It is important to separate the Greek and Latin mythologies: Iuppiter, though akin to, is not the same as Zeus; Iuno is not the same as Hera. Minerva is not the same as Athena, Neptune is not the same as Poseidon. "The Romans worshipped not gods, not dei," writes Miss Jane Harrison, "but powers, numina":
These numina were only dim images of activities. They had no attributes, no life histories; in a word, no mythology. We must always remember that mythology, the making of images, is only one and, perhaps, not the greatest factor in religion. Because the Romans were not ikonists, it does not follow that they were a people less religious than the Greeks. The contrary is probably true. A vague something is more awe-inspiring than a known something. 13
Mars the Death-dealer was the central object of Italian worship, according to Mommsen, in that epoch when the Italian stock dwelt by itself in the Peninsula. He was the champion of the burgesses, hurling the spear, protecting the flock, and overthrowing the foe. Mommsen goes on to say:
To Mars was dedicated the first month not only in the Roman calendar of the months, which in no other instance takes notice of the gods, but also probably in all the other Latin and Sabellian calendars. Among the Roman proper names, which in like manner contain no allusion to any other god, Marcus, Mamercus, and Mamurius appear in prevailing use from very early times; with Mars and his sacred woodpecker was connected the oldest Italian prophecy; the wolf, the animal sacred to Mars, was the badge of the Roman burgesses, and such sacred national legends as the Roman imagination was able to produce referred exclusively to the god Mars and to his duplicate, Quirinus. . . . While abstraction, which lies at the foundation of every religion, elsewhere endeavoured to rise to wider and more enlarged conceptions and to penetrate ever more and more deeply into the essence of things, the forms of Roman faith remained at, or sank to, a singularly low level of conception and insight. . . . In the religion of Rome there was hardly anything secret except the names of the gods of the city, the Penates; the real character, moreover, even of these gods was manifest to everyone. . . . Of all the worships of Rome, that which, perhaps, had the deepest hold was the worship of the
tutelary spirits that presided in and over the household and storechamber: these were, in public worship, Vesta and the Penates, in family worship the gods of the forest and field, the Silvani, and especially the gods of the household in its strict sense, the Lases or Lares, to whom the share of the family meal was regularly assigned. . . . Respecting the world of spirits, little can be said. The departed souls of mortal men, the "good" (manes), continued to exist as shades haunting the spot where the body reposed (dii inferi), and received meat and drink from the survivors. But they dwelt in the depths beneath, and there was no bride that led from the lower world either to men ruling on earth or upward to the gods above. The hero-worship of the Greeks was wholly foreign to the Romans. . . . Numa, the oldest and most venerable name in Roman tradition, never received the honours of a god in Rome as Theseus did in Athens. 14
The stories of Romulus and of Numa are taken from Plutarch's Lives and Livy's History where the personages are treated as historical characters. The story of Pomona and Vertumnus is taken from Ovid.
xvi:14 The History of Rome, Book I.