Greek Goddess of the Hunt, Forests and Hills, the Moon, Archery
Greek mythology is filled with respected gods and goddesses that continue to inspire. Artemis is known as the goddess of the hunt and is one of the most respected of all the ancient Greek deities. It is thought that her name, and even the goddess herself, may even be pre-Greek. She was the daughter of Zeus, king of the gods, and the Titaness Leto and she has a twin brother, the god Apollo.
Not only was Artemis the goddess of the hunt, she was also known as the goddess of wild animals, wilderness, childbirth and virginity. Also, she was protector of young children and was know to bring and relieve disease in women. In literature and art she was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrow. She was the goddess of many things, but most remember her as the most recognizable of the hunting deities.
Artemis was a virgin and drew the attention and interest of many gods and men. However, it was only her hunting companion, Orion, that won her heart. It is believed that Orion was accidentally killed either by Artemis herself or by Gaia, the primordial goddess of the earth.
In one version of the stories of Adonis – who was a late addition to Greek mythology during the Hellenistic period – Artemis sent a wild boar to kill Adonis after he continued to boast that he was a far greater hunter than her.
The Origins of Artemis
Artemis’s origin story is a tumultuous one. She is the daughter of Zeus and Leto. Zeus is the well-known King of gods and the leader of Mount Olympus. Despite the many stories of his greatness, Zeus’ weakness was infidelity to his wife, Hera.
Zeus impregnated a Titan called Leto. Hera became angry upon learning of Zeus’ unfaithfulness. In retaliation, she forbade Leto from giving birth on land. Eventually, she found solace on the floating island of Delos. There, she gave birth to Artemis and Apollo.
According to the Homeric Hymn to Artemis, the twins were born on Ortygia. Either way, most of the accounts say that Artemis came first. As a result, she was a fierce protector and nurturer of Apollo.
Not much is known about Artemis’ childhood. Some scholars say that she spent her time participating in archery, perhaps leading to her excellence in hunting.
Artemis was the subject of many works of art throughout Ancient Greece and beyond. Usually, she was shown as a young and beautiful woman carrying a bow and arrow. Typically, she wore a knee-length tunic and was accompanied by various animals.
She was shown alongside various other symbols when talked about as the goddess of the moon or fertility. For example, she often wore a crescent moon crown or stood by women and nymphs.
Artemis and Chastity
The greek goddess of hunting was a known virgin who protected her chastity at all costs. For this reason, she captured the attention of gods and men across the land. She had relationships with others, but it wasn’t until Orion came along that she reportedly fell in love.
However, the details of that relationship are scarce. Some accounts say that Orion was the only man that Artemis loved. However, others say that he was nothing more than a boastful hunter who got punished by the gods.
Orion’s fate is similar to that of other boastful figures. According to the myth, Artemis’ hunting companion longed to kill every animal on earth. Gaia, the goddess of the Earth, sent a giant scorpion to kill him. Upon his death, Artemis sent him to the stars and created the Orion constellation.
Stories of Artemis
The goddess of the wild hunt is involved in countless stories throughout Greek mythology. She was an important figure in the Greek Pantheon, leading to unique tales of triumph and the complexities of deity emotions.
Artemis and Agamemnon
One tale involved Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae. Agamemnon killed a stag in Artemis’ sacred grove. In retaliation, she sought to punish him gravely. The goddess goaded him, transforming into the winds to ravage his ships as he commenced the Trojan War.
Out of fear, he offered Artemis his daughter Iphigenia. The goddess took her, replacing her presence with a deer. The myth does not say what happened to Iphigenia, but some scholars say she became Artemis’s immortal companion.
Artemis and Actaeon
This story revolves around the purity of Artemis and punishment that follows gazing eyes. Like most tales in Greek mythology, there are multiple versions.
The standard iteration is that Actaeon was a hunting companion for Artemis. As he ventures into the sacred spring, he sees the goddess naked. He ultimately attempts to force himself on her.
