Diana (mythology)

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Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility, and the moon[1]
Cametti Diana.jpg
Diana as Huntress. Marble by Bernardino Cametti, 1720. Pedestal by Pascal Latour, 1754. Bode Museum, Berlin.
SymbolBow & quiver, deer, hunting dogs, crescent moon
TemplesSanctuary at Lake Nemi, Temple of Diana (Rome)
Personal information
  • Early Roman: N/A
  • Hellenistic: N/A
  • Modern: Aradia
Greek equivalentArtemis

Diana (Classical Latin: [dɪˈaːna]) was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature in Roman mythology, associated with wild animals and woodland. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis and absorbed much of Artemis' mythology, including a birth on the island of Delos to parents Jupiter and Latona, and a twin brother, Apollo,[2] though she had an independent origin in Italy.

Diana was known as the virgin goddess of childbirth and women. She was one of the three maiden goddesses, along with Minerva and Vesta, who swore never to marry. Oak groves and deer were especially sacred to her. Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities; Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god.[3]

Diana is revered in modern Neopagan religions including Roman Neopaganism, Stregheria, and Wicca. From the medieval to the modern period, as folklore attached to her developed and was eventually adapted into neopagan religions, the mythology surrounding Diana grew to include a consort (Lucifer) and daughter (Aradia), figures sometimes recognized by modern traditions.[4] In the ancient, medieval, and modern periods, Diana has also been syncretized or merged with similar goddesses, most notably Artemis, Luna/Selene, Hecate, and Persephone.[5]


Diana (pronounced with long 'ī' and 'ā') is an adjectival form developed from an ancient *divios, corresponding to later 'divus', 'dius', as in Dius Fidius, Dea Dia and in the neuter form dium meaning the sky.[6] It is derived from Proto-Indo-European *d(e)y(e)w, meaning "bright sky" or "daylight"; the same word is also the root behind the name of the Aryan Vedic sky god Dyaus, as well as the Latin words deus (god), dies (day, daylight), and "diurnal" (daytime).

On the Tablets of Pylos a theonym διϝια (diwia) is supposed as referring to a deity precursor of Artemis. Modern scholars mostly accept the identification.[7][need quotation to verify]

The ancient Latin writers Varro and Cicero considered the etymology of Dīāna as allied to that of dies and connected to the shine of the Moon.

... people regard Diana and the moon as one and the same. ... the moon (luna) is so called from the verb to shine (lucere). Lucina is identified with it, which is why in our country they invoke Juno Lucina in childbirth, just as the Greeks call on Diana the Light-bearer. Diana also has the name Omnivaga ("wandering everywhere"), not because of her hunting but because she is numbered as one of the seven planets; her name Diana derives from the fact that she turns darkness into daylight (dies). She is invoked at childbirth because children are born occasionally after seven, or usually after nine, lunar revolutions ...

Quintus Lucilius Balbus as recorded by Marcus Tullius Cicero and translated by P.G. Walsh, De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), Book II, Part ii, Section c [8]


Diana Hunting, Guillaume Seignac

The persona of Diana is complex, and contains a number of archaic features. Diana was originally considered to be a goddess of the wilderness and of the hunt, a central sport in both Roman and Greek culture.[9] Early Roman inscriptions to Diana celebrated her primarily as a huntress and patron of hunters. Later, in the Hellenistic period, Diana came to be equally or more revered as a goddess not of the wild woodland but of the "tame" countryside, or villa rustica, the idealization of which was common in Greek thought and poetry. This dual role as goddess of both civilization and the wild, and therefore the civilized countryside, first applied to the Greek goddess Artemis (for example, in the 3rd century BCE poetry of Anacreon).[10] By the 3rd century CE, after Greek influence had a profound impact on Roman religion, Diana had been almost fully combined with Artemis and took on many of her attributes, both in her spiritual domains and in the description of her appearance. The Roman poet Nemesianus wrote a typical description of Diana: She carried a bow and a quiver full of golden arrows, wore a golden cloak, purple half-boots, and a belt with a jeweled buckle to hold her tunic together, and wore her hair gathered in a ribbon.[9]

As a triple goddess[edit]

Diana was often considered an aspect of a triple goddess, though the identities of the other goddesses in this triad varied between sources. At her sacred grove on the shores of Lake Nemi, Diana was venerated as a triple goddess beginning in the late 6th century BCE.

Two examples of a 1st century BCE denarius (RRC 486/1) depicting the head of Diana Nemorensis and her triple cult statue[11]

Andreas Alföldi interpreted an image on a late Republican coin as the Latin Diana "conceived as a threefold unity of the divine huntress, the Moon goddess and the goddess of the nether world, Hekate".[12] This coin, minted by P. Accoleius Lariscolus in 43 BCE, has been acknowledged as representing an archaic statue of Diana Nemorensis.[13] 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. The coin shows that the triple goddess cult image still stood in the lucus of Nemi in 43 BCE. Lake Nemi was called Triviae lacus by Virgil (Aeneid 7.516), while Horace called Diana montium custos nemoremque virgo ("keeper of the mountains and virgin of Nemi") and diva triformis ("three-form goddess").[14] Diana is commonly addressed as Trivia by Virgil[15] and Catullus.[16]

