Artemis was the chaste Olympian goddess of the hunt and the moon, and the protector of the wilderness, lakes & marshes, and animals and birds. She was the patron of the girl-child, and her health and well-being, entertainment and protection. She embodied the spirit of hunting, and the huntress of souls. She protected the wild places and animals; to her was known the deep places in Nature where one could rest and regain strength. Violence for itself was abhorrent to her, yet she was swift to deal out punishment to offenders, especially those who threatened or harrassed women.
She was to the females as Apollo was to the males -- she was the goddess of disease, sickness and sudden death in maidens. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. In later Hellenistic times, she became a goddess of childbirth and fertility, assuming the role of the goddess Eileithyia. She was often depicted with the crescent of the moon above her forehead and was sometimes identified with Selene (goddess of the moon). Her main vocation was to roam mountain forests and uncultivated land with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. Contradictory to the later, she helped in protecting and seeing to their well-being, also their safety and reproduction. She was armed with a bow and arrows which were made by Hephaestus and the Cyclopes.
The deer, bear and the cedar were sacred to her. She was also sometimes considered as a sorceress, or a goddess of trickery. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: "Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals". The Arcadians believed she was the daughter of Demeter. The Romans equated her with the goddess Diana.
Ancient Greek writers linked Artemis (Doric Artamis) by way of folk etymology to artemes (ἀρτεμής) ‘safe’ or artamos (ἄρταμος) ‘butcher’. However, the name Artemis (variants Arktemis, Arktemisa) is most likely related to Greek árktos ‘bear’ (from PIE *h₂ŕ̥tḱos), supported by the bear cult that the goddess had in Attica (Brauronia) and the Neolithic remains at the Arkouditessa, as well as the story about Callisto, which was originally about Artemis (Arcadian epithet kallisto).
This cult was a survival of very old totemic and shamanistic rituals and formed part of a larger bear cult found further afield in other Indo-European cultures (e.g., Gaulish Artio). It is believed that a precursor of Artemis was worshiped in Minoan Crete as the goddess of mountains and hunting, Britomartis. While connection with Anatolian names has been suggested, the earliest attested forms of the name Artemis are the Mycenaean Greek a-te-mi-to and a-ti-mi-te, written in Linear B at Pylos. Artemis was venerated in Lydia as Artimus.
Various conflicting accounts are given in Classical Greek mythology of the birth of Artemis and her twin brother, Apollo. All accounts agree, however, that she was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and that she was the twin sister of Apollo.
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 Artemis) disobeyed Hera, and Leto gave birth there.
In ancient Cretan history Leto was worshipped at Phaistos and in Cretan mythology Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis at the islands known today as the Paximadia.
A scholium of Servius on Aeneid iii. 72 accounts for the island's archaic name Ortygia by asserting that Zeus transformed Leto into a quail (ortux) in order to prevent Hera from finding out his infidelity, and Kenneth McLeish suggested further that in quail form Leto would have given birth with as few birth-pains as a mother quail suffers when it lays an egg.
The myths also differ as to whether Artemis was born first, or Apollo. Most stories depict Artemis as born first, becoming her mother's mid-wife upon the birth of her brother Apollo.
The childhood of Artemis is not fully related in any surviving myth. The Iliad reduced the figure of the dread goddess to that of a girl, who, having been thrashed by Hera, climbs weeping into the lap of Zeus. A poem of Callimachus to the goddess "who amuses herself on mountains with archery" imagines some charming vignettes: according to Callimachus, at three years old, Artemis, while sitting on the knee of her father, Zeus, asked him to grant her six wishes: to remain always a virgin; to have many names to set her apart from her brother Apollo; to be the Phaesporia or Light Bringer; to have a bow and arrow and a knee-length tunic so that she could hunt; to have sixty "daughters of Oceanus", all nine years of age, to be her choir; and for twenty Amnisides Nymphs as handmaidens to watch her dogs and bow while she rested. She wished for no city dedicated to her, but to rule the mountains, and for the ability to help women in the pains of childbirth.
