Sunday, April 24, 2011

Horta - Goddess of the Garden

Horta is the Etruscan Goddess of Gardens and the harvest.

The city of Horta (now called Orte), was named after her, and was located on the right (north) bank of the Tiber about twelve miles above Ponte Felice.  We know from its extant monuments that Horta was an Etruscan city, and the archaic character of those remains leads us to regard it as among the most ancient in the land. It is mentioned by Pliny, who cites it among the "inland colonies" of Etruria; but from inscriptions we learn that it was one of the military colonies of Augustus.

Horta is a Latin name and is related to hortus, meaning garden, kitchen garden or park. It shares its roots with Horace or Horatio, the Etruscan form being Hurtate. The Latin word has given us the word horticulture, meaning the cultivation of a garden.  Besides her name and the assumptions that go with its definition, not much is known of her, not a lot is left of the city of Horta in modern times.

According to Plutarch, the temple of Horta in Rome was always kept open, but he incorrectly derives her name from hortari, "to encourage," saying that she is a Goddess who "leads man towards doing good,"  but it is not known exactly where in Rome her temple was located.  It is possible that Plutarch confused Horta with Hora, the consort of Quirinus; in this case the temple he refers to would most likely be located somewhere in Rome on the Quirinal Hill, and have nothing to do with the Garden-Goddess Horta.

Horti (the plural) is also the name given to certain types of houses in ancient Rome, which were much like villas except that they were located closer to the city.  The house and other out buildings of horti were laid out in such a way as to encourage picturesque views, fishponds, trees, fountains and were designed with an emphasis on beauty, the result being that the entire property was like a large garden or park.  Many accounts of horti have come down from the centuries, some of which refer to parks or gardens proper, not just the estates.  (Just FYI, there is an absolutely gorgeous labarynth garden in Barcelona, Spain called Parc del Laberint d'Horta.  If you ever get to Barcelona, you should definately go there.)

There is speculation that the Greeks added some information to the original story of Romulus, founder of Rome.  According to them, after his death, Romulus became Quirinus, who made Hersilia his wife, then raised her to the dignity of a goddess, Hora or Horta.  Horta also seems to have been confused with Nortia, the Etruscan Goddess of Fate.  She was identified with Salus, the Roman Goddess of Health, and Voltumna, a Goddess allied with Vertumnus, Roman God of change and husband to Pomona.

Parc del Laberint d'Horta, Barcelona, Spain

Resources Include: 

The Obscure Goddess Online Directory  
George Dennis - Cities & Cemeteries of Etruria
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

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