Jupiter was the king of the Roman gods, ruler of the sky and lightning. The Roman counterpart to Zeus, he was the supreme being and had dominion over all the other deities. He was one-third of the Capitoline Triad, the ultimate rulers of Rome, along with his sister and wife Juno, and his daughter with the Titaness Metis, Minerva.
He was also strongly associated with the army and seen as the supreme general. He protected Rome from attack and was the granter of victories. Depicted as an imposing man with a long, curly white beard, he is often shown with an eagle and/or lightning bolts.
Jupiter was notoriously unfaithful to Juno, but his sister was a jealous wife and often took revenge on those her husband seduced. He had a famously bad temper and was known to exact terrible vengeance on those who displeased him, usually by hurling a lightning bolt to kill them.
Jupiter comes from the Latin Iūpiter or Iuppiter. This stems from the early Italic, djous, which is translated as day or sky, and patēr, which means father. He was most likely a transformation of an ancient sky deity, as the name Sky Father might convey, and because of his association with the eagle and lightning bolts.
The two most common items associated with Jupiter are thunderbolts and eagles. Jupiter was able to cause storms and manipulate lightning and thunder. On several occasions, he threw bolts of lightning to kill those that displeased him.
The domain of eagles is the sky, just like Jupiter. They were also the most important bird in the interpretation of omens. Since he was the supreme general of the army and his divine animal was the eagle, the bird was often incorporated into military paraphernalia and depictions.
There was a temple on Capitoline Hill dedicated to the Capitoline Triad. After a successful war, generals would parade through the streets of Rome with their armies, displaying all the riches and slaves they had won. The parade ended at the statue of Jupiter in the temple, and a portion of the loot and sacrifices were given to Jupiter as thanks for granting them victory.
As he was king of the gods, Jupiter’s family tree is quite large. His parents were Saturn and Ops. His siblings included Neptune, Pluto, Ceres, Vesta, and Juno. As well as being his sister, Juno was also his wife. Together they had four children: Bellona, Vulcan, Mars, and Juventas.
Saturn and Ops were the supreme beings of all existence. Saturn especially was the ruler of the Titans, those who had all the world in their control. Ops was the supreme goddess but especially concerned with fertility. Jupiter led the revolt against Saturn along with his siblings, and they were able to defeat the Titans and overthrow Saturn to gain control of all the universe.
Jupiter’s siblings were also very powerful. Neptune and Pluto split the rule of existence between the three of them. Jupiter became the god of the heavens, which made him king of the gods, Neptune governed the oceans, and Pluto descended to rule the underworld.
His sister Ceres was the goddess of agriculture and motherly relationships. Vesta was a virgin goddess and oversaw the home and family. His last sibling (sometimes referred to as his twin) was also his wife, Juno. She was the queen of the gods, the goddess of marriage and childbirth, and along with Jupiter, a patron protector of Rome.
Jupiter had many, many children with his various lovers, but he had four with his wife Juno. Mars was the god of war, agriculture and the guardian of soldiers and masculinity. Vulcan was the god of fire and enjoyed a special significance with forge and metal workers. Bellona was the goddess of destruction and conquest and was often attributed as causing bloodlust. Juventas was the goddess of youth and rejuvenation and was particularly popular among young male worshippers.
Jupiter was famously unfaithful to Juno, and his lovers have been immortalized in astronomy as the moons of the planet named after him.
Io was one of Juno’s attendants. She was very beautiful and Jupiter quickly took notice. He turned her into a cow so he could keep her a secret from Juno, but his wife found out and sent a gadfly to sting the cow relentlessly. Io wandered the earth as a cow and eventually found her way back to Jupiter, who restored her to humanity and fathered a son Epaphus on her. She became the ancestor to some of Rome's greatest heroes
Europa was a Phoenician woman and daughter of a farmer. One day, while gathering flowers in the field, Jupiter transformed himself into a pure white bull. Europa was driven to ride the bull, and when she climbed on Jupiter’s back he immediately jumped into the ocean and swam to Crete. There he seduced her, showering her with gifts, and made her the first queen of Crete.