Artemis believed that she had been chosen by the Fates to be a midwife, particularly since she had assisted her mother in the delivery of her twin brother, Apollo. All of her companions remained virgins, and Artemis closely guarded her own chastity. Her symbols included the golden bow and arrow, the hunting dog, the stag, and the moon. Callimachus tells how Artemis spent her girlhood seeking out the things that she would need to be a huntress, how she obtained her bow and arrows from the isle of Lipara, where Hephaestus and the Cyclops worked.
Oceanus' daughters were filled with fear, but the young Artemis bravely approached and asked for bow and arrows. Callimachus then tells how Artemis visited Pan, the god of the forest, who gave her seven bitches and six dogs. She then captured six golden-horned deer to pull her chariot. Artemis practiced with her bow first by shooting at trees and then at wild beasts.
As a virgin, Artemis had interested many gods and men, but only her hunting companion, Orion, won her heart. Orion was accidentally killed either by Artemis or by Gaia.
Alpheus, a river god, was in love with Artemis, but he realized that he could do nothing to win her heart. So he decided to capture her. Artemis, who was with her companions at Letrenoi, went to Alpheus, but, suspicious of his motives, she covered her face with mud so that the river god did not recognize her. In another story, Alphaeus tried to rape Artemis' attendant Arethusa. Artemis pitied Arethusa and saved her by transforming Arethusa into a spring in Artemis' temple, Artemis Alphaea in Letrini, where the goddess and her attendants drank.
Bouphagus, the son of the Titan Iapetus, saw Artemis and thought about raping her. Reading his sinful thoughts, Artemis struck him at Mount Pholoe.
Sipriotes was a boy, who, either because he accidentally saw Artemis bathing or because he attempted to rape her, was turned into a girl by the goddess.
Multiple versions Actaeon myth survive, though many are fragmentary. The details vary but at the core they involve a great hunter, Actaeon who Artemis turns into a stag for a transgression and who is then killed by hunting dogs. Usually the dogs are his own, who no longer recognize their master. Sometimes they are Artemis' hounds.
According to the standard modern text on the work, Lamar Ronald Lacey's The Myth of Aktaion: Literary and Iconographic Studies, the most likely original version of the myth is that Actaeon was the hunting companion of the goddess who, seeing her naked in her sacred spring, attempts to force himself on her. For this hubris he is turned into a stag and devoured by his own hounds. However, in some surviving versions Actaeon is a stranger who happens upon her. Different tellings also diverge in the hunter's transgression, which is sometimes merely seeing the virgin goddess naked, sometimes boasting he is a better hunter than she, or even merely being a rival of Zeus for the affections of Semele.
- Main article: The Aloadae
The Aloadae, Otus and Ephialtes, grew enormously at a young age. They were aggressive, great hunters, and could not be killed unless they killed each other. The growth of the Aloadae never stopped, and they boasted that as soon as they could reach heaven, they would kidnap Artemis and Hera and take them as wives. They captured Ares, holding him hostage in a bronze jar.The gods were afraid of them, except Artemis, who resolved to defeat them.
Artemis transformed into a doe and jumped out between them. The Aloadae threw their spears, but the doe ducked, and the giants died.
Orion was Artemis' hunting companion. In some versions, he is killed by Artemis, while in others he is killed by a scorpion sent by Gaia. In some versions, Orion tries to seduce Opis, one of her followers, and she killed him. In a version by Aratus, Orion took hold of Artemis' robe and she killed him in self-defense.
In yet another version, Apollo sends the scorpion. According to Hyginus Artemis once loved Orion (in spite of the late source, this version appears to be a rare remnant of her as the pre-Olympian goddess, who took consorts, as Eos did), but was tricked into killing him by her brother Apollo, who was "protective" of his sister's maidenhood.
In some versions of the story of Adonis, who was a late addition to Greek mythology during the Hellenistic period, Artemis sent a wild boar to kill Adonis as punishment for his hubristic boast that he was a better hunter than she.
