Dione

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The name Dione is pronounced /daɪˈoʊni/, (In Greek: Διώνη, which is pronounced /ðɪˈoni/ ). Διώνη denotes the female form of Zeus, the name of whom in genitive form is “Διός”.

Dionaea, /Diônaia/, a metronymic form of Dione, and applied to her daughter Aphrodite. (Orph. Arg. 1320 {Unreferenced}; Virg. Aen. iii. 19). [1] [i] The name is also applied as an epithet to things which were sacred to her, such as the dove. (Stat. Silv. iii. 5. 80 {Unreferenced})

After the Iliad, Aphrodite herself was sometimes referred to as "Dionaea" and even "Dione" (Peck 1898) [2] [ii].

Roman "Diana" has a similar etymology but is not otherwise connected with Dione.


The Myth

Three goddesses from the Parthenon east pediment, possibly Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite, ca. 435 BCE [British Museum] [γ] [δ]


She is a goddess of Greek mythology, the earlier record of whom is found in Book V of Homer's Iliad where she is mentioned as the mother of Aphrodite [i] : Aphrodite journeys to Dione's side after she has been wounded in battle while protecting her favorite son Aeneas. In this episode, Dione seems to be the equivalent of Gaia the Earth Mother, whom Homer also placed in Olympus, and to that extent might be classed as a "mother goddess".[[3] [4] Euripides, in his tragedy “Helen”, refers to Cypris (Aphrodite) as daughter of Dione. [5] [iii]

Dione on the North Frieze of the Pergamon Altar [Pergamon Museum]

Although Dione is not a Titan in Hesiod, [6] [v] [vi] but appears instead in his Theogony among the long list of Oceanids, Apollodorus includes her among the Titans (1.1.3 and 1.3.1). [7] [vii] [viii]

The Roman mythographer Gaius Julius Hyginus[8] gives two versions about her genealogy; one of them coincides with Apollodorus’ while the other makes her the daughter of the Titan Atlas. [ix] [x]

Dione was present, with other divinities, at the birth of Apollo and Artemis in Delos. (Hom. Hymn. in Del. 93.)[[9] [xi]

In the sculptural frieze of the Great Altar of Pergamon (2nd century BCE), Dione (inscribed in the cornice directly above with her name) figures in the eastern third of the north frieze, among the Olympian family of Aphrodite; thus she is an exception to the rule, detected by Erika Simon, that the organizational principle according to which the gods on the Great Altar were grouped, was Hesiodic: her company in the grouping of offspring of Uranos and Gaia is Homeric rather than Hesiodic, as is her appearance in the east pediment of the Parthenon (illustration) but serves perhaps also to show how imperfect the fit in was her inclusion among any purely Olympian schema. [α]

The archaic king Tantalus in Lydia had Dione as a consort: Hyginus says that Dione, daughter of Atlas, was the mother, by Tantalus, of Pelops and Niobe,[x] and this makes Dione a forebear of Atreas and Thyestes, who were Pelop’s descendants. Another son of Dione might be Broteas, whose father was also Tantalus.[10] [xii]

Ovid in “The Metamorphoses” 6.172; connects Dione with Pleiades, who were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. [11] [xiii]


The Worship of Dione at Dodona

The Temple

At the very ancient oracle of Zeus at Dodona [β], Dione rather than Hera, was the goddess resorted to in the company of Zeus, as many surviving votive inscriptions show.

A place of significance in the Dodona sanctuary was reserved to the adoration of goddess Dione, the mythological mother of goddess Aphrodite. Both Dione and Themis were called “Naian goddesses, cohabitants and worshipped together with Zeus”. The word “Naian” derives from the Greek word “ναός” (temple), which is pronounced /naos/, and was used to denote someone “from the temple”. In consequence, both goddesses, who were Zeus’ wives, were in hierarchy the most important “officers” of Zeus, following immediately after the god.

The earlier temple dedicated to Dione was situated near the Sacred Residence to the north and made part of the central section of the sanctuary. Built in the second half of the fourth century or in the early third century BC, the temple was set on fire by the Aetolians in 219 BC and was subsequently abandoned.

It was oriented from east to west (9.80 x 9.40m) and was almost half as big as the adjacent temple of Zeus. The stone threshold of the entrance pierced in the intermediate wall that separates the cella from the pronaos(front section), still survives; the double-leaf door was 1.20m wide. At the far end of the cella are preserved the remains of a pedestal supporting the ceremonial statue of Dioni, the so called ”edos” (habitat). The revered “edos” was honoured every year by the Athenians, who sent honourable “theories” (dignitaries as city representatives) and abundant gifts, following a Dodona oracle.

