In Roman mythology, Diana (lt. «heavenly» or «divine») was the goddess of the hunt and moon and birthing, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy.
Diana was worshiped in ancient Roman religion and is revered in Roman Neopaganism and Stregheria. Dianic Wicca, a largely feminist form of the practice, is named for her. Diana was known to be the virgin goddess of childbirth and women. She was one of the three maiden goddesses, Diana, Minerva and Vesta, who swore never to marry.
Oak groves were especially sacred to her. According to mythology, Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos, daughter of Jupiter and Latona. Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god.
The persona of Diana is complex and contains a number of archaic features. According to Dumezil it falls into a particular subset of celestial gods, referred to in histories of religion as frame gods. Such gods, while keeping the original features of celestial divinities, i.e. transcendent heavenly power and abstention from direct rule in worldly matters, did not share the fate of other celestial gods in Indoeuropean religions — that of becoming dei otiosi or gods without practical purpose, since they did retain a particular sort of influence over the world and mankind.
The celestial character of Diana is reflected in her connection with light, inaccessibility, virginity, and her preference for dwelling on high mountains and in sacred woods. Diana therefore reflects the heavenly world (diuum means sky or open air) in its sovereignty, supremacy, impassibility, and indifference towards such secular matters as the fates of mortals and states. At the same time, however, she is seen as active in ensuring the succession of kings and in the preservation of humankind through the protection of childbirth.
These functions are apparent in the traditional institutions and cults related to the goddess.
- 1) The institution of the rex Nemorensis, Diana’s sacerdos (priest) in the Arician wood, who held the position till someone else challenged and killed him in a duel, after breaking a branch from a certain tree of the wood. This ever open succession reveals the character and mission of the goddess as a guarantor of kingly status through successive generations. Her function as bestower of authority to rule is also attested in the story related by Livy in which a Sabine man who sacrifices a heifer to Diana wins for his country the seat of the Roman empire.
2) Diana was also worshipped by women who wanted to be pregnant or who, once pregnant, prayed for an easy delivery. This form of worship is attested in archeological finds of votive statuettes in her sanctuary in the nemus Aricinum as well as in ancient sources, e.g. Ovid
According to Dumezil the forerunner of all frame gods is an Indian epic hero who was the image (avatar) of the Vedic god Dyaus. Having renounced the world, in his roles of father and king, he attained the status of an immortal being while retaining the duty of ensuring that his dynasty is preserved and that there is always a new king for each generation. The Scandinavian god Heimdallr performs an analogous function: he is born first and will die last. He too gives origin to kingship and the first king, bestowing on him regal prerogatives. Diana, although a female deity, has exactly the same functions, preserving mankind through childbirth and royal succession.
Diana often appeared as a young woman, age around 12 to 19. It was believed that she had a fair face like Aphrodite with a tall body, slim, small hips, and a high forehead. As a goddess of hunting, she wore a very short tunic so she could hunt and run easily and is often portrayed holding a bow, and carrying a quiver on her shoulder, accompanied by a deer or hunting dogs. Sometimes the hunted creature would also be shown. As goddess of the moon, however, Diana wore a long robe, sometimes with a veil covering her head. Both as goddess of hunting and goddess of the moon she is frequently portrayed wearing a moon crown.
Diana was initially just the hunting goddess, associated with wild animals and woodlands. She also later became a moon goddess, supplanting Titan goddess Luna. She also became the goddess of childbirth and ruled over the countryside. Catullus wrote a poem to Diana in which she has more than one alias: Latonia, Lucina, Iuno, Trivia, Luna.
In Rome the cult of Diana should have been almost as old as the city itself as Varro mentions her in the list of deities to whom king Titus Tatius vowed a shrine. It is noteworthy that the list includes Luna and Diana Lucina as separate entities. Another testimony to the high antiquity of her cult is to be found in the lex regia of king Tullus Hostilius that condemns those guilty of incest to the sacratio to the goddess.
