Lares Familiares

From Academic Kids

Lares Familiares ("Family Guardians" in Latin) were mythological spirits of ancient Rome. The singluar form is Lar Familiaris.

The Lar Familiaris was a special kind of domestic guardian spirit who cared for the welfare and prosperity of a household. A household's lararium, a shrine to the Lar Familiaris, usually stood near the hearth or in a corner of the atrium. Lararia often had the appearance of a cupboard or niche containing small images, niches painted on a wall, or small freestanding shrines. Sometimes the Genius of the head of the household, pictured as a bearded or crested snake or as a man with the fold of his toga covering his head, is depicted with the Lares.

References to domestic religious practices often pair the Lares and the Penates. Penates, although also domestic guardian spirits, were more specifically protectors of the master of the household and his immediate family. The Lar Familiaris, on the other hand, protected all household members, free or slave, and was associated with a particular place; the lar did not accompany a family which moved.

Tradition holds that a family Lar would generously help those who honored him with devotionals and sacrifice. But the Lar would turn his back to those who would not offer him thanks, or neglected him.

A story about these spirits occurs in the Aulularia of Plautus (Lines 1-36). In the tale, a grandfather begs his Lar to hide the family gold, so the Lar buries it in the hearth. When the grandfather dies, the Lar did not show the his son where the gold was hidden because the son never remembered to honor the Lar.

The Lar kept the gold hidden until Euclio, the man's grandson, had a daughter who was ready for marriage, but he hadn't enough money for a dowry. Euclio, always pious, frequently honored the Lar. So the spirit helped Euclio find the gold and made a wealthy bachelor next door fall in love with the daughter.

Plautus describes the Lar Familiaris as a young, slender figure clad in high boots, short tunic, and belted undergarment. Garlands adorn his head, and he is lithe, graceful and nimble.

See also

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