When the sanctuary was reconstructed after 219 BC, a new temple sacred to Dione was erected to the south, visibly diverging from the temple of Zeus. It was an Ionic tetrastyle (four-columned) with a frontal portico (“prostyle”) temple disposing of a pronaos (anteroom) and the cella, measuring overall 9.60 x 6.35m. The columns were made of conglomerate externally plastered with fine lime mortar or marble mortar that rendered to the surfaces the whiteness and smoothness of marble. The stepped facade was of good quality limestone, similar to the columns of the parodoi (passageways, public entrances) in the theatre. A wall separates the pronaos from the cella, featuring a stone threshold that still survives together with traces of the double-leaf door, 1.30m in width. At the far end of the cella stands the pedestal which supported the statue of Dioni.


Dione's priestesses

The birds associated with Dioni (and Zeus) at Dodona are doves and her priestesses at Dodona were the “peleiades”. The word “peleiades” is of Pelasgic origin; it means “rock-pigeons” and is not to be confused with ‘peliades’, the daughters of Pelias, although they probably derive from the same root ‘Pel’. [xiv] [xv]

According to Strabo the word “peleiades” could also mean “old women”. [12] [xvi]


Quotations

i. Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid, A 3.19, Theodore C. Williams. trans. / Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1910:

“Unto Dione's daughter, and all gods / who blessed our young emprise, due gifts were paid;/ and unto the supreme celestial King / I slew a fair white bull beside the sea.”


ii. Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898):

"...To the oldest Greeks she [Aphrodite] was the daughter of Zeus and Dioné (and is sometimes called by that name herself)..."


iii. Homer, Iliad 5. 370 ff (trans. Lattimore):

"[Aphrodite, wounded by Diomedes at Troy, comes to her mother Dione on Olympos :] And now bright Aphrodite fell at the knees of her mother, Dione, who gathered her daughter into her arms' fold and stroked her with her hand and called her by name and spoke to her : `Who now of the Ouranian gods, dear child, has done such things to you, rashly, as if you were caught doing something wicked?' Aphrodite the sweetly laughing spoke then and answered her : `Tydeus' son Diomedes, the too high-hearted, stabbed me as I was carrying my own beloved son out of the fighting, Aineias, who beyond all else in the world is dear to me; so now this is no horrible war of Akhaians and Trojans but the Danaans are beginning to fight even with the immortals."

"Then Dione the shining among divinities answered her: `Have patience, my child, and endure it though you be saddened. For many of us who have our homes on Olympos endure things from men, when ourselves we inflict hard pain on each other. Ares had to endure it when strong Ephialtes and Otos, sons of Aloeus, chained him in bonds that were too strong for him . . . Hera had to endure it when Herakles the strong son of Amphitryon struck her beside the right breast with a tri-barbed arrow, so that the pain he gave her could not be quieted. Haides the gigantic had to endure with the rest the flying arrow when this self-same man, the son of Zeus of the aigis struck him among the dead men at Pylos, and gave him to agony . . . Brute, heavy-handed, who thought nothing of the bad he was doing, who with his archer hurt the gods who dwell on Olympos!"

"It was the goddess grey-eyed Athena who drove on this man against you; poor fool, the heart of Tydeus' son knows nothing of how that man who fights the immortals lives no long time, his children do not gather to his knees to welcome their father when he returns home after the fighting and the bitter warfare. Then, though he be very strong indeed, let the son of Tydeus take care lest someone even better than he might fight with him, lest for a long time Aigialeia, wise child of Adrastos, mourning wake out of sleep her household's beloved companions, longing for the best of the Akhaians, her lord by marriage, she, the strong wife of Diomedes, breaker of horses." She spoke, and with both hands stroked away from her arm the ichor, so that the arm was made whole again and the strong pains rested."


iv. Euripides, Helen – transl. E. P. Coleridge) :

“O Hera! awful queen, who sharest the couch of Zeus, grant some respite from their toil to two unhappy wretches; to thee I pray, tossing my arms upward to heaven, where thou hast thy home in the star-spangled firmament. Thou, too, that didst win the prize of beauty at the price of my marriage; O Cypris! daughter of Dione, destroy me not utterly. Thou hast injured me enough aforetime, delivering up my name, though not my person, to live amongst barbarians.”


v. Hesiod, Theogony 1 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) :

