Bona Dea  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In Roman mythology, Bona Dea (literally "the good goddess") was the goddess of fertility, healing, virginity, and women. She was the daughter of the god Faunus and was often referred to as Fauna.

Bona Dea was the perpetually virginal goddess, associated with virginity and fertility in women. She was also associated with healing, with the sick being tended to in her temple garden with medicinal herbs. She was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens, slaves and women who went to her seeking aid in sickness or for fertility.

She was worshipped in a temple on the Aventine Hill, but her secret rites were performed in the home of a prominent Roman magistrate. The rites were held on December 4, and were women only. Even paintings or drawings of men or male animals were forbidden, along with the words "wine" and "myrtle" because she had once been beaten by Faunus with a myrtle stick after she got drunk. The rites were conducted annually by the wife of the senior magistrate present in Rome and were assisted by the Vestal Virgins. Very little is known about the ceremony, but the worship seems to have been agricultural in origin. The most famous event to do with this festival was its desecration by Publius Clodius in 62 BC by secretly attending the ceremony at the house of the pontifex maximus, Julius Caesar. During the ensuing trial, Clodius' alibi was destroyed by Cicero, which caused the animosity that would define their relationship from then on.

Bona Dea is usually depicted sitting on a throne, holding a cornucopia. The snake is her attribute, a symbol of healing, and consecrated snakes were kept in her temple at Rome, indicating her phallic nature. Her image frequently occurred on ancient Roman coins.

Clodius and the Bona Dea festival

In 62 BC, the Winter rites were hosted by Pompeia, wife of Julius Caesar, senior magistrate in residence and pontifex maximus. A leading popularist politician, Publius Clodius, was said to intruded, dressed as a woman. As the presence of a man vitiated the rites, the Vestals were obliged to repeat them. The senate and pontifices held inquiry on the matter and Clodius was charged with desecration, which carried a death-sentence. The case was prosecuted by Cicero, who had hosted the previous year's rites. After two years of legal wrangling, Clodius was acquitted – which Cicero put down to jury-fixing and other backroom dealings. Officialy, Caesar himself seems to have kept out of it, but the scandal gave him sufficient grounds to divorce Pompeia, and Clodius reputation and career were permanently damaged.

The rites remained officially secret, but many details emerged during and after the trial. Some provided a basis for further male speculation on the rites themselves; some was serious, as in Plutarch and Macrobius, but much of it was prurient, as in Juvenal's Satire VI. It was a high profile, much commented case, and an important source for modern reconstructions and interpretations of the goddess' rites and mythology.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bona Dea" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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