday use. The Romans drew heavily on Greek religious beliefs with their gods, and many of their deities have the same characteristics and attributes as their Greek equivalents, Jupiter being identified with Zeus, Neptune with Poseidon and Venus with Aphrodite, for example.

The Latin name for the sun is sol, and the Roman personification of the sun, also named Sol, was a god with a well-maintained cult throughout the Roman period, as evidenced by the temple dedicated to him in the Circus Maximus.  The Greek counterpart to Sol was the god Helios, another contributor to European languages. English has helium and heliotropes, but many of the largest celestial bodies in the solar system are named after Roman deities. A solarium is a room at the top of a house with a glass ceiling to let in the sun's rays, while the solar plexus, a complex of nerves in the abdomen, was named due to its central location in the body and its radiating nerve fibres.

The female complement of Sol was the moon goddess Luna,  from which English has the adjective lunar. Although Diana and Juno were also associated with the moon, it is Luna who was the divine embodiment of it. Lunate objects are crescent shaped, while a lunette is a semi-circular shaped aperture or window. For the French, lunettes are glasses, spectacles.  If you are affected by periodic bouts of insanity, as if influenced by the waxing and waning of the moon, you are a lunatic and prone to attacks of lunacy. This has a similar meaning to the word moonstruck, and the Old English monseoc "lunatic", literally "moonsick". When those in charge are deemed incapable of carrying out their responsibilities and should be placed into the care of others themselves, it is said that the lunatics have taken over the asylum. This might occur, for example, when your nation is run by an overprivileged bunch of Old Etonians, whose student days were characterised by mocking the poor, hilariously trashing restaurants and priceless musical instruments and engaging in intimate initiation ceremonies of a porcine nature. 



As one of the major Roman gods, Mercury was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, associated with the Greek god Hermes. Mercury was, amongst other things, the patron god of commerce, financial gain, eloquence, messages, communication, travellers, tricksters and thieves. He also was the god who accompanied souls to the underworld. The element mercury, also known as quicksilver due to its colour and liquid state in normal conditions, was named after the god's legendary speed and mobility. Mercurial people are lively and quick but are prone to changing their mood and their opinions and are volatile and unpredictable. The former lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara), would certainly seem to fit into the mercurial category.

painting 63186 640La Nascita di Venere, BotticelliAs mentioned above, Venus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite, and goddess of sexual love and desire. Her name is identical to the Latin noun venus "sexual love", a root from which English took venerable and venial. The word venus comes from Proto-Indo-European *wen- "strive after, wish, desire", which is also the source of English wish, venison, wean and win. Interestingly, the Latin word venenum "poison" (from which English has venom) is also related to venus, originally meaning "love potion". This shows the seductive side of Venus's nature, she could charm and entice with her divine magic, yet also brought prosperity, military victory and good fortune. Hence, while it was right and proper to venerate Venus, if you were unwary, you could end up with a venereal disease. The astrological symbol for Venus, a representation of her hand mirror, is now the universal symbol for female ♀.

Mars stands alone in English among the pantheon of Roman gods in that he has both a planet, Mars, home of the Martians, and a month, March named after him. (In most Romance languages he goes one better and has Tuesday named after him too, as with Italian martedì and French mardi). As the god of war, Mars was identified with the Greek god Ares, but unlike his destructive Greek counterpart, he was revered and respected rather than reviled and despised. Mars was the son of Juno, and represented military might as a means by which Rome could secure peace. In the earliest Roman calendar, Martius was the first month of the year and was a time for New Year festivals. Martial people are warlike and suited to military life. Martial law refers to a system where the military rule over the civilians. Martial arts are sports involving attack and self-defence, such as judo and karate. The astrological symbol for Mars, a representation of the Martial spear, is now used worldwide as the symbol for maleness  .

Jupiter was the god of sky and thunder, the king of the gods and the Roman state, god of its welfare and its laws. The Proto-Indo-European root *dyeu- "shine, be bright" produced *dyeus ‎“the bright one, god” (from which English has the exclamation what the deuce!). In Proto-Italic *djous "sky, god"was combined with *pater "father" to make *djous-pater ‎"god-father" used when invoking the sky god, Jove, Old Latin Iovis. Over time, the compound of Iovis + pater, became Iuppiter and in the Classical Latin period Iuppiter replaced Iovis as the god's name. By Jove, that was a complicated etymological story! The English adjective jovial originates from the Roman belief that people born under the astrological sign of Jupiter were believed to have sunny, merry dispositions.

Saturn is the Roman god of generation, fertility and agriculture, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Cronus and first god of the Capitol. Under the influence of the Greek religion, by the 3rd century BC, Saturn was said to be father of Jupiter, as Cronus was of Zeus. However, unlike his Greek counterpart, Saturn was not bloodily displaced by his son, and remained an important god throughout the Roman period until the adoption of Christianity. In December, he was celebrated in the feast of Saturnalia, a time of rejoicing, merriment, gift-giving and revelry - a bit like Saturday night in the picturesque northern English village of Marske by-the-sea. However, saturnine people are gloomy and morose.  In the medieval period, Saturn was the furthest known planet from the sun and was thus seen as cold and remote and people who were born under the influence of the planet were thought to share the same characteristics. In addition, Saturn was the alchemic name for lead, a cold, sluggish element; hence saturnia is a pain in the joints due to lead poisoning.

