Category Archives: Roman

London – The First Theatres – 1378 – Parish Clubs

This article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery – it covers the history of London’s theatres from the 1100s through to the 1800s.

London – The First Theatres – 1378 – Parish Clubs

The mysteries were succeeded by the moralities, which made a nearer approach to dramatic representation. They were, as Mr. Hone, in his work on Ancient Mysteries, observes, “dramatic allegories, in which the characters personify certain vices or virtues, with the intent to inforce some moral or religious principle. “A curious copy of one of those moralities, entitled the “Castle of Good Perseverance,” was formerly in the library of the late  Dr. Cox Macro, the first leaf of which contains not only directions to the players, but the colour of the dresses they shall wear. The three daughters are denoted to be clad, “i metelys,” that is appropriately; Mercy with righteousness in red altogether, Truth in sad green, and Peace all in black; and the person that plays Belial is particularly cautioned to have gunpowder burning in pipes in his hands, eyes, and other places when he goeth to battle.

When the reformation took place, mysteries and moralities, which had been expressly employed in favour of the Roman Catholic religion, were resorted to in order to overturn it, and was found a good auxiliary for such a purpose.

The parish clubs appear to have been rivalled in the performing of mysteries and moralities by “the children of Powles,” as a body of juvenile actors, to whom the English drama is considerably indebted, was called. They can be traced back as far as the year 1378, when they petitioned Richard II. to prohibit ignorant persons from acting the history of the Old Testament, as they had been at great expense in preparing it for the ensuing Christmas. The place of exhibition was generally their school room near St. Paul’s, where they continued to act their mysteries and moralities until the year 1580, when, on account of the plague, all interludes were prohibited and the house pulled down. The price of admission was about two pence. The children of Paul’s sometimes exhibited before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall and Greenwich, and after their school had been erased to the ground they performed at Blackfriars.

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Further reading and external links

William Shakespeare on Wikipedia

The Globe Theatre on Wikipedia

Sholto and Rueben Percy

Englands Oldest Handicrafts

 

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ENGLANDS OLDEST HANDICRAFTS

 Below is an article from The Antiquary Volume 35 by  Edward Walford, John Charles Cox and George Latimer Apperson – published in 1899.  It covers the early English Handicraft trade and the beginning of working in precious metals.

WORKING IN PRECIOUS METALS.  by ISABEL SUART ROBSON.

Alfred’s Jewel – BackWorking in precious metals and in bronze was one of the earliest and most important industries practised by our forefathers in this country. Many antiquaries have questioned whether the production of decorative objects actually preceded the Roman invasion. According to Holinshed’s Chronicle “collars of gold and silver wrought for women’s necks” were a part of the tribute which the Emperor Augustus laid upon this island, and it is scarcely probable that ores would have been sought here by other nations if ornaments of metal made in this country had not been carried abroad.

The earliest settlements of Saxons undoubtedly included goldsmiths and bronzeworkers, for as a race they were accustomed to wearing ornaments of precious metal, made with a skill and artistic taste which do credit to their handicraft. The monasteries, in Saxon times no less than in later ages, were the schools and cradles of arts and industries. Alcuin, who was living at the close of the eighth century, and founded several monasteries, is especially mentioned in medieval chronicles as the patron of handicrafts. He was the friend of Charlemagne, and went on one occasion to Parma to confer with that monarch on matters connected with the goldsmith’s craft, and to discuss means for improving the making of crosses, shrines, and vessels for the churches. The results of this conference Alcuin confided to the monks in England, and richly chased, hammered and enamelled gold, silver, and bronze vessels made by his instructions long enriched the great abbeys of St. Albans, and Gloucester. St. Dunstan more than any other exerted himself to encourage handicrafts, and at the school founded by him at Glastonbury pupils were taught, among other things, working in precious metals and bronze. Later he was taken as the patron saint of goldsmiths, and the records of city companies abound in notices of the ceremonies which took place in his honour on special occasions. Many of the abbots were themselves noted artists. Bishop Bernward, who lived at the close of the tenth century, executed some beautiful Sticks (which are now in Kensington Museum) for the abbey where he learnt his art. Another Bishop-artist was Brithnodus of Ely, whose four images, covered with silver-gilt and precious stones, the glory of the abbey, had to go, with many other ornaments, to appease the resentment of William the Conqueror against this last stronghold of saxons.

