Diana: Roman Goddess of the Hunt

In 1997, the sister of the king of Great Britain, Princess Diana, died in a tragic car accident. A polarizing figure in British culture, her death was a tragic event that resounded around the world.

In a docuseries called Panorama, the persona of the princess is described through a reference to one of the ancient Roman deities. Actually, they refer to the deity that carried the same name as the princess. In the documentary they say that, if you treat her badly, she’ll treat you to a quiver full of arrows. 

So where did that come from, and till what extent was the princess actually similar to the ancient Roman goddess Diana?

Diana in Roman Mythology

The goddess Diana can be found along the twelve major gods of the Roman pantheon. The pantheon was first described by an early Roman poet around 300BC by the name of Ennius. 

While in many mythologies there is a certain hierarchy to the gods, the Romans didn’t necessarily adopted this. Or at least, not at first. Still, after a while this did change. This has mostly to do with the fact that many of the stories became tangled up with several ideas out of Greek mythology

Diana and Apollo

The Roman goddess Diana is actually the twin sister of a rather powerful god in Roman religion. Her twin brother goes by the name of Apollo, who was generally known as the god of the sun.

But, Apollo, isn’t that a Greek god? Yes, it is. So in a sense, that also makes Diana a Greek goddess, right? Not necessarily, but we’ll come back to that later.

So anyway, since Apollo was the god of the sun, it’s not hard to imagine what Diana’s duties would revolve around. Indeed, she is generally considered as the goddess of the moon. As the moon goddess, it was believed that she could direct the movements of the moon from her chariot.

Diana and Apollo are twins, but also appear together in a lot of myths. They are quite complimentary to each other, as you might’ve already imagined. The two have some resemblance with the Ying and the Yang, since they would balance each other out quite well.  

This can be seen in the love life of the two. That is to say, Apollo went on to have many love affairs and many children, while Diana had none because she swore that she would retain her virginity and never marry. This was unusual among goddesses at the time, but not unheard of. Virginity of goddesses can also be seen in Minerva and Vesta, for example.

The Birth of Diana

Goddess Diana was born to Jupiter and Latona. The former one, her father, was the king of gods, while her mother Latona was a goddess related with motherhood and modesty. 

Jupiter and Latona weren’t married, however. Their child Diana was rather conceived through a love affair, something which seems to be almost standard in Roman mythology and Greek mythology.

Jupiter’s actual wife goes by the name of Juno. At one point, Juno learned that Latona was pregnant with the children of her man. She was mad, and as the queen of gods and goddesses she forbade Latona to give birth anywhere on her ‘land’. That’s quite tough, since that would be in theory anywhere on heaven or earth. 

Latona, however, found a loophole in the form of Delos: a floating island between heaven and earth. It’s an actual island that has a rich history and is at the moment a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The idea that it’s a floating island is a bit undermined by this fact, but the Roman mythology probably couldn’t care less. After all, it’s not even an Italian island anyway, so who cares really.

Latona was, thus, able to give birth to her babies, which later became to be recognized as Diana and Apollo. In some versions of the myth, they do not have a childhood, but rather come into being as adults. This was common in much mythology, for example with the goddess Metis.

The Areas and Powers of Diana

Diana was, as indicated, the goddess of the moon. The fact that she is closely related to the skyworld and the moon is also very evident in her very name. That is to say, Diana derived from the words divios, dium, and, dius which respectively mean something like divine, sky, and daylight. 

But, the moon is far from the only thing that Diana would represent. She was related to a lot of other things, which are quite often rather contradictory. Her symbols were a crescent moon, but also a crossroad, quiver, bow, and arrow. That already gives away quite a bit about what she would represent more. 

Diana the Huntress

Originally, Diana was considered to be the goddess of wilderness and of the hunt. Hunting can be considered the most popular sport for the ancient Romans, so being the goddess of this sport tells us a lot about the importance of Diana. 

While first only for wild animals, she later also became related to the somewhat tame countryside and its animals. In this association, she is regarded as the guardian of anything rural, repressing everything that was rustic and uncultivated.

Her association with the hunting sport and hunting animals in general got her a nickname. Not very inspiring, indeed, since it was simply Diana the Huntress. The name is most often use by poets or by artist to name their pieces.

When it comes to her appearance, a well known Roman poet by the name of Nemesianus described her most adequately. At least, that is according to some sources. He described Diana as a figure that was always carrying a bow and a quiver which was filled with golden arrows. 

To add to the shining outfit, her cloak was shiny golden as well and her belt decorated with a jeweled buckle. Her boots gave some balance to all the shininess, however, since they were described as having the color purple. 

