Artemis in Mythology

Myths of Artemis Explained Using Modern Words

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Artemis is known as the goddess of the moon, hunting, animals, and wild things. However, she is even more complex than that. Hunting and the moon and animals all sounds nice and all but, surprise, she is also the goddess of sudden death to women, cruelty and plague. Along with that she is the eternal maiden, who, oddly enough, is also the goddess of midwives and the 

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Art of Artemis driving her chariot pulled by her deer. (Attic red-figure crater, 450-440 B.C.E Wikimedia commons)

protection of children. Probably because kids themselves are sometimes like wild animals if you give them enough sugar. She had a twin named Apollo, and, like most twins, they shared a lot of the same traits. Both are gods known for their archery skill. Apollo is god of the sun, healing, and sudden death to men. Which is kind of the exact opposite of Artemis (goddess of the moon, plague, and sudden death to women). Both are children of Zeus and the titan, Leto.

Hera was not happy when she found out that Zeus was messing around (again). So she made it quite difficult for poor Leto to give birth to Apollo (a whole nine days of labour!). Artemis was said to be a pretty easy birth, and because she was the first born, she helped her mother to deliver her brother as one does as a newborn. This is how Artemis earned herself the title of goddess of midwives. Some myths say that both Artemis and Apollo were born on the same island- Delos. Others say that Artemis was born on Ortygia and then Leto made her way over to Delos to give birth to Apollo.

This is a nice little summary video of who Artemis is.

The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, Trans. H. G. Evelyn-White. 1914 .

Callimachus’ Hymn to Artemis

Apollo was kind of just given his attributes by his dad with no say in the matter for him. Artemis, however, had a bit of freedom with hers. Callimachus, in his hymn to Artemis, said she sat down on her dad’s lap and said in a cute little squeaky kid voice (as I imagine the conversation went):

“Oh Dad, can I be a virgin forever, and can I have a bunch of nymph friends, and can I also have a bow, and can I have some nice dogs, and can I have some deer, and can I be the goddess of the wilds and mountains because I don’t plan on going to the city very much. But please name a city for me anyways. Also, I want a ton of cool names that my friends call me because one isn’t enough.”

Zeus thinks all of this is all so precious and agrees on the condition that she goes and gets and gets all that by herself to make sure she gets exactly what she wants. Artemis then walks out and gathers 80 nymph friends- 60 for her choir and 20 for the woods and rivers. Her and her nymphs head out to get a bow. Who better to get a bow from than the cyclopes of Hephaestus?

 

artemis and dog
A marble statue of Artemis from the Capitoline in Rome. Here she is featured with one of her hunting dogs from Pan, and she would be holding her bow. 

When she gets there, she proves to be one tough little girl. While all her nymphs are freaking out, she marches right up to the cyclopses and asks them to (please) make her a bow. She then places her order for a very specific bow, arrows, and quiver that look just like the ones all the cool archers in Crete have. The Cyclopes, who were crafting a water trough for Poseidon’s horses (ah yes, a golden box the most exciting craft ever) happily abandoned their project to start Artemis’ bow. Granted, she did bribe them with food (her first catch with the bow). Come the time it was finished, a cyclops tried to make a move on Artemis but she was not having it, so she pulled his chest hair out and was on her merry way.

 

Her next stop was to visit Pan. Pan was just chilling, chopping up a lynx for his dogs (did you ever wonder what was in dog food? Me neither). Pan gave her not one, not two, but six dogs! All of them faster and braver and better than your average dog. From there, she spied a herd of golden-antlered deer. She HAD to have those. So she captured all but one and used them to pull her chariot, and left the last one for Heracles to hunt on his missions to regain his honour. The cool part about this, is she caught the deer without using her dogs at all. The dogs were probably feeling pretty lazy after their nice lynx-meat kibble anyways.

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One of Artemis’ symbols is the deer. She had a chariot drawn by four golden antlered deer. (Wikimedia commons)

I read Callimachus’ Hymns to Artemis when I was researching this assignment and the information I am using is located in the following book:

Callimachus. (2015). The Hymns: Hymn to Artemis (S. A. Stephens, Trans.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

But if you don’t just so happen to have a classics library handy and you want to read the words pretty much as they were originally, there’s a great link here.