Two heads found in the sanctuary[17] and the Roman theatre at Nemi,[18] 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 Hellenised Diana at Nemi should be related to the presence of the cult in Campania, as Diana Tifatina was called Trivia in an imperial age inscription which mentions a flamen Virbialis dedicated by eques C. Octavius Verus.[19] Cuma too had a cult of a chthonic Hecate and certainly had strict contacts with Latium.[20] 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.[21]

As a "frame god"[edit]

Diana as Personification of the Night. Anton Raphael Mengs, c. 1765

According to a theory proposed by Georges Dumézil, Diana 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,[22] since they did retain a particular sort of influence over the world and mankind.[23] The celestial character of Diana is reflected in her connection with inaccessibility, virginity, light, and her preference for dwelling on high mountains and in sacred woods. Diana, therefore, reflects the heavenly world 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.[24] 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 until 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.[25] 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.[26]
  2. Diana was also worshiped by women who wanted to be pregnant or who, once pregnant, prayed for an easy delivery. This form of worship is attested in archaeological finds of votive statuettes in her sanctuary in the nemus Aricinum as well as in ancient sources, e.g. Ovid.[25]

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.

F. H. Pairault, in her essay on Diana, qualified Dumézil's theory as "impossible to verify".


An ancient Fourth-Pompeian-Style Roman wall painting depicting a scene of sacrifice in honor of the goddess Diana; she is seen here accompanied by a deer. The fresco was discovered in the triclinium of House of the Vettii in Pompeii, Italy.

Diana was an ancient goddess common to all Latin tribes. Therefore, many sanctuaries were dedicated to her in the lands inhabited by Latins. Her primary sanctuary was a woodland grove overlooking Lake Nemi, a body of water also known as "Diana's Mirror", where she was worshiped as Diana Nemorensis, or "Diana of the Wood". In Rome, the cult of Diana may have been almost as old as the city itself. Varro mentions her in the list of deities to whom king Titus Tatius promised to build a shrine. His list included Luna and Diana Lucina as separate entities. Another testimony to the 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 Diana. She had a temple 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. 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.

Other known sanctuaries and temples to Diana include Colle di Corne near Tusculum,[27] where she is referred to with the archaic Latin name of deva Cornisca and where existed a collegium of worshippers;[28] at Évora, Portugal;[29] Mount Algidus, also near Tusculum;[30] at Lavinium;[31] and at Tibur (Tivoli), where she is referred to as Diana Opifera Nemorensis.[32] Diana was also worshiped at a sacred wood mentioned by Livy[33] - ad compitum Anagninum (near Anagni), and on Mount Tifata in Campania.[34]

Sanctuary at Lake Nemi[edit]

An 18th-century depiction of Lake Nemi as painted by John Robert Cozens

Diana's worship may have originated at an open-air sanctuary overlooking Lake Nemi in the Alban Hills near Aricia, where she was worshiped as Diana Nemorensis, or ("Diana of the Sylvan Glade").[35] Her cult there was first attested in Latin literature by Cato the Elder, in a surviving quote by the late grammarian Priscian.[36] Her worship at Nemi flourished from the Bronze Age until the 2nd century CE, and served an important political role as it was held in common by the Latin League.[37][38] According to some legendary accounts, the sanctuary was founded by Orestes and Iphigenia. In one ancient tradition, the Nemi sanctuary was built on the pattern of an earlier Temple of Artemis Tauropolos, which was renowned in ancient Italy.[39] An important cult statue at Nemi was said to have come from the Tauri, and was probably based on a simple wood original.[9] By the 4th century BCE, the simple shrine at Nemi had been joined by a temple complex.[40]

Legend has it that Diana's high priest at Nemi, known as the Rex Nemorensis, was always an escaped slave who could only obtain the position by defeating his predecessor in a fight to the death.[35] Sir James George Frazer wrote of this sacred grove in The Golden Bough, basing his interpretation on brief remarks in Strabo (5.3.12), Pausanias (2,27.24) and Servius' commentary on the Aeneid (6.136). Legend tells of a tree that stood in the center of the grove and was heavily guarded. No one was allowed to break off its limbs, with the exception of a runaway slave, who was allowed, if he could, to break off one of the boughs. He was then in turn granted the privilege to engage the Rex Nemorensis, the current king and priest of Diana, in a fight to the death. If the slave prevailed, he became the next king for as long as he could defeat his challengers. However, Joseph Fontenrose criticised Frazer's assumption that a rite of this sort actually occurred at the sanctuary. [41]

A festival to Diana, the Nemoralia, was held yearly at Nemi on the Ides of August (August 13-15[42]). Worshipers traveled to Nemi carrying torches and garlands, and once at the lake, they left pieces of thread tied to fences and tablets inscribed with prayers.[43][44] Diana's festival eventually became widely celebrated throughout Italy, which was unusual given the provincial nature of Diana's cult. The poet Statius wrote of the festival:[45]

"It is the season when the most scorching region of the heavens takes over the land and the keen dog-star Sirius, so often struck by Hyperion's sun, burns the gasping fields. Now is the day when Trivia's Arician grove, convenient for fugitive kings, grows smoky, and the lake, having guilty knowledge of Hippolytus, glitters with the reflection of a multitude of torches; Diana herself garlands the deserving hunting dogs and polishes the arrowheads and allows the wild animals to go in safety, and at virtuous hearths all Italy celebrates the Hecatean Ides." (Statius Silv. 3.I.52-60)

Statius describes the triple nature of the goddess by invoking heavenly (the stars), earthly (the grove itself) and underworld (Hecate) imagery. He also suggests by the garlanding of the dogs and polishing of the spears that no hunting was allowed during the festival.[45]

Spread and conflation with Artemis[edit]

A Roman fresco depicting Diana hunting, 4th century AD, from the Via Livenza hypogeum in Rome.