109px Opole pl. Daszynskiego 4Ceres Fountain, Opole, PolandThe planet Neptune was not discovered until 1846, so it escaped medieval astrology and thus adjectives relating to character like jovial and mercurial. The god Neptune was the Roman god of freshwater and the sea, and like Greek Poseidon is equipped with a trident. Neptune was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto and the son of Saturn. The name Neptune comes from PIE *nebh- "wet, moist, cloud". This is the source of Latin and English nebula and from this nebulous as well as Russian небо /nebo/ "sky", German Nebel "fog" and Ancient Greek Ancient Greek νέφος ‎/nefos/ “cloud”. The latter is the source of Greek and English nephology, which is the branch of meteorology related to the study of clouds, as well as nephoscope, an instrument to gauge the direction of movement, speed and altitude of clouds. The element neptunium follows uranium in the periodic table, as Neptune is next planet from the sun after Uranus.

Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture and grain crops, as well as fertility and motherly relationships. She was venerated by the Romans, who held a seven day festival, Cerealia, in her honour every April. The goddess gives her name to the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. English took cereal from French céréale, originally and adjective meaning "of Ceres".

Pluto is the Latinised form of the Greek Plouton, and a complex figure in Roman mythology. To the Ancient Greeks, Hades, the god of the underworld was a hateful, fearsome figure. From fear of pronouncing Hades's name, around the 5th century BC, the Greeks started referring to Hades euphemistically as Plouton, the name deriving from a PIE root *pleu- meaning "flow, wealthy", as rich mineral wealth came from the abode below - the soil. In this way, Pluto became the Roman deity who both ruled the underworld and distributed riches from below, a far more positive figure than Hades. From this root, English has taken a number of words to do with the idea of wealth: a plutocrat is someone who rules by his wealth in a system called a plutocracy, whereby decisions are made and control is exercised by a small number of the society's wealthiest citizens. Those people who are obsessed by wealth and the pursuit of it are suffering from plutomania. The element plutonium is used in the manufacture of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons and follows uranium and neptunium in the periodic table. 

Aside from Julius and Augustus Caesar, whose names were foisted onto the calendar in July and August in the promotion of the imperial cult, three Roman deities have months named after them. As mentioned above, one of these was Mars with March. The other two gods to be honoured in this way were Janus and Juno.

As janus rostrum okretu ciachJanusJanus was the guardian god of doors and gates, the patron of transitions, beginnings and endings. Janus is depicted in Roman art as having two faces - one looking to the past with the other looking to the future. It was Janus who presided over the beginning and the end of conflict and thus war and peace. In times of war, the doors to his temple would remain open, whereas in peacetime the doors of his temple would remain closed. His name comes from the Latin ianus "gate, arched passageway" and from this root was derived the word ianua "door" whence we get janitor "doorkeeper, caretaker of a building". From around 450 BC, January became the first month of the Roman calendar, serving as the "door to the year", which the Romans believed would serve as an omen for the rest of the year to come.

Juno was the daughter of Saturn, and gave her name to the month of June. She was the daughter of Saturn and Queen of the Gods, the Roman equivalent to the Greek Hera and the supreme Etruscan goddess Uni. She was wife and sister to Jupiter and the mother of Mars and Vulcan. As the patron goddess of Rome, Juno was also called Regina - "Queen" by the citizens of Rome. Aside from being divine protectress of the state, Juno had a bewilderingly large array of functions, being the goddess of vital energy, fertility, eternal youth, marriage and childbirth. Etymologically, Juno is derived from the Latin iuven "youth", from which English has borrowed junior and juvenile.


Now use some of the above terms that English has derived from the names of the Roman gods to complete the paragraph:


Erratic pop genius Barking Nathan had spent the Naughty Nineties singing covers under the puerile stage name of Hugh Janus in the pubs and clubs of Nottinghamshire. At that time, he also made ends meet by working part-time in a secondary school. mopping floors and receiving abuse from schoolkids in his job as a questionmark . At this time, he had a strictly regimented life. He would get up every day at six thirty, run 10 kilometres and then have a bowl of questionmark  for breakfast before going to work. After work he would go to judo classes - this programme of running and questionmark  arts leaving him with an enviably lean figure. His life changed with his 2001 breakthrough single Slurp the Burp, which was an overnight success and helped him get a record deal. He was a popular yet erratic figure, a carefree, questionmark  playboy one minute and a questionmark  ,morose loner the next. Music producers regarded him as a rather questionmark  figure, but they put up with his mood swings because of his undeniable talent and his vibrant stage presence. Despite the strength and range of his voice, his talents did not extend to writing lyrics and frequently laid him open to mockery. For instance, his 2007 hit comparing his girlfriend, Hope, with the sun, questionmark. was derided for the lyric "my love is sweeter than cola, my desire for you is solar." Other offerings were so vague and  questionmark  that they were almost meaningless. In the meantime, Barking had said goodbye to clean living and taken up the hedonistic life of a pop diva. Unfortunately, his life took an irrevocable turn for the worse after a particularly sordid evening with an unsalubrious bunch of groupies left him with a virulent questionmark  disease. Neglecting to get it treated left Barking temporarily barking mad, and he was widely regarded as a questionmark  until he was brought back to normality with a hefty dose of antibiotics. He decided to reform his life and returned to running and judo, putting his late night excesses and the life of a pop star behind him.



Neptune: I, Sailko [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ceres: By Jaceksoci68 - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17351196

Janus: By Ultima Thule, 1927 - Ultima Thule, 1927, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=754831






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