Interpretatio graeca  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Interpretatio graeca is a Latin term for the common tendency of ancient Greek writers to equate foreign divinities to members of their own pantheon. Herodotus, for example, refers to the ancient Egyptian gods Amon, Osiris and Ptah as "Zeus", "Dionysus" and "Hephaestus", respectively.

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Roman version

The equivalent Roman practice was called interpretatio romana. The first use of this phrase was by Tacitus in his Germania (ch. 43), in which he reports on a sacred grove of the Naharvali, saying "Praesidet sacerdos muliebri ornatu, sed deos interpretatione Romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant" ('a priest presides in woman's dress, but in the interpretation of the Romans, they worship the gods Castor and Pollux'). Elsewhere (ch. 9) he says that the chief gods of the ancient Germans were Hercules and Mercury—referring to Thor and Odin respectively.

Rome assumes the Greek gods

Roman culture owed much to the ancient Greeks. The Etruscans had already incorporated some Greek gods and used a version of the Greek alphabet. The Greek colonies founded in southern Italy from the eighth century BCE contributed much to the young city, and later, when the Romans conquered the Hellenistic world, they adopted a new wave of Greek beliefs and practices. (See Romans and Greeks for details.) Where the two mythologies shared an origin, the interpretations came naturally; Zeus and Jupiter, for example, were both derived from Dyeus of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon. Elsewhere the fit was less precise, and the Roman god might add attributes borrowed from the Greek, but remain distinct: Mars retained his Latin association with agriculture and fertility alongside his warlike attributes and, quite unlike the fearsome Greek Ares, was a benevolent and widely-revered cult figure.

Some Di Indigetes (native Roman gods), such as Janus and Terminus, had no Greek equivalent and so retained an independent tradition; a few, like Bona Dea, did the same despite sharing attributes with a Greek figure (in this case Artemis). Others, like the twelve assistants of Ceres, became mere adjuncts to imported Greek deities (here Demeter).

Rome and the gods of the empire

The Romans interpreted Celtic and Near Eastern gods as Roman deities with equal facility. Cernunnos and Lugh were identified with Mercury, Nodens to Mars as healer and protector, Sulis to Minerva, and the Anatolian storm god with his double-headed axe became Jupiter Dolichenus, a favorite cult figure among soldiers.

Even the Jewish invocation of Yahweh Sabaoth may have been identified with Sabazius.

Where the Romans had no equivalent figure, they did not hesitate to add foreign deities to their pantheon. Sometimes they would change the name: when Cybele was adopted from the Phrygians (the Greeks had previously interpreted her as Rhea), she was called Magna Mater deorum Idaea. Sometimes they would not: Apollo was called Apollo in both Greek and Latin.

Greco-Roman equivalences

Roman mythology was strongly influenced by Greek mythology and Etruscan mythology. The following is a list of most credited cult equivalences between the respective systems. Note however that many mythographers dismiss both the equivalences made in ancient times and those proposed by modern scholars.

