Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday's Mythological Creature of the Day -- Libitina, The Goddess of Funerals, Morticians and Corpses


In Roman Mythology Libitina was The Goddess of Funerals, Morticians and Corpses. I have never heard of her and was shocked to learn that there is not much information available about this seemingly important Deity. So, here is what I’ve dug up so far:

Her sanctuary was a sacred grove, where funeral accessories and tools were kept. She was the patron of the undertakers, who had their parlors near her temple. Allegedly, the legendary sixth king of ancient Rome, and the second of his Etruscan dynasty, Servius Tullius (he reigned 578-535BC) was the one who ordered people to bring a coin for every funeral held and place it in the Libitina’s temple. By this he could learn how many people have died during a certain period of time.

Later, Libitina was identified with Lubetina, the Goddess of Gardens, and then with Venus Libitina (the Goddess of passion and lust ) and based on the similarity of names morphed into the latest. Death and Sex... Death and Passion...

Interestingly, Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. 23) mentions a small statue at Delphi of Aphrodite Epitymbia (A. of tombs= Venus Libitina), to which the spirits of the dead were summoned. The inconsistency of selling funeral requisites in the temple of Libitina, seeing that she is identified with Venus, is explained by him as indicating that one and the same goddess presides over birth and death; or the association of such things with the goddess of love and pleasure is intended to show that death is not a calamity, but rather a consummation to be desired. Libitina may, however, have been originally an earth goddess, connected with luxuriant nature and the enjoyments of life (cf. lub-et, lib-ido); then, all such deities being connected with the underworld, she also became the goddess of death, and that side of her character predominated in the later conceptions.

Today, Libitina’s very name has sunk into such obscurity that it is seldom mentioned when the gods and goddesses of antiquity are reviewed. And I find it very strange – we know so much about Roman’s funeral rites and pyres, so it seems weird that such seemingly important Goddess would be completely forgotten. Wikipedia mentioned that her face was seldom portrayed; and I couldn’t find any authentic images online. There were a few mentions of Orcus, her male equivalent (also of Etruscan origin, also half-forgotten) but not much.

Another interesting fact that I’ve discovered was that “Libitina’s name became comparable to our idea of death, and she was worshipped by the ancients and often sung about by their poets. This female deity was a reigning personification of Death. She would manifest as a black robed, dark winged figure that might, like an enormous bird of prey, hover above her intended victim until the moment came to seize it”. Sounds pretty gruesome and horrifying… but wait, was it really Libitina’s description or was it Mors’s? There was another Roman female deity associated with death, also barely mentioned but fit the above description...

This is one of the most intriguing articles I’ve found that are referencing the less-known side of the Roman-Greek mythology. If anybody has more information on this Deity, please share!Come back soon and spread the word!

Check these links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libitina
and
http://www.theodora.com/encyclopedia/l2/libitina.html

1 comment:

  1. Dear Aglaya, Thanks for your post on Libitina, Goddess of Burials etc., which I have come across whilst searching for an illustration of the same. As you say, there are very few images, and I particularly like the one you have used. Might I ask if you can direct me to its source, or whether you have a larger image version?

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