In ancient Roman religion, the Di Penates or Penates // were among the dii familiares, or household deities, invoked most often in domestic rituals. When the family had a meal, they threw a bit into the fire on the hearth for the Penates. They were thus associated with Vesta, the Lares, and the Genius of the paterfamilias in the "little universe" of the domus.
Like other domestic deities, the Penates had a public counterpart.
An etymological interpretation of the Penates would make them in origin tutelary deities of the storeroom, Latin penus, the innermost part of the house, where they guarded the household's food, wine, oil, and other supplies. As they were originally associated with the source of food, they eventually became a symbol of the continuing life of the family. Cicero explained that they "dwell inside, from which they are also called penetrales by the poets". The 2nd-century AD grammarian Festus defined penus, however, as "the most secret site in the shrine of Vesta, which is surrounded by curtains." Macrobius reports the theological view of Varro that "those who dig out truth more diligently have said that the Penates are those through whom we breathe in our inner core (penitus), through whom we have a body, through whom we possess a rational mind."
The public cult of the ancestral gods of the Roman people originated in Lavinium, where they were also closely linked with Vesta. One tradition identified the public Penates as the sacred objects rescued by Aeneas from Troy and carried by him to Italy. They, or perhaps rival duplicates, were eventually housed in the Temple of Vesta in the forum. Thus the Penates, unlike the localized Lares, are portable deities.
Archaeological evidence from Lavinium shows marked Greek influence in the archaic period, and Aeneas himself was venerated there as Father Indiges. At the new year, Roman magistrates first sacrificed to Capitoline Jupiter at Rome, and then traveled to Lavinium for sacrifices to Jupiter Indiges and Vesta, and a ceremonial visit to the "Trojan" Penates.
- Servius, note to Aeneid 1.730, as cited by Robert Schilling, "The Penates," in Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1981, 1992), p. 138.
- Cicero, De natura deorum 2.60–69, as cited by Jane Chance, Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433–1177 (University Press of Florida, 1994), p. 73.
- Celia E. Schutz, Women's Religious Activity in the Roman Republic (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), p. 123.
- Schutz, Women's Religious Activity, p. 123; Sarah Iles Johnston, Religions of the Ancient World (Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 435; Schilling, "The Penates," p. 138.
- Morford, Mark P.O.; Lenardon, Robert J.; Sham, Michael (2011). Classical Mythology (Ninth ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 80–82. ISBN 9780195397703.
- Cicero, De natura deorum 2.68, as cited by Schilling, "The Penates," p. 138.
- Festus 296L, as cited by Schilling, "The Penates," p. 138.
- Qui diligentius eruunt veritatem Penates esse dixerunt per quos penitus spiramus, per quos habemus corpus, per quos rationem animi possidemus: Macrobius, Saturnalia 3.4.8–9, quoting Varro; Sabine MacCormack, The Shadows of Poetry: Vergil in the Mind of Augustine (University of California Press, 1998), p. 77; H. Cancik and H. Cancik-Lindemaier, "The Truth of Images: Cicero and Varro on Image Worship," in Representation in Religion: Studies in Honor of Moshe Barasch (Brill, 2001), pp. 48–49.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities II 19.
- Varro, De lingua latina 5.144, says of Lavinium that "this is where our Penates are"; Tim Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000–264 BC) (Routledge, 1995), p. 66.
- Ovid, Fasti 3.615; Propertius 4.1.
- Johnston, Religions of the Ancient World, p. 435.
- Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome, pp. 66, 68 and 109; Schutz, Women's Religious Activity, p. 123.
- Emma Dench, Romulus' Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 202; Arnaldo Momigliano, "How to Reconcile Greeks and Trojans," in On Pagans, Jews, and Christians (Wesleyan University Press, 1987), p. 272.