Diana of the Underworld 

Being the goddess of the moon and the goddess of wilderness and the hunt cover four of the five symbols that Diana was associated with. But the list of what Diana was associated with didn’t end there. Not at all, actually. 

While mostly addressed as Diana, she was also often given the title Trivia. This has to do with her relation with the underworld. Trivia comes from trivium, which translate to something like ‘triple way’. 

At face value her role in relation to the crossroad seems to be quite innocent. The use of Trivia would refer to Diana’s guardianship over roadways or crossroads. Particularly, surprise surprise, the ones with three ways.

The actual meaning was a bit less innocent, however. This connotation was a metaphor for the road to the underworld, the realm of Pluto. Her role was not necessarily as being a part of the underworld, but like the symbol indicates, as guardian of the path towards the underworld. It’s a bit contested, since other deities like Persephone would also make an appeal to this status. 

Diana the Triple Goddess

Thus far, three aspects of Roman goddess Diana have been discussed. Goddess of the moon, goddess of the hunt, goddess of the road to the underworld. The three together also make up another appearance of Diana, namely Diana as the Triple Goddess.

While she can be considered as seperat goddesses by some, in her form as Diana triformis she should be considered three different goddesses altogether. Indeed, it acknowledges that Diana had all the functions as discussed up until this point.

The name Diana would refer to her as Diana the huntress, Luna would be used to refer to her as goddess of the moon, while Hectate is used to refer to her as Diana of the underworld.

The three would also intertwine in several ways. The symbol of a crossroad was, for example, related to the version of Hectate or Trivia. But, it could also be related to Diana the Huntress in a sense that the paths hunters may encounter in the forest, lit only by the full moon; this symbolizes making choices ‘in the dark’ without the light of guidance.

After her depictions as Diana the Huntress, her form as Diana triformis is the one that is also often used to refer to Diana in arts. Her depictions as Diana of the underworld and Diana as goddess of the moon are used to a somewhat lesser extent. 

Diana, Goddess of Childbirth

All the things for which Diana was worshiped really is a list that goes on and on. Still, one more important aspect of the Roman deity was her function as the goddess of childbirth. In this function, she was associated with fertility and made sure that women were protected during labor. It comes from her mother Latona, who was related to motherhood.

This function of Diana is closely rooted in her role as the goddess of the moon. How this links together?

Well, the ancient Romans identified that the cycles of the moon were close to parallel with the menstrual cycle of many women. Also, the cycle of the moon was an indication of how long someone had been pregnant for. One and one is two, so Diana was considered important for childbirth.

Diana the Roman Goddess and the Greek Goddess Artemis

As with a lot of Roman gods in Roman religion, Diana has a counterpart in Greek mythology. This is the Greek goddess Artemis. Artemis is generally known as the goddess of the hunt and wild animals. So at first sight, the similarities are already quite evident. 

Are Artemis and Diana the same goddesses?

But, are Artemis and Diana the same? They are, to a very large extent. Amongst others, they share their lineage in the family of gods, their virginity, their prowess as huntresses, and even their roles in similar myths. But then again, they also have a ton of differences.

The main difference between Artemis and Diana is that the Greek Goddess Artemis is the goddess of wild, hunt, and young girls. Artemis was born to Leto and Zeus. On the other hand, our Roman goddess is considered to be the goddess of the wild, the moon, the (path to) the underworld, and related to virgins. 

Another difference is, of course, their name. But more specifically, what their names mean. The fact that the Roman version is called Diana explicitly links her to the sky and the moon. On the other hand, Artemis means butcher. So the Greek counterpart of Diana was definitely closer related to the hunt and the wild.

How did Artemis become Diana?

The conversion of Artemis into Diana is quite a contested topic. Some believe that Artemis just kind of ‘became’ Diana over time. At one point the ancient Romans simply decided to refer to the goddess as Diana rather than Artemis.

Other stories think that Diana was already a goddess before Artemis even came into play. In this version, Diana was originally an Italian goddess of the woodlands with her own stories and role.

When the Roman Empire developed, borrowing heavily from Greek culture, Diana and Artemis were merged to create parallel stories. Despite their similarities, it is important to think of them as goddesses from different traditions rather than manifestations of the same deity.

Worship of Diana

Diana was an eventful goddess; a goddess that had something to say about a lot of things. She was therefore deemed very important. This importance was also visible in the fact that she was widely worshiped by the ancient Romans. 

Diana at Aricia

Nowadays it is spelled Arricia, but in ancient Roma was spelled with only one ‘r’: Aricia. This is the place that signifies one of the centers of a thing called the Latin League. 

The Latin League is not a video game, nor a league of some obscure and old Latin sport. It is actually the name of an ancient confederation of about 30 villages and tribes in the region of Latium. The Latin League together joined forces to create a commonly shared defense mechanism.

