One of the great divinities of the Greeks. Her name is usually derived from ἀρτεμής (artemēs), uninjured, healthy, vigorous; according to which she would be the goddess who is herself inviolate and vigorous, and also grants strength and health to others.1 According to the Homeric account and Hesiod2 she was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, whence Aeschylus3 calls her λητωγένεια (lētōgeneia). She was the sister of Apollo, and born with him at the same time in the island of Delos. According to a tradition which Pausanias4 found in Aeschylus, Artemis was a daughter of Demeter, and not of Leto, while according to an Egyptian story5 she was the daughter of Dionysus and Isis, and Leto was only her nurse. But these and some other legends are only the results of the identification of the Greek Artemis with other local or foreign divinities.
The place of her birth is for the same reason not the same in all traditions: some say that it was the grove of Ortygia near Ephesus,6 others that it was Crete,7 and others again, that she was the sister of Apollo, but born somewhat earlier, so that she was able to assist Leto in giving birth to Apollo.8 In the description of the nature and character of this goddess, it is necessary to distinguish between the different points of view from which the Greeks regarded her, and also between the really Greek Artemis and certain foreign divinities, who for some resemblance or another were identified by the Greeks with their own Artemis.
1. Artemis as the sister of Apollo, is a kind of female Apollo, that is, she as a female divinity represented the same idea that Apollo did as a male divinity. This relation between the two is in many other cases described as the relation of husband and wife, and there seems to have been a tradition which actually described Artemis as the wife of Apollo.9 In the character of sister of Apollo, Artemis is like her brother armed with a bow, quiver, and arrows, and sends plague and death among men and animals: she is a δεὰ ἀπόλλουσα (dea apollousa). Sudden deaths, but more especially those of women, are described as the effect of her arrows.10 She also acts sometimes in conjunction with her brother.11
As Apollo was not only a destructive god, but also averted the evils which it was in his power to inflict, so Artemis was at the same time a δεα σώτειρα (dea sōteira); that is, she cured and alleviated the sufferings of mortals. Thus, for instance, she healed Aeneas, when he was wounded and carried into the temple of Apollo.12 In the Trojan war she sided, like Apollo, with the Trojans.
The man whom she looked graciously upon was prosperous in his fields and flocks, his household was thriving, and he died in old age.13 She was more especially the protectress of the young, whence the epithets παιδοτρόφος (paidotrophos), κουροτρόφος (koyrotrophos; see Curotrophos), and φιλομεῖραξ (philomeirax);14 and Aeschylus15 calls her the protectress of young sucking-animals, and of the game ranging through the forests of the mountains. Artemis thus also came to be regarded as the goddess of the flocks and the chase: she is the huntress among the immortals; she is called the stag-killer (ἐλαφηβόλος, elaphēbolos), the lover of the tumult connected with the chase (κελαδεινή, keladeinē), and ἀγρότερα (agrotera).16
Artemis is moreover, like Apollo, unmarried; she is a maiden divinity never conquered by love.17 The priests and priestesses devoted to her service were bound to live pure and chaste, and transgressions of their vows of chastity were severely punished.18 She was worshiped in several places together with her brother; and the worship of both divinities was believed to have come from the Hyperboreans, and Hyperborean maidens brought sacrifices to Delos.19 The laurel was sacred to both divinities, and both were regarded as the founders and protectors of towns and streets.20
There are, however, some points also, in which there is no resemblance between Artemis and Apollo: she has nothing to do with music or poetry, nor is there any trace of her having been regarded as an oracular divinity like Apollo. Respecting the real and original character of Artemis as the sister of Apollo, we encounter the same difficulties as those mentioned in the article on Apollo, viz. as to whether she was a purely spiritual and ethical divinity, as Müller thinks, or whether she was the representative of some power in physical nature; and the question must be decided here in the same manner as in the case of Apollo.
When Apollo was regarded as identical with the sun or Helios, nothing was more natural than that his sister should be regarded as Selene or the moon, and accordingly the Greek Artemis is, at least in later times, the goddess of the moon. Buttmann and Hermann consider this idea of Artemis being the moon as the fundamental one from which all the others are derived. But, at any rate, the idea of Artemis being the goddess of the moon, must be confined to Artemis the sister of Apollo, and is not applicable to the Arcadian, Taurian, or Ephesian Artemis.