Rome hoped to unify into and control the Latin tribes around Nemi,[37] so Diana Nemorensis soon became Hellenized and combined with the Greek goddess Artemis, "a process which culminated with the appearance of Diana beside Apollo [the brother of Artemis] in the first lectisternium at Rome".[46] Diana was regarded with great reverence and was a patroness of lower-class citizens, called plebeians, as well as slaves, who could receive asylum in her temples. Georg Wissowa proposed that this might be because the first slaves of the Romans were Latins of the neighboring tribes.[47] However, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus had the same custom of the asylum.

According to Françoise Hélène Pairault's study,[48] historical and archaeological evidence point to the fact that the characteristics given to both Diana of the Aventine Hill and Diana Nemorensis were the product of the direct or indirect influence of the cult of Artemis, which was spread by the Phoceans among the Greek towns of Campania Cuma and Capua, who in turn had passed it over to the Etruscans and the Latins by the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.

Evidence suggests that a confrontation occurred 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.[49] The cult introduced by Orestes at Nemi is apparently that of the Artemis Tauropolos. The literary amplification[50] reveals a confused religious background: different Artemis were conflated under the epithet.[51] As far as Nemi's Diana is concerned there are two different versions, by Strabo[52] 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.[53] The only possible interpretatio graeca of high antiquity concerning Diana Nemorensis could have been the one based on this ancient aspect of a deity of light, master of wildlife. Tauropolos is an ancient epithet attached to Artemis, Hecate, and even Athena.[54] According to the legend Orestes founded Nemi together with Iphigenia.[55] At Cuma the Sybil is the priestess of both Phoibos and Trivia.[56] Hesiod[57] and Stesichorus[58] tell the story according to which after her death Iphigenia was divinised 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.[13]

In Rome[edit]

Diana of Versailles, a 2nd-century Roman version in the Greek tradition of iconography (Louvre Museum, Paris).

Worship of Diana probably spread into the city of Rome beginning around 550 BCE,[40] during her Hellenization and combination with the Greek goddess Artemis. Diana was first worshiped along with her brother and mother, Apollo and Latona, in their temple in the Campus Martius, and later in the Temple of Apollo Palatinus.[9]

The first major temple dedicated primarily to Diana in the vicinity of Rome was the Temple of Diana Aventina (Diana of the Aventine Hill). According to the Roman historian Livy, the construction of this temple began in the 6th century BCE and was inspired by stories of the massive Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which was said to have been built through the combined efforts of all the cities of Asia Minor. Servius Tullius was impressed with this act of massive political and economic cooperation, and convinced the cities of the Latin League to work with the Romans to build their own temple to the goddess.[59] Later temple dedications often were based on the model for ritual formulas and regulations of the Temple of Diana.[60] The Avantine Temple was rebuilt by Lucius Cornificius in 32 BCE.[39] If it was still in use by the 4th century CE, the Aventine temple would have been permanently closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire. Today, a short street named the Via del Tempio di Diana and an associated plaza, Piazza del Tempio di Diana, commemorates the site of the temple. Part of its wall is located within one of the halls of the Apuleius restaurant.[61]

Roman politicians built several minor temples to Diana elsewhere in Rome to secure public support. One of these was built in the Campus Martius in 187 BCE; no Imperial period records of this temple have been found, and it is possible it was one of the temples demolished around 55 BCE in order to build a theater.[39] Diana also had a public temple on the Quirinal Hill, the sanctuary of Diana Planciana. It was dedicated by Plancius in 55 BCE, though it is unclear which Plancius.[39]

In their worship of Artemis, Greeks filled their temples with sculptures of the goddess created by well-known sculptors, and many were adapted for use in the worship of Diana by the Romans, beginning around the 2nd century BCE (the beginning of a period of strong Hellenistic influence on Roman religion). The earliest depictions of the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus (Diana Efesia Multimammia) are found on Ephesian coins from this period. By the Imperial period, small marble statues of the Ephesian Artemis were being produced in the Western region of the Mediterranean and were often bought by Roman patrons.[62] The Romans obtained a large copy of an Ephesian Artemis statue for their temple on the Aventine Hill.[9] Diana was usually depicted for educated Romans in her Greek guise. If she was shown accompanied by a deer, as in the Diana of Versailles, 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.

