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Victoria Line

Overview

Goddesses in literature and legend

'Throw me some eras and locations,' said Quintin.

'Norse Mythology,' said Miranda.

'Idun kept the apples that prevented the gods from getting old,' said Quintin. 'The goddess Freja is very prominent in their myths.'

'Welsh mythology.'

'Aranrhod,' replied Quintin. 'Rhiannon. Cerridwen. There are lots of goddesses in Welsh mythology, just as there are in Roman mythology.'

'And Irish mythology?'

'Well of course. The same. The people who live in the Otherworld are referred to as the Tuatha de Danaan. The 'people of the goddess Dana'. Another of their goddesses was known as the Morrigan. And of course in Ancient Greek mythology as well. Athena and Aphrodite, Hera and Artemis.'

'And earlier still? In Minoan times?'

'Very much so. Possibly a matriarchal society, in fact, given the artwork that survives from that period. The Ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries are reckoned to date originally from this age of Minoan and Mycenaean Greece, and the emphasis was on the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.'

'So what about Arthurian legend?' asked Miranda.

'All the supernatural elements seem to derive from female sources. The Lady of the Lake. The Loathly Lady. Morgan le Fay.'

'Morgan le Fay! That name rather gives it away, doesn't it,' observed Miranda, enthusiastically. 'Morgan, the creature of the Otherworld.'

'She was in the boat that came to take King Arthur to Avalon to be healed of his wound,' agreed Quintin. 'Along with the Lady of the Lake. And it was King Arthur's dead mother and Sir Gawain's own dead mother whom Gawain found ruling in an Otherworldly castle that he had to be ferried to, by a ferryman who usually transported defeated knights, as though across the River Styx, in Chr├ętien de Troyes twelfth century romance about Perceval and the graal.'

'And what about the medieval Breton lais?'

'The same sort of feel. It is a lady who heals the knight Guigemar of his seemingly fatal wound when he arrives at her castle in a magic boat with no crew, a candelabra of lighted candles at the bow and only a bed on board. And a lady of the Otherworld comes to take the knight Lanval back to Avalon with her.'

'And what do English poets make of it?'

'Edmund Spenser sends Prince Arthur off to search for the Faerie Qveene in an Otherworld of magic lakes and strange castles. William Blake waits for the goddess Enitharmon to awake from her eighteen-hundred-year slumber, in order to usher in a New Jerusalem, in his great poems Milton and Jerusaem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion.'

'And Chaucer?'

'He dreams of a goddess with her feet on the Earth and her head in the heavens. And for one of his own two tales on the road to Canterbury, he tells a story about an Elf Queen. And another of his Canterbury tales is about the Loathly Lady, who turns from being an old hag into a beautiful woman after one of King Arthur's knights sees her dancing with a circle of maidens in the forest.'

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Take a quick tour

The Victoria Line passes through a succession of places in time and location where goddesses are to be found in literature, legend or mythology. Click or tap on the circles and tunnel markers to dive deeper into the discoveries that Quintin and Miranda have made. Alternatively, click or tap on the large blue button for a quick journey through the summaries. Click or tap on any summary to dive deeper.

Goddesses

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Ancient Greek Mythology

Homer's Odyssey: Circe and Calypso

8th century BC, Ancient Greek.

In the interior of this island lies the palace of the goddess Circe. She is a daughter of the sun and her mother is the ocean.

Ancient Greek Mythology

Gaia

Hesiod: Ancient Greece, 8th century BC | Plato: Ancient Greece, 4th century BC

Of the gods that have come to be within the universe, Earth [Gaia] ranks as the foremost.

Irish mythology

Goddesses in Irish tradition

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

"Goddesses occur with great frequency in Irish mythology."

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: An ABC and the Parlement of Foules (Parliament of Fowls)

14th century, Middle English. Many 15th century manuscripts, a Caxton printed edition and numerous printed copies.

He thinks he's gone into the heavens, or at least we do, but all of a sudden we realise that he is still on the Earth. Looking at a goddess.

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: The Legend of Good Women

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

Zephyrus and the goddess Flora give to the flowers, softly and tenderly, their sweet breath, as god and goddess of the flowery mead.

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: The House of Fame

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

After a while she grew so wonderfully that she touched the Earth with her feet and with her head she touched heaven.

Medieval English Poetry

The Isle of Ladies

15th century, Middle English: 16th century manuscript copies at the British Library and Longleat House, Wiltshire, England.

There were no men to be seen on this glass island, only women of such grace and beauty that they seemed to be more than human, more than mortal.

Old French Tales from Brittany

Marie de France: The Story of Guigemar

12th century, Old French: British Library, Bibliothèque Nationale Paris.

The lady greatly lamented the loss of his young life. She put her hand upon Guigemar’s chest and he at once awoke.

Middle English Breton lais

Thomas Chestre: Sir Launfal

14th century, Middle English: British Library.

She was Oberon’s daughter. Her name was Tryamour and she was the daughter of the King of Faerie.

Old French Tales from Brittany

Marie de France: The Story of Lanval

12th century, Old French: British Library, Bibliothèque Nationale Paris.