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Further Reading and External Links

Bishop Bernward on Wikipedia

Greek & Roman Mythology – Hades or Pluto

 

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Here we cover the Greek God Hades (Pluto) one of the deities of the highest order, other postings examine the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

Hades or Pluto

Hades or PlutoWe have seen how Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon came to be conceived as the three great deities who between them controlled the elements of heaven, sky, and sea, and how a character came to lie ascribed to each of them such as was most naturally suggested by the phenomena of the provinces of the world in which they respectively ruled. But there still remained a region which could not escape the observation of people like the Greeks, gifted with so keen a sense of the various operations of nature.

That region was, however, itself invisible, being under the surface of the earth. The growth of vegetation was seen to be steadily upward, as if impelled by some divine force below. The metals which experience showed to be most precious to mankind could only be obtained by digging into that dark region under the earth. Thither returned, after its day on earth was spent, every form of life. In conceiving a god who should be supreme in the management of this region, it was necessary to attribute a double character to him: first, as the source of all the treasures and wealth of the earth, as expressed in his name Pluton (Pluto); and secondly, as monarch of the dark realm inhabited by the invisible shades of the dead, as expressed in his name of Aides (Hades).

While by virtue of his power of giving fertility to vegetation, of swelling the seed cast into the furrows of the earth, and of yielding treasures of precious metal, he was justly viewed as a benevolent deity and a true friend of man, there was another and very grim side to his character, in which he appears as the implacable, relentless god, whom no cost of sacrifice could persuade to permit any one who had once passed his gates ever to return. For this reason, to die, to go to Hades’s house, to pass out of sight, to be lost in the darkness of the lower world, was looked forward to as the dismal inevitable fate awaiting all men. Yet there must have been some consolation in the belief that the life thus claimed by him had been originally his gift, as were the means of comfort and pleasure in life thus cut off. In later times, when the benevolent side of his character came more into view, assuring hopes arose concerning a future happy life that robbed death of its terrors. To impart such hopes was the purpose of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

More on Hades or Pluto from Pagan News

More on Pluto

Greek & Roman Mythology – The Eleusinian Mysteries

 

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Oracles and Mysteries: Mankind has been the victims of oracles and mysteries, and preteneded conjurors, and what they have chosen to call ‘wise men’ from the beginning of time.

Excerpt from from The Covenant Volume 2 by James  Ridgely published in 1843

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The mysteries of Isis, and the Eleusinian mysteries, were kept up by subterranean caverns, so constructed as to throw strange images before the eyes of the initiated, by means of moveable lights, and by tubes conveying strange sounds, when they were in darkness, to frighten them. Every one can tell how busy the imagination is when we are a little alarmed for our safety. These strange sounds, persons accompanying those about to be initiated, were allowed to hear, and sometimes they saw flashes of strange lights. There can be no doubt but that some of these ceremonies were awfully imposing. The higher orders unquestionably understood the whole thing, but the lower did not.

From the whole concurrent testimony of ancient history, we must believe that the Eleusinian mysteries were used for good purposes, for there is not an instance on record that the honour of an initiation was ever obtained by a very bad man. The hierophants; the higher priests of the order; were always exemplary in their morals, and became sanctified in the eyes of the people. The high-priesthood of this order in Greece was continued in one family, the Eumolpidae, for ages. In this they resembled both the egyptians and the Jews.

The Eleusinian mysteries in Rome took another form, and were called the rites of Bona Dea; but she was the same Ceres that was worshipped in Greece. All the distinguished Roman authors speak of these rites, and in terms of profound respect. Horace denounces the wretch who should attempt to reveal the secrets of these rites; Virgil mentions these mysteries with great respect; and Cicero alludes to them with a greater reverence than either of the poets we have named. Both the Greeks and Romans punished any insult offered to these mysteries with the most persevering vindictiveness. Alcibiades was charged with insulting these religious rites; and although the proof of his offence was quite doubtful, yet he suffered for it for years in exile and misery; and it must be allowed that he was the most popular man of his age.