At Mount Tifata[edit]

In Campania, Diana had a major temple at Mount Tifata, near Capua. She was worshiped there as Diana Tifatina. This was one of the oldest sanctuaries in Campania. As a rural sanctuary, it included lands and estates that would have been worked by slaves following the Roman conquest of Campania, and records show that expansion and renovation projects at he temple were funded in part by other conquests by Roman military campaigns. The modern Christian church of Sant'Angelo in Formis was built on the ruins of the Tifata temple.[39]

Roman provinces[edit]

In the Roman provinces, Diana was widely worshiped alongside local deities. Over 100 inscriptions to Diana have been cataloged in the provinces, mainly from Gaul, Upper Germania, and Britannia. Diana was commonly invoked alongside another forest god, Silvanus, as well as other "mountain gods". In the provinces, she was occasionally conflated with local goddesses such as Abnoba, and was given high status, with Augusta and regina ("queen") being common epithets.[63]

Household worship[edit]

Diana was not only regarded as a goddess of the wilderness and the hunt, but was often worshiped as a patroness of families. She served a similar function to the hearth goddess Vesta, and was sometimes considered to be a member of the Penates, the deities most often invoked in household rituals. In this role, she was often given a name reflecting the tribe of family who worshiped her and asked for her protection. For example, in what is now Wiesbaden, Diana was worshiped as Diana Mattiaca by the Mattiaci tribe. Other family-derived named attested in the ancient literature include Diana Cariciana, Diana Valeriana, and Diana Plancia. As a house goddess, Diana often became reduced in stature compared to her official worship by the Roman state religion. In personal or family worship, Diana was brought to the level of other household spirits, and was believed to have a vested interest in the prosperity of the household and the continuation of the family. The Roman poet Horace regarded Diana as a household goddess in his Odes, and had an altar dedicated to her in his villa where household worship could be conducted. In his poetry, Horace deliberately contrasted the kinds of grand, elevated hymns to Diana on behalf of the entire Roman state, the kind of worship that would have been typical at her Aventine temple, with a more personal form of devotion.[10]

Images of Diana and her associated myths have been found on sarcophagi of wealthy Romans. They often included scenes depicting sacrifices to the goddess, and on at least one example, the deceased man is shown joining Diana's hunt.[9]

Conflation with other goddesses[edit]

Wooden statue of Diana Abnoba, Museum for Prehistory in Thuringia

Diana was initially a hunting goddess and goddess of the local woodland at Nemi,[64] but as her worship spread, she aquired attributes of other similar goddesses. As she became conflated with Artemis, she became a moon goddess, supplanting the earlier Titan goddess Luna.[64] 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, Juno, Trivia, Luna.[65]

Along with Mars, Diana was often venerated at games held in Roman amphitheaters, and some inscriptions from the Danubian provinces show that she was conflated with Nemesis in this role, as Diana Nemesis.[9]

Outside of Italy, Diana had important centers of worship where she was syncretised with similar local deities in Gaul, Upper Germania, and Britannia. Diana was particularly important in the region in and around the Black Forest, where she was conflated with the local goddess Abnoba and worshiped as Diana Abnoba.[66]

Some late antique sources went even further, syncretizing many local "great goddesses" into a single "Queen of Heaven". The Platonist philosopher Apuleius, writing in the late 2nd century, depicted the goddess declaring:

"I come, Lucius, moved by your entreaties: I, mother of the universe, mistress of all the elements, first-born of the ages, highest of the gods, queen of the shades, first of those who dwell in heaven, representing in one shape all gods and goddesses. My will controls the shining heights of heaven, the health-giving sea-winds, and the mournful silences of hell; the entire world worships my single godhead in a thousand shapes, with divers rites, and under many a different name. The Phrygians, first-born of mankind, call me the Pessinuntian Mother of the gods; the native Athenians the Cecropian Minerva; the island-dwelling Cypriots Paphian Venus; the archer Cretans Dictynnan Diana; the triple-tongued Sicilians Stygian Proserpine; the ancient Eleusinians Actaean Ceres; some call me Juno, some Bellona, others Hecate, others Rhamnusia; but both races of Ethiopians, those on whom the rising and those on whom the setting sun shines, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning, honour me with the worship which is truly mine and call me by my true name: Queen Isis."

Apuleius, translated by E. J. Kenny, The Golden Ass[67]

Later poets and historians looked to Diana's identity as a triple goddess to merge her with triads heavenly, earthly, and underworld (cthonic) goddesses. Maurus Servius Honoratus said that the same goddess was called Luna in heaven, Diana on earth, and Proserpina in hell.[5] Michael Drayton praises the Triple Diana in poem The Man in the Moone (1606): "So these great three most powerful of the rest, Phoebe, Diana, Hecate, do tell. Her sovereignty in Heaven, in Earth and Hell".[68][69][70]


Mosaic depicting Diana and her nymph being surprised by Actaeon. Ruins of Volubilis, 2nd century CE

Unlike the Greek gods, Roman gods were, originally, considered to be numena: divine powers of presence and will that did not necessarily have physical form. At the time Rome was founded, Diana and the other major Roman gods probably did not have much mythology per se, or any depictions in human form. The idea of gods as having anthropomorphic qualities and human-like personalities and actions developed later, under the influence of Greek and Etruscan religion.[71]

By the 3rd century BCE, Diana is found listed among the twelve major gods of the Roman pantheon by the poet Ennius. Though the Capitoline Triad were the primary state gods of Rome, early Roman myth did not assign a strict hierarchy to the gods the way Greek mythology did, though the Greek hierarchy would eventually be adopted by Roman religion as well.[71]

