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The following paper is a response to the discussion on roman religion. The paper proposes that in contrast to most contemporary religions which are either matriarchal or patriarchal, Ancient Roman mythology balances gender power roles. At the heart of the roman civilization was a polytheistic religion with a rich pantheon of gods and goddesses. The paper will analyze how the gender power roles appear in roman religion and how it may compare or contrast to contemporary religions. Male deities in the roman pantheon were as equally revered as the female ones.
Moreover, humans irrespective of their gender did not have to be subjugated at the mercy of a god of the opposite gender as is the case with most contemporary religions. Instead, male humans could call upon masculine gods while females called for feminine gods to intercede in gender specific issues[CITATION Luk10 \p 37 \l 1033 ].
In the pantheon, Jupiter was considered the supreme god since he was the king of all other gods.
He had dominion over the sky, thunder and lightning. Lightning was considered his symbol. Pluto, Juno and Neptune were his siblings. Pluto was his father and Juno his wife. Among the most revered goddesses was Juno. She was considered queen of all gods. She bore Juventus, Mars and Vulcan who were all symbols of strength in the Roman Empire. She was also viewed as prudent and therefore controlled finances. In that essence, she was considered Rome’s protector since the civilization’s dependence upon commerce was significant. The inclusion of female deities in the hierarchy of the gods in the roman mythology is significant as it contrasts most religions, especially Abrahamic religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
While it is true that women have appeared as figureheads in some of these religions, their part in the whole affair is diminished mainly to the roles of care provider or giver of fertility. In fact it is not only in the Abrahamic religions that gender power roles are imbalanced[CITATION Kat09 \p 95 \I 1033 ]. In Norse mythology for example, there are few women gods. The principal deities commonly mentioned include Odin, the father and his sons Loki and Thor. However, in roman religion, gender power roles take on a fluid appearance. Other powerful goddesses include Minerva, Venus, Ceres, Diana and Vesta. Other powerful gods in the mythology include Pluto, Mars, Vulcan, Apollo and Mercury. Although a trend appears in how certain gods are ascribed to certain roles, in respect to their appearance and gender, it can be asserted that in terms of numbers, the roman pantheon did not have a bias in terms of representation of the two major sexes in their perception of divinity[CITATION Hel12 \p 29 \l 1033 ].
For example, across civilizations, female gods were ascribed the role of protecting growth and awarding fertility to both the land and to women. This is indubitably due to the fact that nature has had it that child bearing is a role inextricably linked to the female of every species. However, in Abrahamic religions, the monotheistic patriarchal deities are prayed to by religious devotees to ensure fertility of both women and the land. In roman religion, female deities were ascribed this role. Prime in this category was Ceres. She was considered the divine protector of nature. Life-force itself was ascribed to this goddess since she was seen as an eternal mother of everything. Ceres, also referred to as the corn goddess oversaw the successful transition of seasons, agriculture, initiation and other rites of passage, crops, progress and civilization. She was also the patroness of childbearing. She protected women, children and marriage. Close in significance of the above gender role was Diana. While Ceres was linked to the ground itself, other aspects of the living nature were delegated to the goddess Diana. She represented the flip side of Ceres[CITATION Hel12 \p 61 \l 1033 ].
The former is considered a nurturer keen on preserving harmony but Diana is considered a swift strong deity who guided Romans on matters pertaining to hunting. She was a patroness of fertility, moon, nature, childbirth, mountains, animals, firewood, forests and hunting. Her athleticism is in stark contrast with the fragile nature that most contemporary religions ascribe to women. Moreover, giving her characteristics such as hunting skills and strength may seem counterintuitive since most current religions associate them with masculinity. However, the goddess brought balance to the picture Ceres created by showing both genders are balanced. In roman religion, masculinity was under the patronage of the god Mars. He was considered a symbol of strength all over Rome. In fact, Romans in the Martial professions such as legionnaires considered him the most significant in the pantheon, after Jupiter who was supreme. That was understandable since he was Jupiter’s and Juno’s son.
