Maia, the goddess of fertility

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Maia or Maia Maiestas is an ancient goddess of fertility and the awakening of nature in spring in Roman mythology.

In Greek tradition, Maia is the mother of the god Hermes and daughter of Atlas and Pleione, so she is part of the Pleiades. According to another tradition her mother is Sterope.

Every May 1, Vulcan offered a pregnant sow as a sacrifice to her, so that the earth would also be pregnant with fruit. It is not known why there is an affinity with the god of fire.

The name of the month of May comes from that of the goddess and the fact that her feast day was placed on the first day of the month. The name pig also seems to have come to the Latin language (“sus maialis”) and then to the Italian language from hers.

She was originally the goddess of the fields (Bona Dea).

Given that her name was believed to be connected to the comparative adjectives maius and maior, which mean “bigger, greater,” Maia represented expansion in ancient Roman religion and myth. She may have originated as a homonym distinct from the Greek Maia, whose stories she ingested via the Hellenization of Latin literature and culture.

In an ancient Roman prayer, Maia appears as a Vulcan attribute with a litany of male deities and feminine abstractions that reflect different facets of their functions. In at least one tradition, she was directly linked to the Good Goddess (Bona Dea) and Earth (Terra, the Roman equivalent of Gaia). As explained in-depth by the late antiquarian writer Macrobius, her identity also became theologically linked to the goddesses Fauna, Ops, Juno, Carna, and the Magna Mater (“Great Goddess,” alluding to the Roman version of Cybele but also a cult name for Maia).

This treatment was probably influenced by the 1st-century BC scholar Varro, who tended to resolve a great number of goddesses into one original “Terra”. The association with Juno, whose Etruscan counterpart was Uni, is suggested again by the inscription Uni Mae on the Piacenza Liver.

The month of May (Latin Maius) was named for Maia.

Featured image: Vulcan and Maia (1585) by Bartholomäus Spranger



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