views updated


DIANA . Latin grammarians offer the oldest and most commonly accepted etymology of the name of Diana. She is the female counterpart of Zeus/Deus, following the etymological chain: Deus, dius, Divus, Diovis, dies, duius, Diviana, Diana. Therefore, Diana is "the goddess," and she is often defined as such in inscriptions of the imperial era, which honor her as Dea Diana, Deana, or simply, Diana.

Varro (De lingua Latina 5.68), following the ancient texts of Epicharmus and Ennius, states that "the Moon (luna ) takes her name from lucere (to illuminate) because it shines alone at night." For this reason it is called Noctiluca over the Palatinus, where her temple shines at night. Varro adds that lucere derives from luere (to undo, to dissolve), because light (lux ) dissolves darkness; from lux derives Noctiluca (De lingua Latina 6.79). In her temple a lamp remained lit, illuminating the night. That rite is not Greek, but Italian. For his part, Cicero commands that "just as the Sun receives the name of Apollo, so the Moon receives that of Diana" (De natura deorum 3.20.51); the same duality of day versus night appears in Horace's Ode 4.6, when the poet, in this hymn honoring Augustus, praises Apollo Phoibos (= Sun) and, later, the rites celebrated in honor of Diana-Phoibe, whose flame grows, ripening the wheat fields: rite crescentem face Noctilucam, prosperam frugum celeremque pronos volvere mensis (As with a torch that rekindles the moonlight, to bring back favorable prosperity and swift fruitfulness).

Catullus dedicates his Carmen XXXIV to Diana. Here, the rhythmic repetitions transform the poem into a true hymn or a prayer where she is invoked as Mistress (domina ) of wild life in verses 9 through 12: montium domina ut fores / silvarumque virentium / saltuumque reconditorum amniumque sonantum (Thus you are mistress of the hills, and the flourishing woods and the secluded pasture land and the resounding river). The verses show the duality of Diana as a midwife and protector of children, and as regent of the gloomy night. Thus, Diana is the light that rules the night. This is why she is also invoked as Lucina (and by the Greeks as Lucifera ), stealing the role from Juno herself, who aids women in labor (Cicero, De natura deorum 2.68).

The Italic cult to Diana is very ancient. Legend attributes to King Tatius the establishment of her cult in Latium, brought from the land of the Sabines. According to Livy (27.4.12), a temple and a forest (templum et lucus ) were consecrated to her in Anagnia, the land of the Hernici, as was a hill near the Tusculum. These natural landscapes defined from early on the sacred surroundings of Diana: dark forests, luxuriant woods, and caves.

The paradigm of such a cult can be found in the oldest and most renowned of Diana's sanctuaries in Latin worship, that of Diana Aricina, located in the forest of Nemus, on a lakeshore at the foot of the Alban hills (Pliny, Naturalis historia 16.91). From the name of the lake and the forest, the goddess takes the epithet Nemorensis. In Aricia, the worshipers of Diana were mostly female, and her night rituals were impressive. Once the women had performed the rites, they returned to Rome in a procession, carrying torches and illuminating the night with the fire of their goddess. The procession was repeated, more theatrically, on the ides of August, when the women, carrying the torches, would stand around Lake Nemi until they could feel the presence of the goddess: "Diana herself, who crowns with flowers her chosen hounds, sets her darts and lets the wild beasts lose, while in their chaste homes, the people, throughout the land of Italy, celebrate the day of Hecate" (Statius, Silvae 3.1.5560).

This archaic temple held extraordinary importance in the organization of the later cult of the goddess, for, when it was moved to Rome, the priest of the temple of Diana in the Aventine was addressed by the "archaeological" title rex nemorensis (Ovid, Fasti 3.265; 6.735). The title conferred sacred respect, and was evidence of the ancient barbarism. The priest of Diana "always had to defend himself sword in hand against his foes" (Ovid, Ars amandi 1.260). The notion of barbarism and a constant state of "defense and vigilance" are probably at the heart of Diana's success among slaves and gladiators. In the time of Augustus, the bronze tables with the founding decree of the confederate temple, the lex arae Dianae in Aventino, were still preserved. As in Aricia, in Rome the anniversary of her cult was August 13. On that date, slaves received symbolic freedom and women purified themselves by washing their hair and combing it delicately (Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanae 100).

