The Twelve Olympians were the ruling gods in Ancient Greek mythology, each with distinct and influential personalities, but why is Artemis, specifically, important?
She was the goddess of both the hunt and wild animals and the twin of Apollo. Where Apollo was a sun god, she was a moon goddess. Artemis was a very proud virgin – or at least, a spurner of men. She traveled with several female companions, and modern interpretations see her as either a lesbian or asexual figure. She was known for her fierce independence.
What Role Does Artemis Play in Some of the Myths?
Artemis is often portrayed as one of the “younger” goddesses. She and Apollo were Zeus’ twin children, and she was usually picked on and admonished by her jealous stepmother, Hera. Nonetheless, she grew up into a ferocious and independent figure known for her sense of justice and swift vengeance. Mortals and gods alike feared and admired her. These seven myths are some of her most impressive.
Midwife to her twin – Apollo and Artemis’s mother, Leto, was punished by a jealous Hera. The latter made it nearly impossible for Leto to give birth. Heavily pregnant, Leto traveled around the world until she found an island exempt from Hera’s curse and birthed her daughter, Artemis. Afterward, the newborn Artemis served as a midwife, assisting in Apollo’s birth.
A precocious child – One poem depicts a young Artemis sitting upon her father Zeus’s knee and making ten requests of him. These requests are:
- To allow her to always remain virginal/chaste
- To be granted several epithets that differentiate her from Apollo
- To have the Cyclopes make her a bow and arrow
- To be known as Phaesporia, “Light Bringer.”
- To have a chorus made of sixty young female Oceanids
- To have a tunic that stopped at her knees to make hunting easier
- To have 20 Amnisiades as her handmaidens to care for her dogs when she rested
- To rule all of the mountains
- To only visit cities when called by women giving birth
- To be able to help any woman with the pains of childbirth
Protecting her mother – When the giant Tityus tried to rape Leto, Artemis and Apollo killed him. Another myth tells how Niobe mocked Leto as Niobe had fourteen children (seven boys and seven girls) while Leto only had two. In response, the twin gods methodically killed all of Niobe’s children with arrows! Artemis killed the girls, Apollo the boys. After this, Artemis turned a grieving Niobe to stone.
Killing the Aloadae – The giants Otos and Ephialtes, sons of Poseidon, were fierce and terrifying. Only one could kill the other, and they threatened that once they grew big enough, they would pluck Artemis and Hera from the heavens and make them their wives. All the gods feared them, but Artemis commanded a deer (or transformed herself into a doe) to jump between them. The giants shot at the deer and ended up killing each other.
Actaeon – Though this myth varies, Actaeon was usually a male hunting companion of Artemis. He one day came across her bathing and tried to rape her. In response, she turned him into a stag. He was then viciously torn apart by his own hunting dogs.
Callisto – A companion of Artemis who was raped by Zeus. Artemis turned her into a bear and accidentally killed her, and Zeus changed her into the bear constellation of stars.
The Trojan War – Like her brother, Artemis sided with the Trojans during the war. She once stilled the sea to allow an oracle to approach Agamemnon and command him to sacrifice his own daughter. Agamemnon refused and suffered. However, Artemis favored his daughter and eventually saved her life, making her one of her own hunting companions.
What Were Artemis’s Symbols?
- Artemis had many symbols associated with her, each with a specific story and reference to an aspect of the goddess.
Symbol Aspect Story
- Bow and Arrow Hunting Artemis had a golden bow and arrow she received from the Cyclopes after requesting them from her father.
- Chariots Olympian Most Olympians had chariots. Artemis’s was golden and pulled by four golden deer.
- Lyre Maidenhood Artemis was the patron of girls dancing and singing
- Spears and nets Hunting Artemis was the patron of fishermen
- Deer Wild Animals Artemis admired deer above all other creatures. When Herakles was commanded to capture the Cerynitian Hind, he had to beg Artemis for forgiveness.
- Dogs Hunting and Animals Pan gifted dogs to Artemis, which could hunt any other creature, even lions
- Bears Wild Animals Her close companion Callisto became a bear. She once sent a plague to avenge a dead bear.
- Boar Wild Animals A sacred sacrificial animal. Artemis killed Adonis and Oeneus with her boar.
What Were the Festivals of Artemis?
Artemis was actually born on what was the sixth day of the week, which made it the most important in her estimation! Her festivals included:
- The Brauron Festival – Young girls between five and ten dressed as and played at being bears to appease Artemis after a young girl was once responsible for a bear’s death.
- The Amarysia Festival – Involving a parade and temple worship, this festival celebrated an aspect of the goddess worshipped in Attica.
- The Saronia Festival – This was a large festival in Artemis’s honor, started by King Saron after Artemis saved his life when he nearly died while hunting.
- The Kharisteria Festival – On the sixth day of the third month, this festival remembered the Battle of Marathon. It was particularly sacred to Artemis due to the date.
- The Deer Huntress Festival – On the sixth day of the ninth month, Artemis was celebrated in her aspect as a deer hunter. Stag-shaped cakes made of dough, sesame, and honey were given as offerings.
- The Nature Festival – On the sixth day of the tenth month, a goat was sacrificed to represent Artemis’s place as a nature goddess.
- The Festival of Artemis’s Birth – Artemis was born on the sixth day of the eleventh month. Apollo was delivered the next day.
- Laphria – This was a Patrasian festival that used a procession of maidens and chariots to honor Artemis. A priestess rode a chariot pulled by four deer to a constructed altar where she gave thanks. A sacrifice of fruit and burnt animals upon that altar was offered the day after the procession.
Artemis is a perennial favorite, especially amongst girls introduced to Greek myth. Her independence and equality to male gods have served as inspiration from ancient times to the present. For modern feminist thinkers, she is an idol in that she commands her own sexuality. She is not afraid to act out of the role into which she otherwise would have been placed.
Though she is one of two twin gods, Artemis has made and continues to make a considerable impact on culture in her own right. She gave her name to the children’s book protagonist Artemis Fowl. She appears as an ally in many books and games based on Greek mythology. She has been interpreted in several different ways.
Artemis’s defining trait is her determination and knowledge of herself. From the moment she was actually born, she was thought to be born with a purpose – helping women, including her own mother. However, this does not make her incredibly feminine – as, for example, the traditionally girlish Aphrodite. Instead, Artemis represents another kind of femininity. It is the kind where a woman is not the same as a man, but she is still, absolutely, his equal.