1902 Encyclopedia > Penates


PENATES, Roman gods of the store-room and kitchen, derived their name from penus, " eatables, food." The store-room over which they presided was, in old times, beside the atrium, the room which served as kitchen, par-lour, and bedroom in one ; but in later times the store-room was in the back part of the house. It was sanctified by the presence of the Penates, and none but pure and chaste persons might enter it, just as with the Hindus the kitchen is sacred and inviolable. The family hearth, which anciently stood in the atrium, was their altar ; on it were placed their images, two in number, for the Penates were always in pairs—the name does not occur in the singular.

They had no individual names, but were always known under the general designation, Penates. Closely associated with the Penates were the Lares, another species of domestic deity, who seem to have been the deified spirits of deceased ancestors (see LARES). But while each family had two Penates it had but one Lar. In the household shrine the image of the Lar (dressed in a toga) was placed between the two images of the Penates, which were represented as dancing and elevating a drinking-horn in token of joy and plenty. The three images together were sometimes called Penates, sometimes Lares, and either name was used meta-phorically for "home." The shrine stood originally in the atrium, but when the hearth and the kitchen were sepa-rated from the atrium and removed to the back of the house, and meals were taken in an upper story, the position of the shrine was also shifted. In the houses at Pompeii it is sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the rooms. In the later empire it was placed behind the house-door, and a taper or lamp was kept burning before it. But the worship in the interior of the house was also kept up even into Christian times; it was forbidden by an ordinance of Theodosius (392 A.D.). The old Boman used, in company with his children and slaves, to offer a morning sacrifice and prayer to his household gods. Before meals the blessing of the gods was asked, and after the meal, but before dessert, there was a short silence, and a portion of food was placed on the hearth and burned. If the hearth and the images were not in the eating-room, either the images were brought and put on the table, or before the shrine was placed a table on which were set a salt-cellar, food, and a burning lamp. Three days in the month, viz., the Calends, Nones, and Ides (i.e., the first, the fifth or seventh, and the thirteenth or fifteenth), were set apart for special family worship, as were also the Caristia (22d February) and the Saturnalia in December. On these days as well as on such occasions as birthdays, marriages, and safe returns from journeys, the images were crowned and offerings made to them of cakes, honey, wine, incense, and sometimes a pig. As each family had its own Penates, so the state, as a collection of families, had its public Penates. Intermediate between the worship of the public and private Penates were probably the rites (sacra) observed by each clan (gens) or collection of families supposed to be descended from a common ancestor. The other towns of Latium had their public Penates as well as Borne. The sanctuary of the whole Latin league was at Lavinium. To these Penates at Lavinium the Boman priests brought yearly offerings, and the Roman consuls, praetors, and dic-tators sacrificed both when they entered on and when they laid down their office. To them, too, the generals sacri-ficed before departing for their provinces. Alba Longa, the real mother-city of Latium, had also its ancient Penates, and the Romans maintained the worship on the Alban Mount long after the destruction of Alba Longa. The Penates had a temple of their own at Rome. It was on the Velia near the Forum, and has by some been identified with the round vestibule of the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano. In this and many other temples the Penates were represented by two images of youths seated holding spears. The Penates were also worshipped in the neigh-bouring temple of Vesta. To distinguish the two wor-ships, it has been supposed that the Penates in the former temple were those of Latium, while those in the temple of Vesta were the Penates proper of Rome. Certainly the worship of the Penates, whose altar was the hearth and to whom the kitchen was sacred, was closely connected with that of Vesta, goddess of the domestic hearth.

The origin and nature of the Penates was a subject of much discussion to the Romans themselves. They were traced to the mysterious worship of Samothrace; Dar-danus, it was said, took the Penates from Samothrace to Troy, and after the destruction of Troy iEneas brought them to Italy and established them at Lavinium. From Lavinium Ascanius carried the worship to Alba Longa, and from Alba Longa it was brought to Borne. Equally unsatisfactory with this attempt to connect Roman religion with Greek legend are the vague and mystic speculations in which the later Romans indulged respecting the nature of the Penates. Some said they were the great gods to whom we owe breath, body, and reason, viz., Jupiter representing the middle ether, Juno the lowest air and the earth, and Minerva the highest ether, to whom some added Mercury as the god of speech (Servius, on Aen., ii. 296; Macrobius, Sat., iii. 4, 8; Arnobius, Adv. Nat., iii. 40). Others identified them with Apollo and Neptune (Macrob., iii. 4, 6; Arnob., I.e.; Serv., on jEn., iii. 119). The Etruscans held the Penates to be Ceres, Pales, and Fortuna, to whom others added Genius Jovialis (Serv., on Aen., ii. 325; Arnob., I.e.). The late writer Martianus Capella records the view that heaven was divided into sixteen regions, in the first of which were placed the Penates along with Jupiter, the Lares, &c. More fruitful than these misty speculations is the suggest-ion, made by the ancients themselves, that the worship of these family gods sprang from the ancient Roman custom (common to many savage tribes) of burying the dead in the house. But this would account for the worship of the Lares rather than of the Penates. A comparison with other primitive religious beliefs suggests the conjecture that the Penates may be a remnant of that fetishism or animism (i.e., the attribution of life, thought, and feeling to all objects animate and inanimate) in which many savage tribes exist to this day, and through which the higher races have probably passed at some period of their history, whether we suppose animism to be the primitive state of the human mind, or to be itself a development from the worship of ancestors, as Mr Herbert Spencer believes, or from some lower form of belief. The Roman genii seem certainly to have been fetishes, and the Penates were per-haps originally a species of genii. Thus the Penates, as simple gods of food, are probably much more ancient than deities like Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, and Minerva, whose wide and varied attributes represent a power of abstraction and generalization in the minds of their worshippers such as is not possessed by very primitive men. With the Penates we may compare the kindly household gods of old Germany; they too had their home on the kitchen hearth and received offerings of food and clothing. In the castle of Hudemuhlen (Hanover) there was a kobold for whom a cover was always set on the table. In Lapland each house had one or more spirits. The souls of the dead are regarded as house-spirits by the Russians ; they are represented as dwarfs, and are served with food and drink. Each house in Servia has its patron-saint. In the mountains of Mysore every house has its bhuta or guardian deity, to whom prayer and sacrifices are offered. The Chinese god of the kitchen presents some curious analogies to the Penates : incense and candles are burnt before him on the first and fifteenth of the month; some families burn incense and candles before him daily; and on great festivals, one of which is at the winter solstice (nearly corresponding to the Saturnalia), he is served with cakes, pork, wine, in-cense, <fec., which are placed on a table before him.

See Hartung, Die Religion der Romer; Hertzberg, De diis Roman, patr. ; Preller, Rom. Mythol. ; Marquardt, Rom. Staats-verwalt., vol. iii. For household gods of other peoples see Bastian, Der Mensch in der Geschichte, iii. p. 202 sq. (J. G. FR.)

The above article was written by: J. G. Frazer, M.A, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

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