ARTEMIS in Greek mythology is the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. In Greek religion she is concerned with the transitions of birth and growing up of both genders, as well as with the death of women and with the spaces outside the cities and the human activities in them—especially hunting and warfare. In the Greek East she is also a city goddess. Her equivalents in Anatolia and the Near East were the Phrygian Cybele and the Persian Anahita. The Romans identified Artemis with Diana, whereas the Etruscans accepted her under her Greek name as "Artume(s)." She is known as "Artimus" in Lydia, and as "Ertemi" in Lycia; she had many local sanctuaries all over Anatolia. The Greek goddess entered both the Lycian and Lydian pantheon under her Greek name, and numerous local goddesses all over Anatolia were hellenized as Artemis.
Her name defies etymology. She is most likely referred to in the inscriptions from the Bronze Age Pylus (Linear B), although her functions are unclear. She is also referenced in Hyampolis (Boeotia), a sanctuary that in the first millennium bce belonged to Artemis and Apollo goes back to the later Bronze Age; however it is unclear whether this attests to her cult at this early age.
The mythology and religious roles of Artemis are fully established in early Greek poetry. Homer and Hesiod (late sixth to early seventh centuries bce) know her as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, where together with her mother and her brother Apollo, she takes the side of the Trojans against the Greeks (Iliad 20.479–513) (although she is a rather inept fighter). Homeric poetry narrates some of her myths: how she took revenge on the Calydonian king Oineus for neglecting her sacrifice (Iliad 9.533–540) and on the Theban queen Niobe for slighting her mother (Iliad 24.603–609), as well as how—in an idiosyncratic form—she killed Orion, the lover of Eos (Odyssey 5.121), and Ariadne on the behest of Dionysos (Odyssey 11.324).
The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite (seventh and sixth centuries bce) provides a catalogue of Artemis's functions, which include archery and hunting in the mountains, playing the lyre, girls' dancing and ritual shouting in her sacred groves; and "the city of just men"—that is, her political and civic functions (vv. 17–20). Epic poetry reflects these aspects. The hunt, the main human activity in the wilderness beyond the city space, is important. Artemis is the "Lady of Animals" (potnia thērōn, Iliad 21.470) and protects the good hunter and punishes the bad one, such as Orion or Actaeon. In the company of her nymphs, Artemis hunts boars and stags, but she also relaxes with dance and play (Odyssey 6.102–109). The nymphs, the mythical projection of the nubile girls with whom Artemis is often connected, share her space during their transitional rites. Like these nymphs, Artemis, too, is a virgin; but unlike her, these maidens (korai ) will lose their virginity (the chorus of "resounding Artemis" and her korai provokes erotic conquests).
Hunting means killing, and the huntress Artemis also kills humans—and not only in revenge. Her unfailing arrows were believed to cause the death from disease of women of every age and station. The invisible arrow of Artemis also explained unexpected female death (Odyssey 11.172). Hera, the protectress of married women, once called Artemis "a women's lioness" (Iliad 21.483).
The Homeric Hymn to Apollo (seventh century bce) alludes to her birth in Ortygia (vs. 16). The passage separates Ortygia from Delus, where some later texts locate her birth, usually on the sixth day of the month Thargelion—Artemis has to be older than her twin brother, with whose birth she assisted on the seventh day of Thargelion. In most calendars, the festivals of Artemis are celebrated on the sixth day of any month, while Apollo's is celebrated on the seventh. The temple of Artemis on Delus dates to about 700 bce and is almost two centuries older than the first temple of Apollo, who was Delus's main divinity; its cult focused on the "Altar of Horns."
The Greeks knew of another place called Ortygia, in a lonely river valley outside the city of Ephesus, Artemis's main city in the ancient world. The local myth told how Leto fled to this sacred grove to give birth to her daughter. In order to protect mother and baby from being pursued by Hera, armed demons—the Kouretes—performed a noisy armed dance around the newly born goddess (Strabo, Geography 14.1.20). This explained the religious and political role of a body of leading male citizens connected with the political center of Ephesus, the "sacred Kouretes."
