PENATES (from Lat. penus, eatables, food), Roman gods of the store-room and kitchen. The store-room over which they presided was, in old times, beside the atrium, the room which served as kitchen, parlour, and bedroom in one; but in later times the store-room, was in the back part of the house. It was sanctified by the presence of the Penates, and none but pure and chaste persons might enter it, just as with the Hindus the kitchen is sacred and inviolable. They had no individual names, but were always known under the general designation, Penates. Closely associated with the Penates were the Lares (g.v.) another species of domestic deity, who seem to have been the deified spirits of deceased ancestors. But while each family had two Penates it had but one Lar. In the household shrine the image of the Lar (dressed in a toga) was placed between the two images of the Penates, which were represented as dancing and elevating a drinking-horn in token of joy and plenty. The three images together were sometimes called Penates, sometimes Lares, and either name was used metaphorically for "home." The shrine stood originally in the atrium, but when the hearth and the kitchen were separated from the atrium and removed to the back of the house, and meals were taken in an upper storey, the position of the shrine was also shifted. In the houses at Pompeii it is sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the rooms. In the later empire it was placed behind the house-door, and a taper or lamp was kept burning before it. But the worship in the interior of the house was also kept up even into Christian times; it was forbidden by an ordinance of Theodosius (A.D. 392). The old Roman used, in company with his children and slaves, to offer a morning sacrifice and prayer to his household gods. Before meals the blessing of the gods was asked, and after the meal, but before dessert, there was a short silence, and a portion of food was placed on the hearth and burned. If the hearth and the images were not in the eating-room, either the images were brought and put on the table, or before the shrine was placed a table on which were set a salt-cellar, food and a burning lamp. Three days in the month viz. the Calends, Nones and Ides (i.e. the first, the fifth or seventh, and the thirteenth or fifteenth), were set apart for special family worship, as were also the Caristia (Feb. 22) and the Saturnalia in December. On these days as well as on such occasions as birthdays, marriages, and safe returns from journeys, the images were crowned and offerings made to them of cakes, honey, wine, incense, and sometimes a pig. As each family had its own Penates, so the state, as a collection of families, had its public Penates. Intermediate between the worship of the public and private Penates were probably the rites (sacra) observed by each clan (gens) or collection of families supposed to be descended from a common ancestor. The other towns of Latium had their public Penates as well as Rome. The sanctuary of the whole Latin league was at Lavinium. To these Penates at Lavinium the Roman priests brought yearly offerings, and the Roman consuls, praetors and dictators sacrificed both when they entered on and when they laid down their office. To them, too, the generals sacrificed before departing for their province. Alba Longa, the real mother-city of Latium, had also its ancient Penates, and the Romans maintained the worship on the Alban mount long after the destruction of Alba Longa. The Penates had a temple of their own at Rome. It was on the Velia near the Forum, and has by some been identified with the round vestibule of the church of SS. Cosma e Damiano. In this and many other temples the Penates were represented by two images of youths seated holding spears. The Penates were also worshipped in the neighbouring temple at Vesta. To distinguish the two worships it has been supposed that the Penates in the former temple were those of Latium, while those in the temple of Vesta were the Penates proper of Rome. Certainly the worship of the Penates, whose altar was the hearth and to whom the kitchen was sacred, was closely connected with that of Vesta, goddess of the domestic hearth.
The origin and nature of the Penates was a subject of much discussion to the Romans themselves. They were traced to the mysterious worship of Samothrace; Dardanus, it was said, took the Penates from Samothrace to Troy, and after the destruction of Troy, Aeneas brought them to Italy and established them at Lavinium. From Lavinium Ascanius carried the worship to Alba Longa, and from Alba Longa it was brought to Rome. Equally unsatisfactory with this attempt to connect Roman religion with Greek legend are the vague and mystic speculations in which the later Romans indulged respecting the nature of the Penates. Some said they were the great gods to whom we owe breath, body and reason, viz. Jupiter representing the middle ether, Juno the lowest air and the earth, and Minerva the highest ether, to whom some added Mercury as the god of speech (Servius, on Aen. ii. 296; Macrobius, Sat. iii. 4, 8; Arnobius, Adv. Nat. iii. 40). Others identified them with Apollo and Neptune (Macrob. iii. 4, 6; Arnob. loc. cit.; Servius, on Aen. iii. 1 19). The Etruscans held the Penates to be Ceres, Pales and Fortuna, to whom others added Genius Jovialis (Servius on Aen. ii. 325; Arnob. loc. cit.). The late writer Martianus Capella records the view that heaven was divided into sixteen regions, in the first of which were placed the Penates, along with Jupiter, the Lares, etc. More fruitful than these misty speculations is the suggestion, made by the ancients themselves, that the worship of these family gods sprang from the ancient Roman custom (common to many savage tribes) of burying the dead in the house. But this would account for the worship of the Lares rather than of the Penates. A comparison with other primitive religious beliefs suggests the conjecture that the Penates may be a remnant of fetishism or animism. The Roman genii seem certainly to have been fetishes and the Penates were perhaps originally a species of genii. Thus the Penates, as simple gods of food, are probably much more ancient than deities like Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo and Minerva.
With the Penates we may compare the kindly household gods of old Germany; they too had their home on the kitchen hearthand received offerings of food and clothing. In the castle of Hudemiihlen (Hanover) there was a kobold for whom a cover was always set on the table. In Lapland each house had one or more spirits. The souls of the dead are regarded as housespirits by the Russians; they are represented as dwarfs, and are served with food and drink. Each house in Servia has its patron-saint. In the mountains of Mysore every house has its bhuta or guardian deity, to whom prayer and sacrifices are offered. The Chinese god of the kitchen presents some curious analogies to the Penates: incense and candles are burnt before him on the first and fifteenth of the month some families burn incense and candles before him daily; and on great festivals, one of which is at the winter solstice (nearly corresponding to the Saturnalia), he is served with cakes, pork, wine, incense, etc., which are placed on a table before him.
See ROMAN RELIGION. Q. G. Fs. ; X.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)