Epiros, Julio-Claudian Goddesses, and the Vergilian Connection: Aphrodite and Venus, Hestia and Vesta, Proserpina and Persephone, and the Sibyl?

Kathryn A. Thomas (Creighton University)

Epiros may offer multiple explanations why some of the most elevated goddesses and priestesses during the Julio-Claudian reign, and continuing throughout the Roman Empire, and in the writings of Vergil held prominence, though they had never been prominent in the major centers of the Greek world. Aphrodite was most worshipped on the island Cyprus and on the difficultly reached Acrocorinth; Hestia was the goddess willing to leave Olympus to save peace; Persephone was, of course, reverenced at Eleusis, but not present a good part of the year. Demeter and Artemis received most of the attention.

Epiros is not remote. However, it is the poorest prefecture in modern Europe. It is a beautiful part of Europe, however, that needs to be re-discovered by Vergilians. The ancient Romans called this part of Greece “Land-fall”; and, indeed it is the land-fall for most people, even today, sailing from Italy to Greece. The only problem is that most people today depart from the ferries at Corfu, or they miss the mid-night stop at Igoumenitsa (ancient Epiros) and sail on to Patras. This may change when the modern Via Egnatia is completed.

For Vergilians, Epiros needs to be re-discovered, if only for viewing the beautiful bay where the Battle of Actium was fought, if only to discover the Necromantion where Odysseus visited with Teiresius and others in the Underworld and compare its remains with Vergil’s creative description of the Sibyl’s cave at Cumae. As one travels through Epiros, Aphrodite and Hestia appear in mysterious ways, most surprisingly in tripartite temple sanctuaries. Etruscan or Epirote? There is no question that in the Augustan Age, the Emperor and his epic writer knew well the Epirote region of Greece. Their fathers and grandfathers also knew this region well, perhaps better than they knew Athens and Sparta. Vergil’s goddesses have divine connections with Epiros.

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