Epona

Epona

In Gallo-Roman religion, Epona [e po nə] was a protector of horses, donkeys, and mules. She was particularly a goddess of fertility, as shown by her attributes of a patera, cornucopia, and the presence of foals in some sculptures (Reinach, 1895). And H. Hubert suggested that the goddess and her horses were leaders of the soul in the after-life ride, with parallels in Rhiannon of the Mabinogion. Unusually for a Celtic deity, most of whom were associated with specific localities, the worship of Epona, "the sole Celtic divinity ultimately worshiped in Rome itself", was widespread in the Roman Empire between the first and third centuries CE.

Etymology of the name

Although only known from Roman contexts, the name Epona, 'Great Mare' is from the Gaulish language; it is derived from the inferred proto-Celtic *ekwos 'horse' — which gives rise to modern Cymric ebol 'foal' and old Cymric epa 'to steal horses' — together with the augmentative suffix -on frequently, though not exclusively, found in theonyms (for example Sirona, Matronae), and the usual Gaulish feminine singular -a. In an episode preserved in a remark of Pausanias, an archaic Demeter too had also been a Great Mare, who was mounted by Poseidon in the form of a stallion and foaled Arion and the Daughter who was unnamed outside the Arcadian mysteries. Demeter was venerated as a mare in Lycosoura in Arcadia into historical times.

Evidence for Epona

Benoit found the earliest attestations of a cult of Epona in the Danubian provinces and asserted that she had been introduced in the limes of Gaul by horsemen from the east. This suggestion has not been generally taken up.

Although the name is in origin Gaulish, dedicatory inscriptions to Epona are in Latin or, rarely, Greek and were made not only by Celts — an inscription to Epona from Mainz, Germany, identifies the dedicant as Syrian — but also by Germans, Romans and other inhabitants of the Roman Empire. A long Latin inscription of the first century BCE, engraved in a lead sheet and accompanying the sacrifice of a filly and the votive gift of a cauldron, was found in 1887 at Rom, Deux-Sèvres, the Roman Rauranum. The inscription offers to the goddess an archaic profusion of epithets for a goddess, Eponina 'dear little Epona': she is Atanta, horse-goddess Potia 'powerful Mistress' (compare Greek Potnia), Dibonia (Latin, the 'good goddess')", Catona 'of battle', noble and good Vovesia.

Her feast day in the Roman calendar was December 18 as shown by a rustic calendar from Guidizzolo, Italy, although this may have been only a local celebration. She was incoporated into Imperial cult by being invoked on behalf of the Emperor, as Epona Augusta or Epona Regina.

The supposed autonomy of Celtic civilisation in Gaul suffered a further setback with Fernand Benoit's study of the funereal symbolism of the horseman with the serpent-tailed ("anguiforme") daemon, which he established as a theme of victory over death, and Epona; both he found to be late manifestations of Mediterranean-influenced symbolism, which had reached Gaul through contacts with Etruria and Magna Graecia. Benoit compared the rider with most of the riders imaged around the Mediterranean shores.

Perceptions of native Celtic goddesses had changed under Roman hegemony: only the names remained the same. As Gaul was Romanized under the early Empire, Epona’s sovereign role evolved into a protector of cavalry. The cult of Epona was spread over much of the Roman Empire by the auxiliary cavalry, alae, especially the Imperial Horse Guard or equites singulares augustii recruited from Gaul, Lower Germany, and Pannonia. A series of their dedications to Epona and other Celtic, Roman and German deities was found in Rome, at the Lateran. As Epane she is attested in Cantabria, northern Spain, on Mount Bernorio, Palencia.

A bizarre euhemeristic account of the birth of Epona that does not reflect Celtic beliefs can be found in Plutarch's life of Solon: Giambattista Della Porta's edition of Magia naturalis (1589), a potpourri of the sensible and questionable, remarks, in the context of unseemly man-beast coupling, Plutarch's Life of Solon, in which he "reports out of Agesilaus, his third book of Italian matters, that Fulvius Stella loathing the company of a woman, coupled himself with a mare, of whom he begot a very beautiful maiden-child, and she was called by a fit name, Epona..."

