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The Diana of Versailles
The Diana of Versailles
Goddess of the hunt
Parents Jupiter and Latona
Siblings Apollo
Children Aradia (Wiccan lore)

Ancient Roman religion

Bacchian rite, from the Villa of the Mysteries

Main doctrines

Polytheism & numen
Imperial cult · Festivals


Temples · Funerals
Votive offerings · Animal sacrifice

Apollo · Ceres · Diana · Juno
Jupiter · Mars · Mercury · Minerva
Neptune · Venus · Vesta · Vulcan

Other major deities

Divus Augustus · Divus Julius · Fortuna
The Lares · Quirinus · Pluto · Sol Invictus

Lesser deities

Adranus · Averrunci · Averruncus
Bellona · Bona Dea · Bromius
Caelus · Castor and Pollux · Clitunno
Cupid · Dis Pater · Faunus · Glycon
Inuus · Lupercus


Sibylline Books · Sibylline oracles
Aeneid · Metamorphoses
The Golden Ass

See also

Decline and persecution
Nova Roma
Greek polytheism

Diana (lt. "heavenly" or "divine") was the goddess of the hunt, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and also of the moon in Roman mythology. In literature she was the equivalent of the Greek goddess Artemis, though in cult beliefs she was Italic, not Greek, in origin. Diana was worshiped in ancient Roman religion and is currently revered in Roman Neopaganism and Stregheria. Dianic Wicca, a largely feminist form of the practice, is named for her. Diana was known to be the virgin goddess and looked after virgins and women.

Along with her main attributes, Diana was an emblem of chastity. Oak groves were especially sacred to her. According to mythology, Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos, daughter of Jupiter and Latona. Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god.



Diana (pronounced with long 'i' and a') 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.[1] It is rooted in Indoeuropean *d(e)y(e)w meaning bright sky or daylight, from which also derived the name of Vedic god Dyaus and the Latin deus (god), dies (day, daylight).


The image of Diana is complex and shows various archaic features. According to Dumezil[2] it presents the character of a uranic god of a peculiar nature, referred to in history of religions as 'frame god'. Such gods, while keeping the original features of uranic gods, i.e. transcendent heavenly power and abstention from direct rule on worldly matters, did not face the fate of other uranic gods in Indoeuropean religions of becoming dei otiosi[3], as they did preserve a peculiar sort of influence over the world and mankind.

Diana huntress, by Houdon. Louvre

The uranic character of Diana is well reflected in her connexion to light, inaccessibility, virginity, dwelling on high mountains and in sacred woods. Diana is thus the representation of the heavenly world (dium) in its character of sovereignty, supremacy, impassibility, indifference towards secular matters as the fate of men and states, while at the same time ensuring the succession of kings and the preservation of mankind through the protection of childbirth.

These functions are apparent in the traditional institutions and cults related to the goddess. 1) The institution of the rex Nemorensis, Diana's sacerdos in the Arician wood, who held its position til somebody else challenged and killed him in a duel, after breaking a branch from a certain tree of the wood. This ever totally open succession reveals the character and mission of the goddess as a guarantee of the continuity of the kingly status through successive generations.[4] The same meaning implying her function of bestower of regality is testified by the story related by Livy of the prediction of empire to the land of origin of the person who would offer her a particularly beautiful cow.[5] 2) Diana was also worshipped by women who sought pregnancy or asked for an easy delivery. This kind of worship is testified by archeological finds of votive statuettes in her sanctuary in the nemus Aricinum as well as by ancient sources, e.g. Ovid.[6]

According to Dumezil the function of frame god is to be traced in an Indian epic hero who is the image of Vedic god Dyaus: having renounced the world, i.e. the role of father and king, he has attained the condititon of an immortal being, although he keeps the duty of ensuring that in his dynasty there are always children and one 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 is a female god but has exactly the same functions, preserving mankind through childbirth and king succession.

