Naked cheek and the other Diana
Monday 29 June 1998
LAST WEEK I was walking through the streets of a deserted Spanish town (it was deserted because all the local German holiday-makers had retreated indoors to watch their team nearly lose to Yugoslavia) when I passed a bar called Bar Diana. I couldn't believe my eyes. A bar named after you know who. Yes, perhaps the first pub anywhere named after Diana.
My first thought was that it seemed a little downmarket to name a drinking establishment after the sainted princess. Memorial gardens, yes. Charities, yes. But a pub?
My second thought was to think, well, at least Earl Spencer will be getting a cut out of all this, and devoting the money to a good cause, probably.
My third thought was to look again closely at the effigy of the female figure outside the bar, and think how tastelessly revealing the costume was. Poor Diana, to be presented thus alluringly. The loose-fitting sports attire made no attempt to cover the legs and not much attempt to cover the upper body, while the bow and arrows over her shoulder ...
It was the bow and arrows that caused me to pause. Why would Princess Diana be carrying a bow and arrows?
Because, of course, this wasn't Princess Diana at all. This was Diana the huntress, Diana the goddess, the Diana after whom Princess Diana was named, albeit distantly. This Spanish bar must have been here for years before anyone had ever heard of Princess Diana, alive or dead. It was simply a bar honouring the long gone Greek goddess who had ...
I realised that apart from the fact that she was a huntress, I knew little about Diana. The only firm memory I had was of the crowd in the New Testament running about Ephesus shouting, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians", not unlike the crowds in London last year. So when I got home I got down my Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, and looked up Diana, or Artemis, as the Greeks called her.
First things first. She was nothing to do with Diana of Ephesus, worshipped by the Amazons. This Diana was a fertility goddess "whose body is tightly sheathed in a robe, covered with animal heads which leaves her bosom with its multiple breasts exposed". Robe covered with animal heads? Multiple breasts? Not quite the fashion note struck by Princess Diana - she seems to have had much more in common with the the real goddess Diana, "who appears to us as a young virgin, slim and supple, with narrow hips and regular features. Her beauty is a little severe, with her hair drawn back or partly gathered in a knot on her head. She wears a short tunic which does not fall below her knees ..."
She was also the deity of sudden death, which fits in somewhat gloomily with Princess Diana, though Larousse makes it clear that where sudden death was concerned, the goddess Diana was usually at the dispatching end, and her victims were usually young women. Diana had a band of young nymphs with whom she spent the whole time hunting, and if any of them found their attention straying from deer to young lovers, Diana would often get rid of them not by firing them but by firing an arrow through them. Yes, it was obviously fatal to fall foul of Diana, especially if you were Actaeon. Actaeon was the young man who happened to be out hunting and to see Diana and the girls bathing with no clothes on. For this disrespect Diana shot him.
I also feel sorry for Callisto, a nymph who was seduced by Zeus in disguise and was likewise given the chop by an unforgiving Diana. This is all the more unfair as Zeus was Diana's father, and Diana was clearly punishing Callisto for what was her own father's misdemeanour. So there are curious parallels between the two Dianas (both dressed simply and exquisitely, both were dangerous to cross, both suffered from their royal connections, both were keep-fit fanatics and had philandering fathers) and curious ways in which they were quite opposite (Princess Diana loathed hunting, but did not loathe young lovers).
Both Dianas also had brothers who played parts in their story, one of them being Earl Spencer and the other Apollo. It isn't safe to draw many parallels here, as Earl Spencer and his lawyers are alive and well, but it is interesting that Apollo had a chequered and promiscuous love life, and that he twice got into deep trouble by speaking out against the royal family (of Zeus, his father). However, Apollo was also a god of music and good taste, so there apparently the likeness ends ...
Coming soon in our round-up of Greek deities still honoured today: a look at Apollo Leisure, Mercury Telephones and Athene Posters.
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