These mysteries were continued until some time after the days of Constantine, in the sixth century, when they were prohibited. Sad stories have been conjured up to give importance to the Egyptian mysteries, but no one has attempted to throw any dark shade over those of Greece or Rome. The philosopher will readily believe that there was nothing supernatural in any of their mysteries; and all may set it down as a fact, that the initiated never pretended to any thing like a commerce with the inhabitants of the invisible world. They unquestionably often assumed to possess wondrous powers and great secrets; but this was only a means of keeping knowledge from becoming too common; and this was an error which lasted for ages, even down to our times.

Excerpt from from The Covenant Volume 2 by James  Ridgely published in 1843

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Further Reading and External Links

www.eleusinianmysteries.org/

 

Greek & Roman Mythology – Poseidon or Neptune

 

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Here we cover the Greek God Poseidon, other postings examine
the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

Poseidon or Neptune

It has already been told how, when all resources had failed which the Titans could bring to bear for the restoration of Cronus to the throne, the government of the world was divided by lot among his three sons, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades.

To Zeus fell, besides a general supremacy, the control of the heavens; and we have seen how he and his consort Hera, representing the phenomena of that region, were conceived as divine persons possessed of a character and performing actions such as were suggested by those phenomena. To Poseidon (Neptune) fell the control of the element of water, and he in like manner was conceived as a god, in whose character and actions were reflected the phenomena of that clement, whether as the broad navigable sea, or as the cloud which gives fertility to the earth, growth to the grain and vine, or as the fountain which refreshes man, cattle, and horses.

A suitable symbol of his power, therefore, was the horse, admirably adapted as it is both for labor and battle, whilst its swift springing movement compares finely with the advance of a foaming wave of the sea. “He yokes to the chariot,” sings Homer in the Iliad, “his swift steeds, with feet of brass and manes of gold, and himself clad in gold, drives over the waves. The beasts of the sea sport around him, leaving their lurking places, for they know him to be their lord. The sea rejoices and makes way for him. His horses speed lightly, and never a drop touches the brazen axle.”

It may have been to illustrate a tendency of the sea to encroach in many places on the coast, as well as to show the importance attached to a good supply of water, that the myth originated which tells us of the dispute between Poseidon and Athene for the sovereignty of the soil of Attica. To settle the dispute, it was agreed by the gods that whichever of the two should perform the greatest wonder, and at the same time confer the most useful gift on the land, should be entitled to rule over it. With a stroke of his trident Poseidon caused a brackish spring to well up on the Acropolis of Athens, a rock 400 feet high, and previously altogether without water. But Athene in her turn caused the first olive tree to grow from the same bare rock, and since that was deemed the greatest benefit that could be bestowed, obtained for all time sovereignty of the land, which Poseidon thereupon spitefully inundated.

There is a charm in the name of ancient Greece; there is glory in every page of her history; there is a fascination in the remains of her literature, and a sense of unapproachable beauty in her works of art; there is a spell in her climate still, and a strange attraction in her ruins.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Neptune – God of the Sea 

Myths and the God Neptune

The Firedog of Capel Garmon – 1852

Below is an article from our library about a local archaeological discovery in 1852; interestingly enough there was also a  story about the same 2000 year old Firedog in the local BBC news recently – when it was used to pay a tax bill – read the story!

The Firedog of Capel Garmon – 1852

Firedog found near Capel GarmonThere are several objects of interest to the antiquary in the neighbourhood.  In close proximity is Carreg y lleon, (Rock of the legion,) suggestive of Roman domination.  A mile to the south is Dinas, commanding the junction of the Dolwyddelan and Penmachno vales.  At the foot of this rock was discovered an ancient firedog, in [1852].  Two miles to the north-east is Garneddwen, which, within living memory, was an immense heap of stones, under which, about the year [1803], several cistvaens were discovered and broken up.  Near this is the fragment of a maenhir, called Maenpebyll, (stone of tents or tabernacles,) which was wantonly blasted and thrown down in [1850].  To these may be added the Trebeddau graves, where the Brochmael inscription was found, Gaerfawr, and Yr hen foel, (which gave its name to the mansion and parish of Voelas,) with the inscribed pillar which has baffled palaeologists from Camden down to this day.

