Artemis, Greek Goddess of the Hunt

Diana of Versailles
Artemis is the goddess of the hunt, and represented by the bow and arrow. Photo Credit: John Weiss/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Artemis is a daughter of Zeus conceived during a romp with the Titan Leto, according to the Homeric Hymns. She is the Greek goddess of both hunting and childbirth. Her twin brother is Apollo, and like him, Artemis is associated with a wide variety of divine attributes. She is also considered one of the goddesses of empowerment.

Goddess of the Hunt

As a divine huntress, she is often depicted carrying a bow and wearing a quiver full of arrows.

In an interesting paradox, although she hunts animals, she is also a protector of the forest and its young creatures. Artemis was known as a goddess who valued her chastity, and was fiercely protective of her status as divine virgin. If she was seen by mortals -- or if one attempted to relieve her of her virginity -- her wrath was impressive. The Theban hunter Actaeon spied on her once as she bathed, and Artemis turned him into a stag, at which point he was felled (and possibly eaten, depending on which story you read) by his own hounds. This story is described in The Iliad and other myths and legends.

During the Trojan War debacle, Artemis stood defiantly against Hera, Zeus' wife, and was soundly beaten. Homer describes this in The Iliad as well:

"[Hera] the august consort of Zeus, full of anger, scolded the lady of the showering arrows in words of revilement: ‘How have you had the daring, you shameless hussy, to stand up and face me? It will be hard for you to match your strength with mine even if you wear a bow... But if you would learn what fighting is, come on. You will find out how much stronger I am when you try to match strength against me.’ She spoke, and caught both of her arms at the wrists in her left hand then with her own bow, smiling, boxed her ears as Artemis tried to twist away, and the flying arrows were scattered. She got under and free and fled in tears, as a pigeon in flight from a hawk wings her way into some rock-hollow and a cave, since it was not destiny for the hawk to catch her. So she left her archery on the ground, and fled weeping..."

Protector of Women

Despite her own lack of children, Artemis was known as a goddess of childbirth, possibly because she assisted her own mother in the delivery of her twin, Apollo. She protected women in labor, but also brought them death and sickness. Numerous cults dedicated to Artemis sprouted up around the Greek world, most of which were connected to women's mysteries and transitional phases, such as childbirth, puberty, and motherhood.

Artemis had many names in the Greek world. She was Agrotera, a goddess who watched over hunters and blessed them in their endeavors; in yet another contradiction she was the guardian of wild creatures in her guise as Potnia Theron. When she was being honored as the goddess of childbirth, she was sometimes known as Locheia, and expectant mothers and midwives made offerings in her honor. Occasionally she is referred to as as Phoebe, a variant of Apollo's nickname, Phoebus, related to the sun.

Moon Goddess

Because her twin, Apollo, was associated with the sun, Artemis gradually became connected to the Moon, and the Roman Diana in the post-Classical world. During the ancient Greek period, although Artemis was represented as a lunar goddess, she was never portrayed as the moon itself. Typically, in post-Classical artwork, she is depicted beside a crescent moon. The image in the photo is of a Roman copy of a Greek statue, likely created by the sculptor Leochares.

According to Theoi.com,

"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."