5 Heartbreaking Roman Myths That’ll Captivate You
Roman myths are an integral part of the ancient Roman civilization, and their significance extends far beyond their religious context. These tales of romance, heroism, and tragedy have captured the imaginations of people for centuries, providing a glimpse into the religious beliefs and cultural practices of one of the most influential civilizations in history.
Passed down through oral tradition and written form, these myths continue to hold sway over our imaginations and have even inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature in the Western world.
1.The Legend of the Founding of Rome: Remus and Romulus
The legendary tale of Romulus and Remus gives an inside look into the origin story of Rome itself. These twin brothers, born to a vestal virgin and the god of war, Mars, were destined for greatness. Their uncle, Amulius, however, saw them as a threat to his power and ordered them to be thrown into the Tiber River to die. Lucky for them, fate had other plans, and they were rescued from the river and raised by a she-wolf, who nurtured them as her own.
Wolf Romulus Remus Statue in Rome, Italy. ( Bill Perry /Adobe Stock)
As the twins grew up, they became brave and resourceful, leading a band of outlaws and fighting for justice. Upon discovering their true identities, they set out to take revenge on their wicked uncle, succeeding in killing him and restoring their grandfather to the throne. However, they soon disagreed on where to build a new city. Romulus chose Palatine Hill , while Remus preferred Aventine Hill . The disagreement escalated into a violent quarrel, with Romulus killing Remus in a fit of rage.
Despite the tragic ending of the brothers' story, their legacy would endure through the city they founded. Rome would go on to become a great center of power and culture, built upon the myth of Romulus and Remus. This tale not only explained the seven hills upon which the city was built but also justified Rome's military expansion, as it was believed to have been founded through violent conquest.
2.Endless Affairs and a Cow: Jupiter and Juno
The myth of Jupiter and Juno is a dramatic tale of two of the most important gods in the Roman pantheon. Jupiter, the mighty god of the sky and thunder, ruled alongside his wife Juno, the queen of the gods and the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Jupiter and Juno’s relationship was far from perfect, as Jupiter was infamous for his many extramarital affairs. These devastating affairs soon drove Juno to seek revenge on Jupiter’s lovers and any children they produced.
One famous example of Juno's wrath was on Hercules, Jupiter's son with a mortal woman. Juno's jealousy and anger caused Hercules to go mad and kill his own children in a fit of rage.
However, this didn’t stop Jupiter. Jupiter's soon set his sights on Io, a priestess of Junos. In a sorry attempt to hide his indiscretions, Jupiter transformed Io into a white cow. Unfortunately for Jupiter, Juno wasn't fooled for long. As her first revenge, she demanded the white cow as a gift. Then, she placed the creature under the watchful gaze of Argus, a giant with a hundred eyes. Unwilling to lose to Juno, Jupiter sent his son Mercury to kill Argus, freeing Io from her captivity.
These tales of betrayal, jealousy, and revenge make the myths of Jupiter and Juno some of the most compelling in all of Roman mythology. They’re a testament to the complex relationships between gods and mortals in the ancient world.
- Romulus and Remus, Osiris and Moses: Are the Storytelling Similarities a Mere Coincidence?
- Roman Mythology of the Ages of Man, Metamorphoses and the Founding of Rome
Jupiter and Juno. (PD-Art / Public Domain )
3.Red Anemones: The Tragic Love Story of Venus and Adonis
The myth of Venus and Adonis is a tale of passionate love, heart-wrenching tragedy, and the transformative power of nature. Venus, the stunning goddess of love and beauty, fell deeply in love with a mortal man named Adonis, who caught her eye while hunting in the woods. Venus showered him with gifts and attention, and the two began a passionate love affair that set the heavens ablaze.
Adonis was a skilled hunter, and his love for the thrill of the chase often put him in harm's way. Despite Venus' warnings, he went hunting alone one day and was killed by a wild boar. Absolutely heartbroken, Venus’s grief caused the flowers to wilt and the earth to become barren. In her sorrow, Venus decided to honor Adonis' beauty and his tragic fate by transforming him into an anemone, a stunning red flower. This flower was a symbol of Adonis’ love and beauty, and it is believed that he still blooms throughout fields and meadows today.