While few female deities in the totality of human civilization have been considered patronesses of war and strength, it cannot be concluded that there is a bias in conceptualization of divinity on basis of gender since males have been the major participants in wars over the course of human history[CITATION Hel12 \p 47 \l 1033 ]. Most attributes credited to Mars were masculine in nature. Prime among these were courage, war, anger, terror and revenge. However, contrary to what would be expected, the attributes of fertility, agriculture, natural growth and spring were also accorded to him. This is since the attributes have a feminine connotation to them. Therefore, the trend of balance in gender power roles also applies to this deity. This trend is atypical as most religions equate ideal masculinity to absence of femininity. For example, in Norse mythology, Thor, who is considered the god of war and protector of mankind weren’t accorded the feminine attributes. Ares, the Greek Pantheon counterpart to Thor to was denied the feminine attributes.
While in Greek mythology Ares could be tempered by Athena, a female war goddess who was more level-headed, in roman religion, Mars fulfilled both roles played by the Greek deities by being brutal and productive at the same time. In Abrahamic religions in contrast, the patriarchal monotheistic deity was responsible for all the aspects of war. This is expected as men are conventionally considered the more volatile of the sexes. On craftsmanship, a profession conventionally ascribed fairly to both women and men, two deities were the overseers. Vesta, a goddess and Vulcan, a god oversaw the promotion of craftsmanship in the roman religion[CITATION Luk10 \p 37 \l 1033 ]. Vesta was considered the goddess of fire. The hearth was also under her patronage. The tools that were regularly used to provide sustenance in Ancient Rome were attributed to her. She was also considered the baker’s patroness and since the common laborer used a tool she provided, she was among the most prayed to of all the gods of the roman pantheon. Her familial hierarchy put her far from the ruling family as she was Ops’ and Saturn’s daughter.
This significance to the daily laborer made her symbol to be the Donkey. Vulcan on the other hand was referred to as the god of fire. He was the patron of blacksmiths and craftsmanship. In contrast to Vesta, the tools created by Vulcan are only used by the gods and folk heroes. In gender power role thought, the allusion of laborers to the goddess Vesta is reflective of how women are frequently engrossed in subsistence laboring while men are more engrossed in commercial pursuits and thus the allusion to Vulcan creating tools for heroes. In contemporary society, the archetype of the typical businessman or merchant is a shrewd male figure. This appears to be the case even in Ancient Rome. This is because, Mercury, the roman god of trade is a male figure. However, gender bias cannot be ascribed to the way romans conceptualized this deity since during those eras, women were rarely engrossed in trade. That fact could also explain how most religions, ancient or contemporary does not equate femininity to trade prowess[CITATION Hel12 \p 55 \l 1033 ].
However, most contemporary religions advocate for gender equality when it comes to trade. Mercury was also considered the god of profits and merchants. His symbol was a purse and the caduceus. The fact that a purse represented him could also point out to the fact that he was not an overly masculine god and thereby reinforcing the trend among the roman deities on the topic of balancing gender roles. On science and artistry two deities in the roman religion represented both genders in their patronage. Minerva was considered the goddess of wisdom. She oversaw learning, the arts, science and medicine. She was not wholly feminine in her demeanor as she also oversaw trade and war. Her wisdom could perhaps be attributed to the fact that she was the daughter of the ruling family of gods[CITATION Kat09 \p 86 \l 1033 ].
Commerce, education and industry was of the Roman Empire was under her protection. Apollo was the male counterpart to most of the attributes Minerva espoused. He was the god of music, light and truth. He represented integrity. He was a healer like Minerva and an archer like Diana. In the light of the above analysis of the roman deities, it is apparent that the roman religion balanced its gender power roles so as to be considered neither matriarchal nor patriarchal. Masculine gods are portrayed as not averse to femininity as even the most masculine gods such as Mars was also ascribed some feminine connotations in his demeanor. The opposite is also true as female gods are not overly feminine in their demeanor such as how Diana is considered a goddess of beauty while at the same time being the patroness of strength and athleticism. One can therefore conclude that roman religion is fairly balanced in its assignment of gender power roles.
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