This research goes into an in depth account about the enigmatic nature of the goddess Artemis. It starts by creating an idea of who Artemis is and the following pages are manifestations of the deeds of Artemis, the other gods and goddesses who crossed her path, and the role she plays in the lives of mortals. The aim of this paper is to get to know the goddess and create an understanding of her contributions to Greek mythology.
II. Identity of Artemis
Artemis is one of the most highly worshiped of the Greek deities. She appeals to both men and women. This is because not only is she the goddess of hunting, wild animals and nature, but also childbirth, and the protector of young girls. She is the patron of good health and recovery from diseases.
However, she is also the advocate of sudden death and diseases to women and girls. Her curse can either include plagues, stunted growth, death during childbirth or stillborn infants (“Artemis: general information”).
Artemis is often portrayed as a girl dressed in a short, knee length chiton, flat-heeled sandals and carrying a hunting bow and a bag of arrows. Her identity is associated with wild animals like the bear, the boar, the goat and dogs. As the goddess of hunting, she is also associated with death (Coffey, 1998).
Lastly, Artemis is associated with the crescent moon, sometimes found on her head. She is a chaste goddess and her followers take vows of chastity while in her service (Coffey, 1998).
III. Birth and attributes of Artemis
Leto had an affair with Zeus, this being the reason Hera hounded her all over the earth. In her quest to escape Hera, she traveled all over the world. But no earth, sky or water would accommodate her despite her pangs of labor. Finally, she reached Delos which took pity on her. This is where she gave birth to Artemis. Artemis then helped her give birth to Apollo (“Birth of Artemis”)
On the same coast as Delos, is Ortygia, a paradise of trees. Leto is said to have rested by an olive tree after giving birth. Above Ortygia is the Mount Solmissos where the Spirits of Kouretes hid themselves.
They frightened Hera away while she was spying on Leto. They also helped Leto hide the birth of Artemis and Apollo from Hera (“Birth of Artemis”)
2. Other names
a. Diana – this is the name of Artemis in Roman mythology. She has the same characteristics as Artemis.
b. Selene – the Romans then associated Diana with Selene, the Greek Goddess of the Moon (known as Luna in Roman mythology). But unlike Diana and Artemis, Selene was not known for her chastity. She sired Zeus 3 daughters, and was seduced by Pan in exchange for fleece (“Artemis identified with Selene the Moon”) .
3. Symbolic associations
a. Bow and arrows
When Artemis was 3 years old, Leto brought her to Hephaistos, the god of fire, and the one eyed giant Kyklops Brontes took her on his knees. The story goes that she pulled the hair out of his chest and the middle part of his chest remained hairless ever since.
Hephaistos gave Artemis a gift in the form of a Kydonian bow and arrows. He said that if he were to hunt, Kyklops will just end up eating his prey (“Childhood of Artemis”).
While the arrows given by Hephaistos were intended for hunting, they served other purposes as well. Artemis was also given the power to infect people with plagues, or punish them for doing her wrong.
Her association with childbirth equated to her ability to use the arrows to relieve women in labor (Coffey, 1998) .
b. Kerynitian hind
The Kerynitian Hinds were deer, larger than bulls, with golden horns. There were 5 of them, 4 of which were taken by Artemis to draw her carriage. Hera caused one of them to escape over the river Keladon, as she was planning to assign Heracles to catch it as part of his 12 labors from Eurystheus (“Childhood of Artemis”).
Heracles, in his quest for one of the Kerynitian hind, spent a whole year in hot pursuit. The animal finally rested on Mount Artemision and crossed the Ladon River. While it was crossing, Heracles attempted to hit it with an arrow. But Artemis was watching, grabbed the hind, and scolded Heracles for attempting to kill the animal which she considered sacred. Heracles explained that he was acting under the orders of Eurystheus. This pacified Artemis (“Childhood of Artemis”).
The bearded god Pan gave Artemis 2 black and white dogs, 2 reddish and 1 spotted which were capable of bringing down lions and bringing them back alive. He also gave her 7 Kynosourian which could run faster than the wind. These were of the Arkadian breed, which were known for their ability to catch fawns and hares, to mark the lair of the stag and the porcupine’s burrow, and to lead up to the track of the gazelle (“Childhood of Artemis”).
d. Other symbolic associations
Like her twin brother Apollo, Artemis also had some association with music with her depictions holding a lyre. In other accounts, she is said to be identified with holding a torch while wearing an animal pelt .