Also, if you want to know what this myth is but aren’t in the mood for reading, here’s a youtube link to an interpreted reading of Callimachus’ hymn to Artemis 

Artemis Kills a Bunch of Kids With Her Brother

This myth is about a woman named Niobe who decided that quantity is better than quality. Niobe was a pretty special woman; she was rich, beautiful, important, and super proud of all of it. She had seven daughters and seven sons. One day as Niobe was out on the town, she saw some people worshipping Leto. She got instantly jealous and told the worshippers that they should be worshipping her instead of Leto. She asked why they should worship a god that they cannot see when there are gods like herself living amongst them (yes, she went there). She then proceeds to take a mighty leap over the line of what was okay to say and insult Leto. Leto could take most of it, such as the insults to her deeds and her herself, but when Niobe called her childless in comparison to her, Leto was fuming. She calls her children to her (Apollo and Artemis) and asks them to avenge her good name. Apollo quickly went out and killed all of Niobe’s sons as they were doing their cool manly stuff.

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Action shot of Artemis shooting down Niobe’s daughters as they mourn their recently killed brothers. (David Children of Niobe 1771)

Naturally, a mother should mourn this, and Niobe did. Yet even in mourning she was boastful. So as she mourned her sons with her daughters, Artemis did the only right thing and shot down all the daughters too. Some stories say that Artemis spared one daughter but let’s face it, she probably didn’t.

That is the story of how Artemis became bringer of sudden death to women, and Apollo bringer of sudden death to men. It also puts Artemis and Apollo on a pretty equal playing field as they have the same roles and archery skills. 

‪R. M. Cook‪. Niobe and her Children. Cambridge University Press. Oct 31, 2013. page 5-7. Accessed February 22, 2017.

If you want to read the original Niobe myth from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, check out this link.

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Artemis is standing in a very confident pose                                                     obtained from ©Carole Raddato Wikimedia commons

Artemis, the Protector of Maidens, Sacrifices a Maiden

Once upon a time, King Agamemnon was out hunting in the woods and he came across this gorgeous deer. So he killed it. By doing this he decided that this makes him a much better hunter than Artemis (one deer as opposed to how many?). To his shock, this makes Artemis rather upset so she stills the winds so that his ships could not leave for Troy where he had plans on fighting a little war.

Realizing his mistake, and because he wanted to do more killing, Agamemnon asked how he can ever make good with Artemis again. Artemis (putting a flashlight under her chin and donning a scary voice) demands a human sacrifice of Agamemnon’s maiden daughter Iphigenia. The poor thing was was just getting ready to marry Achilles at the time.

Being the good dad he is, Agamemnon asks his wife to send Iphigenia to him, and she does. As sweet little Iphigenia is on the altar and the knife almost to her, Artemis changed her mind and made a swap. Some myths say that she sent a deer others say a cow. Still others say that no swap was made and Iphigenia was actually just sacrificed. Assuming that she was not sacrificed, Iphigenia was said to be whisked away to a temple of Artemis where she became a priestess, or her immortal companion (depends on who you ask).

Just to make Artemis seem a little more scary, Iphigenia was asked to make the occasional human sacrifice. The only other god who does stuff like that is Ares, the god of bloodshed and  war (surprising really). Artemis’ followers thought “Oh hey that’s pretty neat! We should do that too!” And so, some of Artemis’ cults have human blood involved. What a nice way to give back to your goddess.

Here is a link to Euripides’ writings on Iphigenia.

Euripides. (1938). The Complete Greek Drama (Vol. 1) (W. J. Oates & E. O’Neill Jr., Eds.; R. Potter, Trans.). New York: Random House.

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Here’s a lovely painting of what happened in the myth of Iphigenia. It appears that she is being carried off to the altar and flying away on a deer at the same time. Artemis is up there in the right corner peeking out from a cloud. Agamemnon ponders for a second whether he’s doing the right thing in sacrificing his daughter. (Fourth style fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii)

Artemis and the Boys

Actaeon

One day Actaeon and his buds went out for a fun day of hunting. Around noon they decided that the were tired and went to pack up. As his friends are packing, Actaeon decided to take a little stroll. While he is doing that he just so happens by Artemis who is having a spa day with her nymphs at her favourite pool. Some say Actaeon tried

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Actaeon found Artemis as she was bathing. In this rendition he was being full on creepy so Artemis (with her crescent crown) tuns him into a deer. (watercolour and ink by Peiter van Harinxma 1629 retrieved from Wikimedia commons)

to look away, others say he decided to stare. Either way, Artemis was offended. In retaliation for her embarrassment, she turns Actaeon into a stag. His dogs see him and think “FOOD! KILL IT!” and start to chase him. He tries to call them off but (surprise!) deer cannot talk. His sweet little pups rip him to shreds as his ignorant friends cheer them on. The end. 

