A deity of Asiatic origin, the mother goddess of the earth, whose seat of worship was the temple in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. Diana is but the Latinized form of the Greek word Artemis, yet the Artemis of Ephesus should not be confused with the Greek goddess of that name.
She may, however, be identified with the Cybele of the Phrygians whose name she also bore, and with several other deities who were worshipped under different names in various parts of the Orient. In Cappadocia she was known as Ma; to the Syrians as Atargatis or Mylitta; among the Phoenicians as Astarte, a name which appears among the Assyrians as Ishtar; the modern name Esther is derived from it. The same goddess seems to have been worshipped by the Hittites, for a female deity is sculptured on the rocks at Yazili Kaya, near the Hittite city of Boghazkeui. It may be shown ultimately that the various goddesses of Syria and Asia Minor all owe their origin to the earlier Assyrian or Babylonian Ishtar, the goddess of love, whose chief attributes they possessed. The several forms and names under which she appears axe due to the varying developments in different regions.
Tradition says that Diana was born in the woods near Ephesus, where her temple was built, when her image of wood (possibly ebony; Pliny, NH, xvi. 40; Ac 19:35) fell from the sky (see also ASTRONOMY, sec. I, 8 (2)). Also according to tradition the city which was later called Ephesus was founded by the Amazons, and Diana or Cybele was the deity of those half-mythical people. Later when Ephesus fell into the possession of the Greeks, Greek civilization partly supplanted the Asiatic, and in that city the two civilizations were blended together. The Greek name of Artemis was given to the Asiatic goddess, and many of the Greek colonists represented her on their coins as Greek. Her images and forms of worship remained more Asiatic than Greek Her earliest statues were figures crudely carved in wood. Later when she was represented in stone and metals, she bore upon her head a mural headdress, representing a fortitled city wall; from it, drapery hung upon each side of her face to her shoulders. The upper part of her body was completely covered with rows of breasts to signify that she was the mother of all life. The lower arms were extended. The lower part of the body resembled a rough block, as if her legs had been wrapped up in cloth like those of an Egyptian mummy. In later times her Greek followers represented her with stags or lions standing at her sides. The most renowned of her statues stood on the platform before the entrance to her temple in Ephesus. As the statues indicate, she impersonated the reproductive powers of men and of animals and of all other life.
At the head of her cult was a chief priest, originally a eunuch who bore the name and later the title Megabyzos. Under him were priests known as Essenes, appointed. perhaps from the city officials, for but a single year; it was their duty to offer the sacrifices to the goddess in behalf of the city. Other subordinate classes of priests known as Kouretes, Krobatai and Hilroi performed duties which are now obscure. The priestesses were even more numerous, and, probably from their great numbers, they were called Melissai or bees; the Ephesian symbol therefore which appears commonly upon the coins struck in the city, is a bee. The Melissai, which in the early times were all virgins, were of three classes; it is no longer known just what the special duties of each class were. The ritual of the temple services consisted of sacrifices and of ceremonial prostitution, a practice which was common to many of the religions of the ancient Orient, and which still exists among some of the obscure tribes of Asia Minor.
The temple of Diana was not properly the home of the goddess; it was but a shrine, the chief one, devoted to her service. She lived in Nature; she was everywhere wherever there was life, the mother of all living things; all offerings of every possible nature were therefore acceptable to her; hence, the vast wealth which poured into her temple. Not only was she worshipped in her temple, but in the minute shrines or naoi which were sometimes modeled after the temple. More frequently the shrines were exceedingly crude objects, either of silver or stone or wood or clay. They were made at Ephesus by dependents of the temple, and carried by the pilgrims throughout the world. Before them Diana might also be worshipped anywhere, just as now from the soil of the sacred Mesopotamian city of Kerbela, where the sons of Ali were martyred, little blocks are formed and are carried away by the Shiah Moslems that they may pray upon sacred ground wherever they may be. The makers of the shrines of Diana formed an exceedingly large class among whom, in Paul’s time, was Demetrius (Ac 19:24). None of the silver shrines have been discovered, but those of marble and of clay have appeared among the ruins of Ephesus. They are exceedingly crude; in a little shell-like bit of clay, a crude clay female figure sits, sometimes with a tambourine in one hand and a cup in the other, or with a lion at her side or beneath her foot. Though the shrines were sold as sacred dwelling-places of the goddess, that the pilgrims who carried them to their distant homes, or buried them in the graves with their dead, might be assured of her constant presence, their real purpose was to increase the temple revenues by their sale at a price which was many times their cost. With the shrines of Diana may be compared the household gods of clay found in abundance among the ruins of the earlier Babylonian cities, especially those cities in which temples to the goddess Ishtar stood.
E. J. Banks