The region is only a small part of the Roman Empire, but it had quite the influence. One of the reasons was because it had its very own leading cult that was dedicated to Diana. 

The cult of Diana provided services, both spiritual and practical, to its practitioners. The cult mostly revolved around Diana’s role as the goddess of the moon and with that, the goddess of childbirth. 

Diana’s cult shared information, care, and support along with religious guidance and the opportunity to ask for Diana’s aid more directly in her sanctuary.

Diana Nemorensis

It’s believed that the worshiping of Diana has started by Lake Nemi, in the Alban hills around 25 kilometers southeast from Rome. Along Lake Nemi, there is an open-air sanctuary called Diana Nemorensis. The sanctuary is believed to be found by Ortestes and Iphigenia.

The worshiping at Diana Nemorensis took place from at least the sixth century before Christ until about the second century after. 

The temple served also as an important political crossroad, since it was considered a common good. That is to say, the temple served as a common place where everyone could go to pray and give offers. All is equal, and it was a good place for discussions about topics surrounding childbirth and overall fertility 

In its peak years, the worshipers of Diana left terracotta offerings for the goddess in the shapes of babies and wombs. Her function as Diana the huntress also came into play, since the temple was also used to offer care of pups and pregnant dogs. 

The dogs and youth that stayed at the temple were trained in several things, but most importantly in relation to hunting. 

Festival at Nemi

At the temple next to Lake Nemi, there was also a festival that was held to honor Diana. It was held between the 13th and 15th of August, during which the ancient Romans traveled to Nemi with torches and garlands. Once they arrived at the temple, they tied tablets inscribed with prayers to the fences around the temple. 

It’s a festival that became quite popular in the Roman empire, something which didn’t really happen before or is quite unheard of. After all, the cult of Diana was really just concentrated in a very small part of Italy, let alone the whole of the Roman empire. The fact that it had an influence over the whole empire signifies its importance. 

Rex Nemorensis

In any religious encounter, there is some form of priest that embodies the spirit and preaches its wisdom. This was also the case in regard to the temple of Diana Nemorensis.

It was actually believed that the priest had a vital role in the worship of Diana and within Diana’s cult. The priest that is generally known as the one that was running the whole thing over at the lake of Nemi is referred to as Rex Nemorensis.

The story about how one becomes Rex Nemorensis, so how one obtains its priesthood, is quite a fascinating story. Believed it or not, but only run-away slaves were able to obtain the priesthood at the temple of Diana. It could be obtained by slaying the previous priest with their bare hands. So no free man was able to obtain the status of priest.

The priest, being conscious of the potential attacks that could come at any time, was always armed with a sword. So, it is indeed pretty evident that you have a high self-esteem to be the leader of Diana’s cult.

Diana in Women and LGBTQ+ Rights

Associated mainly with hunting and childbirth, the goddess Diana might not appear at first to be part of LGBTQ+ history. However her relationship with her female companions has resonated with many women throughout history. Also, she has had quite the influence as a symbol for women’s right.

These ideas find their roots mostly in the different artworks that have been made about her. As indicated earlier, most of the art was made of just one version of Diana: the huntress. For starters, the mere fact that she is a huntress defies many gender categorizations that are applied to either women or men throughout history. 

Some statues depicted Diana with bow and arrow – half naked. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the views towards women rights was very different than it is now. During this time, however, most of the statues of Diana would obtain their status as symbol for woman and LGBTQ+ rights.

For example, the U.S.A. only legally allowed women to vote from the year 1920 onwards. Depicting a woman in full liberation as some artists did with their statues from Diana definitely would’ve made some people scratch their head.  

LGBTQ+ Rights

The relation of Diana to LGBTQ+ rights also finds its roots in arts, this time in paintings. A painting by Richard Wilson, painted around 1750, depict Diana and Callisto in the Alban Hills.

Callisto was one of Diana’s favorite companions, a beautiful woman that attracted attention from many mortals and non-mortals. She was so beautiful that Diana’s own father, Jupiter, wanted to seduce her. In order to do so, he would assume the appearance of his daughter.

The very idea that Jupiter would more easily seduce Callisto in the form of a woman says a great deal about the perception of Diana and what kind of preference she had love-wise. After all, she was still considered a virgin without too many love relationships. This also left in the middle whether she was actually into man or woman.

Diana’s Legacy Lives On

Although some claim her to have a strong affinity with the Greek Artemis, Diana has definitely manifested herself as a stand-alone goddess. Not only because of the different areas that she was important in, but also because of her following and the popularity that she gathered in general.

As a symbol of the hunt, strong women, LGBTQ+ activists, the moon, and the underworld, you can expect Diana to have an influence in almost anything we mere mortals are involved in.


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