Bona Dea

"Good Goddess." A Roman divinity, who is described as the sister, wife, or daughter of Faunus, and was herself called Fauna, Fatua, or Oma.1 She was worshiped at Rome from the earliest times as a chaste and prophetic divinity; and her worship was so exclusively confined to women, that men were not even allowed to know her name. Faunus himself had not been able to overcome her aversion to men, except by changing her into a serpent.2 She revealed her oracles only to females, as Faunus did only to males. Her sanctuary was a grotto in the Aventine, which had been consecrated to her by Claudia, a pure maiden.3 In the time of Cicero, however, she had also a sanctuary between Aricia and Bovillae.4

Her festival, which was celebrated every year on the first of May, was held in the house of the consul or praetor, as the sacrifices on that occasion were offered on behalf of the whole Roman people. The solemnities were conducted by the Vestals, and only women, usually of the higher orders, were allowed to take part in them.5 During the solemnity, no male person was allowed to be in the house, and portraits of men were tolerated only when they were covered over. It is a well-known fact, that P. Clodius profaned the sacred ceremonies on such an occasion by entering the house of Caesar in the disguise of a woman.6

The women who celebrated the festival of Fauna had to prepare themselves for it by abstaining from various things, especially from intercourse with men. The house of the consul or praetor was decorated by the Vestals as a temple, with flowers and foliage of every kind except myrtle, on account of its symbolic meaning. The head of the goddess' statue was adorned with a garland of vine-leaves, and a serpent surrounded its feet. The women were decorated in a similar manner. Although no one was allowed to bring wine with her, a vessel filled with wine, stood in the room, and from it the women made their libations and drank. This wine, however, was called milk, and the vessel containing it mellarium, so that the name of wine was avoided altogether. The solemnity commenced with a sacrifice called damium (the priestess who performed bore the name damiatrix, and the goddess damia7). One might suppose that the sacrifice consisted of a chamois (dama) or some kind of substitute for a chamois; but Pliny8 seems to suggest, that the sacrifice consisted of hens of various colors, except black ones. After this sacrifice, the women began to perform Bacchic dances, and to drink of the wine prepared for them.9 The goddess herself was believed to have set the example for this; for, while yet on earth, she was said to have intoxicated herself by emptying a large vessel of wine, whereupon Faunus killed her with a myrtle staff, but afterwards raised her to the rank of a goddess.10 This whole ceremony took place at night, whence it is usually called sacrum opertum, or sacra opertanea.11

Fauna was also regarded as a goddess possessed of healing powers, as might be inferred from the serpents being part of her worship; but we know that various kinds of medicinal herbs were sold in her temple, and bought largely by the poorer classes.12 Greek writers, in their usual way, identify the Bona Dea with some Greek divinity, such as Semele, Medea, Hecate, or Persephone.

The Angitia of the Marsians seems to have been the same goddess with them as the Bona Dea with the Romans.


Roman statues of Bona Dea show a regal female figure, sitting on a throne and holding a cornucopia in her hands, accompanied by a snake as the attribute of healing. She is also depicted on coins.