 

 

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Actaeon is shown as a man here, although when he was being attacked by his dogs he was a deer. Either way, this is the aftermath of Actaeon’s creeping. (Attic red-figure crater 450-440 B.C.E, Wikimedia commons)

 Ovid. (1922). Metamorphoses (B. Moore, Trans.). Boston, MA: Cornhill Publishing.

Carl C. Schlam. (1984).  Diana and Actaeon: Metamorphoses of a Myth. Classical Antiquity. University of California Press. Vol. 3, No. 1 pp. 82-110

Hippolytus

Hippolytus was a hunter just like Artemis, and also her number one fanboy. He did everything she did, even reject lovers (just a little less harshly- I don’t think he had any shredded). He was a lover of the wilds just like Artemis. Since he was her biggest fan, he naturally put Artemis above all other gods when it came to worshipping time. However, the gods could be just a little bit jealous sometimes. One day Hippolytus made a huge mistake as he was trying to say how cool he thought Artemis was, he kind of might of maybe called Aphrodite a prostitute. Oops.

One thing Hippolytus should have known better is never to mess with Aphrodite. She was not impressed with this comment, as she preferred the term lover of love and pleasure. She instantly plotted his demise. Artemis, being the sweetie that she was to men, did absolutely nothing to protect her fanboy and he died a brutal death.

Euripides. (n.d.). Euripides Hippolytus (D. Kovacs, Trans.). Harvard University PressU.

Harris, S. L., & Platzner, G. (2012). Classical Mythology Images and Insights (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Orion

Artemis had one fella that she actually liked, or at least she could tolerate him. But big brother Apollo did not approve of him. He was supposedly a pretty good guy although some people say he was a bit of a jerk. Apparently, like Actaeon, Orion glimpsed Artemis as she was naked. But the kind man had the decency to look away (swoon worthy). And with that he won Artemis’ respect (even though some myths have Actaeon looking away as well, who knows maybe Orion was especially cute or something). Unlike Actaeon, he actually apologized to the goddess. This lead to them becoming hunting buddies, and slowly the two fell in love. Apollo was not happy with this (maybe he was jealous). His excuse was that he was worried that his sister was going to break

orion
The constellation of Orion. It is pretty recognizable in the night sky. (Wikimedia commons)

her vow of eternal chastity, which, for the record, Zeus totally said she didn’t have to stick to. As the ultimate overprotective little brother he was, Apollo decided he needed Orion dead. So he plotted an evil little plan to get Artemis to kill him herself so that she could not get too mad at Apollo. Some say that he planned a target practice contest while Orion was swimming to shoot the bobbing thing out in the water. He just knew Artemis would shoot Orion right through the head. Another version says that he spread a rumour that Orion had raped one of Artemis’ nymph attendants, which naturally put Artemis into a bloodthirsty rage. Still another says that Leto, or Apollo, or Gaia sent a giant scorpion to kill Orion as he slept. Either way, Orion was killed. Since Artemis respected him so much, she asked Zeus to turn him into a constellation. This is the one that you can see that is three stars perfectly in a line (which makes his belt) and the rest of his body is built around that. 

 Appolodorus, The Library. Trans. J. G. Frazer Sir, 1921. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Artemis in Pop Culture

The Hunger Games

Anyone who has been alive in the past 5 or so years has probably heard of the Hunger Games book series by Susan Collins. The main character, Katniss, is a rebellious hunter and lover of nature. She is said to feel most at home while in the forest with her bow. Sound familiar? In the novel she is even known to wield a silver bow (Budin, 2016).  In one of the very first scenes described in the novel, Katniss can be observed hunting a deer, one of Artemis’ favourite animals. 

