The Goddess Artemis – Goddess Of The Hunt
Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Some scholars believe that the name, and indeed the goddess herself, was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron “Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals”. In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis (Greek: (nominative) Ἄρτεμις, (genitive) Ἀρτέμιδος) was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth.
Artemis later became identified with Selene, a Titaness who was a Greek moon goddess, sometimes depicted with a crescent moon above her head. She was also identified with the Roman goddess Diana, with the Etruscan goddess Artume, and with the Greek or Carian goddess Hecate.
Artemis in mythology
An account by Callimachus has it that Hera forbade Leto to give birth on either terra firma (the mainland) or on an island. Hera was angry with Zeus, her husband, because he had impregnated Leto. But the island of Delos (or Ortygia in the Homeric Hymn to Artemis) disobeyed Hera, and Leto gave birth there.
In ancient Cretan history Leto was worshipped at Phaistos and in Cretan mythology Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis at the islands known today as the Paximadia.
A scholium of Servius on Aeneid iii. 72 accounts for the island’s archaic name Ortygia by asserting that Zeus transformed Leto into a quail (ortux) in order to prevent Hera from finding out his infidelity, and Kenneth McLeish suggested further that in quail form Leto would have given birth with as few birth-pains as a mother quail suffers when it lays an egg.
The myths also differ as to whether Artemis was born first, or Apollo. Most stories depict Artemis as born first, becoming her mother’s mid-wife upon the birth of her brother Apollo.
Roman marble Bust of Artemis after Kephisodotos (Musei Capitolini), Rome
The childhood of Artemis is not fully related in any surviving myth. The Iliad reduced the figure of the dread goddess to that of a girl, who, having been thrashed by Hera, climbs weeping into the lap of Zeus. A poem of Callimachus to the goddess “who amuses herself on mountains with archery” imagines some charming vignettes: according to Callimachus, at three years old, Artemis, while sitting on the knee of her father, Zeus, asked him to grant her six wishes: to remain always a virgin; to have many names to set her apart from her brother Apollo; to be the Phaesporia or Light Bringer; to have a bow and arrow and a knee-length tunic so that she could hunt; to have sixty “daughters of Okeanos”, all nine years of age, to be her choir; and for twenty Amnisides Nymphs as handmaidens to watch her dogs and bow while she rested. She wished for no city dedicated to her, but to rule the mountains, and for the ability to help women in the pains of childbirth.
Artemis believed that she had been chosen by the Fates to be a midwife, particularly since she had assisted her mother in the delivery of her twin brother, Apollo. All of her companions remained virgins and Artemis guarded her own chastity closely. Her symbols included the golden bow and arrow, the hunting dog, the stag, and the moon. Callimachus tells how Artemis spent her girlhood seeking out the things that she would need to be a huntress, how she obtained her bow and arrows from the isle of Lipara, where Hephaestus and the Cyclops worked. Okeanus’ daughters were filled with fear, but the young Artemis bravely approached and asked for bow and arrows. Callimachus then tells how Artemis visited Pan, the god of forest and he gave her seven bitches and six dogs. She then captured six golden-horned deer to pull her chariot. Artemis practiced with her bow first by shooting at trees and then at wild beasts.
Wooing the Goddess
As a young virgin, Artemis had interested many gods and men, but none of them successfully won her heart, except her hunting companion Orion, who was then accidentally killed either by the goddess herself or by Gaia.
Alpheus, a river god, was in love with Artemis, but he realized that nothing he could do would win her heart. So he decided to capture her. Artemis who was with her companions at Letrenoi, went to Alpheus, but suspicious of his motives, she covered her face with mud so the river god would not recognize her. Another story involving the god is the story where he tried to rape Artemis’ attendant Arethusa. The goddess felt pity for her and saved her by transforming Arethusa into a spring in Artemis’ temple, Artemis Alphaea in Letrini, where the goddess and her attendant drink.
Bouphagos, the son of the Titan Iapetos, saw Artemis and had a thought of raping her. Detecting his sinful thoughts Artemis struck him at Mount Pholoe.
Sipriotes was a boy who, either because he accidentally saw Artemis bathing or attempted to rape her, was turned into a girl by the goddess.
Artemis was once bathing in a vale on Mount Cithaeron, when the Theban hunter Actaeon stumbled across her. Enraged, Artemis turned him into a stag and, not knowing their own owner, Actaeon’s own dogs killed him.
