Università degli Studi di Siena
“Vertumnus: A God With No Identity”
In this paper, I propose to explore the world of Vertumnus—a divinity known to us principally from an elegy of Propertius (4.2) and an episode of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (16.641ff.). We know essentially three forms or manifestations of Vertumnus, which can be described as follows: first, Vertumnus as statue (that set up in the Vicus Tuscus, of which Propertius speaks at some length); second, Vertumnus asfabula (the figure of Ovid’s mythological tale); third, Vertumnus as god (the “force” or vis of the god as part of the Roman pantheon). This much is known about the god: he is closely associated with “metamorphosis”. But metamorphosis of what kind?
All this brings us to the name of the god: Vertumnus. The Romans considered it to be connected with vertere (“to change, transform”) and in fact Vertumnus is precisely the god of vertere, whether considered in the form (facies) of a statue, or that of a tale (fabula), or that of a divine power (vis). In short, this god permits us to see at work a perfect combination of language, myth, and society in Roman culture.