Latin & mythology: why Jupiter/Jovis?

In connection with the now-defunct mythology thread, I got to thinking about the Latin declensions for the names of the gods and planets.

I understand that all Latin nouns are identified by giving the nominative and genitive singular, so that one knows to which declension they belong and what the correct root is. So I quite understand the root forms for many of the gods’ names:

Mercurius, Mercurii (2nd decl.)
Venus, Veneris? (3rd decl.)
Mars, Martis (3rd decl.)
Vesta, -ae (1st decl.)
Apollo, Apollonis (3rd decl)

and so on.

Jupiter, however, is extremely unusual. The root bears absolutely no resemblance to the nominative form at all:

Iupiter, Iovis (3rd decl.)

I also understand that this is why the adjective which applies to the planet Jupiter and its environs is “Jovian”. And the expression “By Jove!” uses the vocative form of the root.

My question is this: where did this root/name “Iov-” come from? Is this just a Latin anomaly, or is there a historical/mythological reason for this? For instance, was the Roman state god “Iupiter” an amalgam of two or more earlier Italian gods/numina, one of which was named “Iove”?

Maeglin If you’re reading this, I’m counting on you to help me!

Jupiter is the Greek name.

No, “Zeus” is the Greek name.
“Jupiter” comes, ultimateley from the Sanskrit root “Dyaus Piter” = “Sky Father”. “Dyaus” also was the root for “Zeus” and for “Jove”. Please note (as we were taught in Latin) that “J” is pronounced and “Y” and “V” as “W”, so “Jove” comes out more like “Yahweh”, w3hich is the Hebrew name for god. For which I suggest you read Elias Auerbach’s book “Moses”.

As for why the Latin form has the odd conjugation, I couldn’t tell you. Sorry. Maybe it’s just another irregular form.

Really? Interesting, I had never come across that fact in my Latin and classical studies before. But that still doesn’t answer the question of where the “Iov-” root came from. Or does it?

We simul-posted; my previous post was in reply to Keeve.

Thanks, that does go far in explaining this. That is, for some reason Latin adopted the “hard” sound of “-piter” for the nominative, and used a “softer” root. Could it be the other way around from what Keeve suggested – that they borrowed “Jove” from the Greek “Zeus”?

Because to me, “Jupiter, Jupiteris” doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue and I would imagine the Romans thought so, too.

I will check out the book you recommend. I remember how to pronounce classical Latin (and shudder at Church Latin!) but I hadn’t made a connection between “iove” and “yahweh”. Hmmm…

Etymology is no longer my strong point, for having graduated college, I don’t have access to some of the linguistic resources that I am accustomed to. So I turned to the Lewis and Short online dictionary located at the Perseus Site and found the entry for Jupiter.

The etymological portion is brief:

Jovis-pater; Jovis for Djovis, kindred to Sanscr. dyô

To my eye, a few things are possible here. Jupiter could be a conflation of Jovis-pater. Alternatively, Jupiter in the nominative could be a pre-Latin or extremely early Latin word coupled with more modernized oblique cases.

For the record, the Greek Zeus is also highly irregular. Zeus in the nominative yields dios in the genitive.


Thanks to you as well, Maeglin. I was hoping you’d help out.

I think this answers my basic question. The origin of the Latin form is mostly etymological (due to various forms and corrupted forms of the root Sanskrit word), not a conflation of historical/mythological images.

Maeglin, BTW: in our earlier thread we discussed the association of the Viking’s Odin with specific Roman gods. While I understand, both from this and our earlier discussion, that “Odin” and “Jupiter/Zeus” are related etymologically, I was saying that the Romans (or specifically, Gaius Julius Caesar) associated the persona of Odin/Wotan with his own Mercury. This is found in his treatise on Germania, I believe.

This doesn’t alter the etymologically similarities between Odin/Wotan and Jupiter/Zeus, but Caesar would not necessarily have been aware of these.

In my opinion, Caesar had an imperfect understanding of northern religion. One look at the Bellum Gallicum is all it takes to discredit him. Caesar may have been able to report what he witnessed with some accuracy, but I would not trust him for any real understanding of the depth of northern religion.

Furthermore, what texts we have about Odin, etc are all from a considerably later period. It is impossible to verify Caesar’s judgments due to lack of information. One can only turn to his inconsistencies elsewhere and surmise that maybe he wasn’t that well informed.

I do not mean to disparrage Caesar at all. I just don’t want to stretch his worth more than it can bear.


You are so right. I absolutely cannot believe I forgot that. My bad. Sorry, all.

[… slinking away in shame …]

Maeglin I see; you have a point. Caesar was a warrior, not a priest, so how reliable could his assessment be? I can’t remember whether he offers any specific reasons for making the Mercury/Wotan association – but the association persists into the present day:

Mercury/Mercury-day/Mercredi (in French)


And the “sygil” for Wednesday is the same as that for the planet Mercury.

The latter is more of an astrological rather than a mythological correlation, but it illustrates my point that someone besides Caesar accepted the Wotan/Mercury association.

Not to disagree with you – just to point out that Caesar’s perhaps erroneous assessment may have carried a lot of weight.

As always, very informative chatting with you!

Another question, apropos of Jupiter/Jove: a seldom-encountered synonym of Mars is Mavors; does anyone know the etymology of this?

This statement is inaccurate. Latin and the other Indo-European languages do not “come from Sanskrit.” Sanskrit and the other Indo-European languages are all derived from Proto-Indo-European. Sanskrit is not identical with Proto-Indo-European, it is just part of one branch of the Indo-European daughter languages.

Picky, picky. You know what I mean.

Scratch: I haven’t heard Mavores (which doesn’t mean it’s wrong – just that I haven’t heard it.) I have heard “Mamers” as another form of “Mars”. Hence the “Mamertine Wars” with folks who worshipped that god.

