In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and also of the moon. In literature she was the equivalent of the Greek goddess Artemis, though in cult beliefs she was Italic, not Greek, in origin. Diana was worshiped in ancient Roman religion and is currently revered in Roman Neopaganism and Stregheria.
Along with her main attributes, Diana was an emblem of chastity. Oak groves were especially sacred to her. According to mythology, Diana was born with her twin brother Apollo on the island of Delos, daughter of Jupiter and Latona. Diana made up a triad with two other Roman deities: Egeria the water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the woodland god.
Diana was worshiped at a festival on August 13, when King Servius Tullius, himself born a slave, dedicated her shrine on the Aventine Hill in the mid-sixth century BC. Being placed on the Aventine, and thus outside the pomerium, meant that Diana’s cult essentially remained a ‘foreign’ one, like that of Bacchus; she was never officially ‘transferred’ to Rome as Juno was after the sack of Veii. It seems that her cult originated in Aricia, where her priest, the Rex Nemorensis remained. There the simple open-air fane was held in common by the Latin tribes, which Rome aspired to weld into a league and direct. Diana of the wood was soon thoroughly Hellenized, “a process which culminated with the appearance of Diana beside Apollo in the first lectisternium at Rome”. Diana was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens and slaves; slaves could receive asylum in her temples.
Though some Roman patrons ordered marble replicas of the specifically Anatolian “Diana” of Ephesus, where the Temple of Artemis stood, Diana was usually depicted for educated Romans in her Greek guise. If she is accompanied by a deer, as in the Diana of Versailles (illustration, above right) this is because Diana was the patroness of hunting. The deer may also offer a covert reference to the myth of Acteon (or Actaeon), who saw her bathing naked. Diana transformed Acteon into a stag and set his own hunting dogs to kill him.
Worship of Diana is mentioned in the Bible. In Acts of the Apostles, Ephesian metal smiths who felt threatened by Saint Paul’s preaching of Christianity, jealously rioted in her defense, shouting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28, New English Bible).