Jupiter: King of the Gods
Jupiter, god of lightning, is the king of the gods in Roman mythology. He is the supreme deity in the Roman pantheon, but he is also the Roman god of the sky and the god of lightning. He married his own sister Juno but had many dalliances and children.
This article will describe Jupiter’s power over the world as well as his life full of intrigue and conflict.
Who is Jupiter in Roman Mythology?
Jupiter is the Roman god of lightning. Even though he was the main god in the Roman pantheon, the letter ‘j’ was not in the ancient Latin alphabet. It was only added later in the Middle Ages. His name was spelled something more like Iuppiter. He is the Roman equivalent of the powerful Zeus. But there were some differences between them.
Jupiter went by many names:
- Iuppiter Elicius: “Jupiter Who Brings Forth”
- Iuppiter Fulgur: “Lightning Jupiter”
- Iuppiter Lucetius: “Jupiter of the Light”
- Iuppiter Caelestis: “Jupiter of the Heavens”
- Iuppiter Optimus Maximus: “Jupiter, the Best and Greatest”
Since he was the god of lightning, he held lightning, thunder, and storms in his hands. He had the power to control that particular weather. He used lightning bolts as weapons, raining down his punishments onto his people. His power was greater than all other gods, and he became the central deity. He was married to Juno, sister of Jupiter, goddess of women and childbirth.
Jupiter was famous for his various dalliances with both goddesses and immortals. He had many children from his many affairs. However, Juno was famously jealous. She would always try to find ways to get revenge on the women that he slept with. Most of the time she was not successful, and these children grew up to create myths for themselves.
Jupiter vs. Zeus: the Differences
Jupiter is the Roman version of Zeus, but he was ever so slightly different. In contrast to Zeus, he became linked to the state and the power of the Roman Empire: the city of Rome. He was considered the divine authority of the city. His myths and “personality” followed the state and changes of the Roman Empire. He became connected to the dynamics of the state. Jupiter was credited for political changes during that time.
He was loved by both the elite and the plebeians. In political affairs, both sides would claim Jupiter’s support. So, the Romans believed that if they could appease Jupiter, he could help their success. Anger Jupiter and the success of the empire depended on his happiness. Jupiter’s symbols were the oak and the eagle.
Priests would divine the future of the empire and other things through the eagle’s behavior. This practice was called augury. They believed that Jupiter’s will could be revealed through the eagle’s patterns. While Zeus and Jupiter were very similar, there was one small similarity. Zeus had a check upon his power: the Fates. It was possible that he could eventually be ousted by the other gods. Zeus also would go down to earth often and mingle with goddesses and mortals, hence the many affairs.
Jupiter was more of a political entity that was slightly more distant. He would mostly remain in the sky and call down his commands through the temples or hills. And compared to Zeus, his power was uncheckable. He couldn’t be ousted by the other gods, and his power was supreme.
Birth of the King of the Gods
Jupiter was one of six children. He was there at the beginning of time. His parents were Saturn and the goddess Ops. At the beginning of the world, the universe was filled with Titans, but they couldn’t control the chaos. Saturn, the son of Caelus, betrayed his father. He took over his position as leader of the cosmos.
Eventually, Saturn took Ops, the elemental earth goddess, as his wife. With her, he had six children:
- Jupiter (Zeus) – the god of thunder, main god in the pantheon
- Neptune (Poseidon) – the god of the sea
- Pluto (Hades) – the god of the underworld
- Vesta (Hestia) – the goddess of hearth and home
- Juno (Hera) – the goddess of childbirth, married to Jupiter
- Ceres (Demeter) – the goddess of grains, harvest, and agriculture
How Was Jupiter Born?
But once his wife became pregnant, Saturn was afraid that the same thing that he did to his father would befall him. So, he decided that once his wife would give birth, he would eat his children and be rid of the fear of being overthrown.
Ops gave birth to her children, and Saturn ate them one by one. But Ops was too clever for him. She hid Jupiter away from his father, and instead, gave her husband a rock wrapped in a cloth. He ate it, and it made the god so sick that he vomited up all his other children. Eventually, together, the children defeated their father for his treachery.
They each of them split up the universe amongst themselves. Neptune took the sea, and Pluto took the underworld. Jupiter took the sky and became king of the gods.
