William Shakespeare sometimes interestingly features Goddesses and Gods in his canon of plays: enough times that they can be put together into a series-
Education in the late 1500s was limited in scope, but intensive in focus: one learned to read, speak, and write Latin. Educated Elizabethans, therefore, possessed the equivalent of a university-level Classics degree, and Shakespeare is familiar enough with the Classical world to set roughly 1/3 of his plays in either Rome or Ancient Greece (two plays, Lear and Cymbeline, are set in Romanized Britain). Pericles begins the “Romance” or “Redemption” cycle of Shakespeare’s canon: late plays that have in common an almost Faerey-Tale quality, and a seemingly miraculous conclusion to bitter circumstances. A bit of an episodic work (Pericles spends a lot of time traveling around from one place to another), Pericles’ essential storyline gets underway in Act III (scene i), when he is on a ship at sea during a storm, and his pregnant wife Thaisa has the misfortune to go into labor. Pericles appears on the deck to brace himself against the tumult, and to pray to the Sea God to calm His waves, and to the Goddess of Childbirth to be merciful.
“Thou God of this great vast, rebuke these surges which wash both heaven and hell; and Thou that hast upon the winds command, bind them in brass, having called them from the deep! O, still Thy deafening, dreadful thunders; gently quench Thy nimble, sulphurous flashes! Lucina, O divinest patroness and midwife gentle to those that cry by night, convey Thy Deity aboard our dancing boat; make swift the pangs of my queen’s travails!”
Thaisa is delivered of a girl (called “Marina,” for being born at sea), but appears to die in the birth. The superstitious sailors, leery of having a dead body onboard the ship, insist that Thaisa be placed into a box and set into the storming ocean. Pericles plans to leave his infant daughter “at careful nursing” in Tarsus, and to continue to roam the Ancient World. Thaisa’s coffin washes ashore at Ephesus, site of the famous Temple of Diana, where she suddenly and marvelously comes back to life. She joins the temple as a votaress (what the play calls a “nun”), and three members of one family, you see, await reunion.
Flash forward several years, to when Marina achieves maturity and the Moon Goddess Diana appears to Pericles in a dream-vision, directing him to Her Ephesian temple (Act V, scene i): “My temple stands in Ephesus; hie thee thither, and do upon Mine altar sacrifice. There, when My maiden priests are met together before the people all, reveal how thou at sea didst lose thy wife. To mourn thy crosses, with thy daughter’s, call and give them repetition to the life. Or perform My bidding, or thou livest in woe; do it and be happy, by My silver bow! Awake and tell thy dream.”
Pericles wakes up and vows, “Celestial Dian, Goddess argentine, I will obey thee.” He travels to Ephesus with Marina (with whom he has reunited), and at front of Diana’s altar tells his tale, as directed by the Goddess (Act V, scene iii). Thaisa has become the High Priestess there, and is overjoyed to have her husband and daughter returned to her. Much celebration and happiness abound at this unexpected, but delight-inducing meeting, as the play ends on the highest of notes, with thanks given to “Pure Dian, bless Thee for Thy vision!” and promises made to “offer night oblations to Thee.”