"[ The Mousai ] utter their song with lovely voice, praising Zeus the aigis-holder, and queenly Hera of Argos . . . bright-eyed Athena, and Phoibos Apollon, and Artemis who delights in arrows, and Poseidon . . . and revered Themis, and quick-glancing Aphrodite, and Hebe with the crown of gold, and fair Dione, Leto, Iapetos, and Kronos the crafty counsellor, Eos [Dawn], and great Helios [Sun], and bright Selene [Moon]." [N.B. Hesiod couples Dione with Aphrodite and the Titan gods in this passage.]


vi. Hesiod, Theogony 346 ff :

"She [ Tethys ] brought forth also a race apart of daughters . . . They are . . . Galaxaura and lovely Dione, Melobosis [amongst a long list of Okeanides.] . . . Now these are the eldest of the daughters who were born to Tethys and Okeanos."


vii. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 2 (trans. Aldrich) :

"Ouranos [Sky] . . . fathered other sons on Ge [Earth], namely the Titanes : Okeanos, Koios, Hyperion, Kreios, Iapetos, and Kronos the youngest; also daughters called Titanides : Tethys, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoibe, Dione, and Theia."


viii. 'Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 13 :

"By Dione he [Zeus] had the Aphrodite." [Here Zeus' consorts are ordered--Themis, Dione, Eurynome, Styx (i.e. Demeter), Mnemosyne, Metis, Leto.]


ix. Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabuale, [Preface] (trans. Grant) : "From Aether and Terra [were born various abstractions] . . . From Caelum [Ouranos] and Terra [Gaia] were born ?] Oceanus, Themis, Tartarus, Pontus; the Titanes : Briareus, Gyes, Steropes, Atlas, Hyperion, and Polus [Koios], Saturnus [Kronos], Ops [Rhea], Moneta [Mnemosyne], Dione…." [N.B. Hyginus' Preface survives only in summary. The Titanes should be listed as children of Ouranos (Caelum) and Gaia (Terra) not Aither and Gaia, but the notation to this effect seems to have been lost in the transcription.]


x. Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fabuale, [9, 82, 83] (trans. Grant) :

[9]. “Amphion took in marriage Niobe, daughter of Tantalus and Dione, by whom he had seven sons and as many daughters…” [82]. “Tantalus, son of Jove [Zeus] and Pluto [Hades Pluton], begat Pelops by Dione…. “ [83]. “When Pelops, son of Tantalus and Dione, daughter of Atlas, had been slain and cut up by Tantalus at a feast of the gods….”


xi. Homeric Hymn 3 to Delian Apollo 89 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) :

"Leto [on the island of Delos] was racked nine days and nine nights with pangs beyond wont. And there were with her all the chiefest of the goddesses, Dione and Rheia and Ikhnaie and Themis and loud-moaning Amphitrite and the other deathless goddesses. Then the child leaped forth to the light, and all the goddesses raised a cry. Straightway, great Phoibos [Apollon], the goddesses washed you purely and cleanly with sweet water and swathed you in a white garment of fine texture, new-woven, and fastened a golden band about you." [N.B. The "chiefest of the goddesses" are the Titanides. Amphitrite stands in place of Tethys, Dione is equivalent to Phoibe, and Ikhnaie "the tracing goddess" is Theia.]


xii. Pausanias, Description of Greece, Transl. by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918, (3.22.4):

"…and some thirty stades farther is Acriae, a city on the coast. Well worth seeing here are a temple and marble image of the Mother of the Gods. The people of Acriae say that this is the oldest sanctuary of this goddess in the Peloponnesus, although the Magnesians, who live to the north of Mount Sipylus, have on the rock Coddinus the most ancient of all the images of the Mother of the gods. The Magnesians say that it was made by Broteas the son of Tantalus." [The connection Pausanias makes shows that this Mother of the Gods was Cybele.]


xiii. Ovid, The Metamorphoses, transl. by A.S.Kline, Bk VI:146-203:

“…Why is Latona worshipped at the altars, while as yet my godhead is without its incense? Tantalus is my father, who is the only man to eat the food of the gods. My mother [Dione] is one of the seven sisters, the Pleiades. Great Atlas, who carries the axis of the heavens on his shoulders, is one of my grandfathers. Jupiter is the other, and I glory in having him as my father-in-law as well…”


xiv. The History of Animals by Aristotle translated by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Book V: 13 :

“…Of the pigeon family there are many diversities; for the peristera or common pigeon is not identical with the peleias or rock-pigeon. In other words, the rock-pigeon is smaller than the common pigeon, and is less easily domesticated; it is also black, and small, red-footed and rough-footed; and in consequence of these peculiarities it is neglected by the pigeon-fancier. The largest of all the pigeon species is the phatta or ring-dove; and the next in size is the oenas or stock-dove; and the stock-dove is a little larger than the common pigeon. The smallest of all the species is the turtle-dove….”


xv. The Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus–Book Two, 55 -57 :

[54] The following tale is commonly told in Egypt concerning the oracle of Dodona in Greece, and that of Ammon in Libya. My informants on the point were the priests of Jupiter at Thebes. They said “that two of the sacred women were once carried off from Thebes by the Phoenicians, and that the story went that one of them was sold into Libya, and the other into Greece, and these women were the first founders of the oracles in the two countries.” On my inquiring how they came to know so exactly what became of the women, they answered, “that diligent search had been made after them at the time, but that it had not been found possible to discover where they were; afterwards, however, they received the information which they had given me.”