Dumezil's interpretation appears to ignore deliberately James G. Frazer's, who connects Diana in her regal function with male god Janus as a divine couple,[7] whereas his description of the type of the frame god would fit his own interpretation of Italic god Janus equally well. Frazer, however, gives a very different interpretation of the couple Diana-Janus: he identifies it with the supreme heavenly couple Juppiter-Juno and connects these figures to the religious Indoeuropean complex tieing regality to the cult of trees, particularly oaks. In this interpretative line the institution of the Rex Nemorensis and his ritual should be related to the theme of the dying god and the kings of May.[8]


Diana was initially just the hunting goddess,[citation needed] associated with wild animals and woodlands. She also later became a moon goddess, supplanting Luna.[citation needed] She also became the goddess of childbirth and ruled over the countryside.

Diana was worshipped at a festival on August 13,[9] when King Servius Tullius, himself born a slave, dedicated her shrine on the Aventine Hill in the mid-sixth century BC. 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. It seems that her cult originated in Aricia,[10] where her priest, the Rex Nemorensis remained. There the simple open-air fane was held in common by the Latin tribes,[11] which Rome aspired to weld into a league and direct. Diana of the wood was soon thoroughly Hellenized,[12] "a process which culminated with the appearance of Diana beside Apollo in the first lectisternium at Rome".[13] Diana was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens and slaves; slaves could receive asylum in her temples. This fact is of difficult interpretation. Wissowa proposed the explanation that it might be because the first slaves of the Romans must have been Latins of the neighbouring tribes[14].

Though some Roman patrons ordered marble replicas of the specifically Anatolian "Diana" of Ephesus, where the Temple of Artemis stood, Diana was usually depicted for educated Romans in her Greek guise. If she is accompanied by a deer, as in the Diana of Versailles (illustration, above right) 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.

Worship of Diana is mentioned in the Bible. In Acts of the Apostles, Ephesian metal smiths who felt threatened by Saint Paul’s preaching of Christianity, jealously rioted in her defense, shouting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28, New English Bible).


Diana was an ancient goddess common to all Latin tribes. Therefore many sanctuaries were dedicated to her in the lands inhabited by Latins. The first one is supposed to have beeen near Alba before the town was destroyed by the Romans.

The Arician wood sanctuary near the lake of Nemi was Latin confederal as testified by the dedicatory epigraph quoted by Cato[15].

She had a shrine 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, ie 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.

Other sanctuaries we know about are listed here below:

Colle di Corne near Tusculum[16] where she is referred to with the archaic Latin name of deva Cornisca and where existed a collegium of worshippers.[17]

The Algidus Mount, also near Tusculum[18]

At Lavinium[19]

At Tivoli, where she is referred to as Diana Opifera Nemorensis[20]

A sacred wood mentioned by Livy[21]ad computum Anagninum(near Anagni).

On Mount Tifata, near Capua in Campania.[22]



In religion

Diana's cult has been related in Early Modern Europe to the cult of Nicevenn (aka Dame Habond, Perchta, Herodiana, etc.). She was related to myths of a female Wild Hunt, close to the Benandantis' struggles against evil witches.[citation needed]


Today there is a branch of Wicca named for her, which is characterized by an exclusive focus on the feminine aspect of the Divine.[23] In some Wiccan texts Lucifer is a name used interchangeably (in the story lines) for Diana's brother/husband Apollo. (See To Ride A Silver Broomstick and/or[24]


In Italy the old religion of Stregheria embraced goddess Diana as Queen of the Witches; witches being the wise women healers of the time. Goddess Diana created the world of her own being having in herself the seeds of all creation yet to come. It is said that out of herself she divided into the darkness and the light, keeping for herself the darkness of creation and creating her brother Apollo, the light. Goddess Diana loved and ruled with her brother Apollo, the god of the Sun.[citation needed] (Charles G. Leland, Aradia: The Gospel of Witches)

Since the Renaissance the mythic Diana has often been expressed in the visual and dramatic arts, including the opera L'arbore di Diana. In the sixteenth century, Diana's image figured prominently at the Château de Fontainebleau, in deference to Diane de Poitiers, mistress of two French kings. At Versailles she was incorporated into the Olympian iconography with which Louis XIV, the Apollo-like "Sun King" liked to surround himself.

There are also references to her in common literature. In Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet, many references are made to Diana. Rosaline, a beautiful woman who has sworn to chastity, is said to have "Dian's wit". Later on in the play, Romeo says, "It is the East, and Juliet is the sun. Arise fair sun, and kill the envious moon." He is saying that Juliet is better than Diana and Rosaline for not swearing chastity. Diana is also a character in the 1876 Leo Delibe 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 Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête it is Diana's power which has transformed and imprisoned the beast.

