There are a number of topics I’d rather not talk about right now, gentle readers, including but not limited to my hiatus in writing, whether trans women are really women (they are), and whether all goddesses manifest as Maidens, Mothers, and Crones (I think not). At a certain point one has to look at some of the shenanigans on the internet and say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” or perhaps, “Not my theology, not my deities.”
So let’s talk about something else. Here’s a suggestion: Are the Greek and Roman deities the same beings?
The ancient Greeks and Romans certainly identified their pantheons with one another. The Greeks interpreted the gods of Egypt in terms of their own gods; Zeus was Ammon or Amun, Dionysus was Osiris, Hermes was Thoth. The Romans interpreted the gods of the Celtic and Germanic tribes as Roman, building shrines and temples to Apollo Belenus and Mars Cocidios. Even late-comer Antinous was identified with Belenus.
So here is–I don’t want to call it my personal gnosis. Here are my impressions. Better yet, to borrow a fandom term, here are my headcanons about the gods, the things that are canonical for me, in my head.
Christian philosopher Nicholas of Cusa wrote that “God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”. He was thinking of the Christian god, but I would apply those words to Hestia and Vesta. The hearth goddess, the sacred fire whose presence creates home and altar and temple, she is surely the infinite center of a circle whose circumference is everywhere and nowhere.
If I were to draw a Venn diagram of Hermes and Mercury, their two circles would overlap almost entirely. Hermes is a bit more tricksterish, Mercury concerned a bit more with business and commerce. But I tend to invoke them in the same breath, and to honor them together with Thoth, Seshat (the Egyptian goddess of records, archives, and libraries), and Hermanubis (the son of Isis and Serapis).
Aphrodite and Venus, on the other hand, seem to me to be quite distinct. My mental image of Aphrodite is of a golden-haired beauty who appears to be in her twenties, although if you look into her eyes, you see she is much older. My mental image of Venus is of a dark-haired woman in her forties–okay, basically my mental image of Venus is Gina Bell as Sophie Devereaux in Leverage. Dark-haired, olive-skinned, always perfectly dressed, and simultaneously the mom friend in any gathering and the embodiment of what a man desires in a woman, able to show each particular man the face he desires to see.
I have to admit that my perspective on Zeus and Hera has been influenced perhaps beyond saving by the myths about them I read as a child. I know intellectually that Zeus is more than the chronically unfaithful dad, Hera more than the scold who hides her hurt beyond anger at the wrong targets, but my emotions say Nope. Jupiter and Juno are easier for me to relate to, separately from those myths and from Zeus and Hera, as the god and goddess of the sky, of rain and cloud and weather, and as the granters and guardians of sovereignty, along with Minerva. They were worshipped as a triad on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, and I tend to approach them that way. Jupiter guards the sovereignty of the state and desires that it be good and just. Juno guards the sovereignty of women and, by extension, other minorities. Minerva guards what I would call intellectual integrity, public reputation, virtuous conduct as a citizen.
Apollo is just the same everywhere. The Romans were quite direct about having imported him, and likewise Dionysus, even if they called him Bacchus. I don’t have much relationship with Diana or Artemis, but my headcanon is that they are not the same goddess, but have closely overlapping interests. Demeter, Persephone, and Hades are such major deities for me that I have little sense of Ceres, Proserpina, and Dis Pater at all. My headcanon for Demeter, incidentally, is absolutely Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She even calls her daughter “little one” instead of her given name.
So that’s the end of my round in this game, gentle readers. Stop by and tell me who you think is the same or different in the pantheons of Greece and Rome, or anywhere else.