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Da Vinci?s Devis

Meet the European goddesses junked by church and state Everybody knows Venus, Roman goddess of Love, once worshipped by the ancient Greeks as Aphrodite.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2006 12:24 IST
WORLD VIEW

It's ironic that Italy, now home to the macho religion of Catholicism, should shudder at The Da Vinci Code. The fact is, the Europeans, especially the Greeks and Romans, had plenty of goddesses in their ancient history.

In fact, the Greeks considered their deities to be universal, and so, as trade and colonisation increased their knowledge of the world, they equated their gods with those of other cultures.

Their inheritors, the ancient Romans, did likewise. Not surprising that only when they allowed the old gods back unofficially in their lives through art and culture could Europe come out of its Dark Ages and rejoice in the Renaissance, after which there’s been no stopping Western civilisation. Here are a few Greco-Roman Devis of Old Europe, still found in odds and ends.

Juno
Though usually equated with the Greek goddess Hera, Juno was in fact a native Latin goddess with her own mythology. People still describe a stately woman as someone with a “Junoesque” figure. Juno was a loving wife and wise adviser, to her consort Jupiter (Zeus-Pater/Father Zeus) the king of heaven. Hera, on the other hand, was haughty and jealous. She had reason: Zeus was always out chasing nymphs.

Minerva
Under her Greek name Athena, Minerva was the powerful Mother Goddess of the ancient city-state of Athens. As Minerva, she was one of Rome’s top three deities with Jupiter and Apollo. Venus Is there a soul who doesn’t know Venus, Roman goddess of Love, worshipped by the ancient Greeks as Aphrodite? She rules as the most powerful positive force on the planet. Naturally, she’s feminine.

Diana
Diana, a native Roman goddess was easily merged into the old Greco-Asian goddess, Artemis, sister of Apollo, god of sun and song. Diana represents the power and beauty of the feminine principle. Her temple at Ephesus was a wonder of the ancient world (and the place of one of Saint Paul’s least-successful missions to spread the new “male” religion of Christianity).

Vesta 
Vesta, or Hestia in Greek, was an ancient deity of hearth and home. Her sacred fire was the sacred centre of Rome. A prophecy went that when her fire went out, Rome would fall. And it did. Poor Vesta is now the name for electric food-warmers.

Pomona
The godess of fruit trees, Pomona was a beloved minor deity. Her name survives in French words like pomme (apple) and Italian pomodoro (tomato) and the disdainful Aussie term for the English, “Pommies”, on account of the pink apple cheeks of the (unfreckled) English complexion.

Ceres
The native Roman goddess of crops, Ceres, was assimilated with the Greek goddess Demeter. The story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone who was tricked into marying Pluto, king of the Underworld, is famous. In Rome, Persephone was called Proserpina.

Cardea
aughed at as the goddess of door hinges, Cardea was in fact an important Roman family deity. She was often depicted with Janus, the two-faced god of thresholds and of beginnings and endings.

Bellona
Bellona was an ancient, native Roman goddess often associated with Mars, god of war. Later she was identified with Mah of Asia Minor (Turkey). Her cult needed blood sacrifice, like our powerful Devi, Ma Tulaja Bhavani of Kolhapur.