“As soon as I’m in the trees, I retrieve a bow and sheath of arrows from a hollow log” (Collins, The Hunger Games, pg. 5)

She has a close male friend who is also a pretty bow-wielding hunter very similar to Apollo (Budin, 2016). Katniss does a much better job at protecting maidens than Artemis does. She doesn’t even sacrifice one! In one of the most quoted parts of the book she stands up to protect her sister. She also is shown protecting another young girl named Rue. On top of all that, when her mother is depressed and unable to care for her children or herself, Katniss also cares for both her sister and her mother. Being a protector of both mothers and children, just like Artemis! Budin mentions this in her book Artemis:

“Actively defying her role as killer, Katniss instead chooses to take the girl under her wing. Likewise, Katniss’s protective role vis-à-vis both her younger sister Prim and Rue emphasizes the heroine’s kourotrophic aspects. As with the goddess (and Apollo), this kourotrophism is distinct from parenthood, and is even gender-ambiguous. This desire to nurture extends past even girls to encompass another group beholden to Artemis: mothers.” (Budin, Artemis, pg 168)

Katniss is not portrayed as overly romantic and there are many parallels throughout the novels to Artemis’ mythology. There appears to be references to the myths about Hippolytus, Apollo, and Iphigenia in the books. 

Collins. (2010) Mockingjay. Scholastic Inc. New York.

Stephanie Budin. (2016). Artemis. Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World. University of British Columbia. Accessed February 16, 2017. Routledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. William Heinemann Ltd.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman was first published in 1941. She was created by Moulton Marston and drawn by Harry G. Peter. She was said to be an Amazon from an island inhabited only by women. She apparently came to the United States to fight for peace, justice, and women’s rights. She disguised herself as a secretary named Diana Prince (short for Princess Diana of Themyscira).  

Like Artemis she is a free thinking protector of women. Her name, Diana, is the same as the Roman version of Artemis. However, Wonder Woman seems to be more based on a character of antiquity which is based on Artemis (a little confusing). This character is named Atlanta. She is said to be strong, fast, a mighty hunter, and “as good as a man”. Artemis is said to be one of Wonder Woman’s close friends and a resident of her hometown. She is also said to play a part in Wonder Woman’s creation from clay. 

Little Women

The character Jo (Josephine) March from the novel Little Women, published in 1868, also bears many similarities to Artemis.  She is free-spirited though she had a bit of a temper. She just wants what is best for her family but feels constricted by societies rules for women.  She even admits to wanting to join the military. There is a point when she says that girls get weird when they start to take an interest in men which is definitely something that I can see Artemis saying. She is very independent and determined much like Artemis who just wants to pave herself a path in life without anyone telling her how to live her life.

Sources:

Appolodorus. (1921). Appolodorus, The Library (J. G. Frazer Sir, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The Homeric Hymns and Homerica, Trans. H. G. Evelyn-White. 1914 .

Stephanie Budin. (2016). Artemis. Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World. University of British Columbia. Accessed February 16, 2017. Routledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. William Heinemann Ltd.

Callimachus. (2015). The Hymns: Hymn to Artemis (S. A. Stephens, Trans.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Collins. (2010) Mockingjay. Scholastic Inc. New York.

‪R. M. Cook‪. Niobe and her Children. Cambridge University Press. Oct 31, 2013. page 5-7. Accessed February 22, 2017.

Euripides. (1938). The Complete Greek Drama (Vol. 1) (W. J. Oates & E. O’Neill Jr., Eds.; R. Potter, Trans.). New York: Random House.

Euripides. (1891) The Plays of Euripides (E. P. Coleridge, Trans.) Volume II. London. George Bell and Sons.

Euripides. (n.d.). Euripides Hippolytus (D. Kovacs, Trans.). Harvard University PressU.

Harris, S. L., & Platzner, G. (2012). Classical Mythology Images and Insights (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Ovid. (1922). Metamorphoses (B. Moore, Trans.). Boston, MA: Cornhill Publishing.

Carl C. Schlam. (1984).  Diana and Actaeon: Metamorphoses of a Myth. Classical Antiquity. University of California Press. Vol. 3, No. 1 pp. 82-110

Tobias Fischer-Hansen, Birte Poulsen. (2009).  From Artemis to Diana: The Goddess of Man and Beast. Museum Tusculanum Press.

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2 thoughts on “Artemis in Mythology

  1. I’m really amused (in the best way possible!) by the relaxed tone you’ve taken with this article–like a “Greek Gods for Dummies” book. You sound knowledgeable about Artemis’s origins, and you go into detail about different possible stories (because we all know there’s never just one myth about something), which lends your writing weight so you don’t sound flippant.

    I would say, though, to be careful about leaning too far into opinion-based writing (unless you make it clear that the format is like a blog post, etc!) as I found your “Pop Culture” section less grounded in actual research, which really only stood out to me because the rest of the article is grounded.

    Great job! Artemis (and Atalanta) have been my favorites for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

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