Once Greek influence had caused Diana to be considered identical to the Greek goddess Artemis, Diana acquired Artemis' physical description, attributes, and variants of her myths as well. Like Artemis, Diana is usually depicted in art wearing a short skirt, with a hunting bow and quiver, and often accompanied by hunting dogs. A 1st century BCE Roman coin (see above) depicted her with a unique, short hairstyle, and in triple form, with one form holding a bow and another holding a poppy.[45]

Myth of Actaeon[edit]

Diana's mythology incorporated stories which were variants of earlier stories about Artemis. Possibly the most well-known of these is the myth of Actaeon. In Ovid's version of this myth, part of his poem Metamorphoses, he tells of a pool or grotto hidden in the wooded valley of Gargaphie. There, Diana, the goddess of the woods, would bathe and rest after a hunt. Actaeon, a young hunter, stumbled across the grotto and accidentally witnessed the goddess bathing without invitation. In retaliation, Diana splashed him with water from the pool, cursing him, and he transformed into a deer. His own hunting dogs caught his scent, and tore him apart.[45]

Ovid's version of the myth of Actaeon differs from most earlier sources. Unlike earlier myths about Artemis, Actaeon is killed for an innocent mistake, glimpsing Diana bathing. An earlier variant of this myth, known as the Bath of Pallas, had the hunter intentionally spy on the bathing goddess Pallas (Athena), and earlier versions of the myth involving Artemis did not involve the bath at all.[72]

In folklore[edit]

Gallo-Roman bronze statuette of Diana (latter 1st century)

The "Society of Diana"[edit]

Diana is the only pagan goddess mentioned by name in the New Testament (Acts 19). As a result, she became associated with many folk beliefs involving goddess-like supernatural figures that Catholic clergy wished to demonize. In the Middle Ages, legends of night-time processions of spirits led by a female figure are recorded in the church records of northern Italy, western Germany, and southern France. The spirits were said to enter houses and consume food which then miraculously re-appeared. They would sing and dance, and dispense advise regarding healing herbs and the whereabouts of lost objects. If the house was in good order, they would bring fertility and plenty. If not, they would bring curses to the family. Some women reported participating in these processions while their bodies still lay in bed. Historian Carlo Ginzburg has referred to these legendary spirit gatherings as "The Society of Diana".[73]

Local clergy complained that women believed they were following Diana or Herodias, riding out on appointed nights to join the processions or carry out instructions from the goddess.[4] The earliest reports of these legends appear in the writings of of Regino of Prüm in the year 899, followed by many additional reports and variants of the legend in documents by Ratherius and others. By 1310, the names of the goddess figures attached to the legend were sometimes combined as Herodiana.[4] It is likely that the clergy of this time used the identification of the procession's leader as Diana or Herodias in order to fit an older folk belief into a Biblical framework, as both are featured and demonized in the New Testament. Herodias was often conflated with her daughter Salame in legend, which also holds that, upon being presented with the severed head of John the Baptist, she was blown into the air by wind from the saint's mouth, through which she continued to wander for eternity. Diana was often conflated with Hecate, a goddess associated with the spirits of the dead and with witchcraft. These associations, and the fact that both figures are attested to in the Bible, made them a natural fit for the leader of the ghostly procession. Clergy used this identification to assert that the spirits were evil, and that the women who followed them were inspired by demons. As was typical of this time period, though pagan beliefs and practices were near totally eliminated from Europe, the clergy and other authorities still treated paganism as a real threat, in part thanks to biblical influence; much of the Bible had been written when various forms of paganism were still active if not dominant, so medieval clergy applied the same kinds of warnings and admonitions for any non-standard folk beliefs and practices they encountered.[4] Based on analysis of church documents and parishioner confessions, it is likely that the spirit identified by the Church as Diana or Herodias was called by names of pre-Christian figures like Holda (a Germanic goddess of the winter solstice), or with names referencing her bringing of prosperity, like the Latin Abundia (meaning "plenty"), Satia (meaning "full" or "plentiful") and the Italian Richella (meaning "rich").[4] Some of the local titles for her, such as bonae res (meaning "good things"), are similar to late classical titles for Hecate, like bona dea. This might indicate a cultural mixture of medieval folk ideas with holdovers from earlier pagan belief systems. Whatever her true origin, by the 13th century, the leader of the legendary spirit procession had come to be firmly identified with Diana and Herodias through the influence of the Church.[4]

The Golden Bough[edit]

J. M. W. Turner's painting of the Golden Bough incident in the Aeneid

In his wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, The Golden Bough, anthropologist James George Frazer drew on various lines of evidence to re-interpret the legendary rituals associated with Diana at Nemi, particularly that of the rex Nemorensis. Frazer developed his ideas in relation to J. M. W. Turner's painting, also titled The Golden Bough, depicting a dream-like vision of the woodland lake of Nemi. According to Frazer, the rex Nemorensis or king at Nemi was the incarnation of a dying and reviving god, a solar deity who participated in a mystical marriage to a goddess. He died at the harvest and was reincarnated in the spring. Frazer claimed that this motif of death and rebirth is central to nearly all of the world's religions and mythologies. In Frazer's theory, Diana functioned as a goddess of fertility and childbirth, who, assisted by the sacred king, ritually returned life to the land in spring. The king in this scheme served not only as a high priest but as a god of the grove. Frazer identifies this figure with Virbius, of which little is known, but also with Jupiter via an association with sacred oak trees. Frazer argued furthemore that Jupiter and Juno were simply duplicate names of Jana and Janus; that is, Diana and Dianus, all of whom had identical functions and origins.[74]

