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In Roman mythology, Bona Dea (literally "the good goddess") was the goddess of fertility, healing, virginity, and women. She was the daughter of the god Faunus and was often referred to as Fauna.

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Religion in ancient Rome
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Bona Dea was the perpetually virginal goddess, associated with virginity and fertility in women. She was also associated with healing, with the sick being tended to in her temple garden with medicinal herbs. She was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens, slaves and women who went to her seeking aid in sickness or for fertility.

She was worshipped in a temple on the Aventine Hill, but her secret rites were performed in the home of a prominent Roman magistrate. The rites were held on December 4, and only included women. Even paintings or drawings of men or male animals were forbidden, along with the words "wine" and "myrtle" because she had once been beaten by Faunus with a myrtle stick after she got drunk. The rites were conducted annually by the wife of the senior magistrate present in Rome and were assisted by the Vestal Virgins. Very little is known about the ceremony, but the worship seems to have been agricultural in origin. The most famous event to do with this festival was its desecration by Publius Clodius in 62 BC by secretly attending the ceremony at the house of the pontifex maximus, Julius Caesar. During the ensuing trial, Clodius' alibi was destroyed by Cicero, which caused the animosity that would define their relationship from then on.

Bona Dea is usually depicted sitting on a throne, holding a cornucopia. The snake is her attribute, a symbol of healing, and consecrated snakes were kept in her temple at Rome, indicating her phallic nature. Her image frequently occurred on ancient Roman coins.

References


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BONA DEA, the "good goddess," an old Roman deity of fruitfulness, both in the earth and in women. She was identified with Fauna, and by later syncretism also with Ops and Maiathe latter no doubt because the dedication-day of her temple on the Aventine was 1st May (Ovid, Fasti, v. 149 foll.). This temple was cared for, and the cult attended, by women only, and the same was the case at a second celebration at the beginning of December in the house of a magistrate with imperium, which became famous owing to the profanation of these mysteries by P. Clodius in 62 B.C., and the political consequences of his act. Wine and myrtle were tabooed in the cult of this deity, and myths grew up to explain these features of the cult, of which an account may be read in W. W. Fowler's Roman Festivals, pp. 103 foll. Herbs with healing properties were kept in her temple, and also snakes, the usual symbol of the medicinal art. Her victim was a porca, as in the cults of other deities of fertility, and was called damium, and we are told that the goddess herself was known as Damia and her priestess as damiatrix. These names are almost certainly Greek; Damia is found worshipped at several places in Greece, and also at Tarentum, where there was a festival called Dameia. It is thus highly probable that on the cult of the original Roman goddess was engrafted the Greek C one of Damia, perhaps after the conquest of Tarentum (272 B.C.). It is no longer possible to distinguish clearly the Greek and Roman elements in this curious cult, though it is itself quite intelligible as that of an Earth-goddess with mysteries attached.

See also Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie. (W. W. F. *)


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