The Robinson Library >> Religion and Mythology >> Classical Mythology

[är' ti mis] Greek goddess of childbirth, hunting, and the moon

Artemis as seen by most of the Greeks

Artemis was the daughter of Zeus, the king of the gods, and the goddess Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. According to one myth, she was born one day before Apollo. Almost immediately after Leto gave birth to her on the island of Ortygia, Artemis helped her mother cross the straits to Delos, where she then delivered Apollo.

Artemis' chief "occupation" was to roam the wilderness with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds, and stags. She also saw to their well-being, safety, and reproduction. Because she was a virgin, she demanded that all of her followers devote themselves to purity. According to one story, when the young nymph Callisto was seduced by Zeus and became pregnant, Artemis was so enraged that she changed her into a bear and then killed her. Another story tells of the fate of Actaeon, a mortal hunter who accidentally came across Artemis and her nymphs bathing naked. When Artemis saw him looking, she turned him into a stag and then turned his own dogs against him.

Although she was worshipped as a protector of all young living things, Artemis could be cruel and destructive, and was often blamed for sudden deaths, especially of infants. When Apollo overheard Queen Niobe of Thebes, a mortal, boasting that she had given birth to more children than Leto, he informed his sister. The enraged twins then methodically hunted down and killed all of Niobe's children.

Artemis was worshipped throughout the Greek world, but primarily as a secondary deity, and was depicted as a beautiful huntress carrying a bow and a quiver of artists, sometimes with a stag. Festivals in her honor included the Brauronia, which was held in Brauron, and the Orthia, which was held in Sparta. In the latter, Spartan boys would try to steal cheeses from the altar while being whipped. Why this practice was associated with the worship of Artemis has been lost to history, however. Young girls could, if they wished, be initiated into the Artemis cult at puberty, but had to leave if they chose to marry.

The Greeks in Asia Minor worshipped Artemis as a prominent fertility goddess and usually depicted her standing erect with numerous nodes on her chest. Whether those nodes were supposed to be breasts or bull testicles that had been sacrificed to her is unknown. The most famous temple dedicated to Artemis was in Ephesus, which became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Artemis as depicted in Ephesus

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Religion and Mythology >> Classical Mythology

This page was last updated on June 22, 2017.