Genius Loci

Mythology


I would now like to address the mythological figure of the Genius Loci.

The Greeks and the Romans associated every place with a particular deity. Every fountain, valley and mountain had its own protecting divinity. The Genius Loci was a lesser, local god: it did not live on Mount Olympus but in a given town, hill or area of the countryside.

There were various types of Genius Loci.
Nymphs lived in fountains, streams and the sea: they were not immortal but generally enjoyed a long life. The Naiads, nymphs of springs and lakes, brought fertility. The Dryads were the spirits of trees, woods and forests. According to very ancient myths, every Dryad was born to protect a tree and lived in it or in its proximity. Since the dryad died when its tree fell, the gods punished those who had caused the destruction.

In order for a town or fortress to remain intact, the deity had to continue living there. Rooks represent the Genius Loci of the Tower of London. According to legend, the Tower would have remained intact as long as the birds continued to dwell there. Geese are connected to the Genius Loci of the Capitol in Rome. In 390 B.C., when Rome was invaded by the Gauls, the squawking geese woke up the consul Manlius Marcus Capitolinus who was thus able to chase away the invaders.

The Genius Loci ... had a particular relationship with the harmony of a given place and endeavored to preserve the appropriate balance between water, wind, vegetation, buildings etc. It became irritated if the characteristics and harmony of a specific place were altered as a result of actions or gestures that were extraneous to its nature.

Homer, in the Odyssey (XII.205-6), described how Nymphs continually wove different elements together. He narrates that in the cave where Odysseus found refuge upon reaching Ithaca: "There [were] some wonderful stone looms where the nymphs [wove] sea sparkling fabrics...

...

When an object loses its domestic quality, it can no longer be used. Likewise, when the Genius Loci leaves a place, that place loses its soul, it becomes an easy prey for an enemy.

Claudio Neri, Genius Loci