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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, with a 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 slercus, 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. According 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.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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