I want to say a few words about the goddess Ritona, who has been on my mind a lot in the past few months. By some measures, she must rank as one of the most major ‘minor’ deities from northeastern Gaul. Her cult is attested from a number of places; at least two temples are known to have been dedicated to her (in the Altbachtal and at Montaren-et-Saint-Médiers); her worshippers included civic authorities and Roman citizens in addition to peregrines and freed people. Furthermore, of the only 7 inscriptions to her that I can find, 4 associate her with the imperial house or with the numina of Augustus. Her four certain places of worship were Trier (Augusta Treuerorum), Pachten (Vicus Contiomagus in present-day Saarland), Crain (in the territory of the Senones in present-day Burgundy), Montaren-et-Saint-Médiers (near Uzès in the Languedoc region of southern France), which represent three different Gallic nations (Treveri, Senones, and Volcæ Arecomici). And yet Ritona remains in many ways an enigma. Much about her is not known; meanwhile, her name, understood to mean ‘the ford-goddess’ or ‘the great ford’, has led some to mistake her for a simple water-nymph. (By which I mean no disparagement to water-nymphs!)
Now, I’m a visual person, and I like to have visible simulacra of deities to focus my mind on them. The physical depictions of Ritona, however, are scanty. There are a number of ex-votos, but really only one sculpture plainly and overtly setting out to depict her—or more accurately to depict Pritona, for the inscription uses this archaic variant of her name.
Unfortunately, as you can see, this sculpture is only a fragment. It does depict Pritona’s feet (possibly a providential survival…) and enough of her legs and so on to show that she was dressed and seated in a way reminiscent of the Mother-Goddesses of the region. (The Treveran Mothers are typically depicted singly, rather than in threes.)
At one point when I was meditating, I had a sort of vision of Ritona. The goddess was seated on a throne rising from the midst of a stream. Her brown hair and her dusky, wampum-coloured dress were flowing like the water of the stream, and she held a cornucopia on her lap. There was also something about her that irresistibly recalled Venus, although none of her attributes specifically pointed to this.
After this, I was seized with a desire to have Ritona depicted as vividly as I had seen her in this vision. I’m not much of an artist myself; but should I hire an artist to paint, or digitally generate, such a picture? Should I even hire a model myself to photograph? I did a bit of guerrilla divination on the subject. To my disappointment, the response to the question of whether I should commission an image of Ritona was that, no, it was better to hold off on that. I was also not to depict her as enthroned over a river.
Now, any time you receive these sorts of discouraging answers, the tendency is to grumble a bit and say, “But this was such a good idea! Honestly, this would be great.” Or at least that’s my tendency! But observe the providential workings of the gods. Because of these rebuffs, I asked further questions, dug deeply, and learned more. And as things turned out, I was not to commission an image of Ritona but to put one together myself.
So among my follow-up questions were whether I should consider certain animals as related to Ritona’s divine estate. Regarding two, I got clear affirmatives: the otter and the bittern. I learned that I might regard Ritona as analogous to Venus; as a companion of Minerva; and as not so much one of the Matronæ as a pregnant, expectant Matrona to be. I might also picture her as a warrior goddess and a healer. (These are functions that typically go together in Gaul: think about the ways we speak of “battling cancer” or “being a fighter” in medical contexts.) I also asked whether I would do well to study the archæological records from the Altbachtal; the answer was, go ahead if you want to—you’ll be led astray but come right in the end. (Such vivid answers you get through astragalomancy!)
With these points in mind, I started scouring Pinterest and Wikimedia Commons and various art websites, looking for elements that visually recalled what I felt to be like Ritona. At first, I hadn’t given up on the idea of eventually commissioning my own artwork, but I figured to myself that I should see what was to see en attendant. As a result, I spent a great deal more time reflecting on Ritona, evaluating this element or that painting on its general worthiness as a Ritona depiction, than I otherwise would have done: and this naturally yielded in me a far greater Ritona consciousness, as it were, than the alternative. I am still in love with one painting I found on Pinterest—but it depicts the Slavic goddess Živa (a distant relation?) and I can’t find any information on the artist. No chance of reusing it, except privately of course.
I’m still not quite sure where I might have gone astray in researching the Altbachtal itself, although it’s true the dusty, sprawling archæological records (Erich Gose and Reinhard Schindler (c. 1972), Der gallo-römische Tempelbezirk im Altbachtal zu Trier) are not exactly the quintessence of religious inspiration. Still, the geography of Ritona’s temple in the Altbachtal is not without significance. Her temple is in a little cluster set somewhat apart from the main group, at the eastern (highest) end of the sanctuary, although the open area between these clusters would fill in over the centuries. (This is now the area just across the street—the Spitzmühle—from Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium.) In any case, Ritona’s temple complex (buildings 5, 5a, and 6 in Gose 1972) was close by the Vorio column, shrines to Epona, the Bull-God (conventionally Tarvos Trigaranus, although I believe his three cranes are not in evidence here), Mother-Goddesses, Mercury, Aveta, and Fortuna, and to an impressive temple that I’m guessing might possibly have been dedicated to Mars and Nemetona (this is building 1 and later building 2). None of this is conclusive of anything, but it does make me wonder whether there is a closer relationship between Ritona and Vorio, for example. I have some ideas on this subject—but more on them when I get them written up!
In the meantime, the Ritona temple area yielded some intriguing votive remains: a terracotta of Diana, three statuettes of Matronæ, two of Minerva, one of Venus, one of Fortuna, and two unidentified male busts. To these may be added a votive tablet on which the outline of a pair of human feet is carved. I’ll talk more of these elements in my next post, where I unveil the image I put together of Ritona.