The relic of which a representation is appended was discovered in [May, 1852], by a man cutting a ditch through a turbary on the farm of Carreg Goedog, near Capel Garmon, Llanrwst.  It lay on the clay subsoil, flat upon its side, with a large stone at each end, and at a considerable depth.  The spot is quite unfrequented, nor are there any remains of ancient buildings.  It is all of iron, and the execution indicates considerable taste and skill.  It is in some parts much corroded, and exposure to the air decomposed the metal considerably.

The knobs on the crest and sides are, apparently, of cast iron, with rivets through.  The lower row of round marks on the crest are perforations.  Should a remote age be suggested, corroborative memorials are not wanting; such as the dinas, or fort, close to which it was found; Carreg y lleon, rock of the legion;  and the neighbouring Roman road through Dolwyddelan to Conovium – not to mention the cromlech.

Those who would maintain a mediaeval, or still more recent, date, might find a warrant for that supposition, in the circumstance of this neighbourhood having been the scene of many warlike conflicts, incursions and depredations.

The characteristics set forth in the following account of a Roman firedog, tally so well with those of the article above mentioned, that there appears good reason to believe it to be of Roman workmanship:-

“Mr. Roach Smith has given an engraving, in the second volume of his Collections, of a pair of andirons, or firedogs, of iron, discovered in [1839], in a sepulchral vault near Colchester.  Each consisted of a frame, the two upright sides of which were crowned with heads of oxen, with a brass knob on the tip of each horn.  Two very similar implements, also of iron, had been found near Shefford, in Bedfordshire, in [1832], and an engraving of them has also been given by Mr. Roach Smith.

Articles of the same character, but smaller, have been found at Pompeii, and in a tomb at Paestum.  The Italian antiquaries seem to consider that they were used, not like the mediaeval firedogs, to support the fuel, but that they were cooking utensils, intended to support iron bars to serve as a gridiron.  The two firedogs found near Shefford terminated in stags heads.  Even in these homely utensils, the imitations of nature are of the boldest order; the graceful turn of the stag’s neck, and the outline of the head, which form the ornamental part of each end, are singularly effective” – Celt, Roman and Saxon, by Thomas Wright, Esq., p. 335.

On the other hand, one of our members, Mr. O. Jewitt, observes as follows:

“I would suggest that this instrument is intended to hold the spits for roasting fowls, game, or other small animals, such as we see in mediaeval MSS.  The loops on the side are evidently intended for that purpose, and it is probable that the horns of the two heads are intended for supporting a larger one.  We see in the Bayeux Tapestry, and in MSS. of the fourteenth century, these spits continually used, and that boys were employed to turn them.  In the Bayeux Tapestry the small animals are always brought up to the table on the spits”  – J. EVANS. January, [1856].

Excerpt from Archaeologia Cambrensis Volume 2 by Thomas Rowland Powel & Donald Moore – 1856

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Further Reading and External Links

Tax bill paid with 2,000-year-old Iron Age fire guard – BBC News 19 December 2011

Other Firedog discoveries – Hertfordshire

Saturnus – The Roman God of Christmas

 

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In the spirit of the season we are highlighting some of the books in our library that have a Christmas theme, whether it be Mythology, ancient customs or traditions, or actual events that took place – with excerpts from personal diaries and logs.  We begin with the Roman god Saturnus and the festival Saturnalia often associated with the Christian feast of Christmas.

