Who is Artemis in Greek Mythology?
ARTEMIS was the daughter of the Titaness LETO and ZEUS and the twin sister of APOLLO. She was, in all likelihood, a very ancient deity whom the Greeks adopted as the goddess of the wild. Traces of human sacrifice could still be found in her worship.
Most of all, Artemis liked to roam the mountains with a companion band of nymphs. Indeed, the virgin goddess resented any kind of intrusion into her domain or any harm done to her favourite animals.
Deep within the sacred hollows, she howls with the wolf, runs with the deer and hunts the wild. When no humans dare to pair upon her naked form, except for one whom she turned into his stag and had her love in pack ran the flesh from his bones.
Artemis was one of the most revered and honoured of the ancient Greek deities. Her rule spanned across many things, including hunting, the moon, virginity, childbirth and the wilderness and wild animals. She was also considered the protector of young girls up into the age of marriage.
Artemis was just one of Zeus‘s many children and went by a host of different names; Her Roman name, Diana, is one that most people will be familiar with. If we take a look at the Iliad, the goddess is referred to as ‘Artemis the wildland’, ‘mistress of animals’, and there are those who believe that Artemis may have even predated the era of the ancient Greeks.
We’ve discussed this before on this website when taking a look at the Egyptian goddess Bastet. The ancient Greeks drew some interesting parallels between the two in regard to hunting and the protection of children, but whether Bastet was indeed an influence of Artemis is always up for debate.
The Birth of Artemis
Artemis’s mother was Leto, a Titan goddess, and very early on, she became a favourite of the god Zeus. Unfortunately for Leto, she fell pregnant with Artemis and her twin brother Apollo, while Zeus was still married to Hera, who was extremely jealous that Leto carried her husband’s children. Hera did nothing but hinder and cause problems for Leto during her pregnancy. She first cast Leto out from Mount Olympus, leaving her to wander the earth alone.
Hera would punish anyone who offered kindness or shelter to Leto. But her cruelness did not stop there. Hera had Leto pursued by the dragon, Python, who hunted her endlessly. Zeus would eventually intervene by sending the aid of a strong wind that would carry Leto out to sea and ultimately help her reach the Island of Delos.
Once Leto had reached the secluded Island, the rest of the goddesses arrived to help her give birth. Still, Hera chose to remain on Mount Olympus, and she even tried to detain the goddess of childbirth, Eileithyia (or Ilithyia). Still, with the help of Iris, they were both able to reach the Island.
Leto first gave birth to Artemis, who was said to offer her mother assistance with her twin brother’s advent, hence why Artemis was often associated with childbirth. In the days that followed, Apollo was eventually born. The time difference between the two births does vary. In some accounts, he was born the day after his sister, and in others, it wasn’t until several days after.
Leto now faces the almost impossible task of raising Artemis and Apollo while being exiled from the other gods. She would receive no help, and the mother and her two children travelled to Lycia in seek of refuge.
The influence and fury of Hera continued to follow Leto and her children. The local villagers even attempted to stop them from drinking from wells and Springs, and as a result, Leto turned them all into frogs.
Artemis and Apollo continued to grow at an incredible rate, and their newfound skills of a bow meant that they were now more than capable of defending themselves, as well as their mother. When the dragon Python finally found them, Artemis and Apollo killed the Beast despite only being days old.
Once Artemis and Apollo were fully grown, they were only concerned with avenging their mother and winning back her honour and place amongst the gods. During a ceremony in the name of Leto, the mortal Niobe taunted the goddess, claiming that she was more deserving of a place amongst the gods because she had given birth to seven sons and seven daughters.
The twins were so incensed by the insult that they decided the mortal would have to pay for her hubris. Apollo, with his poison arrows, struck down her seven sons and Artemis her seven daughters.
The punishment may sound unduly harsh, but Artemis and Apollo had grown up with their mother being exiled and continuously hunted. Their reaction to the insult was a message to all that they would no longer tolerate this kind of disrespect. It’s believed that Artemis and Apollo then travelled all the lands, punishing those who turned away their mother during her pregnancy.
The strength and determination shown by Artemis and Apollo meant that their mother would once again return to Zeus’s favour, despite the protests of his wife, Hera. The majority of Leto’s time from then on was spent hunting in the wilderness with her daughter.
Artemis’s Love for Animals
Throughout the years, Artemis has been depicted as a young woman carrying a hunting bow and a quiver of arrows, often accompanied by a deer, one of the many animals she considered sacred. Artemis was quite often admired as a great Huntress, and her brother could only match her skills of a bow, but despite her love for the hunt, Artemis was an avid protector of the wilderness and all those that called it home.