IV. Wrath and love of Artemis
Orion was a giant who had the power to walk across the sea. He was taken by Eos, who fell in love with him, to Delos. Here he was killed by Artemis for challenging her to a discus match. But there is another story that says he was shot by her because he was harassing Opis, a virgin from the Hyperboreans. And still, another story goes that he was killed because he attempted to rape Artemis (“Artemis wrath: gigante Orion”)
Contradictory to the last account, another story goes that Artemis fell in love with Orion and this made her twin brother Apollo jealous. While Artemis and Apollo were hunting in Crete, Apollo saw Orion swimming from a distance. Knowing that it was Orion, Apollo challenged his sister to hit the swimming object with her arrow. Artemis ended up hitting Orion on the temple. To make amends for killing him, she raised him up into the sky, now known as the constellation Orion (Coffey, 1998).
Another story that accounts for the death of Orion says that it was the earth goddess Gaea whom he angered. He claimed that he could hunt down all the animals of the earth, so the earth goddess sent a scorpion to poison him (“A small selection of heros, kings and villains”)
The expedition for Troy was in progress. During the chase, Agamemnon shot a stag and boasted that even Artemis could not do what he did. This claim infuriated Artemis and she sent stormy winds so the expedition could not continue. The fortune teller Kalkhas told them about the anger of Artemis and instructed them to sacrifice Iphigenia, the most beautiful of Agamemnon’s daughters, to Artemis. But at the sacrificial altar, Artemis replaced Iphigenia with a deer, and transported the girl to the Taurians where she was set up as her own priestess (“Artemis and the Trojan War”)
Artemis was bathing with her nymphs in the woods one day. A hunter named Actaeon was wandering around the same woods after a long day of hunting, and accidentally stumbled upon Artemis in the nude. Artemis was afraid he was going to boast about seeing her naked. As she did not have any arrows with her, she splashed him with water. This transformed Actaeon into a stag and he ran away. His own pack of dogs caught up with him and ate him ( Coffey, 1998).
Callisto was the daughter of Lycaon, the ruler of Arcadia. She was an avid hunter and adored Artemis. Artemis loved her back greatly because of their similarities. But Callisto got pregnant with Zeus’ child.
When Artemis discovered that she had surrendered her virginity and betrayed her trust, she turned her feminine features into that of a bear. Another story goes that Zeus transformed himself into Artemis, helped Callisto in her hunt, and embraced her when they were out of vicinity. This is how she ended up pregnant and, when questioned by Artemis, claimed it was the Goddess’ fault. The second story ends the same way – Callisto is given the features of a bear (“Artemis: general information”).
V. Worship of Artemis
1. Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was built in Ephesus, now known sa Selcuk, Turkey. It was rebuilt 3 times before it’s permanent destruction in 401 B.C. by St. John Chrysostom, archbishop of Ephesus. The same archbishop led a Christian mob to destroy the temple. But the foundations and sculptural fragments of the last version are still at the site (“Temple of Artemis”).
But Artemis was widely worshiped in anceint Greece and she had a number of other shirnes and temples in the countryside. She had a cult that spread in the southern and eastern regions of the Peloponnese. Her most popular shirnes were the bear-Goddes of Bauron in Attika, and the Lakedaimonian shrine (“Athena cult”).
While Artemis is known to be the protector of women, worship of Artemis was not limited to women. Some men were said to take vows of chastity under Artemis. Her priests voluntarily castrated themselves to be in her service (Coffey, 1998).
Hunters also made sacrifices to her. A story goes that when a hunter had a successful hunting venture, he would hang the skin and horns of his prey on a tree or pillar as a display of gratitude to Artemis (Coffey, 1998).
2. Athenian Festivals
There are at least 2 known celebrations dedicated to Artemis. One is the Suidas s.v. Artemision which is celebrated in the month of May for Macedonians. Then there is Suidas s.v. Mounykhion wherein the Athenians offer a sacrifice to the goddess on the tenth month (“Artemis cult”)
a. Act the bear
Artemis was the protector of girls aged 9 and above. These children are said to be newly released from their mother’s control but not yet at the Aphrodite stage. At Ancient Greek festivals, these young girls would wear bear skins and play ‘acting the bear.’ This play consisted of dancing, gesturing and growling like a bear. This was for the purpose of realizing the physical sense of the body, but not yet the sexual or maternal sense. This ritual marks the last chance in a girl’s life where she gets to play and have fun before venturing into the Aphrodite stage (Coffey, 1998)
b. Aphrodite stage preparation
The night before the marriage ceremony, young women sacrificed tunics, toys, dolls and other childhood possessions to Artemis as a way of bidding farewell to youth. A story goes that these young women want to please Artemis so she will make childbirth easy for them (Coffey, 1998).
As the preceding accounts indicate, Artemis was a strong woman. Her strength most prominently displayed itself in the defense of women who were under attack. Needless to say, she also used her strength to defend herself and to bring the people who offended her to their knees.
While Artemis is a goddess, she also manifests male characteristics by being the goddess of hunting and being associated with the bow and arrow. While she was generally a doer of good, the above research indicates the chaos she is capable of reaping should she be angered or taken for granted.
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