In Hellenic Lore, ”Artemis” was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of forests and hills, virginity/fertility, and the hunt and was often depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenic times she occasionally assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth and in Roman times she came to be identified with Diana. It is said that Artemis helped her mother Leto birth Apollo immediately after her own birth.
Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the gods and one of the oldest (Burkert 1985, 149). Her later association with the moon is a popular idea which has little foundation but may be related to her association with Diana during the Roman period. By extension, She became identified with Selene a Titaness who was a Greek moon goddess, and she was sometimes depicted with a crescent moon above her head. She was also associated with the Etruscan goddess Artume.
There may be some connection with the Greek word artemes which can be translated as “safe” or “uninjured” however there may also be a connection with the word artamos which means “a butcher”. The name Artemis is very similar to various Prot-Indo-European names which mean “Bear”, such as Arthur, Ardal, Arturo, Auberon, and the ancient Greek word “arktos”, but various variations, such as Artemas, meaning “follower” and Artemesia meaning “Perfect” don’t bear out this speculation, though the meanings of these names have likely changed over time.
Artemis is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin sister to Apollo, God of Enlightemenment. However, Artemis and Apollo were both firmly established deities in the area long before the arrival of Zeus. This is another case of the conquering God being married off to or otherwise identified with the existing Gods and Goddesses to justify His rule (and that of His subjects) over those who were there before. Artemis was born on the sixth day of the month and immediately assisted her mother in bearing her brother Apollo, who was born a day later. The worship of Apollo and Artemis is believed to have come from the Hyperboreans.
An account by Callimachus has it that Hera forbade Leto to give birth on either terra firma (the mainland) or on an island. Hera was angry with Zeus, her husband, because he had impregnated Leto. But the island of Delos (or Ortygia in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo) received her so Leto was able to birth her twins there and Delos was therafter sacred to them. Most (but all) myths agree that Artemis was born first and some say she immediately turned to assist her mother with the birth of Apollo.
Another story has Artemis and Apollo born to Demeter by Poseidon. It actually makes sense for Artemis to be the child of Poseidon than Zeus since her companions are Oceanids and her curse on Agammemnon resulted in the delay of the Trojan war due to the inability of a fleet to sail. However, this story isn’t oft repeated and whomever Her father may be (it being of no real consequence anyway) Leto is pretty firmly in place as Her mother.
Nature and Personality
Artemis and Apollo both ruled over healing, but also over plague and sudden death. Artemis was both a protector of small children and women in childbirth and credited with the death of women in childbirth. Likewise, she was both a huntress and the protectress of the woodland creatures.
According to legend, Artemis asked Zeus, and was granted, the privilege of remaining unmarried and though she had many companions, did not seek out or accept the touch of any male, mortal or God. In addition to her chastity, Artemis was granted four stags with golden horns to draw her chariot, and lop-eared hounds, gifted to her by Pan and nymphs, the daughters of Oceanus, to be her companions and a silver bow and arrows made by Hephaestus which is often associated with the crescent moon.
Folklore implies that she expected all of her followers to also remain chaste. History implies also that her Priests and Priestesses took vows of chastity and were severely punished if these were broken.
Myths of Artemis
Artemis and Actaeon
She was once bathing in a vale on Mount Cithaeron, when the Theban prince and hunter Actaeon stumbled across her. One version of this story says that Actaeon hid in the bushes and spied on her as she continued to bathe; she was enraged to discover the spy, and turned him into a stag which was pursued and killed by his own hounds. Alternatively, Actaeon boasted that he was a better hunter than she and Artemis turned him into a stag and he was eaten by his hounds.
Artemis and Adonis
In some versions of the story of Adonis, Artemis sent a boar to kill Adonis as punishment for his hubristic boast that he was a better hunter than she.
In other versions, Artemis killed him for revenge. Adonis had been a favorite of Aphrodite, and Aphrodite was responsible for the death of Hippolytus, who had been a favorite of Artemis. Therefore Artemis killed Adonis to avenge Hippolytus’s death.