Artemis, Hunting, and Warfare
In the documentation on later Greek religion, the roles of Artemis become further varied. Public cult rarely documents Artemis the huntress, although individual hunters dedicate the heads, antlers, or hides of their prey to Artemis, as they also do to Pan, another god of wild nature with whom she sometimes interacts. A late oracle from Didyma even prescribes sacrifices to Artemis in order to gain her help against Pan's wrath (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 7.5). Since fishing is another form of hunting, fishermen, as well, dedicate portions of their catch to Artemis. Images often represent Artemis as a huntress with a short dress, high boots, a bow, and a quiver or a couple of hunting spears; at times she'll appear with a female deer at her side; this is as common on Attic vase paintings as in Classical and post-Classical sculpture.
To the Greeks, warfare and hunting were closely connected. Hunting was training for war, and in several Greek states, Artemis was also connected with warfare. Before a battle, the Spartans offered a sacrifice to Artemis Agrotera (The Wild One) (Xenophon, Hellenica 4.2.20). The Athenians celebrated the victory of Marathon with an annual sacrifice to Artemis and Enyalios, a god of war often identified with Ares (Aristotle, State of Athens 58.1). Artemis Tauropolos, a goddess connected with groups of young warriors—and perhaps also with bull's masks—is the protectress of the Macedonian army and of the armies of the successors of Alexander the Great (356–323 bce). In these roles, then, Artemis appears as the female goddess at the center of a group of male warriors and citizens, as does the Anatolian Cybele.
Artemis and Young Men
Artemis's protection and patronage of young men is part of this same function of hunting and warfare. However, her patronage here is often expressed in cruel rites.
In the sanctuary of Artemis Tauropolos in Attic Halai Araphenides, where young men performed armed dances, a young man's throat would be ritually cut until he bled. Myth explained this as a substitution for Orestes' sacrifice to the cruel Artemis of the Taurians. The rites in the Spartan sanctuary of Artemis Orthia were even more spectacular, rousing the interest of Greek and Roman visitors and scholars. The Spartans flogged a young man at the altar of Artemis until he bled. While this took place, her priestess assisted with the act, carrying a small image of the goddess. If the beating was not hard enough, the image the priestess carried grew heavier. This ritual was thought to replace a human sacrifice, although it developed from a contest among young males in which one group tried to steal cheese from Artemis's altar while a second group tried to prevent the theft.
Several statues of a priestess with a small, archaic-looking image belong to another sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, in the city of Messene. The Spartan image was said to be identical with the image in Artemis's sanctuary among the Taurians, located at the northern shore of the Black Sea. (Iphigenia and Orestes brought this image to Greece.) At some point in the ritual, the image was bound into the boughs of a lygos bush (a willow), hence the name Artemis Lygodesme (Bound in Willow) (Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.16.11).
In another local ritual from Tyndaris in Sicily, the same Taurian image was wrapped in a bundle of wood (phakelos, hence Artemis Phakelitis) and carried in a procession. According to a Spartan myth, the Taurian image drove the Spartans who found it mad. In the city of Pellene another small image of Artemis was carried around the walls of the besieged city in order to instill madness in the attackers, whereas in the Peloponnesian city Lousoi yet another Artemis (Hemerasia, the Tameress) could heal madness. Cruelty, madness, divine protection, and the world of young warriors seem to blend into one complex that expressed itself in a small image of Artemis that looked, in a native reading, old and foreign.
Several Greek cities performed yet another ritual that indigenous interpreters connected with warfare, with hunting, or with human sacrifice. In his Description, Pausanias gives an elaborate account of the contemporary festival (mid-second century ce) of Artemis Laphria in city of Patras: on a large pyre surrounded by a wooden palisade, the priests burned alive a large number of wild animals, including bears and stags (7.18.8–11). The ritual and the image of the goddess were said to have been transferred to Patras from the town of Calydon, where Artemis possessed an important sanctuary in the archaic period. A comparable ritual is confirmed in the cult of Artemis Laphria in Hyampolis in which the etiological myth derived from a war, while a fire ritual of Artemis Tauropolos in Phocaea was said to culminate in a human sacrifice.
Artemis and Young Women
Artemis was at least as important for young girls and women as she was for young men. A chorus of girls dancing for Artemis was common, especially in the Peloponnese; the girls often performed in sanctuaries situated far outside the cities, often in the mountains or in swampy regions. There, Artemis was Limnatis or Limnaia ("Lady of the Lake"; Pausanias, 4.4.2; 2.7.6) from the grove's position near a lake, or Kedreatis ("Lady of the Cedar Tree"; Pausanias, 8.13.2) and Karyatis ("She of the Hazelnut Tree"; Pausanias, 3.10.7) from the prominent trees of a sacred grove. None of this material, however, points to Frazerian tree cult in the service of Artemis.
