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That Mysterious Roman Deity

May 2, 2011

Autumn Vintage Festival by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The Shaman journeyed long to seek the counsel of Vertumnus. When he arrived at the God’s temple, he came upon a dozen of the God’s temple maidens utterly spent. Sadly, Vertumnus had just left for the summer temple in the south only hours before. Thus the Shaman could not bask in the God’s wisdom and presence.

VERTUMNUS.

 

Vertumnus was the god of garden and field produce. He personifies the change of seasons, and that process of transformation in nature by means of which the leaf-buds become developed into blossoms, and the blossoms into fruit.

The change of seasons is symbolized in a myth which represents Vertumnus as metamorphosing himself into a variety of different forms in order to gain the affection of Pomona, who so loved her vocation that she abjured all thoughts of marriage.

He first appears to her as a ploughman, typifying Spring; then as a reaper, to represent Summer; afterwards as a vine-gatherer, to indicate Autumn; and finally as a gray-haired old woman, symbolical of the snows of Winter; but it was not until he assumed his true form, that of a beautiful youth, that he succeeded in his suit.

Vertumnus is generally represented crowned with wheat-sheaves, and bearing in his hand a cornucopia.


Vertumnus is a god known to us through Augustan poetry. His ‘specialty’ was the practice of metamorphosis, the act directly expressed by his name: Vertumnus is connected to vertere, the verb used by the Romans to express change and transformation. But which type of metamorphosis was the special province of this god? In this paper, I argue that the field (officium) of Vertumnus seems to be specifically related to possibilities of social metamorphosis, in other words to changing identity within the civitas. The different facies and figurae of this enigmatic god offer a clear example of how myth (the mythological stories in which Vertumnus the shape-shifter is involved), language (Vertumnus and vertere) and society (the metamorphosis of social identity) were interconnected in Roman culture.[Read more about the God with no identity here]

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2 comments

  1. Have heard of Pomona before, but not Vertumnus. Interesting!


  2. Very interesting! In the last couple of months I have dreamed of a man ploughing a field, and a white-haired old lady showing me rocks…..so, I’m like, who’s been sleeping in my dreams!



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