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Diana was the Roman goddess of the hunt, as well as of the woods, childbirth, children, fertility, chastity, slaves, the moon, and wild animals. She was conflated with the Greek goddess Artemis and the two share many myths. Diana was a complex goddess, and had many roles and depictions in Rome.
Who Was Diana?
Diana was the daughter of Jupiter and the Titaness Latona but was born as a fully grown adult, like most other Roman deities. She had a twin brother, the god Apollo. She was the goddess of hunting, the moon, the countryside, animals, and the underworld. Since she had to do with so many dominions, she was an important and highly worshipped deity in the Roman religion.
Diana had a strong influence from her Greek counterpart Artemis. Just like Artemis, Diana was a maiden goddess, who subscribed to eternal virginity, and many of her myths were related to preserving it. Even though both shared many traits, Diana took on a distinct and complex personality. It’s believed that her worship originated in Italy before the beginning of the Roman Empire.
Diana’s origin can be found in the rural areas of Italy dating back to antiquity. At the beginning of her worship, she was the goddess of unspoiled nature. The name Diana Nemorensisderives from Lake Nemi, where her sanctuary is located. Taking this into consideration, it’s can be argued that she was a deity of the early times of Italy, and her myth had a completely different origin than that of Artemis.
Hellenized Origin of Diana
After the Romanization of Diana, her origin myth was conflated with that of Artemis. According to the myth, when Juno found out that Latona was carrying her husband Jupiter’s children, she was outraged. Juno forbade Latona from giving birth on the mainland, so Diana and Apollo were born on the island of Delos. According to some myths, Diana was born first, and she then assisted her mother in delivering Apollo.
Symbols and Depictions of Diana
Although some of her depictions might resemble Artemis, Diana had her own typical attire and symbols. Her portrayals showed her as a tall, beautiful goddess with cloak, a belt, and a bow and a quiver full of arrows. Other depictions show her with a short white tunic that made it easier for her to move in the woods and is either barefoot or wearing foot coverings made from animal hide.
Diana’s symbols were the bow and quiver, deer, hunting dogs and the crescent moon. She’s often portrayed with several of these symbols. They refer to her roles as a goddess of hunting and of the moon.
The Multifaceted Goddess
Diana was a goddess who had different roles and forms in Roman mythology. She was associated with many affairs of daily life in the Roman Empire and was rather complex in how she was portrayed.
1. Diana the Goddess of the Countryside
Since Diana was the goddess of the countryside and the woods, she lived in the rural areas surrounding Rome. Diana favored the company of nymphs and animals over that of the humans. After the Romanization of the Greek myths, Diana became a deity of the tamed wilderness, in contrast to her previous role as a deity of untamed nature.
Diana was not only the goddess of hunting but the greatest huntress of all herself. In this sense, she became the protectress of the hunters for her stunning bow and hunting skills.
Diana was accompanied by a pack of hounds or a group of deer. According to the myths, she formed a triad with Egeria, the water nymph, and Virbius, the woodland god.
2. Diana Triformis
In some accounts, Diana was an aspect of a triple goddess formed by Diana, Luna, and Hecate. Other sources propose that Diana was not an aspect or a group of goddesses, but herself in her different facets: Diana the huntress, Diana the moon, and Diana of the underworld. Some depictions show this division of the goddess in her varied forms. Because of this, she was revered as a triple goddess.
3. Diana the Goddess of the Underworld and Crossroads
Diana was the goddess of the limital zones and the underworld. She presided over the boundaries between life and death as well as wild and civilized. In this sense, Diana shared similarities with Hecate, the Greek goddess. Roman sculptures used to place the statues of the goddess at crossroads to symbolize her protection.
4. Diana the Goddess of Fertility and Chastity
Diana was also the goddess of fertility, and women prayed for her favor and aid when they wanted to conceive. Diana also became the goddess of childbirth and of the protection of children. This is interesting, considering that she remained a virgin goddess and unlike many of the other gods, wasn’t involved in scandal or relationships.
However, this association with fertility and childbirth may have derived from Diana’s role as the goddess of the moon. The Romans used the moon to track the months of pregnancy because the moon phase calendar was parallel to the menstrual cycle. In this role, Diana was known as Diana Lucina.
Alongside other goddesses like Minerva, Diana was also viewed as the goddess of virginity and chastity. Since she was a symbol of purity and light, she became the protectress of the virgins.
5. Diana the Protectress of Slaves
The slaves and the lower classes of the Roman Empire worshipped Diana to offer them protection. In some cases, the high priests of Diana were runaway slaves, and her temples were sanctuaries for them. She was always present in the prayers and offerings of the plebeians.
The Myth of Diana and Acteon
The myth of Diana and Acteon is one of the most famous tales of the goddess. This story appears in Ovid’s metamorphoses and tells the fatal destiny of Acteon, a young hunter. According to Ovid, Acteon was hunting in the woods near Lake Nemi with a pack of hounds when he decided to take a bath in a spring nearby.
Diana was bathing nude in the spring, and Acteon started spying on her. When the goddess realized this, she was both ashamed and enraged and decided to act against Acteon. She splashed water from the spring onto Acteon, cursing him and transforming him into a stag. His own dogs caught his scent and began chasing him. In the end, the hounds caught Acteon and tore him apart.
Worship of Diana
Diana had several worship centers throughout Rome, but most of them were in the vicinity of Lake Nemi. People believed that Diana lived in a grove near the lake, so this became the place where people worshipped her. The goddess also had a massive temple on the Aventine Hill, where the Romans adored her and offered her prayers and sacrifices.
The Romans celebrated Diana in their festival Nemoralia, which took place in Nemi. When the Roman Empire expanded, the festival became known in other regions too. The celebration lasted three days and nights, and people gave different offerings to the goddess. The worshippers left tokens for the goddess in sacred and wild places.
When the Christianization of Rome began, Diana did not disappear as other deities did. She remained a worshipped goddess for peasant communities and commoners. She later became an important figure of Paganism and a goddess of Wicca. Even nowadays, Diana is still present in pagan religions.
Diana was a remarkable goddess of Roman mythology for her connections to many affairs in antiquity. She was a venerated deity even in pre-Roman times, and she only gained strength with Romanization. In current times, Diana is still popular and an adored goddess.