Who is Artemis?

Artemis (Ἄρτεμις), twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus and Leto, was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, forests, hills, childbirth (midwifery), child care, and chastity. Homer calls her πότνια θηρῶν, “mistress of beasts,” and her temper is proverbial, representing the wrath of nature.

Artemis was one of the most widely worshiped deities of the Olympian pantheon, as evidenced by numerous temples, altars and sanctuaries throughout the ancient world. Before it burned to the ground, the temple of the goddess in Ephesus was considered one of the Seven Wonders of Antiquity. A description of Artemis by the poets can be found in various forms, but always illustrating agility and dexterity with the bow: “she who shoots arrows” (ἰοχέαιρα iokheaira -> other translations: “she who delights in arrows”, “she , which showers arrows’); “Artemis of the Golden Arrows”.

Artemis is also a goddess of forests and hills, as evidenced by various paintings and statues in a forest setting accompanied by a deer. The most famous cults in her honor are on the island of Delos (her birthplace), in Attica in Brauron and Munichia (near Piraeus) and in Sparta (the Spartans offered sacrifices in her honor before their military campaigns).
Feasts in her honor: Elaphebolia, Munichia, Charisteria and Brauronia, Ortia.

“I sing of Artemis, whose hilts are of gold, who delights the hounds, the pure maiden, the deer-shooter, who delights in archery, Apollo’s own sister with the golden sword. Over the shadowy hills and windswept peaks she stretches her golden bow, rejoicing in the hunt, and sends forth fierce arrows. The tops of the high mountains tremble, and the tangled wood resounds tremendously with the cries of beasts: earthquakes and the sea also where the fish gather.”

—Homeric Hymn 27 to Artemis 1–9
Artemis as patroness of animals, Parian pottery, 675–600 BC

There are disputes according to different authors whether Artemis and Apollo are twins or only relatives, for example: according to the grammarian Servius (4th-5th century), Artemis was born first at night, patronized by darkness and the Moon, and Apollo during the day, patronized by light and the Sun. However, Pindar writes that the two were born together shining like the sun. Homer and Hesiod acknowledge that they are brother and sister, but do not confirm whether they are twins.

The etymology of Artemis is unknown, so it is believed to have a more ancient origin. For example, in Lydia she is worshiped as Artimus.

There is an interesting thesis that the name Artemis is related to the root árktos (“bear”, from Proto-Indo-European *h₂ŕ̥tḱos), which is supported by the cult of the bear in Attica (Galic bear festival called Artio – pre-Greek connection; in one of the myths, Artemis turns Callisto into a bear as punishment.), as well as Neolithic remains from the cave of Arcudiotis.

In support of the bear thesis, the attendants at the temple of Artemis at Brauron were young Athenian girls who were called “arctoi” or “little bears” because of the legend of a bear that regularly visited the city. People took care of the bear, but a girl started teasing it. According to one version, the girl kills the bear, and in another, she claws out its eyes. Artemis was enraged and ordered the young girls to ritually play the part of the bear in the sanctuary to atone for the misdeed.

Another scholar (Y.T. Jablonsky) suggests a Phrygian origin (comparison with the royal name “Artemas” from Xenophon), while Charles Anton claims that the origin is Persian (*arta, *art, *arte – “great, excellent, holy “). Anton Goebel suggests an interpretation by the root στρατ or ῥατ – “to shake”, and infers that Artemis means “the arrow thrower” or “the archer.”

Other conjectures: Doric (Artamis with ἄρταμος, artamos – ‘safe’, ‘unharmed’, ‘pure’, ‘the stainless/unsullied maiden’); ἀρτεμής from ἀτρεμής, (atremḗs), meaning “still, calm; stable, firm”.

As the patroness of midwifery, often in her temples women in labor consecrated clothes after a successful birth, while death was also attributed to her, so her cult had a dual meaning of reverence for life and awe for death. According to one myth, Artemis was believed to be the patroness of midwifery as she assisted her mother in the birth of her brother Apollo.
A surviving poem by Callimachus perfectly illustrates her patronage of women in childbirth, the hunt and her chastity: “To remain always a virgin … to have a short tunic down to the knees that she may hunt … to rule over all the mountains … to be dedicated to every city and visited only when called by women in labor”.

An interesting thing that is missed in popular culture is that Artemis was also seen as a goddess of dance, music and song, like her brother Apollo, often depicted singing and dancing with nymphs, or even presiding over the Muses and The graces. An ancient Greek saying, recorded by Aesop, reads: “Where does Artemis not dance?” (in honor of the goddess, a dance ritual – “partheneus”) was also performed.

When Artemis appeared in the dreams of pregnant women or hunters, it was considered a good omen, and a bad omen if she appeared naked (since she was considered a virgin; it meant depravity).

