Diana (mythology)


Diana in Roman mythology is the goddess of hunting, the moon and childbirth, protector of women and girls. She corresponds to Artemis in Greek mythology.

The name is derived from the Latin dius (“bright as day”, “shining”) and a corresponding Indo-Germanic root *dei- with the meaning “to shine”, “to gleam”, “to shine”, from which also names of gods like Greek Dios (Διός) for Zeus and Latin Deus (“God”) can be derived. Accordingly, Diana is not regarded as an original moon goddess, but as “the shining one”, who then as a counterpart to the sun deity Apollo

As male equivalent of Diana a god Dianus is assumed due to the name construction. Whether this is identical with Janus, however, is disputed, especially since Dianus also appears as an epithet of Jupiter.

Diana is originally an Italic deity. Her most important sanctuary (Dianium) was located in the Alban Hills near Aricia on Lake Nemi, the speculum Dianae, the “Mirror of Diana”. Diana Nemorensis was worshipped there together with Egeria and Virbius, two subordinate deities. The sanctuary was well visited. Hence the numerous beggars, mentioned several times by Martial, who gathered there at the clivus Virbi. It was also so well endowed that Octavian took a loan from the temple at Nemi.

The main sanctuary of Diana in Rome was her temple on the Aventine, which according to tradition was founded by Servius Tullius. Even at the time of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the deed of foundation recorded on a bronze column was still preserved. In it, the sanctuary is called the “Temple of Diana of the Latin League”. The foundation feast on the Kalends of the Sextilis (August 1) coincides with that of the sanctuary of Nemi. This day was a feast day of the Roman slaves (servorum dies) and the Roman women washed and took special care of their hair. Then, carrying torches, they went in procession to the grove of the goddess of Nemi.

Other sanctuaries in Rome were:

A temple to Diana-Artemis was vowed by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in a battle against the Ligurians in 187 BC and consecrated eight years later at the Circus Flaminius. This temple was restored by Octavian after the victory over Sextus Pompeius in the naval battle of Naulochoi in 36 BC. At the same time, Lucius Cornificius restored the temple of Diana on the Aventine, which was therefore called the temple of Diana Cornificiana.Augustus also dedicated his temple of Apollo on the Palatine (vowed in 36 BC) to Diana Victrix (the “victorious Diana”) in 28 BC, the secular celebrations of 17 BC were placed under the umbrella of the siblings Apollo and Diana, and in imperial times there were dedications to Diana Augusta (the “sublime

Important places of worship outside Rome were:

It is striking that all the urban Roman sanctuaries from the time of the Republic are located outside the Pomerium, that is, outside the Roman city limits in the religious sense. The ancient sanctuaries of Latium are also all located outside cities. This has been interpreted to mean that Diana is shown in them to be a deity of the wilderness and the “outdoors.” As goddess of the wilderness she was worshipped together with Silvanus and as deity of the border (between wilderness and civilization) by the troops stationed at the borders of the empire.

In the imperial period, cult sites of Diana are found throughout the empire, although “Diana” here is often the Interpretatio Romana of a local deity. For example, Diana stands for the Syrian goddess of Hierapolis or for Abnoba or Arduinna among the Celts.

Remains of temples dedicated to Diana can be found, among others, in:

Originally, Diana seems to have been mainly a helper of women during childbirth. As a goddess of the “outside”, she protected women from its dangers, especially from demonic temptations during childbirth. Her role as a helper in childbirth was also expressed in her epithet Lucina, which she shared with Juno, the other midwife: she was the one who brought the child to light, who made it see the “light of day”.

Her importance as goddess of women and obstetrix is evidenced by numerous votive offerings related to childbirth and fertility found at Nemi, e.g. vulva, phalli, mothers with infants, etc.Wissowa therefore argues that Diana Nemorensis was not a political goddess per se, but that her political importance stemmed only from the fact that Aricia had been the capital of a Latin confederation of cities. There are also votive offerings for hunting success, for example from a centurion stationed in Germania inferior, who gave thanks for having caught 50 bears within only six months. The animals were used in animal rushes in the arena.

Nothing survives of an original myth of Diana – independent of Greek mythology – since Diana was identified very early and almost completely with the Greek Artemis. The Greek myths were adopted with the substitution of the Greek deities with their Roman equivalents. According to this, Diana sprang from Jupiter”s union with Latona, was the sister of Apollo, remained a virgin, did not marry, etc.

The connection of Artemis and Hecate was also transferred to Diana, which is why Diana very often carries the torch of Hecate as an attribute in addition to the bow.Since Hecate was also the goddess of crossroads and crossroads (trivium), trivia appears as the name of Diana from Augustan times. Vergil also calls the lake Nemis lacus triviae.

The Celtic goddess Artio is also equated with Diana in the Interpretatio Romana.

The assertion that the cult image in Aricia was triune, like some representations of Hecate, cannot be deduced from the name alone. Rather, the cult image of Nemi as well as the cult image of Diana Tifatina (at least in the surviving copies) depicted her as a youthful huntress with short chiton, quiver and bow, hunting boots and torch, similar to the well-known type of the “Diana of Versailles”.

She is often depicted as a young huntress with short chiton, quiver with arrows and bow and a young stag.

It is not certain that the denarius of Publius Accoleius Lariscolus from 43 BC, which shows three female deities on the reverse, is a representation of Diana Nemorensis.The goddesses carry a bow, branch and torch or staff as attributes and are connected by a yoke or beam at shoulder level.