In other versions, Artemis killed Adonis for revenge. In later myths, Adonis had been related as a favorite of Aphrodite, and Aphrodite was responsible for the death of Hippolytus, who had been a favorite of Artemis. Therefore, Artemis killed Adonis to avenge Hippolytus’s death.
In yet another version, Adonis was not killed by Artemis, but by Ares, as punishment for being with Aphrodite.
Orion was a hunting companion of the goddess Artemis. In some versions of his story he was killed by Artemis, while in others he was killed by a scorpion sent by Gaia. In some versions, Orion tried to seduce Opis, one of her followers, and she killed him. In a version by Aratus, Orion took hold of Artemis’ robe and she killed him in self-defense. In yet another version, Apollo sent the scorpion. According to Hyginus Artemis once loved Orion (in spite of the late source, this version appears to be a rare remnant of her as the pre-Olympian goddess, who took consorts, as Eos did), but was tricked into killing him by her brother Apollo, who was “protective” of his sister’s maidenhood.
These twin sons of Iphidemia and Poseidon, Otos and Ephialtes, grew enormously at a young age. They were aggressive, great hunters, and could not be killed unless they killed each other. The growth of the Aloadae never stopped, and they boasted that as soon as they could reach heaven, they would kidnap Artemis and Hera and take them as wives. The gods were afraid of them, except for Artemis who captured a fine deer (or in another version of the story, she changed herself into a doe) and jumped out between them. The Aloadae threw their spears and so mistakenly killed each other.
Iphigenia and the Taurian Artemis
Artemis punished Agamemnon after he killed a sacred stag in a sacred grove and boasted that he was a better hunter than the goddess. When the Greek fleet was preparing at Aulis to depart for Troy to begin the Trojan War, Artemis becalmed the winds. The seer Calchas advised Agamemnon that the only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Artemis then snatched Iphigenia from the altar and substituted a deer. Various myths have been told around what happened after Artemis took her. Either she was brought to Tauros and led the priests there, or became Artemis’ immortal companion.
A Queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion, Niobe boasted of her superiority to Leto because while she had fourteen children (Niobids), seven boys and seven girls, Leto had only one of each. When Artemis and Apollo heard this impiety, Apollo killed her sons as they practiced athletics, and Artemis shot her daughters, who died instantly without a sound. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill them, though according to some versions two of the Niobids were spared, one boy and one girl. Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, killed himself. A devastated Niobe and her remaining children were turned to stone by Artemis as they wept. The gods themselves entombed them.
Chione was a princess of Pokis. She was beloved by two gods, Hermes and Apollo, and boasted that she was prettier than Artemis because she made two gods fall in love with her at once. Artemis was furious and killed Chione with her arrow or struck her dumb by shooting off her tongue. However, some versions of this myth say Apollo and Hermes protected her from Artemis’ wrath.
Atalanta, Oeneus and the Meleagrids
Artemis saved the infant Atalanta from dying of exposure after her father abandoned her. She sent a female bear to suckle the baby, who was then raised by hunters. But she later sent a bear to hurt Atalanta because people said Atalanta was a better hunter. This is in some stories.
Among other adventures, Atalanta participated in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar, which Artemis had sent to destroy Calydon because King Oeneus had forgotten her at the harvest sacrifices. In the hunt, Atalanta drew the first blood, and was awarded the prize of the skin. She hung it in a sacred grove at Tegea as a dedication to Artemis.
Meleager was a hero of Aetolia. King Oeneus had him gather heroes from all over Greece to hunt the Calydonian Boar. After the death of Meleager, Artemis turned his grieving sisters, the Meleagrids into guineafowl that Artemis loved very much.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, Aura was Greek goddess of breezes and cool air, daughter of Lelantos and Periboia. She was a virgin huntress, just like Artemis, and proud of her maidenhood. One day, she claimed that Artemis’ body was too womanly and she doubted her virginity. Artemis asked for Nemesis’ help to avenge her dignity and caused the rape of Aura by Dionysus. Aura became a mad and dangerous killer. When she bore twin sons, she ate one of them while the other one, Iakhos, was saved by Artemis. Iakhos later became an attendant of Demeter and the leader of Eleusinian Mysteries.
