Zeus or Jupiter ? -- At last you know the difference!
Maybe you've wondered if there was ever much difference between the Greek god, Zeus, and Jupiter, his Roman equivalent.
In the beginning, there was. In Greek and Roman Mythology, D. M. Field wrote that Zeus and the other deities of ancient Greece were “thorough individuals, with characters as complete as any historical persons.” Despite their supernatural powers, they were subject to the same emotions and foibles as ordinary mortals."
The gods of early Rome, however, lacked any personality whatsoever. The religion was an animistic belief, in which spirits known as “numina” inhabited every corner of the natural world. Like trees, mountains, rivers and other objects of nature, Roman gods embodied forces that worshippers feared or respected. Vulcan symbolized fire, for instance, and Mars embodied warfare. As mere symbols, they had no spouses, no children and nothing resembling the “personal lives” of the Greeks. Varro (a Roman historian of the first century B.C.) wrote that early Romans did not even create statues as part of their worship.
According to Field, Jupiter started out as a minor god. He may have been no more than a simple stone and probably dates from the stone age itself. Robert Schilling (in The Encyclopedia of Religion) said that Jupiter was the one god that the Latins, Oscans, Sabines and other ancient Italians recognized in common. His archaic Latin name, “Diespiter,” meant “day-father,” in keeping with his title of “god of heavenly light.”
What Jupiter always had in common with Zeus was this “day-father” identity. The Romans and Greeks (like the Germanic and Celtic peoples) were of Indo-European origin, with prehistoric ties in language, culture and religion. Ancient Greece and Rome (edited by Carroll Moulton) said that the Indo-European “day-father” god was in charge of the weather.
So, Jupiter was the god of storms, lightning and agriculture, which depended on the rains. Jupiter also wielded his lightning bolts to strike down people who swore false oaths. Zeus (whose name derived from the Indo-European word root for “shining” and meant “bright” or “sky”) was the only Greek deity of clear Indo-European origin. He was, said The Columbia Encyclopedia, a god much like Jupiter, the master of weather and fertility.” Both gods wielded a thunderbolt as a weapon.
John Ferguson, in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean Greece and Rome, said that in name and nature both Zeus and Jupiter derived from the Indo-European sky-god, Dyaus. Latin “Ju-“ and Greek “Zeus” stem from the Indo-European name, as does Jupiter’s alternative name, “Jove” (“Jovis” in Latin). In his Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, Walter W. Skeat said that “Jovis” and “Ju-“ were of the same origin. The Oscan neighbors of the Latins had a related name for Jupiter:
The ancient Latins had claimed Jupiter as their own with the title, “Jupiter Latiaris” (“Latin Jupiter”) and Schilling confirmed that in Rome he was “ever honored as the supreme god.” Every act of government and of war was pronounced in his name.
Under the influence of the Etruscans (a non-Indo-European race) and the Greeks (who began colonizing southern Italy in the 8th century B.C.), Roman gods evolved from abstractions to human personalities. In Imperial Rome, Moses Hadas said that the Romans first learned of the Greek gods through their Etruscan neighbors, and that the Olympian pantheon was “eventually absorbed …virtually unchanged” into Latin culture. As for Jupiter, The Chiron Dictionary of Greek & Roman Mythology (translated by Elizabeth Burr) said he “‘inherited’ many characteristics” from the Greek Zeus.
As he became the god of a great city and empire, the old, rural Jupiter became more like his more complex Greek counterpart. In fact, wrote Michael Grant and John Hazel in Who’s Who in Classical Mythology,”Jupiter had “few myths other than those borrowed from Zeus.” After all, Zeus had been around for quite a long time. The Hutchinson Dictionary of the Arts estimated he had been introduced to Greece around 1200 B.C. The Latin culture began to form in Italy around 1000 B.C.