In literature

Diana is also used by Shakespeare in the famous play As You Like It to describe how Rosaline feels about marriage. Dian(a) is used again by Shakespeare in his play about racial identity Othello to describe Desdemona's face metaphorically after he believes she is having an affair with Cassio.

There is also a reference to Diana in Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing where Hero is said to seem like 'Dian in her orb', in terms of her chastity.

The Goddess is also referenced indirectly in Shakespeare's player 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, Goddesse 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 sinle 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 language

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

Both the Romanian word for "fairy", Zână[25] and the Leonese word for "water nymph", xana, seem to come from the name of Diana.

In Beaux Arts

Beaux Arts architecture and garden design (late 19th and early 20th centuries) used classic references in a modernized form. Two of the most popular of the period were of Pomona (goddess of orchards) as a metaphor for Agriculture, and Diana, representing Commerce, which is a perpetual hunt for advantage and profits.

In Parma at the convent of San Paolo, Antonio Allegri da Correggio painted the camera of the Abbess Giovanna Piacenza's apartment. He was commissioned in 1519 to paint the ceiling and mantel of the fireplace. On the mantel he painted an image of Diana riding in a chariot pulled possibly by a stag.


  • 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'.


  1. ^ G.Dumezil La religion Romaine archaique Paris, 1974, part 3, chap.1
  2. ^ G. Dumezil La religion Romaine archaique Paris 1974, part 3, chap.1
  3. ^ M. Eliade Traite' d'histoire des religions
  4. ^ Ovid Fasti III, 262-271
  5. ^ T. Livius Ab urbe condita I, 3-7
  6. ^ Ovid Fasti III,262-271
  7. ^ J. Frazer The golden bough 1922, chaps. 1, 12, 16
  8. ^ J.G. Frazer Dying gods, 1912; Geza Roheim Animism, magic and the divine king London, 1972, part 3, (see in particular chap. The king of May)
  9. ^ The date coincides with the founding dates celebrated at Aricium. Arthur E. Gordon, "On the Origin of Diana", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 63 (1932, pp. 177-192) p 178.
  10. ^ Her cult at Aricia was first attested in Latin literature by Cato the Elder, in a surviving quote by the late grammarian Priscian. Supposed Greek origins for the Aricia cult are strictly a literary topos. (Gordon 1932:178 note, and p. 181).
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ The Potnia Theron aspect of Hellenic Artemis is represented in Capua and Signia, Greek cities of Magna Graecia, in the fifth century BCE.
  13. ^ Gordon 1932:179.
  14. ^ quoted by Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974,part 3, chap. 1
  15. ^ Cato Origins fr.62: "Lucum Dianum In nemore Aricino Egerius Baebius Tusculanus dedicavit dictator Latinus. Hi populi communiter: Tusculanus, Aricinus, Laurens, Coranus, Tiburtis, Pometius, Ardeatis, Rutulus."
  16. ^ Pliny the elder Naturalis Historia XVI, 242
  17. ^ CIL, 975; CIL XIV,2633
  18. ^ Horace, Carmina, I, 21, 5-6; Carmen Saeculare
  19. ^ CIL XIV,2112
  20. ^ CIL, 3537
  21. ^ Livy Ab urbe condita XXVII, 4
  22. ^ Roy Merle Peterson The cults of Campania Rome, American Academy 1919, pp 322-328
  23. ^ Falcon River (2004) The Dianic Wiccan Tradition. From The Witches Voice. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
  24. ^
  25. ^ Zână in DEX '98 and NODEX.

See also

External links

Simple English

of Diana that is now in the Louvre in Paris. This statue dates from the first or second century. It may have been modelled on an older statue of the Greek period.]]
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In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of hunting, and in later times, the moon and chastity. Cypress trees were sacred to her. She was the daughter of Jupiter and the Titan Latona (or Leto). In Greek mythology, Diana was called Artemis. She is also associated with fertility and nature. Diana is also a female name.

According to mythology, Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos. Diana made up a group of three with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and midwife helper; and Virbius, the god of the woods.

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