Dione: the Divine

Dione, whose name means Divine or Goddess, is mainly known as Aphrodite’s mother, but she had her own cult, centred around the oracle at Dodona. She was probably a Mycenean goddess, but her origin is somewhat mysterious.

Titan, Okeanid, or Nymph?

Dione was best known for her cult at Dodona – she doesn’t seem to have been worshipped anywhere else. (Her daughter occasionally takes her name, though, to honour her.) This might account for the differing stories of her origin, which make her a daughter of Ocean, a Titan, or a nymph.

Hesiod’s Theogony, one of the oldest Greek sources, gives conflicting information, since in its introduction it names Dione among the deities that the Muses (and the poet) celebrate, along with both minor deities like Hebe and major Olympians and Titans. But later in the poem he says that she was one of the many daughters of Okeanos and Tethys:

Also she brought forth a holy company of daughters1who with the lord Apollo and the Rivers have youths in their keeping—to this charge Zeus appointed them—Peitho, and Admete, and Ianthe, and Electra, [350] and Doris, and Prymno, and Urania divine in form, Hippo, Clymene, Rhodea, and Callirrhoe, Zeuxo and Clytie, and Idyia, and Pasithoe, Plexaura, and Galaxaura, and lovely Dione, Melobosis and Thoe and handsome Polydora,
(Theogony 337-55)

What’s interesting, however, is that he doesn’t mention her among Zeus’ wives. Either he didn’t know about the cult at Dodona, or Zeus’ connection with Dione didn’t fit into his scheme, which is allegorical, uniting Zeus with Metis and Themis before marrying him to Hera.

Three goddesses from the Parthenon east pediment, possibly Hestia, Dione, and Aphrodite, c. 435 BC (British Museum). Wikimedia.

Aphrodite’s Mother

Homer also placed her at Olympus, and made her the mother of Aphrodite, an origin very different from the Hesiodic version, which has her springing from the severed genitals of Ouranos. She comforts her daughter in the Iliad when Aphrodite unwisely enters the battle and is wounded:

…fair Aphrodite flung herself upon the knees of her mother Dione. She clasped her daughter in her arms, and stroked her with her hand and spake to her, saying: “Who now of the sons of heaven, dear child, hath entreated thee thus wantonly, as though thou wert working some evil before the face of all?” [375] To her then made answer laughter-loving Aphrodite: “Tydeus’ son, Diomedes high of heart, wounded me, for that I was bearing forth from out the war my dear son Aeneas, who is in my eyes far the dearest of all men. For no longer is the dread battle one between Trojans and Achaeans; [380] nay, the Danaans now fight even with the immortals.” To her then made answer Dione, the fair goddess: “Be of good heart, my child, and endure for all thy suffering; for full many of us that have dwellings on Olympus have suffered at the hands of men, in bringing grievous woes one upon the other… She spake, and with both her hands wiped the ichor from the arm; the arm was restored, and the grievous pains assuaged.
(Iliad V: 370-416, trans. A.T. Murray)

Homer also makes Zeus Aphrodite’s father, who is amused by his daughter’s attempt to be a warrior. Some traditions continued to consider Zeus and Dione Aphrodite’s parents, and she was honoured at Dodona, and occasionally called Dionaie (daughter of Dione) or just Dione. (Hard: 80) Despite this, the Hesiodic birth from the sea-foam is the canonical story of her origin.

Apollodorus, writing much later, made her one of the Titans, for a total of 13 instead of the usual 12, (Bibliotheca 1.1.3) although he also mentions a nymph named Dione, daughter of the sea-god Nereus and Doris. Hyginus, in his work on the constellations, gives the name Dione to one of the Hyades, the constellation whose rising signalled the rainy season. Perhaps because of this, Pherecydes described Dione of the oracle as a nymph. (Hard:80)

Dione Naïa

One common theme to many of her origins is water, which makes sense in light of the cult of Dione Naïa, or Dione of the Spring. She shared this title with the god Zeus at their oracle, Dodona in northern Greece. I will discuss the oracle and Dione’s role in it in my next post, but Dodona was equal in importance to Delphi, and considered to be the oldest oracle in Greece.

The Epirians celebrated the cult of Zeus and Dione with a festival including athletic contests (which became part of the Panhellenic games) and theatrical performances. The spring that gushed from the base of Zeus’ sacred oak gave the festival its name, and the sound of the water was another source of oracles. Anyone asking for divination had to make gifts and offerings to Zeus Naios and Dione Naia, and sacrifice to the river-god Acheloos afterward. (Nichol: 140)

Dione appeared on local coinage, especially after Pyrrus made Dodona the religious capital of his kingdom in the second century BCE. One tetradrachm shows her with a sceptre and polos (a tall headdress, sometimes worn by other Greek goddesses).

Magical amulet showing Dione (top), Phoebe and Nyche.

Diona, Diana and Divona

Among the Mycenean deities there is a goddess named Diwia, possibly a female counterpart to Zeus. (Linear B: 𐀇𐀄𐀊, di-u-ja, 𐀇𐀹𐀊, di-wi-ja) This would seem to be an early version of Dione, although Hera also appears in Linear B. (Of course, that never stopped Zeus.)

The name Zeus comes from Dios (Διοσ), making the connection to Dione clearer. Zeus comes from the indo-European root *dyeu-, meaning “to shine” and “sky, god”. That would make Dione “the Goddess” or “the Shining”. Could we be looking at an early sky-goddess?

The  name of the Roman goddess Diana and the Gaulish river-goddess Divona share the same root, so we know that Dione wasn’t a one-off. It is hard to tell, however, if they were meant to be goddesses of the shining heavens or whether their name was meant to emphasize their importance, as the Goddess.

There are connections: Diana and Dione were associated with oaks, Dione and Divona with water. (Although Diana’s sanctuary stood at Lake Nemi.) You could make a case for Diana as an archaic sky-goddess, but the other two would be harder.

References and Links:

Hard, Robin 2003: The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology, Routledge. (Questia)
Nichol, D.M. 1958: “The Oracle at Dodona” Greece & Rome 5/2: 128-43. (JSTOR: paywall)

Oxford Classical Dictionary online
Wikipedia article
The Free Dictionary: Indo-European dyeu
List of Mycenean Deities

For the image at the top, click here.

3 thoughts on “Dione: the Divine

  1. Pingback: Dione and the Oracle at Dodona | We Are Star Stuff

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