At least you didn’t say it was Esperanto!

I admit that I don’t really understand how the selection of day names and astrology really work, but I don’t see why the connection between Wednesday and mercredi even has to exist at all. Can it not be merely coincidence that in the northern tradition Wednesday is named after Wotan and in the southern the day is named for Mercury? If I am not mistaken, vendredi is named for Venus, and Friday for Frey. Are these connected?

Maybe you can inform me, MJH2. :wink:

As for Mavors…again Lewis and Short does the trick. Here’s the skinny:

from mah, magh, to cut; Gr. machê, machaira, and vor, root of vortere; i. e. the turner of the battle

Mavors is an archaic and poetic usage, btw.

Hope this helps!


Wouldn’t Apollo have a Greek root, since they used the name first?


Maeglin: I admit that I don’t really understand how the selection of day names and astrology really work, but I don’t see why the connection between Wednesday and mercredi even has to exist at all. Can it not be merely coincidence that in the northern tradition Wednesday is named after Wotan and in the southern the day is named for Mercury?

Probably not. As for the weekday-naming thing: We know (cf. O. Neugebauer, History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy) that the Greeks (following the practice of the Babylonians, but using different deities) named the five star-planets after gods: Ares, Aphrodite, Hermes, Kronos, Zeus (“aster Aphrodites” = Venus, etc.). As far back as Cicero, we see attested in ancient works the standard Hellenistic order of the seven planets (including the sun and moon) in descending order of apparent angular velocity, and by hypothesis, of geocentric distance:

Saturn Jupiter Mars Sun Venus Mercury Moon

(Kronos) (Zeus) (Ares) (Helios) (Aphrodite) (Hermes) (Selene)

The arrangement of the weekdays (standard everywhere that Greek astrology had influence) uses the same seven bodies but in a different order:

Sun Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn

The question is, how was that “mixed-up” (i.e., not obviously related to any astronomical quantity) order derived? Cassius Dio in about 200 CE suggested two derivations (implying that even back then the question had become kind of mysterious). One was based on harmonic intervals, and the other depended on the astrological system of the rulers of the hours. By that system, each of the 24 hours of a day has one of the seven planets as its ruler, and the lord of the first hour of a weekday is the lord of the day itself.

So assuming that the ruler of the first hour of the first day ought to be the Sun, as the most powerful, we start counting in sequence down the standard Hellenistic order from the Sun:
1-Sun, 2-Venus, 3-Mercury, 4-Moon, 5-Saturn, 6-Jupiter, 7-Mars, 8-Sun, 9-Venus, etc. etc. When we get to 24, we’re on Mercury, so the ruler of the last hour of the first day is Mercury. So continuing the sequence, the ruler of the first hour of the second day is the next planet, i.e. the Moon. So the Moon is lord of the second day of the week. And so it goes and so it goes, down through Saturday. (Since 24 and 7 are relatively prime, we don’t get any repeats in the first-lord position till we’ve completed the whole week, which is nice.)

The Romans borrowed this system but, of course, stuck in the corresponding Roman deities:

Sol Luna Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn

Again, in the Norse system we get the same arrangement, but somewhat different (although corresponding) deities:

Sun Moon Tyr Wotan Thor Freya (Saturn?)

Considering the basic similarity of order, and the resemblances between, say, Jupiter and Thor and Venus and Freya, I think it’s very unlikely that this is coincidental. Although I confess I don’t know much about how Graeco-Roman astrology was transmitted to the northern barbarians…was it really as early as Caesar’s Germania?

Apollo is a Latinization of the Greek Apollon. I am not entirely sure how this relationship works. In early Latin, Apollo was actually Apello, and inscription evidence declines Apollo in all sorts of weird ways: Apolonei, Apolone, etc.


That is some interesting material, Kimstu, though I wouldn’t trust Cassius Dio farther than I can throw the Loeb volumes of his works.

I would hope that a Hellenistic attestation of planetary order goes farther back than Cicero. Although I read the Somnium Scipionis some time ago, I do remember that Cicero is extremely vague on the positions of the heavenly bodies. Does he discuss this at more length in his treatise on divination or on the nature of the gods? Offhand, do you know what Aratus had to say about this?

My gut tells me not. I’ll do a little digging if I can (I don’t have enough specialized resources here at work), but I think that the order of the weekdays is a much later convention.


Aha, Maeglin, now you’ve stumbled into (or close to) my esoteric little corner of the Known Universe…

The correlation between days of the week, names of gods and planetary/astrological associations holds for most other days as well.

Continuing with French and English (pardon any incorrect Nordic/Germanic misspellings):

Monday and Sunday are named for (and symbolized by) the Moon and Sun respectively. In French, lundi makes sense but dimanche isn’t immediately obvious in this context. ( -manche? Qu’est-ce que c’est? “Sleeve”?)

Tuesday – mardi – Tyr/Mars
Thursday – jeudi – Thor/Jupiter (which makes sense, in light of the earlier etymology/pronunciation discussion)
Wedneday – mercredi – Wotan/Mercury
Friday – vendredi – Freya/Venus
Saturday – samedi – ???/ Saturn

Saturday stands out as only one for which, in English, the day is named after the Roman god/titan, not the Germanic one. However, I don’t know who the Germanic deity is, or if samedi can be derived from that name… Was there a Germanic/Nordic god of time?

The astrological/planetary associations hold for all seven days.

So IMHO, it’s more than coincidence that four, possibly five, days of the week reflect associations between astrology, the visible planets and two different pantheons. As I said a while back, these associations might not always be obvious to us today, but we don’t worship these gods; the Romans and Germanic tribes did.