Saturnus – The Roman God of Christmas – Saturnalia

SaturnusSATURNUS – According to the popular belief of the Romans, made his first appearance in Italy at a time when Janus was reigning king of the fertile region that stretches along the banks of the Tiber on either side. Presenting himself to Janus, and being kindly received, he proceeded to instruct the subjects of the latter in agriculture, gardening, and many other arts then quite unknown to them: as, for example, how to train and nurse the vine, and how to tend and cultivate fruit-trees.  By such means he at length raised the people from a rude and comparatively barbarous condition to one of order and peaceful occupations, in consequence of which he was everywhere held in high esteem, and in course of time was selected by Janus to share with him the government of the kingdom, which thereupon assumed the name of Saturnia, “a land of seed and fruit.”

The period of Saturn’s government was in later times sung of by poets as a happy time when sorrows and cares of life were unknown, when innocence, freedom, and gladness reigned throughout the land, in such a degree as to deserve the title of the golden age.  Greek mythology also has its golden age, said to have occurred during the reign of Cronus, and this, perhaps, more than any other circumstance, led to the identification of Saturnus and Cronus, in spite of the real difference between the two deities.

The name of Saturn’s wife was Ops.  Once a year, in the month of December, the Romans held a festival called Saturnalia in his honor.  It lasted from five to seven days, and was accompanied by amusements of all kinds.  During those days the ordinary distinctions were done away with between master and servant or slave.  No assemblies were held to discuss public affairs, and no punishments for crimes were judged.  Servants or slaves went about dressed like their masters and neighbors and received from them costly presents.  Children gave their parents or relatives presents of pictures, notably of a gaudy type, purchased in the street where the  picture dealers lived.

Mommsen has shown that even during the Empire the Saturnalia proper was a single day, December 19th.  It was the great holiday of the Roman year, not unlike our Christmas, and people greeted each other with the words ‘bona Saturnalia.’  Lucian tells us that the receiver of a book at that time was in honor bound to read it, no matter how long or uninteresting it might be.

There was a temple of Saturn in Rome, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, containing a figure of him with his feet wrapped round with pieces of woollen cloth, which could only be removed during the festival of the Saturnalia.  In one hand he held a curved garden-knife, as a sign of his having been the first to teach the people how to trim the vine and olive.   In this temple were preserved the state chest and the standards of the army.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

The Temple of Saturn in Rome

Saturnalia

Greek & Roman Mythology – Cronus

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There is a charm in the name of ancient Greece; there is glory in every page of her history; there is a fascination in the remains of her literature, and a sense of unapproachable beauty in her works of art; there is a spell in her climate still, and a strange attraction in her ruins.  

Today we cover the Greek God Cronus, other postings examine more particularly the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with the view of preparing the way for the descriptions that follow of the gods individually.

Cronus

Cronus and RheaCRONUS, “The ripener, the harvest god,” was, as we have already remarked, a son of Uranus.  That he continued for a long time to be identified with the Roman deity, Saturnus, is a mistake which recent research has set right, and accordingly we shall devote a separate chapter to each. Uranus, deposed from the throne of the gods, was succeeded by Cronus, who married his own sister Rhea, a daughter of Gaea, who bore him Pluto, Poseidon (Neptune) and Zeus (Jupiter), Hestia (Vesta), Demeter (Ceres), and Hera (Juno). To prevent the fulfilment of a prophecy which had been communicated to him by his parents, that, like his father, he too would be dethroned by his youngest son, Cronus swallowed his first five children apparently as each came into the world. But when the sixth child appeared, Rhea, his wife, determined to save it, and succeeded in duping her husband by giving him a stone (perhaps rudely hewn into the figure of an infant) wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he swallowed, believing he had got rid of another danger.

While the husband was being deceived in this fashion, Zeus, the newly born child, was conveyed to the island of Crete, and there concealed in a cave on Mount Ida. The nymphs Adrastea and Ida tended and nursed him, the goat Amalthea supplied him with milk, bees gathered honey for him,Curetes Guarding Zeus and in the mean time, lest his infantile cries should reach the cars of Cronus, Rhea’s servants, the Curetes, were appointed to keep up a continual noise and din in the neighborhood by dancing and clashing their swords and shields.

