Have you watched the movie “Gladiator”? Russell Crowe was brilliant as general Maximus, don't you think? Have you asked yourself though: Why a strong Roman commander like him would hold, kiss, and even talk to small bone-made dolls?
No, he didn't show the gentle part of his other self. What he demonstrated were religious practices dating very far back to the dawn of the ancient civilizations.
Romans believed that their world was inhabited not only by humans and gods but by different sorts of transcendent creatures and spirits. One of the most venerated were tutelary deities, sort of guardians, who presided over particular locality, a household, or a family (Lares, in the case of “Gladiator”). Every house had a small chapel where those deities usually stood and were worshiped.
Roman household chapel - Lararium, Pompeii (1st century AD)
It was also believed that every person, place or thing had their own spiritual nature, their own tutelary deity. It would act much like a guardian angel and would follow people from their birth to their death. The human powers and abilities were attributed to this personal divine guardian as much as like to a soul. The name of that spirit was Genius (for a man, Juno – for a woman).
Since the success and achievements of different persons were believed as a realization of their Genius, around mid 1st century BC Romans started to implicate the sens of a “talent" or an "inspiration” in this word. It was not earlier than 18th century AD though when the term acquired its modern meaning of a “person with great natural abilities and intelligence”. The notion of the word suggesting that genius is someone with inborn qualities could be grasped from its origins. The noun came from the Proto-Indo-European root *gen- meaning “to give birth”, “to produce”, “to create”.
Ingenious – Ingenuous - Indigenous
The same PIE stem could be noticed in the modern English adjective "ingenious” (Latin in + genius) which describes a person as an inborn talent, as someone very smart or clever. The ancient Roman idea that all good qualities were due to our inner nature – to our Genius – is pretty well preserved here.
Although “ingenuous” shares the same root as “ingenious”, it has received a bit different meaning. That adjective came from the Latin one “ingenuus” (Latin in + gens, gentis – “family”) which presented people born in a family (Roman family), i.e. freeborn people. Initially “ingenuous” was used to describe persons who possessed all virtues attributed to the freeborn individuals such as nobility, honesty, frankness. Later, it focused on the complete lack of deceit in such people. Today “ingenuous” portrays someone who is innocently frank or shows childlike simplicity and candidness.
”Indigenous” is another word that derived from the PIE root *gen- (Old Latin indu – in - “within” + genus – “birth, origin”). In Latin, it described individuals with the same descent, the same origin. In modern English denotes people, products, everything that occurs in a particular region or environment.
Gene – Genesis – Genital(ia)
The term “gene” was coined in 1905 by the Danish scientist Wilhelm Ludvig. He used the PIE stem *gen- in the Greek noun “genea”(γενεά) – “race, generation, offspring”. It was invented to denote a definite sequence in our DNA that is responsible for the inheritance and the expression of specific biological traits.
The Greek “genea” is related to the Greek verb “gignesthai” (γίγνεσθαι) – “to be born, to be produced”. That verb gave the noun “genesis” (γένεσις) – “birth, origin”. It entered Latin as “genesis” - with the same meaning - and eventually turned into the English “genesis” – “the beginning of something”. Today we talk about the genesisof an idea, a plan, or a political movement implying the same notion like in the Bible’s Genesis: "to create", "to come into being."
Genital, another heir of the root *gen-, is an English adjective that is pertaining to birth. It has its origins in the Roman mythology where it was used as one of the epithets of the goddess Diana. Apart of presiding over the hunt and the moon, she was venerated as a deity who defended humankind and protected childbirth. In this role, the goddess was worshiped as Diana Genitalis. Denoting first a guard deity, the Latin adjective “genitalis” started to define everything related to generation or birth. Eventually, it was linked to the reproductive organs that give birth and bring new generations naming them "genitalia".
Gentle – Gentleman
The Romans have passed on to us another word which association with the root *gen- is not necessarily obvious. The modern English adjective "gentle" came from the Latin description of individuals who were born in the same family, in the same clan (from Latin gentilis, from gens, gentis – "family”). Cicero called "gentiles" (pl.) men of ancestry. Until early 13th century AD "gentle" in English meant “well-born, noble, of good family”. Gradually, the adjective’s meaning turned into “having the manners of one of noble rank or birth.”
That sense evolved in the French language too where “gentil” from describing high-born people shifted to presenting qualities that such people were supposed to possess. In modern French "genil" is one who is kind, amiable, good-tempered and with good manners.
The noun "gentleman" was probably born from the Old French “gentilhomme” meaning, at the beginning, an aristocrat. In U.S., it often denoted someone of property, not earning their living with profession or business. Following the change of the sense of "gentle", "gentleman" also began to denote any individual of good breeding, kindness, and honor. With the time, the use of the adjective started to focus more on the qualities of a man than on his origin. Eventually, all social standings were neglected in favor of the moral values. Today, gentleman is someone (regardless of his origin) who treats people in a proper and polite way. The noun is so loosely used that nowadays could often be heard without any additional notion but just a “man”: