Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt and Wild Animals

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Diana is an Italic, Latin and Roman goddess, deity of the forests, keeper of wild animals, guardian of springs and streams, protector of women, to whom she ensured painless births, and dispenser of sovereignty.

Despite having a separate Italian origin, she is often compared to the Greek goddess Artemis and adopted much of Artemis’ mythology early in Roman history. She was born on the island of Delos to parents Jupiter and Latona and had a twin brother named Apollo. Artemis-Diana, goddess of hunting, virginity, archery, woods and the moon, during the religious syncretism of the imperial age was further identified with other Eastern female deities.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

Diana is revered as a virgin goddess and a maternity guardian. Diana once shared a trio of roles with the water nymph Egeria, who served as her attendant and assisting midwife, and the woods deity Virbius. Diana is revered in contemporary neopagan faiths including Wicca, Stregheria, and Roman neopaganism. Diana has been considered as a triple divinity throughout history, combining with the moon goddess Luna/Selene and the underworld (usually Hecate).

Diana’s character is intricate and includes a variety of antiquated elements. Diana was once thought of as a goddess of the wild and of the hunt, which was an important pastime in both Roman and Greek culture. Diana was principally honored as a huntress and protector of hunters in early Roman inscriptions. Later, throughout the Hellenistic era, Diana came to be equally or even more venerated as a goddess of the “tame” countryside, or villa rustica, which was idealized frequently in Greek thinking and poetry rather than the wild woods. The Greek goddess Artemis was the first to assume this dual position as the goddess of both civilization and the wild, and consequently of the civilized countryside. By the third century CE, when Greek culture had a significant impact on Roman religion, Diana had nearly completely merged with Artemis and had adopted many of her characteristics, both in terms of her spiritual realms and how she was described physically.

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

Diana was frequently regarded as one of three goddesses, together referred to as Diana triformis: Diana, Luna, and Hecate. Trivia was Diana’s original nickname, and Virgil, Catullus, and many others used it to call her. Trivia, which is derived from the Latin trivium, or “triple way,” denotes Diana’s control over roads, notably Y-junctions or three-way intersections.

Diana was first confused with Hecate because of her function as a goddess of the underworld, or at least as a guide between life and death (and occasionally also with Proserpina). Her status as an underworld goddess, however, appears to have existed before a significant Greek influence.

Diana was first confused with Hecate because of her function as a goddess of the underworld, or at least as a guide between life and death (and occasionally also with Proserpina). Her status as an underworld goddess, however, appears to have existed before a significant Greek influence.

Diana was venerated as Diana Nemorensis in an outdoor sanctuary overlooking Lake Nemi in the Alban Hills close to Aricia, where it is possible that Diana’s devotion began (“Diana of the Sylvan Glade”). Legend has it that after running from the Tauri, Orestes and Iphigenia constructed the refuge.

Featured image: Statue of Diana-Artemis, fresco from Pompeii, 50-1 BCE

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