Goddess of the Hunt
Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons;
Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt
Roman Name: Diana
Goddess of: Hunting, the wild countryside, the moon, archery, childbirth and children (especially young girls)
Symbols: The moon, bow and arrow, wild animals (especially deer who pulled her chariot), and the cypress tree. Anything to do with hunting was always linked to Artemis.
Location of Story: The Temple of Artemis, on the Acropolis
“Listen to me, young lady, you are not allowed to be here! Like every other girl in this city, you should be at home, out of sight and out of the way! Let me make this clear: you are not wanted and you are not needed. Your only role in life is to marry a man who dares to choose you and give birth to his children. We do not need your opinions or your thoughts. You are not important. Now – leave!”
Spit was flying out the priest’s mouth from his shouting. Other people around the Temple of Artemis had stood still, some with grins on their faces, while they watched this spectacle.
Delphi was red-faced and walking away. She had asked to go into the temple but had somehow got into another argument. It had not ended well.
She didn’t have the heart to walk all the way back down the Acropolis, so she waited until people stopped watching her and flopped down next to a bush instead. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then, she heard the bowstring pulling tight.
“Do you want me to shoot him for you?”
The girl was standing, partially concealed in the undergrowth. She was tall, with hard and sleek muscles, her dark hair blowing in the wind slightly. She looked maybe only a few years older than Delphi, and yet, she was ageless. The string of her bow hummed faintly with the tension. Her dark eyes, and her arrow, was fixed on the priest.
Delphi was tempted to say yes. Very, very tempted.
“No… don’t…” she whispered.
“Why not? He disrespected you. He’s got it coming,” she said, coldly, still aiming. The string made a faint note in the air.
“No, it’s not worth it,” Delphi sighed. Artemis slowly let the tension out of her bow as Delphi looked up at her. “Besides, you can’t go around killing people just because they’re idiots. You’d be at it all day.”
Artemis moodily let the bow drop to her side and plucked the arrow from it. “That’s no fun.” Then she smiled, oddly. “I could turn him into something, though… how about a deer? Then I could shoot him.”
“No,” Delphi insisted.
“Or a bear? He’d have a fighting chance then…”
Artemis looked down at her with a sneer on her face. “Well, whatever. Goody, goody!”
“I’m not a goody-goody!” Delphi said, standing up. “I just don’t think you should shoot someone because they shouted at you!”
“What, so want to do what he said? Stay at home, do as you’re told, get married?!” Her face creased up in disgust as she mentioned the last of these options.
Delphi thought about it. “No,” she admitted.
“Well then…” Artemis said, and put the bow in Delphi’s hands.
“What are you…?”
“Ssshh, just put your hand here and hold it away from your body. I’ll help you pull it back.” Artemis forced Delphi into position, holding her hands on the bow and pulling it back for her. Delphi looked along the arrow to see the point directed towards the horrible priest, who was now shouting at a slave woman who was holding up a jar to him.
Delphi’s hand trembled, not just with the tension of the bow. Artemis held the bow still. “Trust me,” she whispered.
They let the arrow fly. It was a perfect shot.
The jar smashed into hundreds of pieces and the contents exploded straight into the priest’s face. From the colour, and the instant smell, Delphi could tell it was not water. It perhaps used to be. Before someone had weed it out.
Delphi looked up at Artemis with awe.
“All right, that was totally worth it!”
Twin daughter of Zeus
Apollo and Artemis were born on the island of Delos, after Leto, their mother, had been driven there by Hera’s anger that Zeus had cheated on her – again. Artemis was born first and was immediately so quick witted and skilled that she helped her mother with giving birth to her golden-headed twin brother Apollo. She was ever-after the goddess of childbirth and the protector of women and the young, especially girls before they were married.
Zeus fell instantly in love with his infant daughter. One day, when she was little, she was happily playing with frogs and mice at the foot of Mount Olympus, before she was picked up by her father. Like many young girls, she playfully asked her dad for everything she wanted – and like many dads, he couldn’t quite say no. He promised her that she would never have to marry or take a lover, and she would have the wild countryside as hers. She also asked for a silver bow and arrows to match her brother’s golden ones, proper hunting gear and the power to help women in childbirth. Oh – and the moon. Naturally she got everything she asked for, and Artemis grew to be tall and beautiful, yet proud and fierce.
