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Dis Pater

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Defixio (mid 1st century BCE) slate with the god Dies Pater engraved on it. Defixio were metal, usually lead, tablets with a prayer or a request to a god or deity engraved on them. such tablets were often placed underground, in natural water reservoirs (lakes, ponds) in graves, sometimes they were nailed in temples.
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Dis Pater was a Roman god of Italian origin; husband of Proserpina. His name comes from dives pater, meaning “rich dad”. In his retinue, there were Furies and Libitina – the goddess of death. He was the god of the underworld and wealth. He patronized Manom, Larvae and Lemurs – good and bad spirits of the underworld. A black bull was sacrificed to him.

Identified with Veiovis and Pluto by whom he was replaced over time. His name was often abbreviated to Dis.

In 249 and 207 BCE the Roman Senate, at the request of the senator Lucius Catelli, passed a festival in honour of this god and Proserpina. He and Proserpina were honoured at ludi Tarentini every hundred years. He was also worshipped during ludi Taurii, along with other underground deities. According to legend, unexpectedly discovered a round marble altar Ara Ditis Patris et Proserpinae dedicated to the Dies Pater. Sabina’s servants, called Valesius, the ancestors of the first consul, found him. Servants dug in Tarentum, the northern part of the Trigarium on the Field of Mars (where equites practised there), to discover the building’s foundations. Eventually, the altar was found six meters underground, according to the directions received during sleep. During games and games in honour of the god, a black bull was sacrificed for three days, and then the altar was buried again.

The base for the altar was built according to the instructions received in the dream, but after the altar was discovered. The workers who unearthed the altar are the Sabines. The Romans called the workers Valesius in their Latinized form. Their children were asleep, and according to the instruction received during sleep, the base for the altar was built. It is possible that it was dug out more often than every hundred years for games and activities. The altar was found at the turn of 1886/1887 under Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Rome.

Dis Pater had to like win-win games, especially as he was a god with a name meaning wealth, so it seems understandable to like that. Probably games and activities were of psychological importance. It was hoped that he could in this quite joyful way of celebrating his feast, bring him a little closer to the followers and show his human nature, because the gods of the underworld were rather not very nice. They were often scary. The resemblance to the Greek Hades is quite large, although the Greeks developed their mythology more, and this resemblance could have caused the Romans to worship Hades-Pluto over time, instead of Dis Pater.

  • Kempiński Andrzej, Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich, Warszawa 2001
  • Schmidt Joël, Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej, Katowice 1996

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