Mana Genita

Mana Genita

In ancient Roman religion, Mana Genita or Geneta Mana was the goddess who could determine whether infants were born alive or dead.[1] Her rites were carried out by the sacrifice of a puppy[2] or bitch. Her name would seem to connect her to the Manes, or spirits of the dead, but is also comparable to the Oscan Deiua Geneta (birth goddess). Genita Mana may be an epithet like Bona Dea rather than a distinct theonym.[3]

Plutarch examines the nature of this obscure goddess in his Roman Questions, deriving Mana from the Latin verb manare, "to flow." He explicitly connects the goddess to Hekate,[4] but notes that Argive practice makes for an interesting comparison with Eilioneia, or the birth goddess Eileithyia.[5] Horace may be referring to this goddess as Genitalis in the Carmen Saeculare (line 16.)[6]

What Plutarch says

Plutarch writes Roman Questions as a series of questions and answers. Of Geneta Mana, he poses the dual question of why a bitch is offered to her as a victim, and why it is prayed that no members of one's household should become "good":

Is it because Geneta is a spirit concerned with the generation and birth of beings that perish? Her name means some such thing as "flux and birth" or "flowing birth." Accordingly, just as the Greeks sacrifice a bitch to Hecatê, even so do the Romans offer the same sacrifice to Geneta on behalf of the members of their household. But Socrates says that the Argives sacrifice a bitch to Eilioneia by reason of the ease with which the bitch brings forth its young. But does the import of the prayer, that none of them shall become "good," refer not to the human members of a household, but to the dogs? For dogs should be savage and terrifying.
Or, because of the fact that the dead are gracefully called "the good," are they in veiled language asking in their prayer that none of their household may die? One should not be surprised at this; Aristotle, in fact, says that there is written in the treaty of the Arcadians with the Spartans: "No one shall be made good for rendering aid to the Spartan party in Tegea"; that is, no one shall be put to death.[7]


  1. ^ H.J. Rose, The Roman Questions of Plutarch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924, 1974), p. 192, note LII; David and Noelle Soren, A Roman Villa and a Late Roman Infant Cemetery («L'Erma» di Bretschneider, 1999), p. 520 online.
  2. ^ Pliny, Natural History 20.58: Genitae Manae catulo res divina fit.
  3. ^ Rose, The Roman Questions of Plutarch, p. 192.
  4. ^ Rose, The Roman Questions of Plutarch, p. 142 online.
  5. ^ See also Simon Goldhill, Being Greek Under Rome: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic and the Development of Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 106–107.
  6. ^ Emily A McDermott, "Greek and Roman Elements in Horace's Lyric Program," Aufsteig under Niedergang der römischen Welt (1981), p. 1665.
  7. ^ Loeb Classical Library translation, Bill Thayer's edition at LacusCurtius online.