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  • The Disruption of Time in Myth and Epic
  • Roger D. Woodard

An examination of Roman, Indo-Aryan, and Celtic traditions reveals evidence of previously unrecognized mythic and religious figures and motifs of common Indo-European origin: succinctly, a male figure of fertility associated with boundaries and a female figure of prosperity associated with warriors. These two figures, male and female, are, moreover, intimately linked with one another, though that linkage finds a variety of expressions; and each is also affiliated with some figure of sovereignty. The question to which we will come at the very end is the question of the preservation of these deeply archaic Indo-European elements in Greek epic.

That Greek historian of Rome, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (3.69.4–6), tells us that when Tarquinius was preparing to build the great temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, he summoned augurs to divine where the temple should be placed. The proper location was determined to be the Capitoline hill. That hill, however, was already cluttered with altars dedicated to numerous other deities, so the augurs further consulted the auspices to determine if the various divinities concerned would be amenable to having their own altars relocated for the construction of Jupiter’s temple. All the gods were willing but two: Juventas, goddess of youth, and Terminus, god of boundaries. Both refused to budge in spite of much entreaty on the part of the augurs. Consequently altars to each were incorporated within the new temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Some earlier scholars of Roman religion, it would seem, found it unlikely that the cults of such minor deities could have actually been so resilient in the face of such pressures and have claimed that the installing of altars to Juventas and Terminus within the Capitoline temple must have occurred in a later period. Georges Dumézil, the dean of comparative Indo-European mythology and religion, in characteristically brilliant fashion, [End Page 83] argued that, quite to the contrary, the affiliation of Juventas and Terminus with Jupiter is one of deep antiquity (1996.200–03). Dumézil proposed that Juventas and Terminus represent the Roman counterparts of those deities known among the Indo-Aryans as Aryaman and Bhaga, close companions of the great god Mitra, who, like Jupiter, is a god of sovereignty. Aryaman is the “spirit of the Arya,” the god of Aryan society; Bhaga is the deity who sees that society’s goods are rightly divided among society’s members. Like Aryaman, Roman Juventas, argued Dumézil, is chiefly concerned with the constituency of society: she “controls the entry of men into society and protects them while they are of the age most important to the state, while they are iuuenes” (1996.202). Like Bhaga, Roman Terminus protects the individual’s share of society’s holdings—though not portions of the moveable property of a pastoralist society but the parcels of bounded property of a land-owning society. Writes Ovid of Terminus: “Without you all lands would be disputed . . . You guard entrusted lands with pledge of law” (Fasti 2.660, 662).

Dumézil’s claim for identifying the Roman triad Jupiter-Juventas-Terminus with Indo-Aryan Mitra-Aryaman-Bhaga is well argued and is one that this author has previously endorsed. Yet there are unsettling elements in the comparison, and at least one aspect of this structure particularly leaves a sort of nagging discomfort—namely, the character of Terminus.

Dumézil, of course, perceived that the hallmark of Proto-Indo-European society was its tripartite nature—a society structuring itself into three functions, to utilize his terminology: the first function being that of religion, magic, and sovereignty, the second function that of physical force, the third function that of goods production and fecundity. Dumézil also perceived that, in the tripartite ideology inherited by the Roman descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, third-function deities manifest themselves as the so-called gods of the Sabine king, Titus Tatius. Varro (Ling. 5.74) enumerates these for us; in addition to Quirinus, the principal Roman reflex of the Indo-European third-function gods, these are Ops, Flora, Vediouis, Saturnus, Sol, Luna, Volcanus, Summanus, Larunda, Vortumnus, the Lares, Diana, Lucina, and Terminus...


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