In Roman mythology, Picus was the first king of Latium. He was known for his skill at augury and horsemanship. Picus was also described to be quite handsome, sought after by nymphs and naiads. The witch Circe attempted to seduce him with her charms and herbs while he was on a hunting trip, but he savagely rejected her. She turned him into a woodpecker for scorning her love. When his comrades accused Circe of her crime and demanded Picus' release, she turned them too into a variety of beasts. Picus' wife (whom he was wholly devoted to) was Canens, a nymph. After Picus' transformation she wandered madly through the forest for 6 days until finally she laid down on the bank of the Tiber and died. They had one son, Faunus.
According to grammarian Servius, Picus's love for Pomona was itself scorned. He is featured in one of the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Virgil says that he was the son of Saturnus and the grandfather of Latinus, the king of the Laurentines whom Aeneas and his Trojans fought upon reaching Italy.
Italic people believed Picus was the son of the god of war Mars and attributed his avine transformation to his skills at interpreting bird omens.
One of the function he performed was to lead the deduction of colonies (made up of younger generation folk) with his flight, which traditionally took place in spring and was performed according to a religious ritual known as ver sacrum. The people of the Piceni derived their name from the memory of this ritual.
- Ovid Metamorphoses 14.320-620
- Virgil Aeneid 7.45-49, 170-191
- Servius on Aeneid 7.190
- Diodorus Siculus 6, frag. 5
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