2. The Arcadian Artemis is a goddess of the nymphs, and was worshiped as such in Arcadia in very early times. Her sanctuaries and temples were more numerous in this country than in any other part of Greece. There was no connexion between the Arcadian Artemis and Apollo, nor are there any traces here of the ethical character which is so prominent in Artemis, the sister of Apollo. These circumstances, together with the fact, that her surnames and epithets in Arcadia are nearly all derived from the mountains, rivers, and lakes, showed that here she was the representative of some part or power of nature.
In Arcadia she hunted with her nymphs on Taygetus, Erymanthus, and Maenalus; twenty nymphs accompanied her during the chase, and with sixty others, daughters of Oceanus, she held her dances in the forests of the mountains. Her bow, quiver, and arrows, were made by Hephaestus, and Pan provided her with dogs. Her chariot was drawn by four stags with golden antlers.21
Her temples and sanctuaries in Arcadia were usually near lakes or rivers, whence she was called λιμνῆτις (limnētis) or λιμναία (limnaia).22 In the precincts of her sanctuaries there were often sacred wells, as at Corinth.23 As a nymph, Artemis also appears in connexion with river gods, as with Alpheus, and thus it is intelligible why fish were sacred to her.24
3. The Taurian Artemis. The legends of this goddess are mystical, and her worship was orgiastic and connected, at least in early times, with human sacrifices. According to the Greek legend there was in Tauris a goddess, whom the Greeks for some reason identified with their own Artemis, and to whom all strangers that were thrown on the coast of Tauris, were sacrificed.25Iphigeneia and Orestes brought her image from thence, and landed at Brauron in Attica, whence the goddess derived the name of Brauronia.26
The Brauronian Artemis was worshiped at Athens and Sparta, and in the latter place the boys were scourged at her altar in such a manner that it became sprinkled with their blood. This cruel ceremony was believed to have been introduced by Lycurgus, instead of the human sacrifices which had until then been offered to her.27 Her name at Sparta was Orthia, with reference to the phallus, or because her statue stood erect.
According to another tradition, Orestes and Iphigeneia concealed the image of the Taurian goddess in a bundle of brushwood, and carried it to Aricia in Latium. Iphigeneia, who was at first to have been sacrificed to Artemis, and then became her priestess, was afterwards identified with the goddess,28 who was worshiped in some parts of Greece, as at Hermione, under the name of Iphigeneia.29 Some traditions stated, that Artemis made Iphigeneia immortal, in the character of Hecate, the goddess of the moon.
A kindred divinity, if not the same as the Taurian Artemis, is Artemis Tauropolos (Ταυροπόλος), whose worship was connected with bloody sacrifices, and who produced madness in the minds of men, at least the chorus in the Ajax of Sophocles, describes the madness of Ajax as the work of this divinity. In the legends about the Taurian Artemis, it seems that separate local traditions of Greece are mixed up with the legends of some Asiatic divinity, whose symbol in the heaven was the moon, and on the earth the cow.
4. The Ephesian Artemis was a divinity totally distinct from the Greek goddess of the same name. She seems to have been the personification of the fructifying and all-nourishing powers of nature. It is an opinion almost universally adopted, that she was an ancient Asiatic divinity whose worship the Greeks found established in Ionia, when they settled there, and that, for some resemblance they discovered, they applied to her the name of Artemis. As soon as this identity of the Asiatic goddess with the Greek Artemis was recognized, other features, also originally peculiar to the Greek Artemis, were transferred to her; and thus she is called a daughter of Leto, who gave birth to her in the neighborhood of Ephesus.
Her original character is sufficiently clear from the fact that her priests were eunuchs, and that her image in the magnificent temple of Ephesus represented her with many breasts (πολυμαστός, polymastos). The whole figure of the goddess resembled a mummy: her head was surmounted with a mural crown (corona muralis), and the lower part of her body, which ended in a point, like a pyramid upside down, was covered with figures of mystical animals.30 The symbol of this divinity was a bee, and her high priest bore the name of king (ἐσσήν, essēn). Her worship was said to have been established at Ephesus by the Amazons.31
Respecting some other divinities, or attributes of divinities, which were likewise regarded as identical with Artemis in Greece, see Britomartis, Dictynna, and Eileithyia. The Romans identified their goddess Diana with the Greek Artemis, and at a comparatively early time they transferred to their own goddess all the peculiar features of the Greek Artemis.