Artemis associations and symbols are:  Selena, the Moon, Hecate, Diana (Roman equivalent), bow, arrow, quiver, hunting knives, the stag, cypress (also of Apollo), hunting dog.

Artemis Goddess

The eternally young, beautiful goddess Artemis was born on the island of Delos at the same time as her brother, the golden-haired Apollo. They are twins. The most sincere love, the most intimate friendship connects brother and sister. They also have a deep love for their mother Latona.

Artemis gives life to everything. She takes care of everything that lives on earth and grows in the forest and in the field. It takes care of wild animals, herds of cattle and people. She makes grasses, flowers and trees grow, she blesses birth and marriage. Greek women offer a rich sacrifice to the glorious daughter of Zeus, Artemis, which blesses marriage and gives happiness in it, which heals and sends diseases.

Apollo (left) and Artemis (right), Brigos – Louvre, 470 BC

Eternally young, beautiful as a clear day, the goddess Artemis, with a bow and archer over her shoulder, with a spear of a hunter in hand, happily hunts in shady forests and sun-drenched fields. A noisy group of nymphs accompanies her, and she, majestic, dressed in a hunter’s short robe that reaches only to her knees, quickly drifts up the wooded mountain slopes. Neither the timid stag, nor the timid deer, nor the furious boar, which hides in the reed thicket – noone can escape from her faithful arrows. Her companions, the nymphs, run after Artemis. Cheerful laughter, noise, barking of a pack of dogs can be heard far away in the mountains and the mountain echo invites them loudly. And when the goddess of hunting gets tired, she quickly goes with the nymphs for the holy Delphi to her beloved brother, the archer Apollo. There she rests. Under the divine sounds of the golden Apollo guitar, she dances with the muses and nymphs. The slender beautiful Artemis leads the choir; she is prettier than all the muses and nymphs and one head taller than them. Artemis likes to rest in cool caves, shrouded in greenery, away from the sight of mortals. Woe and woe to him who disturbs her peace. Thus died the young Actaeon, the son of Autonomous, daughter of the Theban king Cadmus.

Artemis and Actaeon

Actaeon once was with hunting companions in the forests of Kitheron. It was a hot noon. The tired hunters settled down to rest in a dense forest, and the young Actaeon separated from them and sought coolness in the Kiteron valleys. He went out into the green flowering valley of Gargafia, dedicated to the goddess Artemis. Gorgeous plane trees, myrtles and white firs grew in the valley. Slender cypresses darted toward the sky like dark green arrows, and the lush grass was streaked with color. A clear stream roared in the valley. There was silence, peace and coolness everywhere. On a steep slope of Mount Actaeon he saw a beautiful cave, all shrouded in greenery. He went to this cave, unaware that it often served as a resting place for Zeus’ daughter Artemis.

When Actaeon approached the cave, Artemis had just entered. She gave her bow and arrows to one of the nymphs and prepared to take a bath. The nymphs took off her sandals, tied her hair, and were about to go to the creek to row cold water when Actaeon appeared at the entrance to the cave. The nymphs cried out loudly when they saw Actaeon entering. They surrounded Artemis, wanting to hide her from the eyes of mortals. As the clouds blazed in a purple fire from the rising sun, so the goddess’s face reddened with anger, her eyes gleamed with anger, and she became even more beautiful. Artemis was angry that Actaeon had disturbed her peace by entering the inaccessible cave. In her anger, she turned the unfortunate Actaeon into a slender deer.

Branched horns grew on Actaeon’s head. His legs and arms turned to deer legs. His neck lengthened, his ears sharpened, patchy fur covering his entire body. The timid deer ran away. Acteon saw his image in the stream. He wants to shout, “What a misfortune!” But he lacks the ability to speak. Tears came from his eyes, but from the eyes of a deer. Only human reason remained in him. What to do now? Where to go? Who to turn to for help?

Actaeon’s dogs sniffed the deer’s tracks; they did not know their master and rushed after him with a furious bark. Through the Kitheron valleys and gorges, along the mountain slopes, through forests and fields, the beautiful deer flew like the wind, with its horns on its back, and the dogs ran after it. Dogs are getting closer and closer. Here they catch up with him and their sharp teeth sink into the body of the unfortunate Actaeon-deer. He wants to call Actaeon to them: “Oh, have mercy! I am Actaeon, your master! ”, But only a moan escapes from the deer’s chest and in that moan the sound of a human voice is heard. The deer-Acteon falls to his knees helpless. Grief, horror and pleading are read in his eyes. Inevitable doom awaits him – angry dogs tear his body to pieces.

Acteon’s comrades arrived and regretted that he was not with them on such a happy hunt. The dogs finished the wonderful deer. Actaeon’s comrades did not know who he was.

Thus died Actaeon, who disturbed the peace of the goddess Artemis, the only one among mortals who saw the heavenly beauty of the daughter of the Thunderer Zeus and Latona.

The death of Actaeon, Titian