Vulcan (mythology) - Theology


The nature of the god is connected to religious ideas concerning fire.

The Roman concept of the god seems to be connected both to the destructive and fertilizing powers of fire.

In the first aspect he is worshipped to avert its potential danger to harvested wheat in the Volcanalia and his cult is located outside the boundaries of the original city to avoid its causing fires in the city itself.

This power is however considered useful if directed against enemies and such a choice for the location of the god's cult could be interpreted in this way too. The same idea underlies the dedication of the arms of the defeated enemies, as well as those of the survived general in a devotion ritual to the god.

Through comparative interpretation this aspect has been connected to the third (or defensive) fire in the Vedic theory of the three sacrificial fires.

Another meaning of Vulcan is related to male fertilizing power. In various Latin and Roman legends he is the father of famous characters, such as the founder of Praeneste Caeculus, Cacus, a primordial monstrous being that inhabited the site of the Aventine in Rome and Roman king Servius Tullius. In a variant of the story of the birth of Romulus the details are identical even though Vulcan is not explicitly mentioned.

Some scholars think that he might be the unknown god who impregnated goddesses Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste and Feronia at Anxur. In this case he would be the father of Jupiter. However this view is in conflict with that which links the goddess to Jupiter, as his daughter (puer Jovis) and his mother too, as primigenia, meaning "primordial".

In all of the above mentioned stories the god's fertilizing power is related to that of the fire of the house hearth.

In the case of Caeculus, his mother was impregnated by a spark that dropped on her womb from the hearth while she was sitting nearby. Servius Tullius's mother Ocresia was impregnated by a male sex organ that miraculously appeared in the ashes of the sacrificial ara, at the order of Tanaquil, Tarquinius Priscus's wife. Pliny the Elder tells the same story, but states that the father was the Lar familiaris. The divinity of the child was recognized when his head was surrounded by flames and he remained unharmed.

Through the comparative analysis of these myths archaeologist Andrea Carandini opines that Cacus and Caca were the sons of Vulcan and of a local divine being or a virgin as in the case of Caeculus. Cacus and Caca would represent the metallurgic and the domestic fire, projections of Vulcan and of Vesta.

These legends date back to the time of preurban Latium. Their meaning is quite clear: at the divine level Vulcan impregnates a virgin goddess and generates Jupiter, the king of the gods; at the human level he impregnates a local virgin (perhaps of royal descent) and generates a king.

The first mention of a ritual connection between Vulcan and Vesta is the lectisternium of 217 BC. Other facts hinting to this connection seem to be the relative proximity of the two sanctuaries and Dionysius of Halicarnassus's testimony that both cults had been introduced to Rome by Titus Tatius to comply with a vow he had made in battle. Varro confirms the fact.

Vulcan is related to two equally ancient female goddesses Stata Mater, perhaps the goddess who stops fires and Maia.

Herbert Jennings Rose interprets Maia as a goddess related to growth by connecting her name with IE root *MAG. Macrobius relates Cincius's opinion that Vulcan's female companion is Maia. Cincius justifies his view on the grounds that the flamen Volcanalis sacrificed to her at the Kalendae of May. In Piso's view the companion of the god is Maiestas.

According to Gellius too Maia was associated to Vulcan and he backs his view by quoting the Roman priests's ritual prayers in use.

Moreover Maiestas and Maia are possibly the same divine person: compare Ovid's explanations of the meaning of the name month May.

The god is the patron of trades related to ovens (cooks, bakers, confectioners) as it is attested in the works of Plautus, Apuleius (the god is the cook at the wedding of Amor and Psyche) and in Vespa's short poem in the Anthologia Latina about the litigation between a cook and a baker.

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