"Diane Chasseresse," School of Fontainebleau. The painting shows Diana while hunting. The peculiar crescent moon on her forehead symbolizes her being a moon goddess.
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The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. (Purchase: Nelson Trust).


Diana was an ancient Italian goddess of woodland. In Capua and in Aricia, a locality near Rome, there are still shrines dedicated to the old Italian goddess. Her shrine in Aricia was on the shores of the lake Nemi. For that reason, she was named Diana Nemorensis, Diana of the Woods. The rites dedicated to her were particularly brutal.

Human sacrifices were offered to the indigenous goddess. Diana's priest was an escaped slave. Every new priest had to kill their predecessors to obtain their offices. At Capua, people believed that the preservation of the city depended on the fate of a long-lived hind sacred to the goddess.

As the result of the influence of the Greek colonies in southern Italy around the sixth century BC, Diana became identified with the Greek goddess of woodland Artemis acquiring the attributes of this latter. For the Greeks, Artemis was also the personification of the Moon and her twin brother Apollo was associated with the Sun. Her father and mother were Jupiter and Latona.

Diana believed her virgin body was very sacred and not for a male's eyes. One day the hunter, Actaeon, was wandering around and stumbled upon Diana bathing. Diana became so angry, she turned Actaeon into a stag. Now he was unable to speak, and so no one would ever hear about Diana's naked body. Actaeon was killed by his own hunting dogs, because he couldn't tell them he was their master.

Last modified August 1, 2002 by Jennifer Bergman.

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