Callisto was a nymph and attendant to Diana, goddess of the hunt. Jupiter disguised himself as Diana and took Callisto by force. Callisto became pregnant and Diana expelled her from her presence. She gave birth to the hunter Arcas. Despite Callisto's unwillingness in the event, Juno was still jealous and took out her rage by transforming her into a bear. Arcas inadvertently hunted his mother in bear form, and just before he killed her, Jupiter intervened and turn them into the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Jupiter didn't limit his attention to only women either. When he saw the Trojan man Ganymede, he thought he was the most beautiful creature to ever live and fell instantly in love. He turned into an eagle and swooped down to abduct him. He brought Ganymede to the heavens and made him immortal so he could serve as cupbearer to the gods forever.
After the overthrow of Saturn and defeat of the Titans, Jupiter took control of the skies, married his sister, Juno, and assumed leadership of the Capitoline Triad. He was an authoritative father figure that could be benevolent or malicious depending on his mood. He had a voracious sexual appetite and used any means necessary, even force, to pursue the men and women who attracted his attention.
Jupiter was the son of Saturn and Ops. Saturn heard a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him as ruler of all the gods. To prevent this from happening, Saturn swallowed all his children; but Ops was able to spirit Jupiter away by giving Saturn a rock wrapped in Jupiter’s clothes.
Raised in secret, Saturn was able to grow to maturity and free his swallowed brothers and sisters. They joined together to overthrow Saturn and were successful in defeating him and all the Titans. They decided to split the rule of the world into three with Neptune governing the oceans, Pluto overseeing the underworld, and Jupiter taking control of the sky and heavens.
Tullus Hostilius was the third king of Rome, ruling for over 30 years from 673-642 BCE. Tullus was a warlike king and was far more preoccupied with fighting and winning new territories than worshipping the gods. He thought that type of behavior was beneath the dignity of a king. While the gods did not like this, they turned a blind eye.
That is, until his attack on Alba Longa. Alba Longa was said to be the birthplace of Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus. Therefore, the city had a special significance for the Roman people and they considered themselves Alba Longa descendants.
Despite these feelings, Tullus seized the opportunity to attack the city when some of his subjects accused a group from Alba Longa of thievery. As legend has it after the Romans won the city, a rain of fiery rocks fell from the sky and pummeled the Roman soldiers. They took this as a sign that the gods were displeased.
But Tullus Hostilius ignored this warning. He continued his warlike behavior, giving no attention or thanks to the gods for his victories. The gods, their anger growing, sent a plague to Rome to further punish Tullus for his arrogance. But still, he continued on just the way he had before.
However, when Tullus himself was struck down with the plague, he started to see that he needed to humble himself before the gods and ask for forgiveness. He looked into the notes of his predecessor Numa, who was very devout, to find a ceremony or ritual to pay respect to the gods. He found a sacrificial ritual and set about to beg forgiveness. Unfortunately for him, Tullus was unfamiliar with worship and bungled the ritual.
At this point, the gods were extremely angry. Jupiter decided that enough was enough and struck down Tullus with a lightning bolt. He, his family, and his majestic home were all reduced to ash. Following his death, the grandson of Numa, Ancus Marcius, was chosen as the new king. His first act was to copy his grandfather’s notes on worshiping the gods and display them to all his subjects. Because of the fate of Tullus, he wanted to ensure that the gods received proper attention and that their rituals were performed correctly.
Jupiter and Mercury in the House of Baucis and Philemon
While Jupiter could have a temper, he rewarded those that pleased him. In Roman society, a high value was placed on being hospitable and generous to guests, especially strangers. The story of Jupiter and Mercury in the house of Baucis and Philemon illustrates the dichotomy of Jupiter’s vengeance and graciousness.
Jupiter was convinced of the wickedness of mankind and was set upon destroying it. Mercury counseled, “Let me just say you are acting hastily. I believe that there is some basic good in man. Let's go to earth, and I will prove it to you.”1 He agreed to give Mercury a chance and they set out to test the generosity of their people. They disguised themselves as beggars and visited a town late at night to test the true nature of its people. They knocked at every door, asking for shelter for the night or at least some food. At every door, they either met with cold indifference or outright hostility.
