Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And More for Epona…

And More for Epona… « Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

Since we get to honor Epona so infrequently, and because she is the only Gaulish goddess who ended up being accepted amongst the Romans, I wanted to do a bit more for her today, and so I've searched out a few further texts that mention her from the classical world, in addition to the one I gave from Apuleius earlier. Unfortunately, there's not much, and the bulk of it is in Christian polemicists, but…

Juvenal mentions her briefly (and rather derisively) in Satire 8.155-157:

interea, dum lanatas robumque iuuencum
more Numae caedit, Iouis ante altaria iurat
solam Eponam et facies olida ad praesepia pictas.

Unfortunately, no English translation I've found actually translates Epona's name correctly, so here's two of them–Dryden's from the 18th century, and then the early 20th century one from the Loeb Classics.

If after Numa's ceremonial way He at Jove's altar would a victim slay, To no clean goddess he directs his pray'rs, But by Hippona most devoutly swears;
Or some rank deity, whose filthy face
We suitably o'er stinking stables place.

Meanwhile, though he slays woolly victims and tawny steers after Numa's fashion, he swears by no other deity before Jove's high altar than the Goddess of horse-flesh, and the images painted on the reeking stables.

I don't know why the English translators in either case just didn't say "Epona," since that is exactly and transparently what Juvenal wrote, but oh well…!?!

From Tertullian of Carthage's Apology, 16.5:

You will not, however, deny that all beasts of burden, and not parts of them, but the animals entire, are with their goddess Epona objects of worship with you.

And from the same author's Ad Nationes 11, which I give in its entirety:

In the next accusation we are found guilty not just of abandoning our communal faith, but of adding on a monstrosity of superstition. Some of you have entertained the dream that our god is actually the head of an ass. Cornelius Tacitus first launched this fantasy in the fourth book of his Histories where he recounts the Jewish war. Starting with the origins of the Jewish people, he traces the source of their religion and its name. He relates how the Jewish people, hard-pressed for water and wondering abroad in desolate places, were delivered by following the lead of a herd of wild asses thought to be in search of water after feeding. For this reason the likeness of this animal is worshiped by the Jew. This is why I believe that we Christians, being linked to the Jewish religion, are associated with the same image. But the same Cornelius Tacitus, a runaway liar, forgetful of his earlier statement, relates how Pompey the Great, after defeating the Jews and conquering the city of Jerusalem, entered the temple. After close inspection he found no image whatsoever. Where was this god of the theirs? There was no more likely place than this remarkable temple, closed to all except the priests and secure against any outsider.

But what defense do you want from me? I'm admitting now to an occasional transgression that applies equally well to you. Let us suppose that that there is something asinine about our God. You certainly will not deny that you conduct the same worship we do. You in fact worship the ass in its entirety, not just the head. And then you throw in Epona, the patron saint of donkeys and all the beasts of burden, cattle, and wild animals. You even worship their stables. Perhaps this is your charge against us that in the midst of all these indiscriminate animal lovers, we save our devotion for asses alone!

Next is Minucius Felix' Octavius, 28.7:

Thence arises what you say that you hear, that an ass's head is esteemed among us a divine thing. Who is such a fool as to worship this? Who is so much more foolish as to believe that it is an object of worship? unless that you even consecrate whole asses in your stables, together with your Epona, and religiously devours those same asses with Isis.

The Apotheosis of Prudentius also mentions her:

Nobody gives a throne to the goddesses Cloacina or Epona above the stars, even though he opens an oiled incense-box and investigates grains of spelt and entrails with sacrilegious hands.

And, the of Fulgentius also mentions her under the term "Semones":

[What the Semones are] They wished those gods to be called Semones whom they considered unworthy of heaven on account of the meagreness of their deserts, such as Priapus, Epona and Vertumnus, yet they were unwilling to class them as earth-bound gods because of their veneration of [these deities'] favour, as Varro says in his Book of Mystic Guides: 'I shall abandon Semo below and extoll the god with a winged address of prayer.

I've also seen several sources cite a late Greek writer called Agesilaos, whose work is found in Pseudo-Plutarch's Parallels 29, gives the following origins for Epona:

Aristonymus of Ephesus, the son of Demostratus, hated women and used to consort with an ass; and in due time the ass gave birth to a very beautiful maiden, Onoscelis58 by name. So Aristocles in the second book of his Strange Events. Fulvius Stellus hated women and used to consort with a mare and in due time the mare gave birth to a beautiful girl and they named her Epona. She is the goddess that is concerned with the protection of horses. So Agesilaüs in the third book of his Italian History.

And, if you'd like more inscriptions (as well as a great deal of other material connected to Epona), see this site! (Perhaps at some future date, I can translate some of those inscriptions, if there might be interest…though most of them are relatively boring.)