When Zeus had grown to manhood he succeeded by the aid of Gaea, or perhaps of Metis, in persuading Cronus to yield bark into the light the sons whom he had swallowed and the stone which had been given him in deceit. The stone was placed at Delphi as a memorial for all time. The liberated gods joined their brethren in a league to drive their father from the throne and set Zeus in his place.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Cronus on Encyclopedia Mythica

Greek Mythology – Apollo

Phoebus Apollo, Helios, or Sol

Apollo

From the sun comes our physical light, but that light is at the same time an emblem of all mental illumination, of knowledge, truth, and right, of all moral purity; and in this respect a distinction was made between it as a mental and a physical phenomenon a distinction which placed Phoebus Apollo on one side and  Helios on the other.  Accordingly Phoebus Apollo is the oracular god who throws light on the dark ways of the future, who slays the Python, that monster of darkness which made the oracle at Delphi inaccessible.  He is the god Helios, or Sol. of music and song, which are only heard where light and security reign and the possession of herds is free from danger.  Helios, on the other hand, is the physical phenomenon of light, the orb of the sun, which, summer and winter, rises and sets in the sky.  His power of bringing secrets to light has been already seen in the story of Vulcan and Venus.

The myth of Apollo is, like that of Aphrodite, one of the oldest in the Greek system, but, unlike the latter, which is at least partly traceable to oriental influence, is a pure growth of the Greek mind.  No doubt certain oriental nations had deities of the sun and of light similar in some points to Apollo, but this only proves the simple fact that they viewed the movements of the sun and the operations of light in a general way similarly to the Greeks.  We have seen in the preceding chapters how the sky, earth, sea, and lower world were personified by divine beings of a high order, while in the same way other forces and powers in nature were imagined as beings.  In the myth of Apollo we shall find represented the various operations of the eternal light of the sun.

It is the sun’s rays, or the arrows of Apollo, that everywhere, as the fields and gardens teach us, quicken life, and foster it toward ripeness; through them a new life springs all around, and in the warmth of their soft, kindly light the jubilant voice of nature is heard and awakens an echo in the human soul.  At the same time these arrows destroy the life of plants and animals; even man falls under them in southern climates, such as Greece.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Greek God Apollo

Apollo – God of the Sun

Greek & Roman Mythology – Aphrodite or Venus

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Aphrodite or Venus

Aphrodite or VenusWas the goddess of love in that wide sense of the word which in early times embraced also the love of animals, and the love which was thought to be the cause of productiveness throughout nature.  

Accordingly we find in her character, side by side with what is beautiful and noble, much that is coarse and unworthy.  In the best times of Greece the refined and beautiful features of her worship were kept in prominence, both in poetry and art; but these, when times of luxury succeeded, had to give way to impurities of many kinds.  

The feelings awakened by observing the productive power of nature had, it would seem, given rise to a divine personification of love in very remote early times among the nations of the East.  The Phoenicians called this personification Astarte, and carried her worship with them wherever they established factories or markets in Greece, in the islands of the Mediterranean, and on to Italy.  The early Greeks coming in contact with these traders, and obtaining from them a knowledge of coinage, weights, measures, and other necessaries of commerce and trade including, it is said, a system of writing appear to have transferred some of the functions of the oriental goddess to their own Aphrodite, as, for instance, the function of protecting commerce.  The earliest known Greek coins – those of Aegina – the weights of which correspond accurately with the oriental standard, have the figure of a tortoise, the well-known symbol of Aphrodite.  How much else of the character of their goddess the Greeks may have derived from the Phoenicians it would be impossible to say.  But the extraordinary zeal with which she continued to be worshipped in Cyprus, Cythera, Corinth, Carthage, Sicily, and wherever in early times the Phoenicians had made settlements, may signify that others of her functions besides that of protecting commerce had been borrowed from the oriental goddess.  The older Aphrodite worshipped in Greece previous to the introduction of Phoenician elements in her character is described as a daughter of Zeus (Iliad v. 312) and Dione, and through her mother was associated with the ancient worship at Dodona.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

More on Aphrodite