Frazer's speculatively reconstructed folklore of Diana's origins and the nature of her cult at Nemi were not well received even by his contemporaries. Godfrey Lienhardt noted that even during Frazer's lifetime, other anthropologists had "for the most part distanced themselves from his theories and opinions", and that the lasting influence of The Golden Bough and Frazer's wider body of work "has been in the literary rather than the academic world."[75] Robert Ackerman wrote that, for anthropologists, Frazer is "an embarrassment" for being "the most famous of them all" and that most distance themselves from his work. While The Golden Bough achieved wide "popular appeal" and exerted a "disproportionate" influence "on so many [20th century] creative writers", Frazer's ideas played "a much smaller part" in the history of academic social anthropology.[75]

The Gospel of the Witches[edit]

4th century Praxitelean bronze head of a goddess wearing a lunate crown, found at Issa (Vis, Croatia).

Folk legends like the one above, linking Diana to forbidden gatherings of women with spirits, may have influenced later works of folklore like Charles Godfrey Leland's Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, which prominently featured Diana at the center of an Italian witch-cult.[4] In Leland's interpretation of supposed Italian folk witchcraft, Diana is considered Queen of the Witches. In this belief system, Diana is 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 Lucifer. Diana was believed to have loved and ruled with her brother, and with him bore a daughter, Aradia (a name likely derived from Herodias), who leads and teaches the witches on earth.[76][4]

Leland's claim that Aradia represented an authentic tradition from an underground witch-cult secretly having worshiped Diana since ancient times has been dismissed by most scholars of folklore, religion, and medieval history. After the 1921 publication of Margaret Murray's The Witch-cult in Western Europe, which hypothesized that the European witch trials were actually a persecution of a pagan religious survival, American sensationalist author Theda Kenyon's 1929 book Witches Still Live connected Murray's thesis with the witchcraft religion in Aradia.[77][78] Arguments against Murray's thesis would eventually include arguments against Leland. Witchcraft scholar Jeffrey Russell devoted some of his 1980 book A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans to arguing against the claims Leland presented in Aradia.[79] Historian Elliot Rose's A Razor for a Goat dismissed Aradia as a collection of incantations unsuccessfully attempting to portray a religion.[80] In his book Triumph of the Moon, historian Ronald Hutton doubted not only of the existence of the religion that Aradia claimed to represent, and that the traditions Leland presented were unlike anything found in actual medieval literature.[81] but also of the existence of Leland's sources, arguing that it is more likely that Leland created the entire story than that Leland could be so easily "duped".[82] Religious scholar Chas S. Clifton took exception to Hutton's position, writing that it amounted to an accusation of "serious literary fraud" made by an "argument from absence";[83]

Modern worship[edit]

There are two distinct modern branches of Wicca focused primarily on the worship of Diana. The first, founded during the early 1970s in the United States by Morgan McFarland and Mark Roberts, has a feminist theology and only occasionally accepts male participants, and leadership is limited to female priestesses.[84][85] McFarland Dianic Wiccans base their tradition primarily on the work of Robert Graves and his book The White Goddess, and was inspired by references to the existence of medieval European "Dianic cults" in Margaret Murray's book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.[85] The second Dianic tradition, founded by Zsuzsanna Budapest in the mid 1970s, is characterized by an exclusive focus on the feminine aspect of the divine, and as a result is exclusively female. This tradition combines elements from British Traditional Wicca, Italian folk-magic based on the work of Charles Leland, feminist values, and healing practices drawn from a variety of different cultures.[86][84]

A third Neopagan tradition heavily inspired by the worship of Diana through the lens of Italian folklore is Stregheria, founded in the 1980s. It centers around a pair of deities regarded as divine lovers, who are known by several variant names including Diana and Dianus, alternately given as Tana and Tanus or Jana and Janus (the later two deity names were mentioned by James Frazer in The Golden Bough as later corruptions of Diana and Dianus, which themselves were alternate and possibly older names for Juno and Jupiter).[87] The tradition was founded by author Raven Grimassi, and influenced by Italian folktales he was told by his mother. One such folktale describes the moon being impregnated by her lover the morning star[disambiguation needed], a parallel Leland's mythology of Diana and her lover Lucifer.[73]


In language[edit]

Both the Romanian words for "fairy" Zână[88] and Sânziană, the Leonese and Portuguese word for "water nymph" xana, and the Spanish word for "shooting target" and "morning call" (diana) seem to come from the name of Diana.

In the arts[edit]

Diana Reposing by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry. The nude goddess, identified by the crescent moon in her hair and the bow and quiver at her side, reclines on a blue drapery.