The early commingling with Artemis can explain those aspects of Diana that contrast with her virginal nature. At Aricia, votive objects have been discovered that take the form of vulvas and phalluses. Syncretism progressively altered the Latin goddess to the point of conferring various features of the Greek goddess upon her beyond her lunar function; thus she became a midwife like Artemis Locheia, a huntress-goddess, and, as Diana Trivia, a goddess of crossroads, after the example of Hekate Trioditis. By the time of Augustus, the absorption of Diana by Artemis was virtually complete, as can be seen in the Carmen saeculare of Horace. On the other hand, Strabo (4.1.5) relates that the cultic statue on the Aventine displayed the same traits as the Artemis of Marseilles, which in turn was identical with the Artemis of Ephesus.

In Campania, north of Capua, there was another great archaic sanctuary to Diana, called the Diana Tifatina because of the abundance of evergreen oaks on its surrounding hills. It was created around the third century bce. The numerous inscriptions found there suggest the popularity of her cult, especially between the first century bce and the first century ce, which depict Diana Tifatina as "huntress." The temple received generous tributes from Sulla in gratitude for his victory over C. Norbanus not far from the temple of Tifatina (Velleius, Paterculus 2.25.4; Plutarch, Sulla 6). Economic activity, based on the ownership and farming of the land, extends to the imperial era. The policies of protection of the temple by the emperors is exemplified by the actions of Vespasian in 77 or 78 against private individuals who improperly occupied lands surrounding the temple of Diana Tifatinaby illegally expanding the size of adjacent plots during the first century ce. The emperor demanded that the land be returned to the temple (quibus secundum instrumentum fines restituuntur). Sulla granted the land to the temple of Diana in 82 ce, and its boundaries were legally recorded in the land registry under Augustus. The imperial judgment is preserved in an inscription in Capua, stating that Emperor Vespasian "restored the limits of the lands under litigation to the temple of Diana Tifatina, donated by Cornelius Sulla" (CIL X 3828).

After the burning of Rome in 65 ce, Nero ordered the construction of a temple to Diana in the Aventine, which is also mentioned by Vitruvius (5.5.8) and Ovid (Fasti 3. 883884). The temple took the place of another one, in a different location, that "Servius Tullius had consecrated to the moon," according to Tacitus (Annales 15.41.1). Livy also refers to the temple (40.2.2) when he tells the prodigious story of how, in the year 182, the door to the sanctuary was blown down by a hurricane.

During the first and second centuries ce Diana was highly honored by the military, especially equestrian officers throughout the Roman Empire. Dedications allude to Diana's ancient names, as well as her earlier functions as goddess of the forests and ruler of wild animals. Thus, in Altava (Mauretania Caesariensis) she is invoked as "Diana Dea nemorum comes, victrix ferarum" (CIL VIII, 9831); Diana Nemorensis is worshiped in Narona (Dalmatia) (CIL III, 1773); while in Intercisa (Lower Pannonia), honors go to Numen Dianae Tifatinae (Année Epigraphique, 1968, 429). In an important inscription in León (Hispania), dating to the second century ce, a senator who was also legatus in legion VII Gemina, writes a long votive invocation of the goddess, building a temple in her honor and offering her his hunting trophies: boar tusks, deer antlers, and a bear skin, all of them hunted by Tullius Maximus, who calls himself "general of the descendants of Aeneas" (Del Hoyo, 2002).

In late antiquity, the name of Diana and her nocturnal names (such as Hekate, Triva, Selene, Luna) had great acceptance in the religion of the people and in magic.

See Also

Artemis; Dea Dia; Moon; Roman Religion, article on the Early Period.


Blagg, T. F. C. "The Cult and Sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis." In Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire, edited by Martin Henig and Anthony King, pp. 211219. Oxford, 1986.

Cels-Saint Hilaire, Janine. "Numen Augusti et Diane de l'Aventin: Le témoignage de l'ara narbonensis." In Les grandes figures religieuses: Fonctionnement pratique et symbolique dans l'antiquité, pp. 455502. Paris, 1986.

Del Hoyo, Javier. "Cvrsv certari : Acerca de la afición cinegética de Q. Tvllivs Maximvs (CIL II 2660)." Faventia 24, no. 1 (2002): 6998.

Gras, Michel. "Le temple de Diane sur l'Aventine." Revue des études anciennes 89 (1987): 4761.