Artemis may have been represented as a supporter of Troy because her brother Apollo was the patron god of the city and she herself was widely worshipped in western Anatolia in historical times. In the Iliad she came to blows with Hera, when the divine allies of the Greeks and Trojans engaged each other in conflict. Hera struck Artemis on the ears with her own quiver, causing the arrows to fall out. As Artemis fled crying to Zeus, Leto gathered up the bow and arrows.
Artemis played quite a large part in this war. Like her mother and brother, who was widely worshiped at Troy, Artemis took the side of the Trojans. At the Greek’s journey to Troy, Artemis becalmed the sea and stopped the journey until an oracle came and said they could win the goddess’ heart by sacrificing Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter. Agamemnon once promised the goddess he would sacrifice the dearest thing to him, which was Iphigenia, but broke the promise. Other sources said he boasted about his hunting ability and provoked the goddess’ anger. Artemis saved Iphigenia because of her bravery. In some versions of the myth, Artemis made Iphigenia her attendant or turned her into Hecate, goddess of night, witchcraft, and the underworld.
Aeneas was helped by Artemis, Leto, and Apollo. Apollo found him wounded by Diomedes and lifted him to heaven. There, the three of them secretly healed him in a great chamber.
Worship of Artemis
The ancient Spartans used to sacrifice to her as one of their patron goddesses before starting a new military campaign.
Athenian festivals in honor of Artemis included Elaphebolia, Mounikhia, Kharisteria, and Brauronia. The festival of Artemis Orthia was observed in Sparta.
Pre-pubescent Athenian girls and young Athenian girls approaching marriageable age were sent to the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron to serve the Goddess for one year. During this time the girls were known as arktoi, or little she-bears. A myth explaining this servitude relates that a bear had formed the habit of regularly visiting the town of Brauron, and the people there fed it, so that over time the bear became tame. A young girl teased the bear, and, in some versions of the myth it killed her, while in other versions it clawed her eyes out. Either way, the girl’s brothers killed the bear, and Artemis was enraged. She demanded that young girls “act the bear” at her sanctuary in atonement for the bear’s death.
Virginal Artemis was worshipped as a fertility/childbirth goddess in some places, assimilating Ilithyia, since, according to some myths, she assisted her mother in the delivery of her twin. During the Classical period in Athens, she was identified with Hecate. Artemis also assimilated Caryatis (Carya).
As Aeginaea, she was worshiped in Sparta; the name means either huntress of chamois, or the wielder of the javelin (αιγανέα). She was worshipped at Naupactus as Aetole; in her temple in that town there was a statue of white marble representing her throwing a javelin. This “Aetolian Artemis” would not have been introduced at Naupactus, anciently a place of Ozolian Locris, until it was awarded to the Aetolians by Philip II of Macedon. Strabo records another precinct of “Aetolian Artemos” at the head of the Adriatic. As Agoraea she was the protector of the agora. As Agrotera, she was especially associated as the patron goddess of hunters. In Elis she was worshiped as Alphaea. In Athens Artemis was often associated with the local Aeginian goddess, Aphaea. As Potnia Theron, she was the patron of wild animals; Homer used this title. As Kourotrophos, she was the nurse of youths. As Locheia, she was the goddess of childbirth and midwives. She was sometimes known as Cynthia, from her birthplace on Mount Cynthus on Delos, or Amarynthia from a festival in her honor originally held at Amarynthus in Euboea. She was sometimes identified by the name Phoebe, the feminine form of her brother Apollo’s solar epithet Phoebus.
- Festival of Artemis in Brauron, where girls aged not more than 10 and not less than 5 dressed in saffron robes played the bear to appease the goddess after the plagued she sent when her bear was killed.
- Festival of Amarysia is a celebration to worship Artemis Amarysia in Attica. In 2007, a team of Swiss and Greek archaeologists found the ruin of Artemis Amarysia Temple, at Euboea, Greece.
- Festival of Artemis Saronia, a festival to celebrate Artemis in Trozeinos, a town in Argolis. A king named Saron built a sanctuary for the goddess after the goddess saved his life when he went on hunting and swept by the wave and held a festival for her.
- At the 16 of Metageitnio (second month on Athenian calendar), people sacrifice to Artemis and Hecate at deme of Erchia.
- Kharisteria Festival on 6 of Boidromion (third month) to celebrate the victory of Marathon and also known as the Athenian “Thanksgiving”.
