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I'm having trouble understanding how the Roman mythology revolves around or is associated with the concept of Genius. From what I understand, every thing has a spirit or soul, that can be venerated in some way. This was the thought that eventually led to the Imperial Cult, where the Emperor himself was not actually worshiped, but it was his Genius.

If I were to hazard to guess, I would say that the Genii came first. People worshiped the sky, which eventually became Jupiter, the god of the sky. But by the time we get to 30 BC with the advent of the Imperial Cult, they are still talking about it. So they didn't abandon it as a primitive understanding of the gods, but embraced it as fundamental to divinity.

So around 30 BC, at the advent of the Imperial Cult, how did the Romans at this time typically understand how the Genii fit into the mythology?


Some side questions spawn out of this so here they are out of curiosity, not expectation that they should be answered:

  1. Doesn't this just make Roman Mythology a kind of pantheism?
  2. Were there different theologies based on this concept that asserted that Jupiter et al. didn't actually exist like the myths portrayed?
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You referenced the Wikipedia article on the genius, but I think the Britannica article would have been more helpful to you. The genius (and its female counterpart, the juno) were personfications of the family's male and female reproductive powers, which passed through the heads of families and their wives.

Howeve, many other things also had genii, including places (genius loci). Over time the genius became a more personal thing, like a guardian angel or protective spirit. The imperial cult fed off both these ideas, as it got round the problem of making the living emperor a god by worshipping the divinity of the genius within him, and emphasized the continuity of the imperial line (whatever about the reality).

As for Jupiter and Juno being a sort of ultimate genius and juno, it makes sense that the head of the gods, and his wife, would also have a sort of family genius. But it does lead to a recursive sort of divinity who has a divinity within him.

  • +1 For being the only answer after two years. Thank you. – fredsbend Apr 25 '17 at 19:48
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Whether the "genius loci" developed into "genii" or whether they were parallel developments is difficult to say.

In Roman belief-systems and spirituality it was the complete character, nature, and substance of the person concerned, it was resemblant of what Ka was for the Egyptians (Bator, Wiesław: Religious Studies Perspective on Egyptian Beliefs), thus a form of a soul.

According to neoplatonics Gods and Goddesses had their souls (or geniuses) superior to that of mortals (sources: Iamblich, Chalden Oracles of Julian the Theurgist etc.), in line with the Egyptian teaching that Ka of the Gods surpasses that of people.

Genius was something that was given at birth, the female version of the Genii was Juno, as both male and female spirit-natures expressed themselves differently. In other words genii is also a form of a guiding-spirit, a personal totem, or a Super Ego if you like, akin to individuation of the Selbst (Self) in Jungian hermetic alchemy.

For example one neoplatonic prayed that his son receive the "Soul of an archangel" or a Ka-Genius of a higher sort. Whether the genius was malleable and formed by deeds, perceptions, decisions and all what makes us human in the eyes of Roman belief-systems is difficult to say. But I would incline towards the belief that it was possible to "refashion" one's genii in order to perfect oneself.

For a modern perspective I would recommend reading a beautiful chapter in Giorgio Agamben's "Profanations" - On Genius.

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