Mythology is commonly considered a primary system of the social perceptions of the world order. Myths are thus methods for the cognition of natural and social realities at the early stages of human development. They respond to the human need for reassurance and meaning in the universe. As a form of narration, myths share some specific features. For example, Ancient Roman myths about various historical figures are characterized by indistinct boundaries between logical and emotional comprehension and figurative conceptions.
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A well-known example of Roman mythology, the story of Romulus and the founding of Rome (753 B.C.), can be regarded as an effort to explain and bring into harmony the behavior of family and societal members relationships between people and nature. Although this myth is full of fictitious and figurative imagery (e.g., vultures as divine signs, or disappearance from the earth “in the midst of the violent storm”), it is not just an abstract idea but a way of viewing life (Woodard 36). Divine interventions and symbolic elements are also extensively included in the myths about Servius Tullius (578-535 B.C.), one of the kings of Ancient Rome. Simultaneously, the stories about his life describe multiple events of political significance (e.g., the establishment of comitia centuriata) (Woodard 62). In these ways, it is evident that Roman myths combine facts with beliefs.
In the early stages of Roman culture, history served as a substitution for philosophy and played a significant role in forming their national identity. Indeed, compared to the Greeks, who composed legends about the creation of the cosmos and the gods, the central place in Roman mythology is given to Rome itself and its heroic people and the specific ethical code of Roman citizens. They shared certain priorities: duty, loyalty, courage, sacrifice, and faith in the providential role of their nation. The legend about Marcus Furius Camillus (446-365 B.C.) is an illustration of Roman values. Camillus was a dictator and military figure who saved Rome from collapse when invaded by the Galls. He also played an essential role in the restoration of the city from ruins, showing his tremendous state loyalty. This myth is an example of Roman bravery and its citizens’ ability to unite in the face of danger and fight for freedom, forgetting about all social and political controversies. Camillus is the embodiment of civic virtue. Through myths like his, a shared understanding of Roman identity was developed.
An analysis of Roman mythology also reveals that Roman identity was very different from Greek identity and values, and these contrasts contributed to the development of patriotism among Roman citizens. For instance, the myth about the capture of Marcus Atilius Regulus (307-250 B.C.) by Greek commander Xanthippus (225 B.C.) emphasizes the vices of the capturers while showing Regulus’s sense of duty, loyalty to Rome and its people, and other esteemed virtues. In this way, the heroic figures depicted in myths contributed to the great and immortal Rome’s image known for its unbreakable traditions.
By mythologizing history, Romans made the narration more poetic and epic. However, along with aesthetic elements, Roman myths also included some educational features that fostered patriotism and distinct national values. The early historical periods are more mythological than the later ones. However, there is a noticeable shift away from archetypical thinking and national identity development at the later stages of social development in the Roman Republic. For this reason, Roman mythology should not be studied separately from its history, as mythology illustrates the civilization’s initial social and cognitive structures. The mythic-historical narration allows for a more thorough analysis of the Romans’ worldview evolution and therefore has a significant educational value.
Woodard, Roger D. Myth, Ritual, and the Warrior in Roman and Indo-European Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, 2013.