Iconography

Sculptures of Epona fall into five types, as distinguished by Benoit: riding, standing or seated before a horse, standing or seated between two horses, a tamer of horses in the manner of potnia theron and the symbolic mare and foal. In the Equestrian type, common in Gaul, she is depicted sitting side-saddle on a horse or (rarely) lying on one; in the Imperial type (more common outside Gaul) she sits on a throne flanked by two or more horses or foals. In distant Dacia, she is represented on a stela (now at the Szépmüvézeti Museum, Budapest) in the format of Cybele, seated frontally on a throne with her hands on the necks of her paired animals: her horses are substitutions for Cybele's lions.

Epona is mentioned in The Golden Ass by Apuleius, where an aedicular niche with her image on a pillar in a stable has been garlanded with freshly-picked roses. In his Satires, the Roman poet Juvenal also links the worship and iconography of Epona to the area of a stable. Small images of Epona have been found in Roman sites of stables and barns over a wide territory.

The probable date of ca. 1400 BCE ascribed to the giant chalk horse carved into the hillside turf at Uffington, in southern England, is too early to be directly associated with Epona a millennium and more later, but clearly represents a Bronze Age totem of some kind. The English traditional hobby-horse riders parading on May Day at Padstow, Cornwall and Minehead, Somerset, which survived to the mid-twentieth century, even though Morris dances had been forgotten, may have deep roots in the veneration of Epona, as may the English aversion to eating horsemeat. At Padstow formerly, at the end of the festivities the hobby-horse was ritually submerged in the sea.

The Welsh goddess Rhiannon rides a white horse.

In popular culture

  • Link, from The Legend of Zelda series games, rides a horse named Epona in three installments: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000), and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006). In Twilight Princess the player is given the option to change the name of the horse, but Epona is the default name.
  • In Morgan Llewelyn's novel, The Horse Goddess, Epona did not wish to remain a Druid but, rather, became a Goddess.
  • Omnia (a Dutch PaganFolk band) has dedicated a song to the Celtic goddess, it is also called 'Epona' and appears on the album Sine Missione.
  • Enya also has a song titled 'Epona'.
  • Epona is known as the protector of horses in the MMORPG 'Dark Age of Camelot'.
  • French folk/black metal band Heol Telwen have a two part song on their debut album An Deiz Ruz entitled Epona Part I & Epona Part II respectively. .

See also

Notes

References

  • Benoît, F. (1950). Les mythes de l'outre-tombe. Le cavalier à l'anguipède et l'écuyère Épona. Brussels, Latomus Revue d'études latines.
  • Delamarre, X. (2003). Dictionaire de la Langue Gauloise. 2nd edition. Paris, Editions Errance.
  • Evans, Dyfed Llwyd (2005-2007), Epona: a Gaulish and Brythonic goddess (Divine Horse)
  • Green M. J. (1986), The Gods of the Celts, Stroud, Gloucestershire.
  • Nantonos and Ceffyl (2004), Epona.net, a scholarly resource
  • Oaks, L. S. (1986), "The goddess Epona", in M. Henig and A. King, Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire (Oxford), pp 77-84.
  • Reinach, Salomon (1895). Épona. Revue archéologique 1895, part 1, 113, 309, 317ff.
  • Simón, Francisco Marco, "Religion and Religious Practices of the Ancient Celts of the Iberian Peninsula" in e-Keltoi: The Celts in the Iberian Peninsula, 6 287-345, section 2.2.4.1 (on-line)
  • Speidel, M. P. (1994). Riding for Caesar: the Roman Emperors' Horse Guards. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.
  • Thevenot, Emile 1949. "Les monuments et le culte d' Epona chez les Eduens," L'antiquite Classique 18 pp385-400. Epona and the Aedui.
  • Vaillant, Roger (1951), Epona-Rigatona, Ogam, Rennes, pp190-205.

External links

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