Libitina - Encyclopedia




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LIBITINA, an old Roman goddess of funerals. She had a sanctuary in a sacred grove (perhaps on the Esquiline), where, by an ordinance of Servius Tullius, a piece of money (lucar Libitinae) was deposited whenever a death took place. Here the undertakers (libitinarii), who carried out all funeral arrangements by contract, had their offices, and everything necessary was kept for sale or hire; here all deaths were registered for statistical purposes. The word Libitina then came to be used for the business of an undertaker, funeral requisites, and (in the poets) for death itself. By later antiquarians Libitina was sometimes identified with Persephone, but more commonly (partly or completely) with Venus Lubentia or Lubentina, an Italian goddess of gardens. The similarity of name and the fact that Venus Lubentia had a sanctuary in the grove of Libitina favoured this idea. Further, Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. 23) mentions a small statue at Delphi of Aphrodite Epitymbia (A. of tombs= Venus Libitina), to which the spirits of the dead were summoned. The inconsistency of selling funeral requisites in the temple of Libitina, seeing that she is identified with Venus, is explained by him as indicating that one and the same goddess presides over birth and death; or the association of such things with the goddess of love and pleasure is intended to show that death is not a calamity, but rather a consummation to be desired. Libitina may, however, have been originally an earth goddess, connected with luxuriant nature and the enjoyments of life (cf. lub-et, lib-ido); then, all such deities being connected with the underworld, she also became the goddess of death, and that side of her character predominated in the later conceptions.

See Plutarch, Numa, 12; Dion. Halic. iv. 15; Festus xvi., s.v. "Rustica Vinalia"; Juvenal xii. 121, with Mayor's note; G. Wissowa in Roscher's Lexicon der Mythologie, s.v.

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