Olympos: Artemis, the Hunter Goddess

artemideStudio Tablinum: she is the most austere and principled goddess of the Olympus, someone who strongly preferred Nature to men. “She is rough and masculine” said Hera, Mother of the Gods, jealously enraged because of his husband’s umpteenth fling with Leto. From this union Artemis and Apollo – who we dealt with last month – were born. She helped her own mother to bring forth the divine brother.

Sitting on his father Zeus’ knees, when she was only three, she asked for a bow, like her brother Apollo, as well as a cortege of Nymphs and Oceanids to take care of her swift hounds and attend her whilst she was resting from hunting. Zeus was a generous father and granted her the right to remain virgin forever.

oceanine

All young girls appealed to her as Artemis was also the Deity of female initiations. She was worshipped throughout ancient Greece and places of cult could be found in almost every town, particularly on the island of Delo – her birthplace – and the warlike Sparta. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her.

She scampered through the woods with her pack of fatal dogs, stronger than lions which God Pan had offered her, in search of animals to kill with her fearful bow forged by the Cyclops.

Her athletic and slim body with her short hunting tunic appeared extremely attractive and caught lusting looks, this is what happened one day whilst she was taking a bath in the woods in one of the refreshing springs coming from Mount Cithaeron. The Theban prince Actaeon accidentally saw her naked and could not help admiring such ravishing beauty. However, no human could get away with profaning a Goddess’ body and as soon as Artemis noticed the prince’s lascivious look, she turned him into a stag that her hounds tore into pieces.  Only when she saw the prince’s horrible death, her wrath was satisfied. 

atteone

In another occasion, she loosed a huge boar to ravage the town of Calydon* as its king Oeneus failed to honour the Goddess of Hunt in his offerings. The boar ravaged the crops and the desperate Oeneus invited several Greek heroes to hunt the animal: the divine twin Castor and Pollux, Admetus and Lynceus, the Argonaut Laertes and Jason as well as the young hunter Atalanta. Such exceptional hunters killed the wild beast.

Like the other Olympian gods, Artemis took part into the Trojan war, and like her brother she was on the Trojan side. When she saw that her own brother was fleeing from the battlefield to take refuge in the Olympus, she insulted him and invited him to keep fighting for his own protégés. Apollo did not answer to her preferring to leave.

The Mother of the Gods, fed up with such bold goddess, knocked her bow from her shoulder and keeping her wrists, assaulted Artemis before she could defend herself. Frightened and grieved, Artemis sought protection on the Father of Gods’ knees who comforted her.

caccia calidonia

The Goddess of Hunt preferred the woods to the battlefields, but she was also an extremely revengeful goddess, taking after her own brother. She helped me kill Niobe’s twelve children as king Tantalus’s daughter bragging about her offspring dared to mock the mother of the divine twins, Leto. Similar fate happened to the hunter Orion who tried to threaten the Goddess of Hunt. Artemis sent wild animals against him, but Orion** was an excellent hunter and killed them all. The goddess chose then shrewdness over strength and sent a small and poisonous scorpion that killed Orion. Her chastity was preserved once again.

Since she was committed to keeping her vow of chastity, Artemis wanted her Nymphs and Oceanics to act accordingly. Nevertheless this didn’t happen with Nymph Callisto, the most beautiful among Nymphs, who lost her verginity to Zeus. The Father of the Gods came to the Nymph in disguise and when he finally revealed himself it was too late for Callisto. This violent relation with the father of the gods had a result: during one of the baths the Nymphs used to take in a water spring in the woods, Callisto was found to be pregnant by Artemis, who, deeply enraged, turned her nymph
into a bear, transforming her beauty in bestiality.

Years later the Nymph’s son, Arcas, was hunting in those woods and he nearly killed his mother bear by accident. Aware of his responsibilites, Zeus came along and decided to turn them both, mother and son, into constellations: the Ursa Major and the Ursa Minor***.

callistoArtemis was also involved in an event regarding Taygete, one of the Pleiads. She tried to protect her hunting partner from Zeus’s lust by turning her into a female deer. Yet, the Father of the Gods could not be deceived and managed to possess her. The founder of the city of Sparta, Lacedaemon, was born of their union.

Artemis also came to the rescue of the father Zeus when the two giants Otos and Ephialtes decided to take over the Olympus. They almost succeeded by capturing the God of War Ares, who was imprisoned for thirteen months in a bronze urn, putting all the Olympians in great danger. Young Artemis then turned herself in a beautiful female deer and started rushing among them. The giants were known to be skilled hunters and, in order to capture her, they both threw their spears at the same time, stabbing each other.

taigeteThe Goddess of Hunting had some sort of double personality; she would show a caring side with the maidens initiated to her rituals, but also a dark and shadowy one. The city of Ephesus worshipped Artemis, therefore her main sanctuary and her temple were both built there.  

Artemis was also involved in an event regarding Taygete, one of the Pleiads. She tried to protect her hunting partner from Zeus’s lust by turning her into a female deer. Yet, the Father of the Gods could not be deceived and managed to possess her. The founder of the city of Sparta, Lacedaemon, was born of their union.

Artemis also came to the rescue of the father Zeus when the two giants Otos and Ephialtes decided to take over the Olympus. They almost succeeded by capturing the God of War Ares, who was imprisoned for thirteen months in a bronze urn, putting all the Olympians in great danger. Young Artemis then turned herself in a beautiful female deer and started rushing among them. The giants were known to be skilled hunters and, in order to capture her, they both threw their spears at the same time, stabbing each other.

Artemide_EfesiaThe Goddess of Hunting had some sort of double personality; she would show a caring side with the maidens initiated to her rituals, but also a dark and shadowy one. The city of Ephesus worshipped Artemis, therefore her main sanctuary and her temple were both built there.

The temple, which was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world, was where the citizens of Ephesus would pray to the “good” goddess by addressing her simulacrum, a sacred image with brown skin and a fully breast-covered bust. At the same time, in the faraway city of Tauris, there was another sanctuary where the followers would pray to the “dark” goddess, and sinister and ominous rites would take place.

The officiant of these rites was said to be Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae: having been saved by Artemis from the sacrifice planned by her father at the beginning of the Trojan War, she was bound to serve the goddess in those barbarian and inhospitable lands. Poor Iphigenia was fortunately rescued and brought back home by her brother Orestes, guilty of matricide, who had gone to Tauris to seek atonement and to avenge the killing of his father Agamemnon.
This dark side and this lunar dimension of her personality were responsible for Artemis being associated with the Goddess of the Moon, who would bring the new moon by riding her celestial charriot.

Next month we are going to get acquainted with the smart and deceitful god in charge of bringing all the messages from the Olympus: Hermes.

* The hunt Calidonia is a type of hunting still in vogue in some Balkan nations

**In relation with this myth, when observing the night sky we can notice that the Pleiads escape from the  Orion constellation, while Orion escapes from the Scorpion constellation.

*** It is still possible to admire both constellations with the naked eye in the night sky.

Alessandro Cerioli

Traduzione di Elisa Campana e Giada Lavoratornuovo

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