Online Encyclopedia

PICUS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 587 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PICUS, in Roman mythology, originally the woodpecker, the favourite bird and symbol of Mars as the god of both nature and war. He appears later as a spirit of the forests, endowed with the gift of prophecy, haunting springs and streams, witha special sanctuary in a grove on the Aventine. As a god of agriculture, especially connected with manuring the soil, he is called the son of Stercutus (from stercus, dung, a name of Saturn). Again, Picus is the first king of Latium, son of Saturn and father of Faunus. Virgil (Aen. vii. 170) describes the reception of the ambassadors of Aeneas by Latinus in an ancient temple or palace, containing figures of his divine ancestors, amongst them Picus, famous as an augur and soothsayer. Ac-cording to Ovid (Metam. xiv., 320), Circe, while gathering herbs in the forest, saw the youthful hero out hunting, and immediately fell in love with him. Picus rejected her advances, and the goddess in her anger changed him into a woodpecker, which pecks impotently at the branches of trees, but still retains prophetic powers. The purple cloak which Picus wore fastened by a golden clasp is preserved in the plumage of the bird. In the simplest form of art, he was represented by a wooden pillar surmounted by a woodpecker; later, as a young man with the bird upon his head. PIcuMNus is merely another form of Picus, and with him is associated his brother and double PILUMxus. Picumnus, a rustic deity (like Picus) and husband of Pomona, is specially concerned with the manuring of the soil and hence called Sterquilinus, while Pilumnus is the inventor of the pounding of grain, so named from the pestle (pilum) used by bakers. tinder a different aspect, the pair were regarded as the guardians of women in childbed and- of new-born children. Before the child was taken up and formally recognized by the father, a couch was set out for them in the atrium, where their presence guarded it from all evil. Augustine (De civitate dei, vi. 9) mentions a curious custom: to protect a woman in childbed from possible violence on the part of Silvanus, the assistance of three deities was invoked—Intercidona (the hewer), Pilumnus (the pounder) and Deverra (the sweeper). These deities were symbolically represented by three men who went round the house by night. One smote the threshold with an axe, another with a pestle, the third swept it with a broom—three symbols of culture (for trees were hewn down with the axe, grain pounded with the pestle, and the fruits of the field swept up with the broom) which Silvanus could not endure.
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