Diana was worshipped at a festival on August 13, when King Servius Tullius, himself born a slave, dedicated her temple on the Aventine Hill in the mid-6th century BC. Being placed on the Aventine, and thus outside the pomerium, meant that Diana’s cult essentially remained a foreign one, like that of Bacchus; she was never officially transferred to Rome as Juno was after the sack of Veii. It seems that her cult originated in Aricia, where her priest, the Rex Nemorensis remained. There the simple open-air fane was held in common by the Latin tribes, which Rome aspired to weld into a league and direct. Diana of the wood was soon thoroughly Hellenized, «a process which culminated with the appearance of Diana beside Apollo in the first lectisternium at Rome».
Diana was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens and slaves; slaves could receive asylum in her temples. This fact is of difficult interpretation. Georg Wissowa proposed the explanation that it might be because the first slaves of the Romans must have been Latins of the neighbouring tribes. However in Ephesus too there was the same custom of the asylum.
According to Franoise HŽlne Pairault’s study, historical and archaeological evidence point to the fact that both Diana of the Aventine and Diana Nemorensis were the product of the direct or indirect influence of the cult of Artemis spread by the Phoceans among the Greek towns of Campania Cuma and Capua, which in turn passed it over to the Etruscans and the Latins by the VI and V centuries BC.
The origin of the ritual of the rex Nemorensis should have to be traced to the legend of Orestes and Iphigenia more than that of Hippolitos. The formation of the Latin League led by Laevius (or Baebius) Egerius happened under the influence of an alliance with the tyrant of Cuma Aristodemos and is probably connected to the political events at end of the 6th century narrated by Livy and Dionysius, such as the siege of Aricia by Porsenna’s son Arruns. It is remarkable that the composition of this league does not reflect that of the Latin people who took part in the Latiar or Feriae Latinae given by Pliny and it has not as its leader the rex Nemorensis but a dictator Latinus. It should thence be considered a political formation and not a traditional society founded on links of blood.
It looks as if the confrontation happened between two groups of Etruscans who fought for supremacy, those from Tarquinia, Vulci and Caere (allied with the Greeks of Capua) and those of Clusium. This is reflected in the legend of the coming of Orestes to Nemi and of the inhumation of his bones in the Roman Forum near the temple of Saturn.The cult introduced by Orestes at Nemi is apparently that of the Artemis Tauropolos. The literary amplification reveals a confused religious background: different Artemis were conflated under the epithet.
As far as Nemi’s Diana is concerned there are two different versions, by Strabo and Servius Honoratus. Strabo’s version looks to be the most authoritative as he had access to first hand primary sources on the sanctuaries of Artemis, i.e. the priest of Artemis Artemidoros of Ephesus. The meaning of Tauropolos denotes an Asiatic goddess with lunar attributes, lady of the herds. The only possible interpretatio graeca of high antiquity concerning Diana Nemorensis could have been the one based upon this ancient aspect of deity of light, master of wildlife.
Tauropolos is an ancient epithet attached to Hecate, Artemis and even Athena. According to the legend Orestes founded Nemi together with Iphigenia. At Cuma the Sybil is the priestess of both Phoibos and Trivia. Hesiod and Stesichorus tell the story according to which after her death Iphigenia was divinized under the name of Hecate, fact which would support the assumption that Artemis Tauropolos had a real ancient alliance with the heroine, who was her priestess in Taurid and her human paragon. This religious complex is in turn supported by the triple statue of Artemis-Hecate. A coin minted by P. Accoleius Lariscolus in 43 BC has been acknowledged as representing the archaic statue of Diana Nemorensis. It represents Artemis with the bow at one extremity, Luna-Selene with flowers at the other and a central deity not immediately identifiable, all united by a horizontal bar.
