Mythman's Artemis






Artemis and her twin brother Apollo were the children of Zeus and Leto, who was the daughter of the Titans Phoebe and Coeus. They were born on the island of Delos because Hera, jealous of her husband's love for the woman, had refused Leto to give birth on neither the mainland nor an island out at sea. The only place safe enough to give birth was Delos, because Delos was said to be a floating island.

Some versions of the twins' birth state that Artemis was born one day before Apollo, with that birth having taken place on the island of Ortygia. Then the very next day, newborn Artemis helped her mother Leto to cross to the island of Delos, and even aided Leto with the delivery of Apollo. Either version may be considered accurate, depending on the source relied upon.

Like her brother, she has the power to send plagues or sudden death among mortals, and also to heal those who please her. Artemis loves to hunt and she is the lady of the forest and all the wild things, as well as the Huntsman-in-chief to the gods, an unusual position for a woman. She protects little children and all suckling animals.

Armed with the weapons specially crafted for her by the three Cyclopes, as ordered  by Zeus (see sidebar at left) ,  Artemis next went to the region of Arcadia and asked the god Pan for three lop-eared hounds, two parti-colored and one spotted, capable of dragging live lions back to their mistress. Pan also gifted Artemis seven swift hounds from Sparta

She captured alive four horned hinds and harnessed them to a golden chariot with golden bits. That was her ride. The first four times she tried the silver bow that the Cyclopes had made for her, Artemis sharpened her unerring aim by taking shots at two trees, a wild beast and a city of unjust men, whom she cut down mercilessly.

She is one of the three virgin goddesses along with Athena and Hestia. When Artemis was still only three years old and on her father Zeus' knee, he asked her what presents she would like. She didn't hesitate to ask this of the King of the Olympians:

"Pray give me eternal virginity; as many names as my brother Apollo; a bow and arrows like his; the office of bringing light; a saffron hunting tunic with a red hem reaching to my knees; sixty young ocean nymphs from Amnisus in Crete, to take care of my buskins and feed my hounds when I am not out shooting; all the mountains in the world; and, lastly, any city you care to choose for me, but one will be enough, because I intend to live on mountains most of the time. Unfortunately, women in labor will often be invoking me, since my mother Leto carried and bore me without pains, and the Fates have therefore made me patroness of child-birth."
 Hymn to Artemis

Hence, she also presides over childbirth; as stated above, this goes back to the fact that she did not cause her mother any pain when she was born.

As always in Greek Mythology, she also had her dark side, showing her as fierce and vengeful warrior. For example, although she is the protector of the young, she kept the Greek Fleet from sailing to Troy, until Iphigenia, a royal maiden, daughter of the Commander in Chief Agamemnon was sacrificed to her. All because the Greek soldiers killed one of her creatures, a hare, together with her young. On the other hand, when women died a quick and painless death, they were said to have been slain by Artemis’ silver arrows.

Artemis was vindictive and there were many who suffered from her anger. One of her actions was to join Apollo in killing the children on Niobe. Artemis took part in the battle against the Giants, where she killed Gration. She also destroyed the Aloadae and is said to have killed the monster Bouphagus. Other victims of Artemis included Orion and Actaeon, who had seen her bathing in the nude and was turned by her into a stag, only to be torn to shreds by his own dogs.

Artemis was also associated with the moon, and called Phoebe and Selene (Luna in Latin), neither of which name originally belonged to her. Phoebe was a Titan, one of the elder gods. So was Selene, a moon-goddess and sister of Helios, the sun-god often confused with Artemis’ brother, Apollo. She was called The Maiden of the Silver Bow and her silver bow indeed stood for the new moon.

In the later poems Artemis became associated with another goddess, Hecate, the dark and awful goddess of the lower world. Hecate was the Goddess of the Dark of the Moon, the black nights when the moon is hidden. She was associated with deeds of darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which were held to be ghostly places of evil magic and awful divinity. Thus she became "the goddess with three forms," Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth and Hecate in the lower world as well as in the world above, when it is wrapped in darkness. In Artemis is shown most vividly the uncertainty between good and evil which exists in every god. Ironically, this contrast is least apparent in her brother, the God of Light, Apollo.

Artemis was held in honor in all the wild and mountainous areas of Greece, in Arcadia and in the country of Sparta, in Laconia on Mount Taygetus and in Elis. Her most famous shrine was at Ephesus. Artemis absorbed some cults that involved human sacrifice, such as that practiced in Tauris.

Where Apollo was considered the sun, she was associated with the moon. Ephesus is located on the Aegean coast of Turkey, what the ancients called Asia Minor, about 200 miles south of Ancient Troy. Ephesus controlled the narrow entrance from the Aegean to a large lake and the surrounding beautiful and fertile mountains and hills. Ephesus was a rich and important settlement for at least eight thousand years - all of recorded history - and before.

When the Romans succeeded the Greeks, the worship remained unchanged except in name; the Greek Artemis became the Roman Diana.

The Temple of Artemis no longer stands. The wonder of the ancient world was built after the death of Alexander the Great, about 320 B.C., and stood for a thousand years, only to be destroyed by the Goths, a Germanic people, who swept across Europe and across the Bosporus into Asia Minor. The marble from the temple was later used in the construction of local buildings, as well as the important church of St. Sofia in Istanbul.

The wonder of the world was the fourth temple to Artemis to be built on the same site. Ivory and gold votive objects have been excavated from beneath the foundations of the first of these temples, indicating the likelihood of even earlier worship and earlier structures. These foundations now lie well below the water table, making further excavation very difficult. The third temple was also very grand, financed in part by the king of Lydia, Croesus.

A temple column with a inscription from Croesus (whose wealth was the proverbial "rich as Croesus") is now in the British Museum in London. This third temple was burned down by a madman, Eristratos, on the night of Alexander the Great's birth. Local legend had it that Artemis, being in attendance at Alexander's birth, was unable to defend her temple.

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