Since the Renaissance, Diana's myths have often been represented in the visual and dramatic arts, including the opera L'arbore di Diana. In the 16th century, Diana's image figured prominently at the châteaus of Fontainebleau, Chenonceau, & 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 Léo 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.

In literature[edit]

  • In "The Knight's Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Emily prays to Diana to be spared from marriage to either Palamon or Arcite.
  • In "Ode" by John Keats, he writes 'Browsed by none but Dian's fawns' (line 12)
  • In the sonnet "To Science" by Edgar Allan Poe, science is said to have "dragged Diana from her car".
  • Diana Soren, the main character in Carlos Fuentes' novel Diana o la cazadora soltera (Diana, or The Lone Huntress), is described as having the same personality as the goddess.
  • In "Castaway" by Augusta Webster, women who claim they are virtuous despite never having been tempted are referred to as "Dianas." (Line 128)
  • In Jonathan Swift's poem: "The Progress of Beauty", as goddess of the moon, Diana is used in comparison to the 17th/early 18th century everyday woman Swift satirically writes about. Starts: 'When first Diana leaves her bed...'
  • In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"), Diana leads the Trojan Brutus to Britain, where he and his people settle.
  • The character of Diana is the principal character in the children's novel The Moon Stallion by Brian Hayles (1978) and the BBC Television series of the same name Diana is played by the actress Sarah Sutton.
In Shakespeare
Diana as the Huntress, by Giampietrino.
  • In Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre Diana appears to Pericles in a vision, telling him to go to her temple and tell his story to her followers.
  • Diana is referenced in As You Like It to describe how Rosalind feels about marriage.
  • Diana is referred to in Twelfth Night when Orsino compares Viola (in the guise of Cesario) to Diana. "Diana's lip is not more smooth and rubious"
  • Speaking of his wife, Desdemona, Othello the Moor says, "Her name, that was as fresh as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black as my own face."
  • There is a reference to Diana in Much Ado About Nothing where Hero is said to seem like 'Dian in her orb', in terms of her chastity.
  • In Henry IV, Part 1, Falstaff styles himself and his highway-robbing friends as "Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon" who are governed by their "noble and chase mistress the moon under whose countenance [they] steal".
  • In All's Well That Ends Well Diana appears as a figure in the play and Helena makes multiple allusions to her, such as, "Now, Dian, from thy altar do I fly..." and "...wish chastely and love dearly, that your Dian/was both herself and love..." The Steward also says, "...; Dian no queen of virgins,/ that would suffer her poor knight surprised, without/ rescue in the first assault or ransom afterward." It can be assumed that 'Dian' is simply a shortening of 'Diana' since later in the play when Parolles' letter to Diana is read aloud it reads 'Dian'.[89]
  • The goddess is also referenced indirectly in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The character Hippolyta states "And then the moon, like to a silver bow new bent in Heaven". She refers to Diana, goddess of the moon, who is often depicted with a silver hunting bow. In the same play the character Hermia is told by the Duke Theseus that she must either wed the character Demetrius "Or on Diana's alter to protest for aye austerity and single life". He refers to her becoming a nun, with the goddesse Diana having connotations of chastity.
  • In The Merchant of Venice Portia states "I will die as chaste as Diana, unless I be obtained by the manner of my father's will". (I.ii)
  • In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo describes Rosaline, saying that "She hath Dian's wit".
In games and comics
  • The character of Diana from the video game League of Legends is largely based on the goddess.
  • William Moulton Marston drew from the Diana archetype in creating Wonder Woman of Themyscira, Paradise Island, and even gave her the proper name "Diana" for DC Comics. Most versions of Wonder Woman's origin story state that she is given the name Diana in tribute to the goddess.
  • Diana also is one of the primary gods in the video game Ryse.
  • In the manga and anime series Sailor Moon, Diana is the feline companion to Chibiusa, Usagi's daughter. Diana is the daughter of Artemis and Luna. All of these characters are advisers to rulers of the kingdom of the moon and therefore have moon-associated names.

In painting and sculpture[edit]

Diana has been one of the most popular themes in art. Painters like Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, François Boucher, Nicholas Poussin made use of her myth as a major theme. Most depictions of Diana in art featured the stories of Diana and Actaeon, or Callisto, or depicted her resting after hunting. Some famous work of arts with a Diana theme are :

Pomona (left, symbolizing agriculture), and Diana (symbolizing commerce) as building decoration.

In film[edit]

  • In Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête, it is Diana's power which has transformed and imprisoned the beast.
  • Diana/Artemis appears at the end of the 'Pastoral Symphony' segment of Fantasia.
  • In his 1968 film La Mariée était en noir François Truffaut plays on this mythological symbol. Julie Kohler, played by Jeanne Moreau, poses as Diana/Artemis for the artist Fergus. This choice seems fitting for Julie, a character beset by revenge, of which Fergus becomes the fourth victim. She poses with a bow and arrow, while wearing white.
  • In the 1995 comedy Four Rooms, a coven of witches resurrects a petrified Diana on New Year's Eve.
  • French based collective LFKs and his film/theatre director, writer and visual artist Jean Michel Bruyere produced a series of 600 shorts and "medium" film, an interactive audiovisual 360° installation (Si poteris narrare licet ("if you are able to speak of it, then you may do so" ...... ) in 2002, and a 3D 360° audiovisual installation La Dispersion du Fils <http://www.newmediaart.eu/str10.html> from 2008 to 2016 as well as an outdoor performance, "Une Brutalité pastorale" (2000), all about the myth of Diana and Actaeon.