The cult image of the Aventine temple is said to have been of the type of the Artemis of Ephesus, since according to Strabon it was an image of the Artemis of Massilia, which in turn corresponded to the Ephesian Artemis.

In the Middle Ages, Diana became the goddess of witches. This seems to be secured by numerous evidences from several centuries. As early as 906, Regino of Prüm published De synodalibus causis et disciplinis ecclesiasticis, which included the Canon episcopi, a collection of instructions for bishops and their representatives. In a list of ideas to be eradicated, it states:

Here the whole myth of the witches” Sabbath is prefigured, with the difference that not Satan but the pagan Diana is mistress of the Sabbath. Something similar is found in Book XIX of the Decretum of Burchard of Worms, who adds the biblical Herodias to the goddess Diana.

The Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg, however, in his study of witchcraft, raised doubts about the authenticity of Diana in such texts and the (later) reports of the witch hunters.He suspected a kind of Interpretatio Romana, that is, that when recording statements of those accused of witchcraft, the names mentioned by them were translated into other names familiar to the authors of the texts. Occasionally, these authentic names do appear, then there is talk of a Bensozia (perhaps Bona Socia: “good companion”) and Madona Horiente, according to the records of a trial of 1390, but in the records of the inquisitor Beltramino da Cernuscullo one reads instead the “play of Diana, whom they call Herodias”.

In another case, which is found in a sermon of Nicholas of Cusa, he reports about women who had confessed to belong to a “society of Diana”, whom they worshiped as a source of wealth, as if “she were Fortuna” (quasi Fortunam). And he refers to Diana of Ephesus, who had always been an adversary of the faith, as can be seen from the Acts of the Apostles. Then he adds that these women would call the goddess Richella in Italian, which means “mother of wealth and fortune”, hence Fortuna. And learnedly he continues, this one is apparently to be identified as Abundia or Dame Habonde, a medieval legendary figure who goes back to the Roman Abundantia.

The examples cited by Ginzburg at least cast doubt on a survival of the ancient Diana in the faith of the people. What is actually authentic here and what was constructed by theologians – familiar with the pagan gods if not through ancient authors, then at least through the apologetic writings of the church fathers – can almost never be decided today.

For example, Diana as the leader of the Wild Hunt: in the sermons of the Dominican John Herolt, a list of superstitious people mentions those who believe that “Diana, called fiends or the blessed Frawn in the vernacular, handles her army at night and they travel great distances.”

The fact that in some languages and dialects a designation for “witch” can be derived from the name “Diana” – jana in Old Tuscan and Sardinian, janára in Neapolitan, gene in Old French, šana in Asturian, jana in Old Provençal, etc. – is also not evidence of the survival of a living tradition of the pagan deity.

Visual arts

Due to the fact that (especially in post-antique mythology) Apollo was identified with Helios, Artemis and thus also Diana were equated with the Greek Selene or the Roman Luna. This led to the fact that, for example, “Diana and Endymion” (actually: “Selene and Endymion”) is a popular subject of visual art in modern times.This iconographic fusion becomes complete when Diana”s bow becomes a crescent moon, as seen, for example, in the final scene of the Pastoral episode in Walt Disney”s Fantasia.

However, there are numerous other subjects from the myths surrounding Diana-Artemis, which have been designed many times in painting, but also in sculpture of modern times.

This includes above all the depiction of the myth about the hunter Aktaion, who watches Diana bathing and is torn apart by his own dogs. This myth initially provided as a motif the Diana bathing (with her nymphs), together with Aktaion hiding in the bushes as a voyeur, furthermore the dramatic scene of Aktaion being torn to pieces by his dogs.

The sibling pair Apollo and Diana was also a popular subject, especially in the 16th century (Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Jan Brueghel the Elder).


Diana found a literary form in the literature of the 19th century in the pantomime “Die Göttin Diana” by Heinrich Heine, which he published following his essay “Die Götter im Exil” in his “Vermischten Schriften” in 1854. In it, Diana first appears in the forest as the target of the romantic knight”s longing and love, then, at the German castle, accompanied by Apollo and Bacchus with their respective retinues, she claims the knight”s betrayed love and asks him to accompany her to Venusberg, but the castle woman does not allow it. Then the knight wanders through romantically rugged regions, where he is teased by Heine”s elemental spirits. Finally Diana appears on horseback with the Wild Hunt. When they arrive together at the gate of the Venusberg, the faithful Eckart stands in their way. In a duel, he stabs the knight to save his soul for heaven. Finally, in the last tableau inside the Venusberg, one sees the sensualists of the past gathered (including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was already dead at the time). The desperate Diana carries in her dead knight, who is then revived by Apollo with lyre music and by Bacchus with wine, so that everything has a good end. As can be seen, the concise libretto unites a considerable number of main romantic motifs, at the center of which is the goddess Diana.

Diana-Artemis appears as the main character working in the background in the novel “Das Maskenspiel der Genien” by the Austrian author Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando. Already on the first pages the fate of the hero Cyriak von Pizzicolli is hinted at:

The mythical equivalent of Cyriak is the hunter Aktaion, whose terrible fate Cyriak must also share at the end.

Diana found a completely different shaping in the first volume “The Duchess – a Diana in Rome” of the trilogy “The Goddesses or The Three Novels of the Duchess of Assy” by Heinrich Mann, which appeared in 1902. As the first in the series of the three goddesses – Diana, Minerva, Venus – Mann shows his youthful heroine as a woman filled with the urge for personal and political freedom, who admittedly fails due to male deceit and deception and is abused in the end.


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