Venus and Adonis - painting by Titian. (Metropolitan Museum of Art/ CC0)
4.The Unrequited Love of Apollo and Daphne
The story of Apollo and Daphne is a captivating tale of unrequited love and divine intervention. Apollo, the god of music, poetry, prophecy, and archery, was struck by the beauty of Daphne, a stunning nymph he spotted while hunting in the woods. Despite his passionate pursuit of her, Daphne was not interested in the god's advances and fought fruitlessly to escape his grasp.
As Apollo got closer, Daphne prayed to her father, the river god Peneus, for help. In response, Peneus transformed her into a laurel tree. The tree grew rapidly around her, encircling her body and shielding her from Apollo's advances. Apollo was heartbroken at the loss of his beloved Daphne and, in an act of devotion, embraced the tree and vowed to make it his eternal symbol of victory and success.
Apollo, the Roman god of the sun and the arts, fell in love with the nymph Daphne and chased her to a riverbank. At the moment Apollo reached out to touch her, she transformed into a laurel tree, branches and roots sprouting from her body. Large-scale marble sculpture from 1622–25 by the Roman artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. (Cleveland Museum of Art/ CC0)
5.Don’t Look Back: Orpheus and Eurydice
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is a haunting love story steeped in tragedy. Orpheus, a gifted musician and poet, was deeply in love with his wife, Eurydice. Sadly, Eurydice died soon after their wedding, leaving Orpheus inconsolable. Driven by grief and an overwhelming desire to be reunited with his beloved, Orpheus journeyed to the underworld to rescue Eurydice from the clutches of death itself.
Using his musical talent, Orpheus played the most beautiful melodies that enchanted the god of the underworld, Hades, and his queen, Persephone. The king of the underworld was so moved by Orpheus's music that he agreed to let Eurydice go, on the condition that Orpheus would not look back until they had reached the world above. The journey back to the world of the living was fraught with tension and anxiety, as Orpheus struggled to resist the urge to turn and gaze upon his beautiful wife. Just as they were about to reach the world above, Orpheus's love for Eurydice proved too strong, and he turned to look at her. In that instant, Eurydice was lost forever, and Orpheus was left to mourn his loss and grieve for what might have been.
Orpheus's and Eurydice’s tragic story. When Orpheus turned to look at Eurydice she was lost. ( Public Domain )
Roman Myths Continue to Influence Us
Roman myths are a captivating and significant part of ancient Roman civilization. These tales continue to inspire and fascinate us today and have influenced others cultures in countless ways.
From the foundation of Rome to the tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, these five fascinating Roman myths offer a glimpse into the complexities and beauty of ancient Roman mythology. The more we explore these myths, the more we can gain a deeper appreciation for the enduring legacy of the Roman Empire and the timeless nature of their stories.
- The Roman Pantheon Had A God for All Seasons - And Then Some
- Neo-Romans Revive Classical Worship Ceremonies at New Iuppiter Perunus Temple
Top image: Venus mourning Adonis by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Source: Public domain .
By Lex Leigh
Chaliakopoulos, A. 2021. Apollo and Daphne: A detailed breakdown of the famous Greek myth . Available at: https://www.thecollector.com/apollo-and-daphne/
History Today. 2019. Orpheus and Eurydice. Available at: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/foundations/orpheus-and-eurydice.
Tavani, C. 2022. The most famous Rome Myths and legends . Available at: https://myadventuresacrosstheworld.com/famous-rome-myths-and-legends/
The Fitzwilliam Museum. (n.d.). The loves of Jupiter . Available at: https://fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/objects-and-artworks/highlights/context/subjects/the-loves-of-jupiter#:~:text=Juno%20in%20anger%20sent%20a,Egypt%20as%20the%20goddess%20Isis.
The J. Paul Getty Museum. (n.d.). Venus and Adonis: A love story . Available at: https://www.getty.edu/education/kids_families/do_at_home/artscoops/venus_adonis.html#:~:text=One%20day%20Venus%20dreamed%20that,with%20large%20tusks%20killed%20Adonis.
Trueman, C. 2015. Romulus and Remus . Available at: https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ancient-rome/romulus-and-remus/#:~:text=Romulus%20and%20Remus%20were%20twin,were%20found%20by%20a%20shepherd.
Windows to the Universe. (n.d.) Io . Available at: https://www.windows2universe.org/mythology/Io.html