Lesson 1.3: What is Mythology?

Roman fresco found in Villa dei Misteri (Villa of Mysteries), Pompeii, Italy

The Latin word for myth is fabula. Our English word ‘myth’ comes from the Greek word muthos

Myths are tales of gods, heroes, and monsters—and their interactions with people. One kind of myth is called a
creation myth. A creation myth tells the story of how the world began. Most cultures have a creation myth. Here is a
Roman creation myth:

In the beginning, there was nothingness. Then sprang Terra, goddess of the Earth and Caelus, god of the sky. From them, came Saturn and Ops. Saturn was scared that one of his children would take his throne. As soon as they were born, he would swallow them whole! Ops was sad to see five of her children swallowed. When the last one was born she had a brilliant idea. She wrapped a stone in a blanket and gave it to Saturn to eat. Then, she hid baby Jupiter away until he grew up. When he was big and strong, he hatched a plan to rescue his siblings. Jupiter tricked Saturn into drinking a poison that made him throw up Jupiter’s brothers and sisters. Together, they overthrew their father and began to rule the world.

The myths that the Romans believed were very important to them. They helped the Romans understand themselves and what was going on in the world around them. The woods, mountains, trees, and rivers where the Romans lived were seen as alive with divine forces. For example, Neptune (Poseidon) was the god of freshwaters and the sea so sailors would pray to him for safe voyages.


In Spanish, almost all of the days of the week come from the Latin names of the Roman gods. Also, the Spanish word for week, semana, comes from the Latin word for seven days, septimana!



Ovid Metamorphoses 1.113-114

Postquam, Saturno tenebrosa in Tartara misso,
sub Iove mundus erat, subiit argentea proles,
auro deterior, fulvo pretiosior aere.

After, with Saturn having been sent into dark Tartarus,
The world was under Jupiter, the descendants passed into the Silver Age,
Lower than gold, but richer than yellow bronze.

Ovid was an ancient poet who lived during the 1st century CE in Rome. He wrote many things, including myths about the gods and goddesses. Above is a passage from his first book in the Metamorphoses, where he talks about the change from the Golden Age to the Silver Age. Ovid defines four ages, or periods of the history of man: Golden, Silver, Bronze, and the Iron Age. The Romans believed we live in the Iron Age, what age would you say we are living in today?