Vertumnus: a God with no Identity

Maurizio Bettini


Vertumnus is a god known to us through Augustan poetry. His 'specialty' was the practice of metamorphosis, the act directly expressed by his name: Vertumnus is connected to vertere, the verb used by the Romans to express change and transformation. But which type of metamorphosis was the special province of this god? In this paper, I argue that the field (officium) of Vertumnus seems to be specifically related to possibilities of social metamorphosis, in other words to changing identity within the civitas. The different facies and figurae of this enigmatic god offer a clear example of how myth (the mythological stories in which Vertumnus the shape-shifter is involved), language (Vertumnus and vertere) and society (the metamorphosis of social identity) were interconnected in Roman culture.

Vertumnus.pdf84.75 KB