Greek Greek (Romanized) Roman Roman (Anglicized) Etruscan Meaning
Άδωνις Adonis Atunis lord, master, or patron
Αμφιτρίτη Amphitrite Salacia The third surrounding [the sea]<ref>Robert Graves, The Greek Myths 1960.</ref>
Aνάγκη Ananke Necessitas force, constraint, necessity
Άνεμοι Anemoi Venti Winds
Αφροδίτη Aphrodite Venus Turan love or sexual desire
Απόλλων (Apollōn) /
Φοίβος (Phoibos)
Apollo / Phoebus Apollo / Phoebus Aplu Phoebus means shining one
Άρης Ares Mars war Maris
Άρτεμις Artemis Diana hunting,the hunt Artume Heavenly or Divine
Ασκληπιός (Asklēpios) Asclepius Aesculapius / Vejovis
Αθηνά Athena / Athene Minerva Menrva the goddess of war, civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, crafts, justice and skill in Greek mythology
Άτροπος Atropos Morta Leinth without turn; Death
Βορέας Boreas Aquilo / Aquilon Andas North Wind or Devouring One
Χάριτες (Kharites) Charites Gratiae Graces
Χάρων (Kharōn) Charon Charon Charun fierce brightness
Χλωρίς (Khlōris) Chloris Flora Chloris means greenish-yellow, pale green, pale, pallid or fresh. Flora means "flower."
Κλωθώ (Klōthō) Clotho Nona Spin or Twiddle
Κρόνος (Kronos) Cronus Saturnus Saturn
Κυβέλη (Kubelē) Cybele Magna Mater Great Mother
Δημήτηρ Demeter Ceres Earth Mother
Διόνυσος (Diōnusos) /
Βάκχος (Bakkhos)
Dionysus / Bacchus Liber / Bacchus Fufluns
Ενυώ Enyo Bellona Warlike
Ηώς Eos Aurora / Matuta Thesan Dawn
Ερινύες Erinyes Dirae / Furiae Furies
Έρις Eris Discordia Strife
Έρως Eros Cupido / Amor Cupid love
Εύρος (Euros) Eurus Vulturnus
Γαία Gaia / Gaea Terra / Tellus land or earth
Γαλινθιάς Galanthis / Galinthias Galinthis Weasel
Άδης (Hadēs) /
Πλούτων (Plouton)
Hades / Pluto Dis Pater / Pluto / Orcus Aita The Unseen; Wealth
Ήβη Hebe Iuventas Juventas
Εκάτη (Hekatē) Hecate Trivia she who has power far off <ref>http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D%2331691&redirect=true</ref>
Ήλιος Helios Sol Aplu Sun
Ήφαιστος (Hḗphaistos) Hephaestus Vulcanus Vulcan Sethlans metalwork, forges
Ήρα Hera Iuno Juno Uni mariage, family
Ηρακλής (Hēraklē̂s) Heracles Hercules Hercle Glory of Hera
Ερμής Hermes Mercurius Mercury Turms
Έσπερος (Hesperos) Hesperus Vesper evening, supper, evening star, west<ref>Collins Latin Dictionary plus Grammar, p. 231. ISBN 0-06-053690-X)</ref>
Εστία Hestia Vesta hearth, fireplace
Υγεία Hygeia Salus Health
Ύπνος Hypnos Somnus Sleep
Ειρήνη (Eirēnē) Irene Pax Peace
Ianus Janus Ani Archway, indecision
Λάχεσις (Lakhesis) Lachesis Decima Disposer of Lots, luck
Λητώ Leto Latona
Μοίραι (Moirai) Moirae / Moerae Parcae / Fatae Fates Apportioners
Μούσαι (Mousai) Musae Camenae Muses
Νίκη Nike Victoria Victory
Νότος (Notos) Notus Auster
Νυξ (Nuks) Nyx Nox Night
Οδυσσεύς Odysseus Ulixes / Ulysses Uthuze
Παλαίμων (Palaimōn) Palaemon Portunes
Πάν Pan Faunus nature, the wild
Silvanus Selvans of the woods
Περσεφόνη Persephone Proserpina Proserpine to emerge
Φήμη Pheme Fama Fame/Rumor
Φωσφόρος (Phōsphoros) Phosphorus Lucifer Light Bearer
Ποσειδών Poseidon sea, water, horses Neptune Nethuns
Πρίαπος (Priapos) Priapus Mutinus Mutunus
Ρέα Rhea Magna Mater / Ops
(See Cybele, above)
Σάτυροι (Saturoi) / Πάνες Satyrs / Panes
(See Pan, above)
Fauni Fauns
Σελήνη Selene Luna Moon
Σεμέλη Semele Stimula Semla
Θάνατος Thanatos Mors Leinth, Charun Death
Θέμις Themis Iustitia Justice law of nature
Τύχη (Tukhe) Tyche Fortuna Fortune Nortia Luck; Fortune
Ουρανός (Ouranos) Uranus Caelus Sky
Vertumnus Voltumna
Ζέφυρος (Zephuros) Zephyrus / Zephyr Favonius thieves, travel, messengers ,communication, inns, welcome the West Wind; Favorable
Ζεύς Zeus Iuppiter / Iovis Jupiter / Jove Tinia Sky Father

Interpretatio germanica

Interpretatio germanica is the practice of identifying Roman gods with the names of Germanic deities by the Germanic peoples. According to Rudolf Simek, this occurred around the 1st century CE when both cultures came into closer contact, and the only reliable insight into interpretatio germanica can be found in the Germanic translations of the Roman names for the days of the week:

Simek states that the problematic nature of interpretatio germanica is evident, and that divine attributes appear to have been the obvious factors for the correspondence between Jupiter and Thor, but for the other figures one must rely on speculation, and that far too little is known about what role the gods played in then-contemporary belief to be able to use their identification with particular Roman gods to trace their roles in later Norse mythology.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Interpretatio graeca" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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