Myths of Jupiter, God of Lightning
It’s difficult to record all of the stories that include Jupiter, for they are innumerable. He was involved in nearly every aspect of Greek and Roman mythology. One would be hard-pressed to leave him out. But there are a few more pertinent myths and more popular ones that have stood the test of time.
One myth is about one of the many dalliances that Jupiter engaged in. He raped Metis, a lower goddess, and she became pregnant with a girl. But just as his father did, Jupiter felt the fear that his own child would somehow overthrow him. So, before the child was born, he swallowed her and her mother. Jupiter hoped that it would kill the child and take away the fear of being overthrown.
However, the child didn’t die. It instead lived, and weirdly enough, burst through Jupiter’s forehead. This child became Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, warfare, and forethought. She became one of the ruling triad and one of the most important goddesses to the Roman state. Her Greek equivalent was most likely Athena.
Jupiter and the Origin of Rome
Many of Jupiter’s stories involve various kings of Rome. And one of them was about Numa, the second king of Rome. They had not yet begun to worship the gods at this stage. King Numa was going through some hardship in his ruling. So he called upon Jupiter for aid, but he didn’t want to talk to him himself. He requested that two lower gods do the asking for him. Their names were Picus and Faunus. They called upon the god and asked him to come to Aventine Hill, one of Rome’s seven hills.
It was there that Jupiter taught Numa just how he wanted to be worshipped. He described which sacrifices should be performed in his name. Numa agreed to Jupiter’s demands, and then Jupiter gave him something in return. He taught him how to avoid Jupiter’s powerful lightning bolts and stay safe from his wrath. He also offered his protection of the Roman Empire.
Jupiter sent down a rounded shield as a gesture of good faith in their agreement. Numa had eleven copies made of this shield, making the number twelve in total. These shields represented the link to the gods and Jupiter’s promise of protection.
Worship of Jupiter, the Roman God of the Sky
Jupiter was involved in many rituals of worship. The temple of Jupiter was built on Capitoline Hill. It was built to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, “Jupiter the Greatest and the Best”. It was the greatest of the Roman temples. Unfortunately, the temple was destroyed.
A statue of Jupiter driving a four-horse chariot is at the temple as well as a sacrificial stone. The stone is an altar named Iuppiter Lapis or “The Jupiter Stone”. Those swearing oaths to Jupiter would take them there.
The temple housed a lot of different rituals in ancient Rome. The priests of Jupiter would perform animal sacrifices, called hostiae. The animals they chose were goat, ox, or lamb. The high priest of Jupiter, called Flamen Dialis would perform the rituals. He was also in charge of fifteen priests all dedicated to this god. But only the elite could be part of this group. The plebeians were banned.
This temple was also the final destination of a military procession. It was called a triumph. The leader of the procession was called a triumphator. They would gather together, the soldiers, and more and would take their spoils of war to the temple.
During the procession, the leader or triumphator would dress up like Jupiter. He would paint his face red, wear a purple toga, and drive a four-horse chariot. He would even carry Jupiter’s scepter. This was similar to a “god impersonator” in Aztec mythology. The years went on and Christianity grew in popularity in the fourth century AD. After that, Jupiter and the other pagan gods grew out of favor.
Jupiter’s Dalliances & Jupiter’s Children
Jupiter, like Zeus, was a well-known philanderer. Many myths in both Greek and Roman mythology discuss his various affairs. He had dalliances with both goddesses and mortal women and resulting children. Juno was notoriously jealous about her husband’s womanizing. The myths also include the revenge she takes upon the other women and their children.
Because of Juno’s jealousy, one myth states that that was why fog existed: to hide Jupiter’s affairs from his wife. He had some very famous children from other women.
These include but aren’t limited to:
- Diana and Apollo
- However, Juno and Jupiter also had a few children together. These include:
- Vulcan (Hephaestus), god of the forge and fire, son of Jupiter
- Mars (Ares), god of war, son of Jupiter
- Bellona (Enyo), goddess of war, daughter of Jupiter
- Juventus (Hebe), goddess of youth and rejuvenation, daughter of Jupiter
Representations of Jupiter in Art
There seem to be endless works of art dedicated to Jupiter or Zeus. There was a great interest in Greek and Roman mythology, especially during the 19th century. Jupiter is often shown as an older man, bearded, and strong. He wears a toga, is partially clothed, and holds lightning bolts in his hand. He often sits upon a throne or resides within a cloud atop of a mountain. This is to show his superiority and power as king of the gods.