In other versions, Artemis killed Adonis for revenge. In later myths, Adonis had been related as 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.
In yet another version, Adonis was not killed by Artemis, but by Ares, as punishment for being with Aphrodite.
Callisto was the daughter of Lycaon, King of Arcadia and also was one of Artemis's hunting attendants. As a companion of Artemis, she took a vow of chastity. Zeus appeared to her disguised as Artemis, or in some stories Apollo, gained her confidence, then took advantage of her (or raped her, according to Ovid). As a result of this encounter she conceived a son, Arcas.
Enraged, Hera or Artemis (some accounts say both) changed her into a bear. Arcas almost killed the bear, but Zeus stopped him just in time. Out of pity, Zeus placed Callisto the bear into the heavens, thus the origin of Callisto the Bear as a constellation. Some stories say that he placed both Arcas and Callisto into the heavens as bears, forming the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations.
A Queen of Thebes and wife of Amphion, Niobe boasted of her superiority to Leto because while she had fourteen children (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. The gods themselves entombed them.
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. This is in some stories.
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.
Meleager was a hero of Aetolia. King Oeneus had him gather heroes from all over Greece to hunt the Calydonian Boar. After the death of Meleager, Artemis turned his grieving sisters, the Meleagrids into guineafowl that Artemis loved very much.
Artemis punished Agamemnon after he killed a sacred stag in a sacred grove and boasted that he was a better hunter than the goddess. When the Greek fleet was preparing at Aulis to depart for Troy to begin the Trojan War, Artemis becalmed the winds. The seer Calchas advised Agamemnon that the only way to appease Artemis was to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. Artemis then snatched Iphigenia from the altar and substituted a deer. Various myths have been told around what happened after Artemis took her. Either she was brought to Tauros and led the priests there, or became Artemis' immortal companion.
In Nonnus Dionysiaca, Aura was Greek goddess of breezes and cool air, daughter of Lelantos and Periboia. She was a virgin huntress, just like Artemis and proud of her maidenhood. One day, she claimed that the body of Artemis was too womanly and she doubted her virginity. Artemis asked Nemesis for help to avenge her dignity and caused the rape of Aura by Dionysus. Aura became a mad and dangerous killer. When she bore twin sons, she ate one of them while the other one, Iakhos, was saved by Artemis. Iakhos later became an attendant of Demeter and the leader of Eleusinian Mysteries.
The oldest representations of Artemis in Greek Archaic art portray her as Potnia Theron ("Queen of the Beasts"): a winged goddess holding a stag and leopard in her hands, or sometimes a leopard and a lion. This winged Artemis lingered in ex-votos as Artemis Orthia, with a sanctuary close by Sparta.
In Greek classical art she is usually portrayed as a maiden huntress, tall, slim and young, in the shooting pose, clothed in a knee-length chiton and wearing hunting boots. Often, she is accompanied by a hunting dog or stag. When portrayed as a goddess of the moon, Artemis wore a long robe and sometimes a veil covered her head. Her darker side is revealed in some vase paintings, where she is shown as the death-bringing goddess whose arrows fell young maidens and women, such as the daughters of Niobe.
Only in post-Classical art do we find representations of Artemis-Diana with the crown of the crescent moon, as Luna. In the ancient world, although she was occasionally associated with the moon, she was never portrayed as the moon itself. Ancient statues of Artemis have been found with crescent moons, but these moons are always Renaissance-era additions.
Bow and arrow
According to the Homeric Hymn to Artemis, she had golden bow and arrows, as her epithet was Khryselakatos, "of the Golden Shaft", and Iokheira (Showered by Arrows). The arrows of Artemis could also to bring sudden death and disease to girls and women. Artemis got her bow and arrow for the first time from The Kyklopes, as the one she asked from her father. The bow of Artemis also became the witness of Callisto's oath of her virginity. In later cult, the bow became the symbol of waxing moon.