Back to Inquiry Set

6.7.2a Catullus, Poem 34

The Roman poet Catullus addresses Diana in this poem and asks for her protection of the Roman people. This poem has been translated from the original Latin.
Shelton, Jo-Ann, Translator.

Catullus. "Catullus 34." In As the Romans did: a sourcebook in Roman social history, translated by Jo-Ann Shelton, 366-367. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Latin original: Catullus. Works, edited by Francis Warre Cornish, J. W. Mackail, and J. P. Postgate. Vol. 6 of Loeb Classical Library. London: W. Heinemann, 1962, 1988.

The Roman civilization grew up in the shadow of the Greeks and was highly influenced by Hellenistic culture, as were many people around the Mediterranean and in western Asia. Romans admired Hellenistic culture and adopted a lot of it, including arts, philosophy, and some customs. The Romans gave their old spirits features of Greek gods and adopted Greek myths about them. Diana’s features were adopted from the Greek goddess Artemis. In the hymn the poet Catullus addresses Diana, praising her as a forest queen, and asks her to help Roman people just like she had in the previous years. The Romans worshiped Diana as a goddess of the hunt, the moon, fertility, animals, and the woodlands. In mythology Diana was the daughter of Jupiter and Latona (Leto in Greek) and the twin sister of Apollo. Vocabulary chaste: pure, innocent Delian olive tree: according to Greek myth, Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis on the island of Delos by an olive tree trackless: without roads or paths glen: a small, isolated valley by your monthly phases: Diana was the goddess of the moon, which goes through phases (from toenail to full) in a month hallowed: blessed race of Romulus: the Romans; Romulus founded Rome, according to myth Visual caption for object: This marble head originally belonged on a statue that was made between 120 and 180 CE. It was found in Rome. Art historians have made the interpretation that it represents a goddess, but there are not enough attributes (features or characteristics) to conclude whether it represents Diana (Artemis) or Venus (Aphrodite).
Catullus’s hymn to Diana demonstrates the nature of the transformation that took place when a Roman spirit became identified with a Greek deity. Diana had been a woodland spirit of groves and hunting; however, once she became identified in function with Artemis, the Greek goddess of woodland and wildlife, she also took on the personality and appearance of Artemis. She acquired, moreover, Artemis’s family; the once vague spirit now became the daughter of Leto and sister of Apollo, two other Greek deities. In addition, Diana assumed new functions — for example, like Artemis, Diana became the goddess of the moon as well as of the woods. Students might analyze the Roman and Greek features of the goddess from Catullus’s poem.

"Diana, we are in your care,
We chaste girls and boys.
Come, chaste boys and girls,
Let us sing in praise of Diana.

O daughter of Leto,
Mighty offspring of mightiest Jupiter,
You who were born beside the
Delian olive tree,

Queen of the mountains
And the green forests
And the trackless glens
And the murmuring streams….

You, goddess,
Measuring out the year's progress by your monthly phases,
Do fill the farmer's
Humble storerooms with fine produce.

Hallowed be thy name,
Whatever name it is that you prefer.
And, as in years past you have been
Accustomed to do, so now, too,
Protect and preserve the race of Romulus with your kindly favor" (366-367).