- Day six of Elaphobolia (ninth month) festival of Artemis the Deer Huntress where she was offered cakes shaped like stags, made from dough, honey and sesame-seeds.
- Day 6 of 16 of Mounikhion (tenth month) a celebration of her as the goddess of nature and animal. A goat was being sacrificed to her.
- Day 6 of Thargelion (eleventh month) the ‘birthday’ of the goddess, while the seventh was Apollo’s.
- A festival for Artemis Diktynna (of the net) in Hypsous.
- Laphria, a festival for Artemis in Patrai. The procession started by setting the logs of wood around the altar, each of them sixteen cubits long. On the altar, within the circle, is placed the driest of their wood. Just before the time of the festival, they construct a smooth ascent to the altar, piling earth upon the altar steps. The festival begins with a most splendid procession in honor of Artemis, and the maiden officiating as priestess rides last in the procession upon a car yoked to deer. It is, however, not until the next day that the sacrifice is offered.
- In Orchomenus, a sanctuary was built for Artemis Hymnia where her festival was celebrated every year.
- Bow and arrow
Artemis’ chariot was made of gold and was pulled by four golden horned deer (Elaphoi Khrysokeroi). The bridles of her chariot were also made of gold.
- Spears, nets, and lyre
Although quite seldom, Artemis is sometimes portrayed with a hunting spear. Her cult in Aetolia, the Artemis Aetolian, showed her with a hunting spear. The description about Artemis’ spear can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, while Artemis with a fishing connected with her cult as a patron goddess of fishing.
As a goddess of maiden dances and songs, Artemis is often portrayed with a lyre.
Deer were the only animals held sacred to Artemis herself. On seeing a deer larger than a bull with horns shining, she fell in love with these creatures and held them sacred. Deer were also the first animals she captured. She caught five golden horned deer called Elaphoi Khrysokeroi and harnessed them to her chariot. The third labour of Heracles, commanded by Eurystheus, consisted in catching the Cerynitian Hind alive. Heracles begged Artemis for forgiveness and promised to return it alive. Artemis forgave him but targeted Eurystheus for her wrath.
- Hunting dog
Artemis got her hunting dogs from Pan in the forest of Arcadia. Pan gave Artemis two black-and-white dogs, three reddish ones, and one spotted one – these dogs were able to hunt even lions. Pan also gave Atemis seven bitches of the finest Arcadian race. However, Artemis only ever brought seven dogs hunting with her at any one time.
The boar is one of the favorite animals of the hunters, and also hard to tame. In honor of Artemis’ skill, they sacrificed it to her. Oineus and Adonis were both killed by Artemis’ boar.
The sacrifice of a bear for Artemis started from the Brauron cult. Every year, a little girl age not more than ten and less than five sent to Artemis’ temple at Brauron. Arktos e Brauroniois, a text by, Suidas, a Byzantine writer, told a legend about a bear that was tamed by Artemis, and introduced to people of Athens. They touched it and played with it, until one day a group of young girls poked the bear which became furious and attacked the girls. One of the girls’ brother found out what had happened and killed the bear so Artemis sent a plague in revenge. The Athenians consulted an oracle to understand how to end the plague. The oracle suggested that, in payment for the bear’s blood, every young Athenian virgin should not be allowed to marry until she had served Artemis in her temple (‘played the bear for the goddess’).
- Guinea fowl
Artemis felt pity for the Meleagrids as they mourned for their lost brother, Meleagor, so she transformed them into Guinea Fowl to be her favorite animals.
- Buzzard hawk
Hawks were the favored birds of many of the gods, Artemis included.
Palm and Cypress were issued to be her birth place. Other plants sacred to Artemis are Amaranth and Asphodel.
Artemis as the Lady of Ephesus
Artemis, light-footed maiden, child of great Zeus
and blessed Leto, sharp-eyed one whose aim never fails.
Luminous Artemis, sure-stepping huntress,
graceful one who takes joy in dance and in contests,
ruthless protector of children and young women,
kind one to whom mothers turn in their travail.
Artemis, deer-slayer, guardian of untamed life,
I pray to you. Dark-eyed mistress of animals,
in thick-grown woods and sun-soaked fields we know you,
in the maddening chase, in the fire in our lungs,
in skill and precision, in the body’s memory;
grant me understanding of such chaste passion.