The household gods of the Romans, both in regard to a private family and to the state, as the great family of citizens: hence we shall have to distinguish between private and public Penates. The name is unquestionably connected with penus, they being the gods who were worshiped, and whose images were kept in the central part of the house, or the penetralia, and who thus protected the whole household.1
The Greeks, when speaking of the Roman Penates, called them θεοὶ πατρῷοι, γενέθλιοι, κτήσιοι, μύχιοι, ἕρκιοι.2 The Lares therefore were included among the Penates; both names, in fact, are often used synonymously,3 and the figures of two youths whom Dionysius4 saw in the temple of the Penates, were no doubt the same as the Lares praestites, that is, the twin founders of the city of Rome. The Lares, however, though they may be regarded as identical with the Penates, were yet not the only Penates, for each family had usually no more than one Lar, whereas the Penates are always spoken of in the plural.5
Now considering that Jupiter and Juno were regarded as the protectors and the promoters of happiness, peace, and concord in the family, and that Jupiter is not only called a deus penetralis,6 but that sacrifices were offered to him on the hearth along with the Lares, there can be little doubt but that Jupiter and Juno too were worshiped as Penates. Vesta also is reckoned among the Penates,7 for each hearth, being the symbol of domestic union, had its Vesta. All other Penates, both public and private, seem to have consisted of certain sacred relics connected with indefinite divinities, and hence the expression of Varro, that the number and names of the Penates were indefinite.8 This statement of a great antiquarian might have deterred any one from entering upon any further investigation; but some have nevertheless ventured upon the wide field of speculation, and conjectured that the Penates were Neptune and Apollo, because these divinities had surrounded Troy with walls. According to this view the Penates were the sacred relics that were believed to have been brought from Troy to Italy.9
According to an Etruscan opinion the Penates were four in number, or divided into four classes, viz. Jupiter and his suite, Neptune and his train, and the gods of the upper and lower worlds; but this opinion is certainly based upon a view of the Penates which is different from that entertained by the Romans. Others again believed that the Penates were those divinities who were the representatives of the vital principle in man and nature, that is, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, to whom Tarquinius built a common temple on the Capitol; and as Tarquinius was believed to have been initiated in the Samothracian mysteries, the Penates were identified with the great gods of Samothrace. This was accounted for by the supposition that the Trojan Penates who had been brought to Italy, had been introduced at Troy from Samothrace.10 But all these opinions and conjectures are of little value.
The public Penates of the city of Rome had a chapel somewhere about the center of the city, in a place called sub felia. They were represented as two youths with lances in their hands, and similar images of them existed in many other sanctuaries.11 Lavinium, the central point of Latium, too, had the Penates, who had been brought by Aeneas from Troy,12 and every Roman consul, dictator, and praetor, immediately after entering upon his office, was bound to offer up a sacrifice to the Penates and Vesta at Lanuvium.13
As the public Lares were worshiped in the central part of the city or country, and at the public hearth, so the private Penates had their place at the hearth of every house; but not only the hearth was sacred to them, but the table also. On the hearth a perpetual fire was kept up in their honor, and the table always contained the salt-cellar and the firstlings of fruit for these divinities.14 Every meal that was taken in the house thus resembled a sacrifice offered to the Penates, beginning with a purification and ending with a libation which was poured either on the table or upon the hearth. After every absence from the hearth, the Penates were saluted like the living inhabitants of the house; and whoever went abroad prayed to the Penates and Lares for a happy return, and when he came back to his house, he hung up his armor, staff, and the like by the side of their images,15 and on the whole, there was no event occurring in a family, whether sad or joyful, in which people did not pray to the Lares and Penates.
- Isodorus. Origines viii, 11; Festus, s.vv. Penetralia, Penus.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities i, 67.
- Scholiast on Horace's Epodes, ii, 43; Plautus. Mercator v, 1. 5; Aulularia ii, 8.16; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xxviii, 20.
- Roman Antiquities i, 68.
- Plautus. Mercator v, 1.5.
- Festus, s.v. Herceus.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid ii, 297; Macrobius, iii, 4; Ovid. Metamorphoses xv, 864.
- ap. Arnobius, iii, 40; Macrobius, l.c.; Isodorus. Origines viii, 11.
- Arnobius, iii, 40; Macrobius, l.c.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities i, 68.; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid ii, 325; iii, 148; Macrobius, l.c.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities i, 68; Livy. The History of Rome xlv, 16.
- Varro. On the Latin Language v, 144; Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities i, 67.
- Macrobius, 3.4.
- Plutarch. Symposiacs vii, 4; Arnobius, ii, 67; Livy. The History of Rome xxvi, 36; Valerius Maximus, iv, 4. %4F 3; Cicero. de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum ii, 7.
- Terence. Phormio ii, 1.81; Plautus. Stichus v, 1.29; Ovid. Tristia i, 3.41; iv, 8.21
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.