For that act, Artemis transforms her former hunting companion into a stag. His own hunting dogs quickly devour him.
The Roman poet Ovid depicts Actaeon a bit more innocently, saying that he viewed her naked body by accident and did not attempt to force himself on her. Either way, Artemis still transformed him into a stag.
Artemis, Apollo, and Niobe
In this tale, Artemis and her twin brother set out to kill all of Niobe’s children.
Niobe was the queen of Thebes and the wife of Amphion. She bragged of her superiority over Leto, who was both Artemis’ and Apollo’s mother. She boasted of her children, stating that Leto was only capable of only having two. Meanwhile, she had seven boys and seven girls.
To defend the honor of their mother, the twins killed each of Niobe’s children. Apollo killed the boys as they practiced athletics, while Artemis killed the girls in an instant. They both used poison arrows, which they were proficient in using. Some versions of the tale say that the twins spared one boy and one girl.
Either way, Niobe’s husband and the father of her various children, Amphion, killed himself upon learning of the deaths. Niobe became devastated. As she wept, Artemis turned her to stone.
Artemis and Adonis
The story of Adonis ends with the vengefulness of Artemis. Adonis was a handsome man who also happened to excel at hunting. Why Artemis chooses to kill him varies from one retelling to the next.
In one version, it’s because he boasted that he’s better at hunting than Artemis. Others say that she sought to kill him out of revenge for the killing of Hippolytus, a hunter of Artemis. Hippolytus was reportedly killed by Aphrodite, who was Adonis’ lover.
Regardless of the reasoning, most accounts say that Artemis sent a wild boar to kill Adonis.
Facts about Artemis
- Artemis was daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo, the Greek god of archery, dance, and truth.
- According to one source, Artemis was born a day before Apollo. She then served as a guardian to him, which provided a context for her desire to protect and nurture.
- Artemis served many additional roles. She was also the goddess of forests, hills, wild animals, childbirth, virginity, and the moon.
- Artemis is one of the 12 Olympian gods.
- During the Classical period in Athens, Artemis was sometimes referred to as “Hekate.”
- The equivalent of Artemis in Roman mythology is Diana.
- She was primarily a virgin huntress, goddess of wildlife and patroness of hunters.
- Artemis is most commonly known as the goddess of hunting.
- The bear was sacred to her.
- She guarded her virginity carefully. Actaeon and Orion tried to dishonor or rape her, but anyone who threatened her purity met with a violent end.
- She was an important goddess in the lives of women, especially when it came to marriage and young creatures.
- When one of her nymphs was seduced by Zeus, Artemis transformed her into a bear and then killed her.
- She was sometimes associated with the goddess of the moon.
- Artemis acted out in anger whenever her wishes were disobeyed, especially if anyone transgressed against the animals that were sacred to her.
- She punished Agamemnon, for example, when he killed a stag in her sacred grove.
- Artemis appealed to Zeus to grant her eternal virginity.
- The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
- Apollo and Artemis teamed up to kill the children of Niobe. Niobe bragged that she had birthed more children than Leto (the mother of Apollo and Artemis). The twins then hunted her children and killed them with their bows and arrows.
- Artemis was worshipped widely in Greece but only as a secondary deity.
- A temple built in her honor became one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.”
- At least two festivals were celebrated in her honor of Artemis: Brauronia and the festival of Artemis Orthia.
- Artemis was called “the mistress of animals” by Homer.
- Artemis spent most of her time roaming the forests with her nymphs. She was described as both hunting animals and protecting them.
- She armed herself with a bow and arrows made by Hephaestus and Cyclops.
- In art, Artemis is often accompanied by a stag or hunting dog.
- She is the protector of chastity and a nurturer of the young.
- The goddess was highly favored among the rural populace of Ancient Greece.
- In Norse mythology, Artemis’ counterpart is Ullr. In Egyptian mythology, the god of the hunt was Horus. For Celtic mythology, the hunting god was Cernunnos. In Inuit mythology, the hunting god is Nujalik.
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