That is until they got to the tiny hut on the edge of town that belonged to Baucis and Philemon. The two married very young and had grown to old age in happiness. Although they were the poorest people in town, their home was rich with love. They opened wide their doors and welcomed the two beggars like family.
As the night went on, the couple started to realize that the two beggars were more than they seemed. Although they ate and ate, their food source never dwindled. Although they drank for several hours, the pitchers of wine kept refilling themselves. It finally dawned on them that they were hosting gods when Philemon tried to kill one of their livestock and the animal jumped in the lap of one of the beggars who then revealed himself to be Jupiter.
The couple immediately fell to the ground worshipping the two gods, but they were quickly raised up. Jupiter told them to follow him. They obeyed without question, following the two gods high up into the mountains. When they looked back to the town they left, they were horrified to see it flooded. Their neighbor’s homes were covered in water, their farmlands turned into swamps. The two gods explained their experience to the couple while disguised as beggars and that this was a just punishment for their mistreatment from the townspeople.
Since Baucis and Philemon were gracious and generous when they had very little to give, Jupiter wanted to give them a reward. He turned their humble hut into a glorious temple, then asked them what boon they would like as a further reward. They asked two things: 1) to be the priest and priestess of the temple that their home became, and 2) that as they had spent all their lives together, that they would die together, so neither would have to live without the other.
Jupiter granted their requests. They lived the rest of their days happily serving the gods in a temple that never lacked provisions so that they were always able to serve the needy without hardship to themselves.
When it came time for their long lives to end, they knew. They wrapped their arms around each other and expressed their undying love. One became an oak tree; the other a linden tree. Entwining together, they became a tree with two trunks and produced a huge canopy of leaves; a perfect place for young lovers to meet.
Standing on Capitoline Hill, the Temple of Jupiter was arguably the most famous place of worship dedicated to the god. Although designed as a temple for worshipping all three of the Capitoline Triad, Jupiter was certainly foremost, and the structure housed an enormous statue of his likeness along with a rock called The Stone of Jupiter that was used to bind oaths.
Two additional temples were dedicated to him, both in Rome. One was built on Palatine Hill which overlooked the Forum on one side and the Circus Maximus on the other. The other was in the Circus Flaminius, a large round section of the city by the Tiber River.
In ancient Rome, a number of festivals surrounding the production of wine were held in Jupiter’s honor. The first was held on August 19th (Vinalia). On this day they asked Jupiter for good weather to ripen the grapes. At harvest, they sacrificed a sheep and the first of the grapes as thanks. On October 11th (Meditrinalia), harvest ended and new wine was made and tasted in Jupiter's name. April 23rd was Vinalia, where an offering to Jupiter was made by dumping huge vats of wine to ditches as a display of thanks.
The Epulum Jovis was a sumptuous feast that was held on two days, September 13th and November 13th. This curious tradition involved formally inviting the gods, Jupiter chief among them, to attend the feasts—in the form of statues.
The Ludi Capitolini, or Capitoline Games, were originally celebrated sporadically, but in 68 ACE they were regularized to every four years. Modeled after the Greek Olympic Games, the Capitoline Games featured various contests, games, and prizes given to the winners, and were held to commemorate Jupiter protecting the city from invading Gauls. Held in the early summer, they frequently lasted longer than two weeks.
Jupiter is best known today in astrology. He gives his name to the planet Jupiter, and the moons that orbit the planet are named for his lovers. One of his victims and the resulting child are still known today as the constellations Ursa Major and Minor—the Big and Little Dipper.
Additionally, in the Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus series, children of Roman gods attend a school called “Camp Jupiter.”
Wise, Carol D. "Baucis and Philemon: Jupiter and Mercury dress as poor travelers to find someone, anyone on earth who has compassion for others..." Plays, Apr. 2019, p. 13+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com.db15.linccweb.org/apps/doc/A578439842/LitRC?u=lincclin_mcc&sid=LitRC&xid=e3d508c5. Accessed 7 Apr. 2019. ↩