Goddess of the wild
Artemis stands on her own and in stark contrast to the other gods. While her brother is the shining light of truth and the sun, she is the world of shadows, magic, mystery and the moon. Athena stands for practical wisdom and know-how; Artemis is all about what is natural and wild. Aphrodite is, of course, about love and, um… expressing it, while Artemis is fiercely and proudly independent, maybe even asexual. However, she was also just like the other gods in that she demanded worship and sacrifice – and could be fierce and cruel if she didn’t receive them.
Protector of girls
It’s a lovely thought that Artemis was honoured by fierce hunters, who would sing hymns to the goddess while they hunted - but was also the goddess of young girls. They would sing her special songs at festivals and sometimes wear special yellow robes in her honour, and then cast them aside as a sign they were no longer children and were ready to marry. The girls of Athens might even attend a special kind of finishing school at a place called Brauron, where they were known as ‘little bears’. Here, they were encouraged to look after animals, run races, dance and generally have ‘the wildness run out of them’ before they settle down to marry a husband. You can look forward to what happens to Delphi when it’s her turn to go!
Fury and friends
There are many stories about what happened when people displeased Artemis. When Actaeon, a man out hunting one day, accidentally caught sight of her bathing in a pool of water, she was so angry that she turned him into a stag. His hunting dogs soon caught up with him and ripped him to pieces! A woman named Niobe dared to insult Artemis’ mother for not having as many children as her, so Artemis turned her into a crying rock! When her friend Callisto became pregnant (from Zeus, as ever) she was so angry she turned her into a bear! The Great Bear in fact – she became part of the constellations of the night sky.
Artemis may have been independent, but she did like to go hunting with her friends. One of her favourites was a huge man named Orion. There are many different stories about what happened to him – but they all end the same way. Some say that Orion was killed by Gaia as he boasted he would kill every living creature on Earth. Other stories say he was killed by a scorpion as he tried to protect Artemis’ mother Leto while out hunting. There are many stories where he was killed by Artemis herself, either because she was jealous of him making advances on other women, or on her, or because she was tricked by her brother Apollo. Whatever the story, Orion ended up as another constellation in the night sky – perhaps even the most famous of them all. It is no coincidence that Artemis’ friends ended up in the night sky alongside the moon goddess herself.
Artemis also played a critical part of the Trojan War. When the Greek army were ready to set sail, the wind completely disappeared, meaning they couldn’t go anywhere. This stifling stillness was sent by Artemis – as King Agamemnon had killed a white stag and dared to compare his hunting to hers. Worse was to come for him – the priests declared that only by Agamemnon sacrificing his young daughter Iphigenia would Artemis be calmed and the winds would return. The poor girl was told to come to the army’s camp – to marry the mighty warrior Achilles no less – but when she arrived she was grabbed and forced onto the altar. Her father himself picked up the knife. However, some versions of the story say that Artemis transformed Iphigenia into the white stag at the last moment, saving her. In any case, Iphigenia’s mother, Clytemnestra, would later get bloody revenge on her husband for such a terrible act.
Selene and Hecate
Artemis is also linked to magic, and in particular, to any powerful female magician or witch in Greek mythology. Sometimes these are seen as part of Artemis, at other times they are seen as goddesses in their own right – such as Selene, the moon goddess, and Hecate – the goddess of magic and witchcraft. They formed a triad of goddesses – Selene in the sky, Artemis on the Earth and Hecate in the underworld.
Selene was the moon goddess and sister of Helios, the sun god. She was the first of the moon-goddesses and was seen as being the moon itself – not just owning it but being it. She pulled the moon across the night sky in her chariot, pulled by two shining white winged horses. There are several stories about Selene – unlike Artemis, she fell in love with a man named Endymion, a name which means ‘diver’, which could describe the way her chariot ‘dived’ into the silver ocean at the end of each night. She was a bringer of magic too – especially during eclipses.
Hecate was the most evil of all gods, the goddess of the dark side of the moon, of madness and dark sorcery. However, she was also worshipped as part of the household, as knowledge of using herbs, medicines and poisons were also hers. There were also cults dedicated to her, such as the witches of Thessaly who worshipped her. Hecate was also the goddess of boundaries – of the spaces and entranceways between things – even life and death. She is also linked to other gods of the underworld like Persephone and Nyx, and because the dog was her sacred animal, even Cerberus, who guards the entrance to the Underworld. Hecate’s exact nature was always something of a mystery.
This image of three witches has become part of stories ever since. A similar image is used for the Fates – three women who weave the fate of men in their cloth - and the Furies, three hellish women who punish men for unspeakable crimes. This idea got taken on as part of Norse mythology, and even in other folk and fairy tales, all the way up to Disney movies. The idea of powerful witches of the night goes back a very long way!