Guldager, Pia. "The Sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis : The Late Republican Acrolithic Cult Statues." Acta archaeologica 66 (1995): 191217.

Montero, Santiago, and Sabino Perea. Romana religio/religio romanorum: Diccionario bibliográfico de religión romana. Madrid, 1999. See the entry on "Diana" (p. 150), with the relevant bibliography.

Ruiz Sánchez, Marcos. Confectum Carmine: En torno a la poesía de Catulo. Murcia, Spain, 1996. See volume 2, pages 6570, for a commentary on poem XXXIV.

Robert Schilling (1987)

Sabino Perea YÉbenes (2005)

Translated from Spanish by Fernando Feliu-Moggi


views updated


In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the woodlands, of wild animals, and of hunting. She also acted as a fertility goddess, who helped women conceive and give birth to children. As Rome's contact with Greece grew in ancient times, Diana became increasingly identified with the Greek goddess Artemis. In time, Diana and Artemis became essentially identical. Most literary references to the goddess use her Roman name, Diana.

Diana's Various Roles

The Romans viewed Diana as a many-sided goddess associated with forests and hunting. Artists usually portrayed her as a virgin hunter, often with a bow and quiver, accompanied by maidens, hunting dogs, or deer.

As goddess of childbirth, nursing, and healingalso called LucinaDiana held an honored place among women. As goddess of light, she represented the moon. However, Diana was also identified with Hecate, the Greek goddess of darkness and witchcraft, and served as goddess of the kingdom of the dead.

Diana's nature was as varied as her many associations. As goddess of forests and hunting, she was considered to be pure and virginal. Yet she could also be arrogant and vengeful. As goddess of the moon, she had a changeable, unpredictable nature. As goddess of the dark world of the dead, she was unforgiving and bloodthirsty.

Because of her connections with creatures of the wild, with the hunt, and with the moon, Diana earned the title of "the triple goddess." Sculptors sometimes created statues of her with three heads: those of a horse, a dog, and a boar. Such statues were displayed at places where three roads met.

Diana's High Priest . The most celebrated place of worship for Diana was a sacred grove beside Lake Nemi, at Aricia near Rome. Associated with Diana at this shrine was the Roman hero Virbius. According to myth, he was Diana's first high priest at Aricia. All the priests who followed had to obtain the position by winning a fight to the death with the current high priest. The new high priest would keep his position until he in turn was conquered in combat. To win the right to fight the high priest, a challenger had to break off a large branch of a sacred oak tree in the grove at Lake Nemi.

Goddess of Ephesus

The ancient Greek city of Ephesus was another center for the worship of Diana. The goddess had a magnificent temple there that took 220 years to construct and was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Within the temple was a famous ebony statue of Diana. The upper body of the statue was entirely covered with breasts, symbolizing Diana's role as goddess of fertility.

It was said that the high priest had to be a runaway slave. In Rome, Diana was regarded as protector of the lower classes, particularly of slaves. In fact, the day of Diana's annual festival in Rome and Aricia was a holiday for slaves.

The Cult of Diana. The worship of Diana was widespread in the ancient world. Indeed, early Christians considered the pagan goddess their main rival. Diana's cult continued to attract followers for centuries, despite Christian opposition.

pagan term used by early Christians to describe non-Christians and non-Christian beliefs

cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

In the Middle Ages, Diana was denounced as "queen of the witches" or "goddess of the heathen." Religious leaders viewed her as a leader of witches and even referred to her as the devil. Nevertheless, the cult of Diana still had some followers in England as late as the 1700s.

See also Artemis; Hecate; Roman Mythology.

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.


views updated

Diana an early Italian goddess associated with hunting, virginity, and, in later literature, with the moon (the Greek equivalent was Artemis). A statue of the goddess was particularly venerated at Ephesus; her Temple there was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In the Bible (Acts 19:28) great is Diana of the Ephesians was the cry of a crowd at Ephesus protesting against the preaching of the apostles Paul and Barnabas; according to the account given in Acts, the people had been worked up by a silversmith named Demetrius, who traded in silver models of Diana's shrine and was concerned for his livelihood.


views updated

Diana In Roman religion, the virgin huntress and patroness of domestic animals. She was identified with Artemis. A fertility deity, she was invoked to aid conception and childbirth.