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Artemis (Roman counterpart Diana) is the Greek goddess associated with the moon, chastity, the hunt, childbirth, and the wilderness. Daughter of Leto and Zeus, and twin sister of Apollo, Artemis is considered the patron and protector of young children and the patron of women in childbirth. Let’s take a closer look at the life and symbolism of Artemis.
The Story of Artemis
The story goes that Artemis was born on Delos or Ortygia. Some accounts say that she was born a day before Apollo. At three years old, she asked her powerful father Zeus to grant her six wishes, which were:
- That she could remain unmarried and a virgin
- That she would be given more names than her brother Apollo
- That she could bring light to the world
- That she would be given a special bow and arrow like her brother and have the freedom to dress up in a tunic when out hunting
- That she would have 60 nymphs as friends who would keep her company and look after her hunting dogs
- That she would have rule over all mountains
Zeus was amused by Artemis and granted her wishes. It’s clear that from an early age on, Artemis valued independence and freedom over everything else. She felt that marriage and love would be distractions and would take away her liberty.
Artemis swore never to marry, and like Athena and Hestia, Artemis remained a virgin for eternity. She was very protective of her chastity and guarded it with ferocity against any man who attempted to dishonor her. There are many myths that outline how Artemis punished men for violating her privacy:
- Artemis and Actaeon: Artemis and her nymphs were bathing naked in a pool when Acaeon chanced by and fell to gazing at the group of beautiful women bathing in the nude. When Artemis saw him, she was furious. She turned him into a stag and set his pack of fifty hounds upon him. He faced a painful and tortured death and was torn to pieces.
- Artemis and Orion: Orion was an old companion of Artemis, who would often go hunting with her. Some accounts suggest that Orion was the only love interest that Artemis had. In any case, it didn’t end well for him. Fascinated and attracted by Artemis, he tried to take off her robes and rape her, but she killed him with her bow and arrow. Variations to this story say that Gaia or Apollo intervened and killed Orion, to protect the purity of Artemis.
Like many Greek gods, Artemis was quick to respond to perceived slights. If she felt she was disobeyed or in some way dishonored, she retaliated swiftly. Frequently, her legends include her turning enemies and denigrators into animals for her to hunt. In addition to this, however, she was seen as a protector to young girls and a goddess of childbirth, demonstrating her capacity for caring as well as retribution.
Artemis was worshipped throughout ancient Greece and many artistic renderings have her standing in a forest with her bow and arrows, a deer by her side. She was frequently given special worship by those expecting children. As a goddess of childbirth, people would donate clothing to her sanctuaries after the successful birth of a child as a way of thanking Artemis for her favor.
The oldest art of Artemis depicts her as Potnia Teron, or Queen of the Beasts. She stands as a winged goddess, holding a stag and lioness in opposite hands. In Classical Greek art, however, Artemis is shown as a young huntress, a quiver on her back and bow in her hand. Sometimes, she is shown accompanied by one of her hunting dogs or a stag.
In Roman mythology, Artemis’ equivalent is known as Diana. Diana was believed to be the patron goddess of the countryside, hunters, crossroads, and the moon. While Artemis and Diana have quite a lot of overlap, they could be characterized very differently and are therefore not the same.
Symbols and Characteristics of Artemis
Artemis is depicted or associated with numerous symbols, including:
- Bow and Arrow – As the goddess of the hunt, the bow and arrow was Artemis’ primary weapon. She was known for her accurate aim and would strike down anyone who had irked her.
- Quiver – Like the bow and arrow, Artemis is often shown reaching for an arrow from her quiver. This is one of her most prevalent symbols and strengthens her associations with archery, hunting and the outdoors.
- Deer – The deer is considered sacred to Artemis, and she is often depicted standing with a deer beside her.
- Hunting Dog – Again, a symbol of hunting, Artemis would hunt with seven of her hunting dogs at any given time. The dogs signified her love of the hunt.
- Moon – Artemis was associated with the moon and her worshippers revered the moon as a symbol of the goddess
Artemis was powerful and is a symbol of a strong woman. She symbolizes:
- Chastity and virginity
There’s no doubt that Artemis was one of the most powerful goddesses of Ancient Greek myth. But her personality often showcased contradictions, making her appear as an unpredictable, often wrathful, figure. For example:
- She was the protector of young girls and the patron of women in childbirth but would bring sudden death and disease to girls and women.
- The deer is a sacred symbol of Artemis and yet she transformed Actaeon into a stag to be killed by dogs.
- She was worshipped for her virginity and known for remaining chaste, and yet it is she who is one of the most famous goddesses associated with childbirth and fertility.
- She was fiercely protective of her mother, and together with Apollo, killed the children of Niobe just because she had boasted that she had given birth to more children than Leto.
- Artemis is considered compassionate and kind, and yet was often ruthless and exacted revenge for seemingly small slights on her honor.
- She had Aura raped by Dionysus for doubting Artemis’ virginity
- She killed Chione for boasting that she was prettier than her
- Some accounts say she killed Adonis for boasting that he was better at hunting than she was
Festival of Brauron for Artemis
Many events and festivals were held in Artemis’ honor, such as the Festival of Artemis in Brauron. For the festival, girls between five and ten years old would dress in gold and run around pretending to be bears.
It’s believed that this festival came about in response to the legend in which Artemis sent a tamed bear to her temple in Brauron. A girl antagonized the bear by poking it with a stick and it attacked her, prompting one of her brothers to kill it. This enraged Artemis and she retaliated by sending a plague to the town. After consulting with the Oracle, a person thought to have a link to the gods and the ability to foretell the future, they were told that no virgin should marry until she had served Artemis in her temple. Hence, the Festival of Artemis in Brauron was born.
Artemis In Modern Times
The Artemis Program is a project by NASA committed to landing American astronauts, including the first woman and next man, on the moon by 2024. It is named after Artemis in honor of her role in Greek mythology as the goddess of the moon.
Artemis continues to inspire writers, singers and poets. She continues to inspire pop culture. The Artemis archetype, a young withdrawn young girl, facing many challenges and bravely and fiercely rising to face them, is very popular today, giving rise to characters such as Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games, who also is seen with a bow and arrow as her symbols. She was also depicted as a character in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring Artemis statues.
Artemis Goddess Facts
Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto.
As Zeus daughter, Artemis had many half-siblings, but she was closest to her twin brother Apollo, often serving as a guardian to him.
No, she remained a virgin for eternity.
She had impeccable aim with her bow and arrow, could turn herself and others into animals and was also able to heal and control nature to some extent.
Despite drawing a lot of attention from other gods as well as mortal men, the only person believed to have truly won Artemis’ heart was her hunting companion Orion. Orion was unfortunately believed to be killed by either Artemis herself or Gaia (goddess of the earth).
In a version of the story of Adonis, Adonis boasts that he is a better hunter than Artemis. In revenge, Artemis sends a wild boar (one of her prized animals) which kills him for his hubris.
Artemis’ bow was believed to have been created in the forges of Hephaestus and the Cyclops. In later cultures, her bow became a symbol of the crescent moon.
Artemis’ temple at Ephesus in Ionia, Turkey, is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There she is worshipped primarily as a mother goddess and it is one of the most well-known places of worship to Artemis.
Artemis was given seven female and six male hunting dogs by Pan the nature god. Two were said to have been black and white, three were red, and one with spots.
Artemis had a special chariot, pulled by six golden-horned deer that she captured.
Artemis continues to be one of the most popular of the pantheon of Greek gods. People continue to take inspiration from the legends of Artemis, intrigued by her contradictions, love of freedom, independence and power.