In music[edit]


  • In the funeral oration of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, her brother drew an analogy between the ancient goddess of hunting and his sister - "the most hunted person of the modern age".
  • DIANA Mayer & Grammelspacher GmbH & Co.KG, an airgun company, is named after Diana, the goddess of hunting.[92]
  • The Royal Netherlands Air Force 323rd Squadron is named Diana and uses a depiction of Diana with her bow in its badge.[93]
  • In Ciudad Juárez in Mexico a woman calling herself "Diana Huntress of Bus Drivers" was responsible for the shooting of two bus drivers in 2013 in what may have been vigilante attacks.[94][95]
  • Diana is commemorated in the scientific name of a species of coral snake, Micrurus diana.[96]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Diana - Roman Religion". Encyclopædia Britannica.com. Retrieved 21 Nov 2018.
  2. ^ Larousse Desk Reference Encyclopedia, The Book People, Haydock, 1995, p. 215.
  3. ^ The Clay-footed Superheroes: Mythology Tales for the New Millennium ISBN 978-0-865-16719-3 p. 56
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Magliocco, Sabina. (2009). Aradia in Sardinia: The Archaeology of a Folk Character. Pp. 40-60 in Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon. Hidden Publishing.
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  6. ^ G.Dumézil La religion Romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part 3, chap. 1.
  7. ^ H. F. Pairault below cites three. Contrary G. Rousseau.
  8. ^ Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Walsh, P.G. (2008). The Nature of the Gods (Reissue. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 70–72. ISBN 978-0-19-954006-8.
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  10. ^ a b Cairns, F. (2012). Roman Lyric: Collected Papers on Catullus and Horace. Volume 301 of Beiträge zur Altertumskunde. Walter de Gruyter, 2012.
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  14. ^ Horace, Carmina 3.22.1.
  15. ^ Aeneid 6.35, 10.537.
  16. ^ Carmina 34.14 tu potens Trivia...
  17. ^ Excavation of 1791 by cardinal Despuig not mentioned in the report: cf. P. Riis who cites E. Lucidi Memorie storiche dell'antichissimo municipio ora terra dell'Ariccia e delle sue colonie Genzano e Nemi Rome 1796 p. 97 ff. finds at Valle Giardino.
  18. ^ NSA 1931 p. 259-261 platesVI a-b.
  19. ^ CIL X 3795.
  20. ^ Dionysius Hal. VII 6, 4: the people of Aricia help Aristdemos in bringing home the Etruscan booty.
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  32. ^ CIL, 3537.
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  37. ^ a b commune Latinorum Dianae templum in Varro, Lingua Latina V.43; the cult there was of antiqua religione in Pliny's Natural History, xliv. 91, 242 and Ovid's Fasti III 327–331.
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  • A. Alföldi "Diana Nemorensis" in American Journal of Archaeology 64 1960 p. 137-144.
  • A. Alföldi Early Rome and the Latins Ann Arbor 1964 p. 47-100.
  • E. Paribeni "A note on Diana Nemorensis" in American Journal of Archaeology 65 1961 p. 55.
  • P. J. Riis "The Cult Image of Diana Nemorensis" in Acta Archaeologica Kopenhagen 37 1966 p. 69 ff.
  • J. Heurgon in Magna Graecia 1969 Jan. Feb. 1969 p. 12 ff.; March Apr. p. 1ff.
  • J.G. Frazer Balder the Beautiful II London 1913 p. 95 ff.; 302 ff.
  • L. Morpurgo "Nemus Aricinum" in MonAntLincei 13 1903 c. 300 ff.
  • A. Merlin "L'Aventin dans l'antiquité" Paris BÉFAR 97 1906.
  • G. Wissowa Religion und Kultus der Römer Munich 1912 p. 198 ff.
  • F. Altheim Griechischen Götter im alten Rom Giessen 1930 p. 93-172.
  • A.E. Gordon "On the Origin of Diana" in Transactions of the AMerican Philological Association 63 1932 p. 177ff.
  • A.E. Gordon Local Cults in Aricia University of California Publications in Classical Archaeology 2 1934 p. 1ff.
  • J. Heurgon "Recherhes sur... Capoue préromaine" in BÉFAR 154 Paris 1942 p. 307 ff.
  • J. Gagé "Apollon Romain" in BÉFAR 182 Paris 1955.
  • J. Bayet Histoire politique et psychologique de la religion romaine Paris 1957 p. 20 ff., 39ff.
  • K. Latte Römische Religionsgeschichte Munich 1960 p. 169-173.
  • R. Schilling "Une victime des vicissitudes politiques, la Diane latine" in Hommages á Jean Bayet, Collection Latomus 45 Bruxelles 1960 p. 650 ff.
  • A. Momigliano "Sul dies natalis del santuario federale di Diana sull' Aventino" in RAL 17 1962 p. 387 ff.
  • G. Dumézil La religion romaine archaïque Paris 1966 p. 398 ff.

External links[edit]