The worship of Artemis was universal in all Greece, in Delos, Crete, Sicily, and southern Italy, but more especially in Arcadia and the whole of the Peloponnese. The sacrifices offered to the Brauronian Artemis consisted of stags and goats; in Thrace dogs were offered to Artemis. Among the animals sacred to the Greek Artemis we may mention the stag, boar, dog, and others; the fir-tree was likewise sacred to her.
It is impossible to trace the various relations in which Artemis appears to us to one common source, or to one fundamental idea: the very manner in which such a complicated mythus was formed renders the attempt futile, or, to say the least, forced. In the case of Artemis, it is evident, that new elements and features were added in various places to the ancient local mythus; the worship of one divinity is identified with that of another, and the legends of the two are mixed up into one, or those of the one are transferred to the other, whose legends then sink into oblivion.
The representations of the Greek Artemis in works of art are different accordingly as she is represented either as a huntress, or as the goddess of the moon; yet in either case she appears as a youthful and vigorous divinity, as becomes the sister of Apollo. As the huntress, she is tall, nimble, and has small hips; her forehead is high, her eyes glancing freely about, and her hair tied up behind in such a manner, that some locks float down her neck; her breast is covered, and the legs up to the knees are naked, the rest being covered by the chlamys. Her attributes are the bow, quiver, and arrows, or a spear, stags, and dogs. As the goddess of the moon, she wears a long robe which reaches down to her feet, a veil covers her head, and above her forehead rises the crescent of the moon, and in her hand she often appears holding a torch, as on a coin from Pagae.
As mistress of wild animals she can be found on a Corinthian alabastron from Delos (seventh century BCE), and a vase from Melos (seventh century BCE; Athens) shows her with bow and quiver while she holds a deer by its horns with her right hand. On a frieze at the Parthenon she is seated among the other gods.
A statue of Artemis from Pompeii shows the goddess wearing a long, Ionic garment (the statue is a copy of the Greek original from the fifth century BCE). She is also frequently depicted on Pompeian murals, such as with Actaeon. Artemis of Ephese is depicted as a fertility-goddess with many breasts. Artemis and her Roman counterpart Diana have been painted by Coreggio, Rubens, Boucher, Corot, and sculpted by Goujon, Houdon, Milles, and Falquières.
- Plato. Cratylus, 406, b; Strabo. Geography xiv, 635; Eustathius on Homer, p. 32, 577, 1732.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 918.
- Seven Against Thebes, 148.
- Description of Greece viii, 37.3.
- Herod, ii, 156.
- Tacitus. Annals iii, 61; Scholiast on Pindar's Nemean Odes i, 1.
- Diodorus Siculus, v, 72.
- Orphic Hymn 34, 5; Spanheim, on Calimachus, 476 ff.
- Eustathius on Homer, p. 1197.
- Homer. Iliad vi, 205, 427 ff.; xix, 59; xxi, 483 ff.; Odyssey xi, 172 ff., 324; xv, 478; xviii, 202; xx, 61 ff.; v, 124 ff.
- Odyssey xv, 410; Iliad xxiv, 606.
- Iliad v, 447.
- Callimachus. Hymn to Artemis, 129 ff.
- Comp. Diodorus Siculus, v, 73.
- Agamemnon, 142.
- Iliad xxi, 511, 485 ff.; Homer. Hymn to Artemis, 10.
- Sophocles. Electra, 1220.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vii, 19.1; viii, 13.1.
- Herod, ii, 32, 35.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 38.6; iii, 24.6; viii, 36, in fin.; Aeschylus. Seven Against Thebes, 450; Callimachus. Hymn to Artemis, 34.
- Callimachus. Hymn to Artemis, 13, 81, 90 ff.; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 5.3; Pindar. Olympian Odes, iii, 51.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 7.6; iii, 23.6; iv, 4.2, 31.3; viii, 53.5.
- ibid. ii, 3.5; iii, 20.7.
- Diodorus Siculus, v, 3.
- Euripides. Iphigenia in Tauris, 36.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 23.9, 33.1; iii, 16, in fin.
- Dictionary of Antiquities, s.v. Brauronia and Diamastigosis.
- Herod, iv, 103; Description of Greece i, 43.1.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 35.1.
- Strabo. Geography xiv, 641; Pausanias. Description of Greece iv, 31.6; vii, 5.2.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 7.4; viii, 12.1; Hesychius and Suides, s.v. ἐσσήν.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Buttmann, P.K. (1928). Mythologus.
- Hermann, G. 1836 and 1837. Dissertatio de Apolline et Diana, 2 parts. Leipzig.
- Müller, K.O. (1824). Die Dorier.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.