Other sources place the responsibility for the death of Adonis on the shoulders of a jealous Ares.
The story of Orion says that he was a hunter. In some versions he was a companion to Artemis who was seduced by Selene, the Goddess of the Moon. Furious that Orion had betrayed his chastity, she sent a scorpion to kill him. Selene then put Orion and the scorpion into the sky- thus we have the two constellations and Orion’s dog, Sirius, the Dog Star. Another story that resulted in the same constellation says that Gaia sent a scorpion to kill him because he was such a good hunter he endangered the balance of nature. Yet another version says that Orion tried to rape Artemis or one of her maidens and thus received his fate. Yet another version says that Artemis fell in love with Orion and her brother Apollo tricked her into killing him, so as to protect her maidenhood.
One of Artemis’s companions, a nymph by the name of Callisto, fell prey to the wiles of the mighty Zeus. Zeus had come to her with Artemis’s form. When the girl could no longer hide her pregnancy, she confessed and Artemis turned her into a bear. Her son was Arcas and while hunting as a young man, he came upon the bear that was his mother and nearly killed her, but Artemis (or Zeus) stopped him and Callisto was then put into the sky as a constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, also known as the Plough. Some versions say that Arcas was also put into the sky at this time (Ursa Minor) but he has more story of his own.
Iphigenia and the Taurian Artemis
Artemis punished Agamemnon after he killed a sacred stag in a sacred grove and boasted that he was a better hunter. When the Greek fleet was preparing at Aulis to depart for Troy to begin the Trojan War, Artemis becalmed the winds. The seer Calchis advised Agamemnon that the only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Some accounts say that Artemis rescued Iphigenia at the last minute, secreting her away to serve in her temple, and replaced her with a deer.
A Queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion, Niobe boasted of her superiority to Leto because while she had fourteen children (the Niobids), seven boys and seven girls, Leto had only one of each. When Artemis and Apollo heard this impiety, Apollo killed her sons as they practiced athletics, and Artemis shot her daughters, who died instantly without a sound. Apollo and Artemis used poisoned arrows to kill them, though according to some versions two of the Niobids were spared, one boy and one girl. Amphion, at the sight of his dead sons, killed himself. A devastated Niobe and her remaining children were turned to stone by Artemis as they wept. Some myths say that their tears, which still flowed from their stone eyes, formed the river Achelous.
Otus and Ephialtes
The Gigantes Otus and Ephialtes were sons of Poseidon. They were so strong that nothing could harm them. One night, as they slept, Gaia whispered to them, that since they were so strong, they should be the rulers of Olympus. They built a mountain as tall as Mount Olympus, and then demanded that the gods surrender, and that Artemis and Hera become their wives. The gods fought back, but couldn’t harm them. The Gigantes even managed to kidnap Ares and hold him in a jar for thirteen months. Artemis later changed herself into a deer and ran between them. The Aloadae, not wanting her to get away because they were eager huntsmen, each threw their javelin and simultaneously killed each other.
After the death of Meleager, Artemis turned his grieving sisters, the Meleagrids into guineafowl which she made pets of and loved very much.
Artemis killed Chione for being too self-satisfied about her affair with Apollo.
Atalanta and Oeneus
Artemis saved the infant Atalanta from dying of exposure after her father abandoned her. She sent a female bear to suckle the baby, who was then raised by hunters. But she later sent a bear to hurt Atalanta because people said Atalanta was a better hunter than Artemis.
Among other adventures, Atalanta participated in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar, which Artemis had sent to destroy Calydon because King Oeneus had forgotten her at the harvest sacrifices. In the hunt, Atalanta drew the first blood, and was awarded the prize of the skin. She hung it in a sacred grove at Tegea as a dedication to Artemis.
