In Praise of Juno

by Rohase Piercy

Silver Statuette of Juno, 1st–2nd century -Dutuit Bequest, 1902Every woman has her ‘juno’.  Guiding spirit, higher self, female genius, call her what you will, according to Roman belief we all have one, just as every man has his ‘genius’.  Whatever the social, political and domestic restrictions imposed by patriarchal Rome upon its women, here was something no husband, father or master could deny: a little piece of the Celestial Goddess, the Saviour, Mother and Queen of Rome, resided in every woman, slave and free, as a guide and companion through life. The concept of female Deity would soon be all but obliterated by the new religion of Christianity with its masculine threefold God, but women of the Classical era still took it for granted that they, like their Bronze Age ancestresses, reflected the Divine image equally with men.  Juno’s Greek counterpart, Hera, offered a role-model to women throughout every stage of life, from Pais (child) to Khera (widow); but Juno goes a step further, and personifies the female principle itself.

The etymology of Juno’s name is thought to be linked to the Latin iuven, ‘youthful’, shortened to iun as a prefix (as in iunior, younger). Emile Benveniste identifies the original meaning of this root as ‘vital force’, connecting it with the Vedic word ayuh, ‘genius of the vital force’.  Contemporary Roman commentators also saw a link to iuvare, ‘to aid’ or ‘to benefit’, re-enforcing Juno’s identification with her Etruscan counterpart Uni, whose name is thought to mean ‘She Who Gives’.  Following the conquest of the Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BCE an evocatio was performed, issuing a solemn invitation to the Etruscan Goddess to transfer her allegiance to Rome.  The invitation appears to have been accepted: Uni was worshipped in Rome as Iuno Regina, and her Temple on the Aventine Hill housed the ancient wooden cult statue transported from Veii. Continue reading "In Praise of Juno"

In Praise of Tanit

by Rohase Piercy

Adorned Statue of the Goddess Tanit, 5-3rd century BCE from the Necropolis of Puig de Molins, Ibiza

Tanit, chief deity of the Phoenician colony of Carthage, is a Goddess surrounded by speculation and controversy.  For one thing, there are widely differing theories as to the meaning of her name: is it of Berber or Semitic origin?  If the latter, does it arise from the root for ‘serpent’, ‘lament’, or ‘count/assign’? Is it merely co-incidental that Ta-nit means ‘Land of Neith’ in Egyptian?

Was she originally a separate Goddess from Phoenician Astarte, or simply her Punic equivalent?  Is her Canaanite counterpart Asherah or Anat?  Why did the Romans equate her with Juno Coelestis?  Then there is the debate surrounding the burial site unearthed at Carthage, apparently dedicated to Tanit and her consort Baal Hammon, containing the cremated remains of over twenty thousand children, mostly foetuses or new-born babies.  Were these children sacrificed to appease the Gods, as horrified Roman and Hebrew sources claimed? Or were they stillbirths, miscarriages and neo-natal deaths returned to the care of a loving Mother Goddess?

Continue reading "In Praise of Tanit"