The Romans borrowed several goddesses from the Greek pantheon and simply gave them new names. Aphrodite changed to Venus, Artemis to Diana, Athena to Minerva and Hera to Juno. As a result the myths, realms of influence, sacred items and associations for these goddesses often blur into each other. By any name, however, the goddesses of the Greco-Roman world illustrated a rich diversity. Every home in Rome had a lararium, or shrine, for worship. The altars held various offerings, including specific fruits considered sacred to the family's patroness.
Ancient people adored apples and associated them with health, beauty, love, wisdom and passion. As a result it was one of the fruits sacred to Venus. Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest, and Terra Mater, the ancient earth goddess also accepted apples as offerings.
In Greco-Roman mythology Eris the goddess of discord threw a golden apple into a meeting of the gods. It was labeled, "for the fairest." Aphrodite, Athena and Hera all thought they should receive that apple. The strife resulted in the Trojan War.
All Fruit Trees
Horace, a Roman poet, wrote about fruit orchards in the Roman Empire as spanning nearly border to border. Pomona was the goddess who presided over this edible paradise, being the goddess of fruit trees. In Latin "pomum" means fruit. In art Pomona's depictions includes a pruning knife, platters of fruit and a cornucopia. There is a statue of Pomona in New York City adjacent to the Plaza Hotel.
One festival for Juno, Nonae Caprotinae, took place on July 7th. Nonae Caprotinae means "nones of the wild fig." Chief of the Roman goddesses, people built several temples in Juno's honor. Her attributes include marriage, childbirth and love. Women wishing to conceive sacrificed figs to Juno Caprotina under wild fig trees.
Throughout Greece and Rome figs became a food staple. Homer wrote of figs in the orchard of Alcinous. Naturalist Pliny the Elder diligently recorded information about fig trees in Rome during his lifetime (23 A.D. - 79 A.D.), including that sacred figs grew in the Forum.
Throughout the Roman world Athena figured heavily into myths. One story claims that she and Poseidon argued over who would be the patron of the region later named Athens. To solve the situation, each deity gifted the city with one item. Poseidon hit the earth with his trident, making saltwater that provided the area with a means of trade by sea. Athena offered the people an olive tree. Of the two, the people favored Athena's olive tree and the city became hers.
In Ovid's classical poem called Fasti, or the Feasts, he recounts various Roman Festivals. Giovanni Bellini's depicts part of this poem in "Feast of the Gods." In the painting we find the goddess Persephone holding a quince, which symbolized marriage.
Roman husbands offered fruit from the quince tree to Venus for marital blessings. Quince is one of the fruits featured in the frescoes of Pompeii, always appearing in a goddess's right hand.