[55] This was what I heard from the priests at Thebes; at Dodona, however, the women who deliver the oracles relate the matter as follows:- “Two black doves [in the ancient greek text “δύο πελειάδας μελαίνας”] flew away from Egyptian Thebes, and while one directed its flight to Libya, the other came to them. She alighted on an oak, and sitting there began to speak with a human voice, and told them that on the spot where she was, there should henceforth be an oracle of Jove [Zeus]. They understood the announcement to be from heaven, so they set to work at once and erected the shrine. The dove which flew to Libya bade the Libyans to establish there the oracle of Ammon.” This likewise is an oracle of Jupiter [Zeus]. The persons from whom I received these particulars were three priestesses of the Dodonaeans, the eldest Promeneia, the next Timarete, and the youngest Nicandra- what they said was confirmed by the other Dodonaeans who dwell around the temple.

[56] My own opinion of these matters is as follows:- I think that, if it be true that the Phoenicians carried off the holy women, and sold them for slaves, the one into Libya and the other into Greece, or Pelasgia (as it was then called), this last must have been sold to the Thesprotians. Afterwards, while undergoing servitude in those parts, she built under a real oak a temple to Jupiter, her thoughts in her new abode reverting- as it was likely they would do, if she had been an attendant in a temple of Jupiter at Thebes- to that particular god. Then, having acquired a knowledge of the Greek tongue, she set up an oracle. She also mentioned that her sister had been sold for a slave into Libya by the same persons as herself.

[57] The Dodonaeans called the women doves [peleiades] because they were foreigners, and seemed to them to make a noise like birds. After a while the dove spoke with a human voice, because the woman, whose foreign talk had previously sounded to them like the chattering of a bird, acquired the power of speaking what they could understand. For how can it be conceived possible that a dove should really speak with the voice of a man? Lastly, by calling the dove [peleiada] black the Dodonaeans indicated that the woman was an Egyptian. And certainly the character of the oracles at Thebes and Dodona is very similar. Besides this form of divination, the Greeks learnt also divination by means of victims from the Egyptians.


xvi. Strabo, Geography 7. 7. 12 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :

"At the outset, it is true, those who uttered the prophecies [at the oracle of Dodona] were men (this too perhaps the poet [Homeros] indicates, for he calls them 'hypophetai,' and the prophets might be ranked among these), but later on three old women were designated as prophets, after [the goddess] Dione also had been designated as temple-associate of Zeus…… …Perhaps there was something exceptional about the flight of the three pigeons from which the priestesses [of Dione at Dodona] were wont to make observations and to prophesy. It is further said that in the language of the Molossians and the Thesprotians old women are called 'peliai' (doves) and old men 'pelioi.' And perhaps the much talked of Peleiades were not birds, but three old women who busied themselves about the temple……. …Among the Thesprotians and the Molossians old women are called "peliai" and old men "pelioi," as is also the case among the Macedonians; at any rate, those people call their dignitaries "peligones" (compare the "gerontes" among the Laconians and the Massaliotes). And this, it is said, is the origin of the myth about the pigeons in the Dodonaean oak-tree.”


Footnotes

α. Simon, Pergamon und Hesiod, (Mainz) 1975.

β. A room is devoted to findings from Dodona in the museum at Ioannina.

γ. British Museum website: another interpretation of the two figures at the right, however, is that they are of the Sea [Thalassa] in the lap of the Earth [Gaia]

δ. Aphrodite in the lap of Dione is the identification of Rhys Carpenter (Carpenter, "On Restoring the East Pediment of the Parthenon" American Journal of Archaeology 66.3 [July 1962:265-268] p. 267).


Sources

  • Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid – Roman Epic C1st B.C.
  • Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
  • Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece – Greek Travel Literature C2nd B.C.
  • Euripides, Helen - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • Pseudo-Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Gaius Julius Hyginus (ca. 64 BC – AD 17), Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th-4th B.C.
  • Ovid, The Metamorphoses, Roman Poet C1st B.C. – 1st A.D.
  • Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.


References