Apollo was the patron god of the city of Troy and Artemis worshiped in western Anatolia in historical time. In the Iliad she came to blows with Hera, when the divine allies of the Greeks and Trojans engaged each other in conflict. Hera struck Artemis on the ears with her own quiver, causing the arrows to fall out. As Artemis fled crying to Zeus, Leto gathered up the bow and arrows which had fallen out of the quiver.
Ancient Worship of Artemis
Artemis, the goddess of forests and hills, was worshiped throughout ancient Greece. Her best known cults were on the island of Delos (her birthplace); in Attica at Brauron and Mounikhia (near Piraeus); in Sparta. She was often depicted in paintings and statues in a forest setting, carrying a bow and arrows, and accompanied by a deer.
The ancient Spartans used to sacrifice to her as one of their patron goddesses before starting a new military campaign.
Athenian festivals in honor of Artemis included Elaphebolia, Mounikhia, Kharisteria, and Brauronia. The festival of Artemis Orthia was observed in Sparta.
Pre-pubescent Athenian girls and young Athenian girls approaching marriageable age were sent to the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron to serve the Goddess for one year. During this time the girls were known as ”arktoi”, or little she-bears. A myth explaining this servitude relates that a bear had formed the habit of regularly visiting the town of Brauron, and the people there fed it, so that over time the bear became tame. A young girl teased the bear, and, in some versions of the myth it killed her, while in other versions it clawed her eyes out. Either way, the girl’s brothers killed the bear, and Artemis was enraged. She demanded that young girls “act the bear” at her sanctuary in atonement for the bear’s death.
Virginal Artemis was worshiped as a fertility/childbirth goddess in some places, assimilating Ilithyia, since, according to some myths, she assisted her mother in the delivery of her twin. During the Classical period in Athens, she was identified with Hecate. Artemis also assimilated Caryatis (Carya).
Symbols and Associations
Artemis represents the unpredictable nature of, well, Nature, and the wilderness. Those who embark upon a hunting trip are at Her mercy. Will She bless you with a good kill? Will She amuse Herself by leaving you wandering lost for days? Or will She visit tragedy upon you and your party? It’s all up to Her whim, for She is the embodiment of all that is Wild. Children are beloved of Her while they are still wild and She protects young girls until they have given up their maidenhood. Artemis is also the Goddess of the nymphs, all the delicate spirits of Nature and at Her command will they rise up against those who abuse them- but mostly they dance and hunt and enjoy themselves.
Sacred Animals: Bear, Dogs, Deer, Lion, Boar
Sacred Plants: All Artemesias, cypress, bay laurel
Sacred Places: All wild places
Sacred Objects: Bow and arrow, herbs, antlers
Protectress of: Wilderness areas, hunters, children, young girls, women in childbirth, women’s fertility, female athletes
Epithets: Agrotera- Patron of hunters (and also warriors), Potnia Theron, Mistress of the Animals, Kourotropos- nurse of youths, Locheia- goddess of childbirth and midwives, Cynthia- From Mounth Cynthus on Delos, Amarynthia after her festival Amarythus, Phoebe- Shining one, feminine of Apollo’s epithet Pheobus, Parthenos Iokheaira- the virgin who delights in arrows, Hekatebolon- far shooter (also shared with Apollo),
Sacred Days- The 6th of the Month (Artemis was born on the 6th day of the month)
Astrological Sign- Cancer
Artemis in astronomy
A minor planet, (105) Artemis; a lunar crater; the Artemis Chasma and the Artemis Corona (both on Venus) have all been named for her.
- Walter Burkert, 1985. Greek Religion (Cambridge:Harvard University Press)
- Robert Graves (1955) 1960. The Greek Myths (Penguin)
- Karl Kerenyi 1951. The Gods of the Greeks
- Encyclopedia Mythica’s article on Artemis
- Theoi Project, Artemis, information on Artemis from original Greek and Roman sources, images from classical art.
- Hymn To Artemis – The Virgin Goddess of the Hunt
- A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. G. E. Marindin, William Smith, LLD, William Wayte)