July 1, 2013

Acca Larentia: Roman Mother Goddess

Posted in Goddess Project, Goddess Things tagged , , , , , at 10:46 pm by Babs

Acca Larentia is a Roman Goddess who is most famous for being the foster-mother of the mythical twins Romulus and Remus.  She is an Earth Goddess and protectress, and the divine ancestress of Rome, associated with wolves, the Underworld, and the fertility of the earth and fields.

In a late but widely known legend, Acca Larentia is the wife of Faustulus, a shepherd to the King of the time, who found the abandoned infants Romulus and Remus being miraculously nursed by a she-wolf.  They were really sons of the God Mars, who had come to their mother, the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia in the form of a wolf.  Faustulus took them home to his wife, who then acted as their wet-nurse.  Acca Larentia and Faustulus had twelve sons; since one of them had died, Romulus took his place.  These twelve brothers under the supervision of their mother sacrificed annually in the fields (the arvae) to bring fertility to the crops, and were said to be the foundation of the twelve-man brotherhood of the Arval priests.

Sometimes Romulus and Remus were said to have been nursed by the wolf-goddess Lupa or Luperca, who was identified with Acca Larentia.  In this version Luperca’s husband is the wolf and shepherd god Lupercus who brought fertility to the flocks and through his rapport with the wolves, kept them from harming the sheep.  The Lupercalia was the festival of Lupercus and was concerned with fertility and purification of both the flocks and the City of Rome.  Wolves and sheep come up a lot in these legends concerning and glorifying the origins of Rome for the city was believed to have been founded by a clan of shepherds who settled on the Palatine Hill, and Romulus and Remus were shepherd kings.

In another tale, Acca Larentia is a notorious and beautiful prostitute who was shut up in the temple of Hercules overnight.  There She dreamed that Hercules came to Her, and promised a gift from the first man She met the next morning.  Accordingly, the next day She met a wealthy man who fell in love with Her and married Her, leaving his great fortune to Her at his death.  At Her own death, She bequeathed the fortune to the city of Rome.  In a variation of the same tale, Acca Larentia gains the wealth not through marriage but through Her own career as a prostitute in which She is known as Lupa, or “she-wolf”, ancient slang for a prostitute.  In either case, the people of Rome were to grateful to Her that they instituted a festival on December 23rd, called the Larentalia, where sacrifices were made at a site in the Velabrum (the low-lying little valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline hills) by the Flamin Quirinalis, the Priest of Quirinus, aka Romulus, as His foster-mother.  This spot was said to be either the location of Her tomb, or the spot where She disappeared when She ascended as a Goddess.

Although in most of the Roman tales Acca Larentia is said to be a deified mortal, She is actually a very old Goddess of Etruscan origin.  She is connected with the Lares (also Etruscan in origin), the household Gods who protected the family and were sometimes thought of as the spirits of the benevolent dead.  In earliest times, the dead of a household were usually buried on the family’s property, hence the localized nature of the Lares.  Her name among the Sabines is Larunda, to whom She was a house-goddess like the Lares, and whose festival in December became the Roman Larentalia.  As Lara or Mater Larum She was considered the Mother of the Lars and an Underworld Goddess.  In yet another myth, Lara was a nymph who talked too much; Jupiter cut out Her tongue, and afterwards She was known as Muta (“the Silent”) or Tacita (“the Secret”), also a name for one of the Camenae, a group of four prophetic Roman Goddesses.

So it seems that Acca Larentia is an old benevolent Earth Goddess, with both chthonic and fertility aspects.  In Her role of Underworld Goddess, She watches over the beloved dead, protecting them and their living families, as well as the larger family of the people of Rome, whose mythical founder Romulus She nourished and sheltered.  As Wolf-Goddess She watched over the shepherds and their kings and brought fertility to the flocks; as Mother of the dead She also has connections to prophecy.  As the fertile Earth She brings abundance and bounty to the fields, and in the reference making Her a courtesan one sees a hint of a Goddess of Springtime and Love; for Acca Larentia was also honored on the last day of April, a day that fell within the springtime festival of the Floralia, a wild joyous celebration where prostitutes were especially honored.

Alternate names: Acca Laurentia, Acca Larenta, Larentia, Laurentia, Lara, Larunda, Larenta, Larentina, Mater Larum (“Mother of the Lares”).  Equated with  Faunda (wife of Faunus, who had an oracle on the Aventine hill), the Bona Dea, Lupa, Luperca, Dea Dia.

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