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Diana (mythology)

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Diana as the Personification of Night, 18th century painting by Anton Raphael Mengs.

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 equal 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. She was one of the three maiden goddesses, Diana, Minerva and Vesta, who swore never to marry.

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 persona of Diana is complex and contains a number of archaic features. According to Dumezil[2] it 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,[3] since they did retain a particular sort of influence over the world and mankind.

The celestial character of Diana is reflected in her connexion with light, inaccessibility, virginity, and her preference for dwelling on high mountains and in sacred woods. Diana therefore reflects the heavenly world (dium) in its sovereignty, supremacy, impassibility, and indifference towards such secular matters as the fates of men and states. At the same time, however, she is seen as active in ensuring the succession of kings and in 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 sacredos 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 forerunner of all frame godsis 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 performsan 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.

Dumezil's interpretation appears deliberately to ignore that of James G. Frazer, who links Diana with the male god Janus as a divine couple.[7] Frazer identifies the two with the supreme heavenly couple Jupiter-Juno and additionally ties in these figures to the overarching Indoeuropean religious complex. This regality is also linked to the cult of trees, particularly oaks. In this interpretative schema, the institution of the Rex Nemorensis and related ritual should be seen as related to the theme of the dying god and the kings of May.[8]

Physical description

Diana often appeared as a young woman, aged around twelve to nineteen. It was believed that she had a fair face like Aphrodite with a tall body, slim, small hips, and a high forehead. As a goddess of hunting, she wore a very short tunic so she could hunt and run easily and is often portrayed holding a bow, and carrying a quiver on her shoulder, accompanied by a deer or hunting dog. Sometimes the hunted creature would also be shown. As goddess of the moon, however, Diana wore a long robe, sometimes with a veil covering her head. Both as goddess of hunting and goddess of the moon she is frequently portrayed wearing a moon crown.


Diana was initially just the hunting goddess, associated with wild animals and woodlands. She also later became a moon goddess, supplanting Titan goddess Luna. 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 temple on the Aventine Hill in the mid-sixth century BCE. 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 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 New Testament. 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). After the city secretary (γραμματεύς) quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, what person is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the keeper (guardian) of the temple of the great Diana and of her image that fell from heaven ?" (Acts 19:36)


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 been 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, 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.

Other sanctuaries we know about are listed here below:

  • Temple of Diana, in Evora, Portugal.
  • 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 Ephesus, where she was worshiped as Diana of Ephesus and the temple used to be one of world's seven wonders.


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.


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 for Diana's brother Apollo.[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. Diana was 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 into the darkness and the light, keeping for herself the darkness of creation and creating her brother Apollo, the light. Diana was said to have loved and ruled with her brother Apollo, the god of the sun.

In the arts

Since the Renaissance Diana has often been represented 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. Diana is 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 literature

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 the sonnet "To Science" by Edgar Allen 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 Shakespeare

In Willliam 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 to in As You Like It to describe how Rosaline 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[a]'s visage, is now begrim'd and black/As mine 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 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'. [25]

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, 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 Romeo and Juliet, Romeo describes Rosaline, saying that "She hath Dian's wit".

In painting and sculpture

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

  • Diana and Actaeon, Diana and Callisto, and Death of Actaeon by Titian.
  • Diana and Callisto, Diana Resting After Bath, and Diana Getting Out of Bath by François Boucher.
  • Diana Bathing With Her Nymphs by Rembrandt
  • Diana and Endymion by Poussin.
  • Diana and Callisto, Diana and Her Nymph Departing From Hunt, Diana and Her Nymphs Surprised By A Faun by Rubens.
  • Diana and Endymion by Johann Micheal Rottmayr.
  • The famous fountain at Palace of Caserta, Italy, created by Paolo Persico, Brunelli, Pietro Solari told a story about when Diana being surprised by Acteon.
  • A sculpture by Christophe-Gabriel Allegrain could be seen at the Musée du Louvre.

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 chamber 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 possibly pulled by a stag.

In film

Diana/Artemis appears at the end of the 'Pastoral Symphony' segment of Disney's Fantasia.

In Jean Cocteau's 1946 film version of Beauty and the Beast it is Diana's power that has transformed and imprisoned the beast.

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, wearing white.


  • 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'.
  • William Moulton Marston used the Diana myth as a basis for Wonder Woman.
  • For the album art of Progressive metal band Protest the Hero's second studio album Fortress, Diana is depicted, protected by rams and other animals. The theme of Diana is carried throughout the album.


  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.
  25. Cross, Wilbur L. (1993). The Yale Shakespeare: the complete works. United States of America: Barnes & Noble. pp. 365-399. ISBN 1-56619-104-1. 

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Diana (mythology). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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