Genius, the divine element of a person, place or thing

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Roman religion views the genius as a particular manifestation of a universal divine essence that permeates each and every person, location, and object.

The genius would accompany each individual from the moment of his birth until the day of his passing, acting almost like a guardian angel. For women, each would be accompanied by the Juno spirit. Each distinct location has a genius (genius loci), as did strong entities like volcanoes. The idea was expanded to include some particular, such as the ingenuity of theater, vineyards, and festivals, which led to successful shows, grape growth, and festivities, respectively. Romans placed a high value on propitiating the proper genii for their crucial projects and life events.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

By quoting Varro, who attributed the reasoning faculties and talents of every human being to their genius, the Christian philosopher Augustine compared the Christian soul to the Roman genius. Although any deity may be referred to be a genius, the majority of higher-level and state genii had their own distinctive names. The term “genius” was most frequently used to describe specific, little-known locations or persons, i.e., families and their houses, which are the smallest units of society and towns. Every single thing had its own genius—houses, doors, gates, streets, districts, and tribes.

The genius first occurs clearly in Roman literature in Plautus, when a character makes fun of the avaricious father of another by saying that he sacrifices his own brilliance with cheap Samian goods to avoid tempting the genius to steal.

Featured image: Winged genius, fresco from a Roman villa in Boscoreale

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