10 Greek and Roman Gods that are Weirdly Specific
When people talk about the Greek and Roman gods, there are probably a few who spring instantly to mind. Zeus (Jupiter) God of lightning is very well known, as is Artemis (Diana), Hades (Pluto) and Apollo (who, for some reason, keeps the same name in both Roman and Greek mythology.)
It’s easy to see why people in ancient times would pray to these gods – pray to Hades to ensure your loved ones’ safe passage in his kingdom. Apollo, whose attributes include both medicine and plague, might be prayed to for healing, or (if you are in a vengeful mood) to strike down your enemies. In a drought – they may pray to Zeus for rain. But – while these gods are all there to help with the big issues, who would you pray to for the little ones? Luckily – the Greeks and the Romans had a solution! In addition to the heavy hitters, the Greco-Roman pantheons included a litany of minor gods – responsible for the smallest, and most oddly specific areas!
The Erotes are a group of Greek Deities that don’t all seem to have made it into the Roman pantheon– although you may be familiar with the most famous of their number, Eros (or Cupid.) Collectively, the Erotes are either the sons or the servants of Aphrodite and are all related to some aspect of love. Eros is the god of love and sexual desire, Anteros, the god of requited love, and Pothos, the god of longing. Other members of the group were Hymenaios, a god associated with and invoked during marriage, Hedylogos, the god of flattery, and Hermaphroditus, a god thought to be associated with marriage, and also gender.
A Roman Goddess, Abeona’s name comes from the Latin word, abeo meaning ‘to depart’ which might give you a clue as to what she was the goddess of. Abeona was the goddess of journeys, and she was especially associated with children and young adults.
It was believed that she was the one who taught young children to walk, and later watched over them as young adults, as they left home for the first time.
You’ve probably heard of Janus, Roman god of doorways and thresholds – well Cardea’s role is even more specific than that! She is the Roman goddess of doorways and handles.
Despite the apparent triviality of her role, Cardea actually had a rather important job in ancient Rome. She protected the household, preventing evil spirits and blood-sucking monsters, known as Striga, from entering the house. These creatures were thought to prey specifically on children, draining their blood. Cardea was thought to ward these monsters off, using sprigs of hawthorn, a sacred plant used for luck and protection.
Cloacina’s job was not only oddly specific, but also more than a bit gross. She presided over the sewers of Rome, and was the goddess of filth and beauty. Sadly, it seems that Cloacina may have once had a more pleasant (and less smelly role). It is thought that she was once an Etruscan goddess, incorporated into the Roman pantheon and given a new role and responsibilities.
It may seem strange to have a goddess for such a grisly task, but Cloacina was well revered in Rome, with ruins of a shrine to her found in the Roman Forum. While it’s not something that people like to think about, proper sewage is essential for any city, as any leak into the water supply could lead to the spread of terrible diseases, such as cholera. While today Cloacina’s job might seem unimportant, and definitely distasteful, there is no doubt that in keeping the sewers clean and working, she would have provided an important service to the ancient Romans.
Devera is often simplified as just a goddess of brooms, though this is not quite accurate. Devera was one of the Roman goddesses thought to be present at childbirth. She was a protector of midwives and labouring mothers.
In addition to this however, yes, she was also associated with brooms. This was not any old broom. The Romans had many temples, and of, course, these temples would need to be cleaned and purified. Devera was therefore associate with the brooms used to purify these sacred spaces. She was symbolised by a broom and was thought to use this to sweep away evil – one of the ways that she protected labouring mothers.
Febris was the Roman goddess who personified fever. She was both a cruel, and a benevolent goddess as she was known to both bring fever and cure it. This kind of duality was not uncommon for the gods – as mentioned earlier, Apollo was a god of medicine, and also thought to invoke plague – though as a goddess of fever, Febris only dealt with a very specific aspect of illness.
In some cases, she is thought to have once been an aspect of the Roman god Februus, a god of purification, who later split off, and became a deity in her own right.
There are lots of gods and goddesses associated with plants, food and cooking. Vesta, for example, was a goddess of the hearth and baking. Demeter was a Greek goddess of grain, and harvest. Mellona served a far humbler, but still important role.
Mellona was a goddess of honey, and protector of bees – protecting them, and ensuring that there was honey in abundance. It may seem strange that there would be a goddess dedicated to such a specific foodstuff, but honey was important to the ancient Romans. It was used as a medicine, mixed with water to create a honeyed drink, eaten as food and even given as an offering to the gods.
Another group of Greek gods, the Horae had even more specific duties than the Erotes. While the Erotes covered different aspects of love, the Horae each represented different hours of the day! These goddesses were generally considered to be responsible for order, and the correct progression of time, so they were also associated with other things, such as the seasons or the movements of the planets.
The number of Horae changed depending on myth, and period, but the Horae that marked the hours were generally accepted to be comprised of ten goddess, with the occasional addition of another two. These Horae consisted of ten or twelve daughters of Chronos (the god of time). Their number included Anatolia, the goddess of sunrise, Mesembria, the goddess of noon, and Dysis, goddess of sunset. The other hours in the day were divided between other goddesses, whose attributes encapsulated what was expected during that hour – for example, Elete, a goddess of afternoon prayer or Akte, a goddess of eating and pleasure.
Robigus was a Roman god of blight – specifically blight and disease of cornfields. He was worshipped alongside his sister, Robigo. The siblings were prayed too to protect cornfields, and harvests.
They were particularly honoured during Robigalia, a yearly festival. The Robigalia was one of a series of festivals that took place during April in Roman times, each dedicated to a god associated with agriculture and harvest.
The festival involved a series of games, such as chariot races, and offerings to the gods. Sadly, the main offering of this festival – as with many Greek and Roman ceremonies – involved an animal sacrifice. In the case of Robigus, this sacrifice consisted of a sheep and a dog.
Ariadne was a mortal princess, later turned god by Dionysus who she married. She was perhaps less known for her position as a minor deity, and instead for her role in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. It was Ariadne who gave Theseus the thread that he used to navigate the labyrinth, as well as the sword which he used to kill the Minotaur. It should therefore be no surprise that she was the goddess of mazes.
Whether or not Ariadne ever actually became a goddess is debateable. In some versions of the myth, she is chosen by Dionysus and becomes his bride, baring him several children. In others she never married Dionysus, and instead died, either due to murder or suicide.
With hundreds of thousands of gods worshiped in the world and throughout history, it is little wonder, that some of them would manage the more day-to-day aspects of life. It’s even less surprising that some of them would be found in the Greek and Roman pantheons, which were large and malleable. Not every problem needs a Zeus, some of them can be handled by the humble Cardea. So, next time you find yourself struggling with a minor annoyance, at least you know that there’s someone you can call on.