"He went with her to Avalon, so the Bretons tell us, to a very beautiful island."

Welsh Mythology

The Mabinogion: Pwyll Lord of Dyved

14th century, Middle Welsh, National Library of Wales

A boy is sent on a fast horse after Rhiannon but she cannot be caught, regardless of the slow pace at which her horse appears to be walking.

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

A year has now passed, but although I have searched everywhere for this Goddess, I cannot find her.

Welsh Mythology

The Mabinogion: Math Son of Mathonwy

14th century, Middle Welsh, National Library of Wales.

Aranrhod, Silver Wheel. the Milky Way? Queen of Heaven? One of her parents is Dôn, a Welsh form of Danu, or Dana, the goddess who gave her name to the Irish Tuatha de Danaan.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes and Sir Thomas Malory: Female Weird

12th century–15th century, Old French | Medieval English.

It is as though some higher force in these tales is stage-directing things, a higher force that is always female.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Thomas Chestre: The Fair Unknown

14th century, Middle English, British Museum, Lambeth Palace Library London, Bodleian Library Oxford, Biblioteca Nazionale Naples.

Her dragon's tail and wings fell away and before him stood such a beautiful woman that he felt he had never seen such beauty in his entire life before.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the Lake

12th century–15th century, Old French | Medieval English.

'She is therefore called Morgan the goddess… '

Bronze Age Mediterranean: Minoan Culture

Bronze Age Crete: Goddesses

15th–16th century BC, Minoan culture: Crete and the southern Aegean.

A scene of goddesses, or women dancing ecstatically on a mountainside?

Bronze Age Mediterranean

15th century BC: Mycenaean Greece

15th–16th century BC, Mycenaean culture, southern Aegean.

A girl or a female attendant seems to be venerating this seated lady against the backdrop of a double-axe.

Ancient Greek Religion

The Eleusinian Mysteries: Demeter and her daughter Percephone

Classical Greece, Eleusis, near Athens, Greece.

Perhaps they all believed that they were seeing the true risen Percephone and identified themselves with her through the sacrament of the pomegranate seed.

Ancient Greek Religion

The Eleusinian Mysteries: Demeter and her daughter Percephone

Classical Greece, Eleusis, near Athens, Greece.

When she had said this, the goddess changed her stature and her looks, thrusting old age away from her.

Irish Mythology

The Voyage of Bran and the Voyage of Maeldun

12th century, Old Irish. Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow), Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, Ireland.

She gave them an abundance of food and drink, all out of her one pail, each man finding in it what he most desired.

Medieval Iceland Saga

Thidrandi whom the Goddesses Slew

14th century, Old Norse, Iceland.

They are all female. All reckoned likely by this Christian writer to be goddesses. Goddesses who slew Thidrandi.

Scandinavian Mythology

The Tale of Hogni and Hedinn

14th century, Old Norse, Flateyjabók, Árni Magnússon Institute, Iceland | 13th century Icelandic found in the 14th century Codex Regius, Codex Upsaliensis, numerous copies.

A man meets three times in a forest clearing with the goddess Freyja, where he finds her seated upon a chair.

Scandinavian mythology

The Prose Edda: the goddess Idun

13th century, Icelandic: numerous copies in Iceland, Copenhagen | 14th century, Old Norse.

Whenever any god or goddess felt old age creeping upon them, Idun would give them one of her apples to eat, and they would find themselves back in the prime of their youth.

Greek Mythology

Homer's Odyssey: the goddess Athene

8th century BC, Ancient Greek.

The goddess Athene cast such a weariness over their eyes that they all took their leave from one another and made their way back to their lodgings.

Ancient Greek Religion

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

pre-Classical Greece–3rd century AD, Selçuk, Turkey.

The mass of protuberances on the chest of Artemis have been variously interpreted as eggs or breasts, but perhaps the temple was so high because the goddess inside it was depicted as a great fruit tree.

Ancient Egyptian Religion

Isis, Hathor and the Black Madonna

Ancient Egypt - early-Christian France

The Black Madonnas in the south of France are depictions of the Ancient Egyptian goddess Isis

Classical Mythology

Ovid: Metamorphoses

1st century BC, Latin, Roman.

The goddess Diana threw a handful of water and where the water hit Actaeon, he began to sprout antlers.

Greek mythology GeoffreyChaucer Breton lais Isle of ladies Welsh mythology Edmund Spenser Arthurian legend Bronze Age Irish mythology Norse mythology Athene Artemis Isis Diana Circe and Calypso Gaia The Morrigan The Virgin Mary and Dame Nature Flora Lady Fame The Isle of Ladies Marie de France Breton lais Breton lais Rhiannon The Faerie Qveene Welsh mythology Arthurian legend Arthurian legend Morgan Le Fay and the Lady of the Lake Bronze Age Crete Mycenaean Greece Ancient Greek religion Ancient Greek religion Irish mythology Icelandic saga Norse mythology Idun and apples of immortality Greek mythology Ancient Greek religion Ancient Egyptian religian Roman mythology