The animals that Artemis slew was considered sacred and the hunt was essentially a ceremony in honour of the wilderness. She would seek vengeance upon those who were seen to harm animals regardless of who they were—the story of King Agamemnon is a good example.
The king had killed one of Artemis’s sacred stags on the hunt, and as a punishment, he was told that he would have to sacrifice his daughter. When he eventually agreed, Artemis swapped his daughter with a stag, and the King believed in his daughter had been killed—learnt the consequences of his actions. Artemis was able to teach the King a lesson without sacrificing his daughter, who played no part in her father’s crimes, showing us that she is indeed vengeful in her defence of the wilderness, but she’s also just and fair.
Artemis and the Giant Hunter Orion
Artemis was known as a virgin goddess, and the gift of purity is one she asked to be given by her father, Zeus. Despite the large number of potential lovers that desired the attention of Artemis, she remains devoted to hunting and nature, rejecting all proposals of love and marriage. A few companions came close to winning the affections of Artemis, but none of them came as close as the giant hunter, Orion.
He first saw Artemis on the Island of Crete, and the two began hunting together. In time, that you eventually would fall in love, and Orion told the goddess that he would slay every animal in the world if it would prove his love. Having heard what Orion said, the goddess of the earth, Gaia, would not let her creations die, and she gave birth to an enormous scorpion who would eventually kill Orion.
Naturally, Orion’s death caused Artemis great sorrow, and she pleaded with her father Zeus to immortalize the Fallen Hunter. So, Orion and the Scorpion who killed him were given their constellations.
There is a different version of this story, and in that version, Apollo did not like the relationship between the sister and the hunter Orion. When he told his sister, she ignored him, as she had grown fond of the hunter. Apollo did not appreciate his sister’s response, and, in turn, he concocted a plan to remove Orion permanently.
He challenged his sister to see whose skills of a bow were superior. When his sister asked what they were hunting, he pointed at a barely visible figure swimming in the distant lake. Knowing that she was more than capable of proving her brother wrong, Artemis pulled back her bow and fired. Artemis did not realize until it was too late, as it was Orion swimming in the lake, and she had just unknowingly killed her lover.
Artemis and Actaeon
Artemis’s enormous popularity amongst the ancient Greeks meant that she featured in a number of myths and stories, which often involved the goddess transforming individuals into animals. One of which featured the hunter Actaeon, the grandson of Apollo, who found himself on the wrong side of Artemis’s wrath.
One morning, when walking through the forest, he stumbled across the spring where Artemis and her nymph companions were bathing. He stopped and began to stare. When the goddess spotted him, he attempted to apologize for looking at the goddess while she was naked, but Artemis interrupted him, telling him if he spoke of a word, she would transform him into a deer.
Actaeon’s hunting dog soon came running by their master, and as he called to silence them, the goddess had done exactly as she said and transformed him into a deer. He began to run into the woods, being pursued by the dogs that would eventually catch up with him and tear him into pieces.
The story of Actaeon is now thought to represent the act of human sacrifice in order to appease the gods.
The Story of Sipriotes
The story of Sipriotes is quite similar to that of Actaeon. The young boy came across Artemis in the spring when she was bathing, and as a punishment, she transformed him into a young girl.
The Story of the Aloadae Giants
The story of the Aloadae Giants is one when we see Artemis herself transform into an animal. The two giants marched from Mount Olympus with the intention of taking the goddesses as their own. Artemis transformed herself into a deer and darted in between the two giants.
As they attempted to spear the animal, they missed. Instead, they impaled each other.
In another version of this story, Artemis was overpowered by the two giants, and just as they were about to impale her, her brother Apollo came to her aid. He placed a deer in between them, causing the two giants to stab each other once again.
Although Artemis may have been considered somewhat of a secondary deity, she was still vastly important to most women, as she was looked to when they needed the protection until they were ready to marry.
If you’ve ever heard the expression, “I prefer the company of animals to humans,” it’s one that applies to Artemis. She spent very little time amongst mortals and other gods, and when she did, it was quite often followed by tragedy. This could have been a reason why Artemis remained so devoted to maintaining her virginity and spent most of her time caring for animals.
At times, Artemis does appear like quite a fair and just goddess, but she did not hesitate to kill those who attempted to wrong her. The majority of those slain by Artemis either dishonoured her or the wildlife she cared for. Artemis has quickly become one of my favourite goddesses, as she presents us with an almost perfect mix. She’s known to be extremely caring, protective, and nurturing, but at the same time, if she feels threatened or disrespected, her actions are ruthless, and she will have retribution—a caring and nurturing figure, but yet a warrior Huntress.
To me, Artemis is not your stereotypical goddess as she presents traits that we would associate with both male and female gods.
Is Artemis our goddess that you can relate to, or do you prefer any other goddesses?
Art Credit: Wikimedia