Both Roman and Greek mythologies have been around for hundreds of years. With the help of their close nature, they have influenced many cultures, many authors and many works of literature. But even though some parts of their mythologies are close to one another, they still have their differences. Before Romans adapted the Greek gods and myths and made their own mythology, there were only Greek stories. But still these Greek stories did not have just one version.
Greeks lived in city-states. That meant every city was a tiny country and they had their own independent -most of the time very different- opinions on the same topic. For example, among Greeks, the word “muthos” (Greek word for “myth”) had various and sometimes contradictory meanings. Even in the Homeric sense the word did not have just one meaning. It referred to: commands; speeches of insult, invective or abuse; recollections and stories based on memory. Here, the third meaning of the word is the most important one to us. “Recollections and stories built on memories can easily slip into ‘myths’ if the past that one recalls happens to be the distant time of gods and heroes.”(Martin,5). So, muthos in Homeric sense, is the power of controlling the memory.
Telling a story in terms of muthos gives the performer both a responsibility and power. They can manipulate the story any way that they want. To show this in detail we have the story of Pisistratus. He hires a tall and good-looking woman and dresses her up as Athena in order to enter Athens and become a tyrant again. But we should not assume that this story of manipulation was one of a kind. Like we mentioned before Greeks lived in city-states and every city-state had their own gods and heroes. Basically, a lot of material to be manipulated by devious minds. And as Richard Martin says: “With so many stories floating around, there were bound to be contradictions…This means that their own cherished muthos (as a national truth) would be held up against their neighbors’ tale – which then became a ‘myth’ compared to their own.” In this sense, we can see that the word “myth” was becoming a term that separated and united different cultures at the same time.
Unlike Greeks, Romans did not live in different city-states. Although they changed their regime quite a few times, they were still a whole as a nation. We can see the effect of this transformation and entirety in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The stories of Ovid are all linked together through the element of metamorphoses, much like the history of Roman government. But that was precisely the point Ovid was trying to make. “Metamorphoses” for Ovid was a way to demonstrate the Roman culture. Ovid used myth to illustrate human nature, adding his own ideas and observations along the way. And these ideas consisted of little details that Romanized the Greek versions. Like a “pet deer that wears not only necklaces and earrings but even a bulla (…a sign of freeborn status among the Romans.)” or “dried figs”.
If we want our ideas to be adopted into another culture, we appeal to them by showing our similarities – or maybe adding them in little details. That is what Ovid did. Yes, the Romans based their mythology from the Greeks. But the little details in their stories reflected the Roman culture. That is what made their view of mythology different from the Greeks. For Greeks, Homer gave a full report of what happened. He claimed he was listening to the gods and his words were actually the words of gods. In a way he was like a prophet for Greek people. But the Romans looked back to the mythic tales to make sense of human condition. They separated their own religion from the Greeks. Because even though Romans assimilated the Greek religion, they did not assimilated the cult and practiced their own cult.