Young Athenian girls spent some time in the secluded sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia on the East coast of Attica, far away from any city. The archaeological finds from the sanctuary attest to dancing of choruses, running contests of naked girls, and the use of bear masks. Local mythology explains that the cult was instituted to appease Artemis; she was angry because the Athenians had killed her sacred bear. Myth and cult also recall the story of Callisto, a nymph whom Artemis turned into a bear to punish her for her loss of virginity. Callisto would give birth to Arcas, the founder of Arcadia, who, as a hunter, unwittingly shot his bear mother. This story combines the topic of girls in the service of Artemis with the male topics of bear hunt and the foundation of a state. Callisto's name, the "Most Beautiful Girl," also refers to beauty contests that were sometimes connected with choruses of girls.
As a patroness of nubile girls, Artemis does not only protect their virginity as long as necessary; she also presides over the birth of their children once these girls become married women. Before their weddings, brides dedicated their toys to her, sometimes providing sacrifice to her during the wedding ritual. More often, Artemis was called Lochia (Lady of Birth) or was identified with the birth-goddess Eileithyia. Iphigenia, who shared the sanctuary of Brauron with the goddess, received the clothing of women who had died while giving birth.
It was only in the Greek East that Artemis was also the protectress of cities, primarily in Ephesus. The Ephesian sanctuary became her main sanctuary during the Archaic Age. Shortly after 600 bce, king Croesus of neighboring Lydia contributed to the construction of a splendid temple. The New Testament account of Paul's visit in Ephesus (Acts 19.23–48) demonstrates the importance of her cult and the religious fervor of the Ephesians. During the Hellenistic and imperial epochs, many Greek and Anatolian cities took over the cult of Ephesian Artemis, sometimes with mysteries. The official cult image of Ephesus represented the goddess with two burning torches. Yet the Ephesians also had another image, the one of a many-breasted (multimamma ) Artemis that is preserved in several ancient copies and whose explanation is still uncertain—its iconography seems to follow archaic Anatolian iconography that has nothing do to with female breasts.
Artemis played a similar role in the Anatolian cities of Perge, where her image followed a comparable iconography. Her role was much the same in Magnesia, on the Maeander; here Artemis Leukophryene became prominent because of an epiphany in the third century bce.
The poet Aeschylus identified Artemis with the moon, as he identified Apollo with the sun. Later, these identifications became commonplace, especially in Roman literature. During the imperial epoch, Artemis (often as a moon goddess) was identified with a large number of other goddesses, especially with Hekate and Isis, thus giving her some importance in magic, as well.
Most of the ancient texts cited above are available in critical editions with English translations in the Loeb Classical Library. No comprehensive scholarly treatment of Artemis is available. The following books and articles treat specific aspects of the goddess:
Bammer, Anton. Das Heiligtum der Artemis von Ephesos. Vienna, 1984.
Brulotte, E. L. "Artemis: Her Peloponnesian Abodes and Cults." In Peloponnesian Sanctuaries and Cults: Proceedings of the Ninth International Symposium at the Swedish Institute at Athens, 11–13 June 1994, edited by Robin Hägg, pp. 179–182. Stockholm, 2002.
Bruns, Gerda. Artemis die Jägerin. Berlin, 1929.
Calame, Claude. Les choeurs des jeunes filles en Grèce archaïque. I: Morphologie, fonction religieuse et sociale. Rome, 1977. Translated as Choruses of Young Women in Ancient Greece: Their Morphology, Religious Role, and Social Functions. Translated by Derek Collins and Janice Orion. Lanham, Md., 1997.
Christou, Chryssanthos. Potnia Theron. Thessaloniki, Greece, 1968.
Cole, Susan Guettel. "Domesticating Artemis." In The Sacred and the Feminine in Ancient Greece, edited by Sue Blundell and Margaret Williamson, pp. 27–43. London, 1998.
Dawkins, R. M. The Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia at Sparta. London, 1929.
Fleischer, Robert. Artemis von Ephesos und verwandte Kultstatuen aus Anatolien und Syrien. Leiden, 1973.
Galvano, Albino. Artemis Efesia. Turin, Italy, 1990.
Gentili, Bruno and Franca Perusino, eds. Le orse di Brauron. Un rituale di iniziazione femminile nel santuario di Artemide. Pisa, Italy, 2002.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre. Figures, Tables, Masques, pp. 137–207. Paris, 1990.
