The Camenae are a group of prophetic water Goddesses or nymphs of ancient Rome, considered Goddesses of poetry as well as birth Goddesses Who presided over springs and Who were invoked for healing. Their name is related to the Latin word carmen, meaning "charm, song, poem, magical formula, or prayer". The Fons Camenarum, or Fountain of the Camenae, was located in Their sacred grove on the Caelian Hill near to the Porta Capena in Rome, a gate in the Servian Wall on the southwest slope of the hill through which passed the Via Appia (ruins of the gate are still visible today). This spring was famous for the excellence of its waters, and is most likely the modern spring of S. Gregorio Magno, called "mirabilis, immo saluberrimus fons" which (very) roughly translates to "the marvellous, or more correctly, the wholesome and health-giving spring". This excellent and pure water had been consecrated to the Vestal Virgins since ancient times, and one of their daily duties was to fetch water from the Fons Camenarum to bring back to the Temple of Vesta in the Forum, a round trip of almost two miles. The water was used to sprinkle Vesta's altar, as well as in other rituals.
The Camenae gave Their name to the general area of the valley in which Their sacred spring was located, as well as a nearby street; they had a small, very ancient bronze shrine there, said to have been put there by Numa, one of the earliest Kings of Rome. When it was struck by lightning (a very significant omen by Roman standards) the shrine was brought to the nearby temple of Honos and Virtis (Honor and Virtue), and replaced with a temple proper in the original location. They were identified with the Greek Muses, whose worship eventually supplanted Theirs, and in fact when the shrine was again moved it was housed in the Temple of Hercules and the Muses. This temple by the Porta Capena was dedicated on the 13th of August, and that became a day of annual festival to the Camenae, at which They were offered libations of milk and water.
The Camenae were three, sometimes four in number: Carmentis or Carmenta, the leader of the Camenae, Antevorta, Postvorta, and Aegeria. Though She is an ancient Italian Goddess, in later times Carmenta was said to have come from Greece: in that story She is said to have originally been a prophetess of Arcadia called Nicostrate, Who had a son named Evander by one Echemus. He killed his father, and he and Nicostrate were forced to flee to Italy, where She was renamed Carmenta by the people because of the prophecies She gave. Some also believed, however, that Her name was derived from the Latin carere and mens, words meaning "devoid of" and "reason", referring to the state of prophetic frenzy, in which She was out of Her mind or insane. Other tales call Evander Her husband, or Hermes God of eloquence his father; some call Nicostrate the daughter of Ladon, a Greek river God; others say that She put Evander up to the murder; still others that they left the country due to a civil war. At any rate Evander (whose name, incidentally, means "Good Man") was credited as one of the heroes of the foundation of Rome. Evander is sometimes considered another name of Faunus, which then connects Carmenta with (the likewise prophetic Goddesses) Fauna and the Bona Dea.
Nicostrate was at times called Themis, a name shared with the very ancient Greek Goddess of law and order, custom and tradition who was also a prophetess, having at one time the care of the Oracle at Delphi from Her mother Gaea. Aegeria is credited with teaching King Numa proper civic and religious traditions, which he then had instituted. Carmenta Herself was probably most famous for bringing the Greek alphabet with Her to Italy, and adapting it to create the Roman letters. All these legends serve to identify Carmenta in Her aspect of one of the founding mothers of Rome, who brought civilization, the art of writing, and a symbolic connection with the heroic greatness of Greece to early Rome.
Carmenta lived to be 110 years old, and after Her death She was given divine honors. Her temple (and tomb) was at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, and altars to Her were set up near the gate called after Her the porta Carmentalis. She was important enough to merit Her own priest, the flamen Carmentalis, and Her festival of the Carmentalia (January 11th and 15th) was celebrated by matrons, with Her flamen and the pontifex presiding. Through Her connection with prophecy and the Goddess Themis She was believed to know the future of newborn babies and was considered a type of Fate; Her priestesses were said to cast the fortunes of new-born children. She protected mother and child through the process of childbirth, and was invoked to avert problems, especially breech births.
Antevorta and Postvorta were probably at first two aspects of Carmenta who in time became important enough on their own to be considered seperate Goddesses, though they were still generally believed to be sisters or attendents of Carmenta. Their names refer to Their prophetic powers that come into play at the birth of a child: both come from the root vertere, meaning "to change, turn, or alter"; so Antevorta then means, "Before Change" and Postvorta "After Change". At the Carmentalia these two aspects were especially celebrated; and given that the festival was held on the 11th and the 15th of January (not the 11th through the 15th of January), perhaps They were each given one day, Antevorta turning towards the past on the 11th, and Postvorta to the future on the 15th. Alternatively, Postvorta is sometimes spelled Postverta, glossed as "feet first", referring to the breech position of birth, while Antevorta was called Prorsa ("straight forwards") or Porrima, both taken to mean "head first", the more usual position of a baby at birth.
Egeria, or Aegeria, was considered the most important of the Camenae. Though similarly a Goddess of Springs and Prophecy, She doesn't seem to be related to Carmenta, though Her mythology is fairly extensive and is treated here.
In later times the Muses were called the Camenae by the Romans.
Alternate names for the Camenae: the Casmenae or Carmenae.
Alternate names for Carmenta: Carmentis, Themis, Timandra (Greek, "She who honors the male"?), Tiburtis (linking Her with the town of Tibur/Tivoli and Albunea, the White Sybil?)
Alternate names for Antevorta: Porrima, Prorsa, Proversa.