I adore reader questions, you guys know that, right? Today, we will be talking about Roman mythology and Ovid, as per anonymous request. I got a question in my Tumblr inbox that read as follows:

"Many "greek" myths come from Ovid's Metamorphoses, but since Ovid was a Roman, would you say those myths are true depictions of the hellenic gods or not?"

Ovid, and Roman mythology in general, has been a subject on this blog before, and always comes with a disclaimer that these views were not, in fact, Hellenic but Roman. I have mentioned in passing (like in the post on Médousa) that I don't feel the Hellenic and Roman Gods are one and the same, although they are often painted as the same Gods with a different name.

For one, the Theoi came first. The Roman empire came up about a thousand years after the rise of the Theoi.  Hellenic mythology featured the Hellenes, their stories and their cities, while Roman mythology focussed on the Roman people, their stories and their cities. The Hellenes had the Iliad as a major introductory and poetic text to introduce the Theoi, and the Romans had their own text: the Aeneid, a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

Differences in the two societies also reflected on the Gods and Their importance. For one, the Hellenes valued  physical prowess, but it were poets and scholars who were held in the highest regards. For Rome, it were the warriors who received the most attention. This reflected in the Gods of both people as well: the Roman Gods resemble the Hellenic Gods, but they are stricter, harder and possess more bloodlust. At the same time, they were also pruder when it came to excesses of any kind. Ares, temperamental God of War, has his Roman counterpart in Mars, yet, Mars is a much stabler God, who is also in charge of agriculture and fertility. Bacchus, the Roman equivalent of Dionysos, lost all ecstatic rites that made the worship of Dionysos so famous.

Another major example of the differences between the two religions was that the Romans had no set shape for their Gods: they looked different to every individual. They were not revered for Their beauty, like their Hellenic counterparts. The Hellenes knew exactly how their Gods looked. They were often described as having muscular bodies (for the men), beautiful eyes and hair (both men and women), and delicate ankles (women). They were role-models to strive towards. Not so for the Romans.

The Roman culture also had a thing for the afterlife. Where the Hellenes focussed on this life and saw death as an inevitable conclusion of it, the Romans struggled to do good deeds and live good lives to be rewarded in the afterlife. They felt that, if they had been good enough, brave enough, warrior-like enough, they would take their place with the Gods after death. The Hellenes worried more about the judgement of the Theoi while they were still alive and knew they would go to the Underworld afterwards. Of course, things changed in that regard already: the mysteries brought the idea of awareness after reincarnation, and parts of the Underworld fell into disuse.

It seems to me, that the Romans tried becoming Gods their whole lives, while the Hellenes accepted their lot as mortals, and respected the Theoi as all-powerful and all-ruling. A frame of mind like that shows in Gods that get neatly packaged, made non-threatening and can be rivalled by mortals. Yet, because of the warrior mentality of the Romans, the Gods that became more predictable and less formed, also became harder. They still punished socially unacceptable behaviour, however, and myths from the Hellenic period got retold from the viewpoint of a warrior's society.

I do add Roman mythology to the blog on occasion. Many myths from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' have passed the review. Arachne, for example, as well as Médousa, and many of his myths made it into the 'Remembering Transgender Day of Remembrance' post. The hard part is finding out which Roman myths were written by a Roman about the Theoi, and which were edited Hellenic myths or Roman myths. Because I don't have the proper knowledge about the Roman Gods and the Roman empire, I can't make this distinction very well. I do look at the Roman myths, though, but mostly because they're listed a 'Greek and Roman myths', and I have no choice but weed out the Roman influence.

I think it's important to find the source of a myth and see when it was written. I'm not saying there isn't something to be learned about the Theoi from Roman mythology, but one should be aware that these deities may not be the same deities. Because of my limited knowledge of the Roman era, I don't have the tools to interpret these myths against the backdrop of Roman society, and can thus not translate them back to a Hellenic framework, or--perhaps more accurately--I can't let go of my Hellenic framework when I read them. The mythology of the Romans may not match the mythology of the Hellenes. Like the Roman Médousa myth, some myths do not add to the Theoi, only subtract from Them. I let these myths go, and leave them for a Religio Romana, who may find more value in them. I love Ovid's writing, but I read them more as stories than mythology, to be honest.