Fritz Graf (2005)
Diana (Roman), Artume (Etruscan)
Homer's Iliad, Hesiod's Theogony
Daughter of Zeus and Leto
The Greek goddess Artemis (pronounced AHR-tuh-miss)—one of the twelve deities, or gods who lived on Mount Olympus—was the twin sister of Apollo. Fond of hunting, archery, and wild animals, she was also associated with childbirth, the harvest, and the moon. Artemis was considered the guardian of maidens and small children. The Romans worshipped her as Diana.
Artemis and Apollo were the children of Zeus (pronounced ZOOS) and Leto (pronounced LEE-toh). When Leto was about to deliver the twins , Zeus's jealous wife Hera declared that she would not allow them to be born in any land where the sun shone. For this reason, Zeus led Leto to a floating island and caused a wave to shade the shore, creating a place for the birth that was above ground but hidden from the sun.
Many myths about Artemis focus on her vengeful nature. She was known for punishing humans who offended or angered her. In one story, a young hunter named Actaeon (pronounced AK-tee-uhn) came upon Artemis while she was bathing in a stream. Although he knew better than to spy on a goddess, he was captivated by her beauty. Artemis caught sight of Actaeon and, not wanting him to boast of having seen her naked body, changed him into a deer. His own hounds then attacked and killed him. The nymph Callisto met a similar fate when Artemis punished her for losing her virginity by transforming her into a bear; Callisto's own son Areas later unknowingly shot her while hunting.
Agamemnon (pronounced ag-uh-MEM-non), the leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War, also felt the wrath of Artemis after he killed a deer that was sacred to her. In her anger, Artemis prevented the Greek fleet from sailing for Troy; it was only when Agamemnon promised to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia (pronounced if-uh-juh-NYE-uh) to the goddess that Artemis let them go.
In another myth, Artemis and Apollo defended the honor of their mother, Leto. A woman named Niobe (pronounced NYE-oh-bee), who had six sons and six daughters, boasted that her offspring outshone Leto's two children. Outraged, Leto sent Artemis and Apollo to punish Niobe. With their arrows, the twins shot and killed all of Niobe's children.
Artemis in Context
Like her brother Apollo, Artemis was a popular god among ancient Greeks. A fertility deity known as the “Lady of Ephesus” (pronounced EF-uh-suhs), worshipped by the people of Ephesus in Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey, was believed to be a foreign version of Artemis. The temple at Ephesus, built to honor Artemis, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Artemis was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the goddess of the hunt. Hunting was an important part of ancient Greek life; although they developed sophisticated agriculture and animal domestication over the centuries, their cultural roots were closely tied to the hunting of wild animals as a means to survive. Hunters offered Artemis the heads, anders, or skins of their prey, and fishermen likewise offered parts of their catch to her. The close connection between hunting and warfare resulted in her worship as a goddess of warfare in some Greek states.
Artemis was a patroness of young girls, and herself was a virgin goddess. She differed from the other Greek virgin goddess, Athena , in that she was considered the goddess of girls before they married, whereas Athena's virginity was considered to be asexual (without a sexual orientation). The followers of Artemis are known as ”nymphs,” and girls old enough to be married danced and sang at festivals that honored Artemis; it was one of the few opportunities in Greek culture for unmarried men and women to mingle. When girls married, Artemis continued to watch over them—this time as they gave birth. Artemis decided whether a woman lived or died in childbirth, and the Greeks believed that her arrows caused women to die from disease.
Key Themes and Symbols
Artemis is considered the goddess of wild things and the hunt. Because of this, she is often described as being young, wearing clothes she can run in—possibly made of animal skins—and carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. Strangely, though she is a huntress, she is also associated with protecting the forest and the creatures in it. The sister or twin of Apollo, the god of the sun, Artemis sometimes wears a crescent moon on her forehead to symbolize her connection to the moon and lunar cycles like the tide, and women's mysteries and phases such as childbirth, puberty, and motherhood.
Artemis in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
In works of art, Artemis is often shown carrying her bow and arrows, surrounded by her hounds. She appears in many literary works including Homer's Iliad, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and Euripides' Hippolytus.
More recendy, Artemis has appeared as a character in comic books published by both Marvel Comics and DC Comics, and the superhero-ine Wonder Woman is named Diana (the Roman name for Artemis) in honor of the goddess.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
In ancient Greece, most hunting was done by men. Why do you think Artemis, as a female, was considered to be the goddess of hunters?