Symbol of Jupiter in Art and Beyond
While the thunderbolt or lightning bolt is Jupiter’s most popular symbol, there are more. He is also often depicted with the oak tree as well as the eagle. He was linked to the eagle because he was the sky god. The priests could divine Jupiter’s thoughts and wishes through the eagle’s behavior.
Jupiter Today: The God of Lightning in Pop Culture
Even if one isn’t well-versed in Greek or Roman mythology, they would recognize the name, Jupiter or Zeus. Jupiter lent his name to the largest planet in our universe. It is a reddish, orange planet, not surprising since red is the color of the Roman god.
Another link to Jupiter was the phrase “by Jove!” It was the oath of the Romans in courts of law. Jove was an alternative name for Jupiter. This phrase was also used in speech and literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was a gentler way of expressing surprise or astonishment. It was an alternative saying for conservative society instead of using the Christian god’s name in vain. But it fell out of popular use in the mid-20th century. Yet the word ‘jovial’ (from Jove) lives on, to describe someone cheerful and optimistic.
Here is the sum up of Jupiter’s story and characteristics:
- Jupiter was the god of lightning in Roman mythology. He was the king of the gods and tied to the fate of the Roman state.
- He was used as a way to ferret out the future of the Roman’s political strength. Priests and politicians could divine Jupiter’s happiness by how the state was doing.
- Jupiter’s symbols were the lightning bolt, the oak, and the eagle. He would use the lightning bolt to send down punishments. As the sky god, the eagle was his representation on earth. Priests could figure out what Jupiter wanted to say by following the eagle’s behavior.
- He was loved by the elites and the plebeians both, but he was more involved with the upper class. The upper class was more in control of the government. So they would often call upon Jupiter in times of uncertainty.
- Zeus is Jupiter’s Greek equivalent. While they were very similar, Zeus was a little different. He was more often on earth, mingling with goddesses and mortals. And he could be removed by the other gods. Jupiter, in contrast, was the supreme power, and he would send down his commands from on high.
- Jupiter was the son of Saturn and Ops. His mother saved him from death by having his father a rock instead of him. Because of the rock, Saturn threw up the rest of his children. Jupiter’s siblings are Ceres, Juno, Neptune, Pluto, and Vesta.
- Jupiter was married to Juno, and they had four children: Mars, Vulcan, Bellona, and Juventus. But Jupiter also had many flings with others and thus had many other children. Juno was jealous and would often find ways to get revenge on the other women and their children.
- Jupiter helped establish his power with an early king of Rome named King Numa. Jupiter agreed to help protect Rome if they would believe in him. King Numa agreed, and Jupiter sent down a round shield as proof of the promise.
- The priests of Jupiter would worship him through animal sacrifice. Jupiter’s temple was the greatest of all Roman temples.
- One way Jupiter has lingered on through the ages is through the name of the largest planet in our galaxy.
Jupiter was the greatest and strongest of the gods. He was the head of the Dii Consentes, the twelve deities of the pantheon. In Greek mythology, he was Zeus and lived as one of the twelve gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus.
Even though he was married, he saw fit to spread his seed around the earth and the heavens. His progeny were plentiful. According to the Romans, he used the fog to hide his indiscretions from his jealous wife. Jupiter didn’t seem to have to hold himself to the same level of standards as his people.
He had ultimate power, and his power went unchecked. He was in control of the Roman state and its fate depended upon his happiness. He could call upon other gods to do his bidding as well if needed, but in the end, it was his word that mattered. Interestingly, the Romans chose a new religion after years of adopting the Greek pantheon.
What happened to the relics of Jupiter and the state of his power after they moved from many gods to only one? It must have been difficult for the staunch followers of Jupiter to suddenly change. They moved from one kind of god who ruled over all with an iron fist, and other gods at his beck and call to one only. All at once, the king of the gods diminished and dissipated like mist just like the very fog he used to hide behind.