The iconographical analysis allows the dating of this image to the 6th century at which time there are Etruscan models. Two heads found in the sanctuary and the Roman theatre at Nemi, which have a hollow on their back, lend support to this interpretation of an archaic Diana Trivia, in whom three different elements are associated. The presence of a Hellenized Diana at Nemi should be related to the presence of the cult in Campania, as Diana Tifatina was appeled Trivia in an imperial age inscription which mentions a flamen Virbialis dedicated by eques C. Octavius Verus. Cuma too had a cult of a chthonic Hecate and certainly had strict contacts with Latium. The theological complex present in Diana looks very elaborated and certainly Hellenic, while an analogous Latin concept of Diana Trivia seems uncertain, as Latin sources reflect a Hellenised character of the goddess.
Though some Roman patrons ordered marble replicas of the specifically Anatolian «Diana» of Ephesus, where the Temple of Artemis stood, Diana was usually depicted for educated Romans in her Greek guise. If she is accompanied by a deer, as in the Diana of Versailles (illustration, above right) this is because Diana was the patroness of hunting. The deer may also offer a covert reference to the myth of Acteon (or Actaeon), who saw her bathing naked. Diana transformed Acteon into a stag and set his own hunting dogs to kill him.
Worship of Diana is mentioned in the Bible. In Acts of the Apostles, Ephesian metal smiths who felt threatened by Saint PaulÕs preaching of Christianity, jealously rioted in her defense, shouting ÒGreat is Diana of the Ephesians!Ó (Acts 19:28, New English Bible). After the city secretary quieted the crowd, he said, «Men of Ephesus, what person is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the keeper (guardian) of the temple of the great Diana and of her image that fell from heaven ?» (Acts 19:36)
Diana was an ancient goddess common to all Latin tribes. Therefore many sanctuaries were dedicated to her in the lands inhabited by Latins. The first one is supposed to have been near Alba Longa before the town was destroyed by the Romans.
The Arician wood sanctuary near the lake of Nemi was Latin confederal as testified by the dedicatory epigraph quoted by Cato.
She had a shrine in Rome on the Aventine hill, according to tradition dedicated by king Servius Tullius. Its location is remarkable as the Aventine is situated outside the pomerium, i.e. original territory of the city, in order to comply with the tradition that Diana was a goddess common to all Latins and not exclusively of the Romans.
Religion — Diana’s cult has been related in Early Modern Europe to the cult of Nicevenn (aka Dame Habond, Perchta, Herodiana, etc.). She was related to myths of a female Wild Hunt.
Wicca — Today there is a branch of Wicca named for her, which is characterized by an exclusive focus on the feminine aspect of the Divine. Diana’s name is also used as the third divine name in a wiccan energy chant- «Isis Astarte Diana Hecate Demeter Kali Inanna».
Stregheria — In Italy the old religion of Stregheria embraced the goddess Diana as Queen of the Witches; witches being the wise women healers of the time. Diana was said to have created the world of her own being having in herself the seeds of all creation yet to come. It was said that out of herself she divided the darkness and the light, keeping for herself the darkness of creation and creating her brother Apollo, the light. Diana was believed to have loved and ruled with her brother Apollo, the god of the Sun.
Language —Both the Romanian word for «fairy» Zana and the Leonese word for «water nymph» xana, seem to come from the name of Diana.
Arts — Since the Renaissance the myth of Diana has often been represented in the visual and dramatic arts, including the opera L’arbore di Diana. In the sixteenth century, Diana’s image figured prominently at the chateaus of Fontainebleau, Chenonceau, and at Anet, in deference to Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri of France. At Versailles she was incorporated into the Olympian iconography with which Louis XIV, the Apollo-like «Sun King» liked to surround himself. Diana is also a character in the 1876 Leo Delibes ballet Sylvia. The plot deals with Sylvia, one of Diana’s nymphs and sworn to chastity, and Diana’s assault on Sylvia’s affections for the shepherd Amyntas.
Diana is also referenced in literature, painting, sculpture, and film.