In classic mythology, Diana, the Greek Artemis, was the goddess of the moon, twin sister of the sun-god Apollo. As the rays of moonlight seem to pierce the air like arrows, Diana, like Apollo, was said to carry a quiver of darts; the slender arc of the crescent moon was her bow. Thence it was natural to consider her fond of hunting, and she became the special patroness of the chase and other sylvan sports. Her favorite haunts were groves and lakes, and she blessed the increase of field and meadow. She was mistress of the brute creation, and showed special favor to the bear, the boar, the dog, the goat, and the hind. The poet Wordsworth has described how the ancient huntsman regarded the goddess:—

"The nightly hunter lifting up his eyes
Towards the crescent moon, with grateful heart
Called on the lovely wanderer who bestowed
That timely light to share his joyous sport;
And hence a beaming goddess with her nymphs
Across the lawn and through the darksome grove
(Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes
By echo multiplied from rock or cave)
Swept in the storm of chase, as moon and stars
Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven
When winds are blowing."[8]

[8] In The Excursion.

There were other pleasant beliefs about Diana such as might be connected with the thought of the moon. As the moonlight cheers the traveller on his way and enters the chamber of the sick and lonely, so Diana was said to watch with the sick and help the unfortunate. The pale, white light of the moon is a natural symbol of purity, hence Diana was a maiden goddess above all allurements of love. Her worship was conducted with splendid rites in various ancient cities. The temple built in her honor at Ephesus was famous as one of the seven wonders of the world.

The ancients naturally liked to fancy the goddess very beautiful. The Greek poet Anacreon called her "the goddess of the sun bright hair." The English Keats, who delighted in the old Greek myths, has also described the charms of "the haunter chaste of river sides, and woods and heathy waste."[9] She had "pearl round ears, white neck, orbed brow, blush tinted cheeks," and "a paradise of lips and eyes."

[9] In Endymion. See also Lowell's Endymion for a description of Diana.

In our picture the moon goddess is mounting her car for the nightly course across the sky.[10] Though she seems to be but just springing to her place, with bending knee, she is already speeding on her way.

[10] As Apollo drives the sun chariot across the sky by day. Compare Guido Reni's Aurora.

"How tremulous-dazzlingly the wheels sweep
Around their axle."

Her quiver, well filled with the bow and arrows, hangs at her back, held by the strap bound over her breast.[11] The crescent moon gleams above her brow. The vehicle is the small two-wheeled chariot used among the Romans, scarcely larger than a chair. Only the hind legs of the steeds may be seen, but we fancy them to be two white does.

[11] It seems odd that with this full quiver the subject should be called by some "Diana's Return from the Chase."

DIANA Convent of S. Paolo, ParmaDIANA 
Convent of S. Paolo, Parma

The huntress turns her face earthward, lifting a fluttering veil high in her left hand. It is as if the face of the moon had been hidden behind a cloud which the goddess suddenly draws aside and shows "her fulgent head uncovered, dazzling the beholder's sight." It is with a bright, cheerful countenance that she beams upon her worshippers. A sense of courage and exhilaration is expressed in her spirited bearing. With her right hand she points forward, as if calling us to join in the sport. In the swiftness of her motion her unbound hair and filmy garments blow out behind her.

She is a country-bred maiden, with plump neck and round arms, and her chief charm is her buoyant vitality. Her open face, with eyes set rather far apart, is the index of her nature. Her free life in the woods has developed a well poised womanhood. Fear is unknown to her; pain and disease come not near her. Rejoicing in immortal youth and strength, she speeds nightly through the sky, the messenger of light and comfort.

As we have seen in the preceding chapter, the picture of Diana is painted in fresco on the chimney cap, or hood, over the great fireplace in the Hall of the Vine Trellis. We may well believe that the decoration went far towards furnishing the stately apartment. Underneath runs the Latin inscription, "Ignem gladio ne fodias," stir not the fire with the sword.

It will be remembered that the arms of the abbess, for whom the room was decorated, bore the device of the crescent moon. This fact may have suggested to Correggio, or his patrons, the subject of the moon goddess. Diana, as a virgin divinity, was an especially appropriate choice for the apartment of a nun.

The legends of Greek mythology were at that time very popular among people of culture, having been recently brought to notice in the revival of classic learning. In Italy they furnished themes for the painter; in England, for the poet. The English Ben Jonson, living a half a century later than Correggio,[12] but representing in a certain measure the same love of classic allusion, wrote a "Hymn to Diana," which might have been inspired by this picture. The first stanza may be quoted for its interpretation:—

"Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep.
Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess excellently bright."

[12] That is, from 1573 to 1637.