Artemis or Diana: Goddess of the Hunt

Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting, healing, and the moon. In Rome she was called Diana. She was also sometimes considered the goddess of the Amazons. Though Artemis was the goddess of healing, she also brought diseases such as leprosy. Also, though she was the divinity of hunting, she was the protector of wild game. She is full of contradictions like that. She hunted with a silver bow and golden arrows, both of which were made by Hephaestus and his helpers.

Artemis was the daughter of Leto (the original goddess of the moon) and Zeus (the king of the gods and the god of storms and the sky). Hera (the wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage) found out about Leto and Zeus before Artemis was born and became angry. She forced every scrap of ground to promise they would not let Leto give birth. Nevertheless, Hera had missed the floating island of Delos. Leto eventually found Delos and gave birth to Artemis and her twin, Apollo (the sun-god).

When Artemis was three, she asked her father to grant her eternal virginity, he obliged. She severely punished anyone who violated her purity in any way. When a mortal hunter named Actaeon saw her bathing, she turned him into a stag and set his dogs upon him. When the giant Otus tried to rape her, she turned herself into a stag and leaped away. The brother of Otus, Ephialtes, was with him, and they split up to chase her. She slowed down and positioned herself between them. When the two giants threw their spears at her, she jumped out of the way. The deadly, flying shafts killed the two brothers.

All of the companions of Artemis were virgins. They took a vow saying they would remain virgin and dedicate themselves to Artemis. She showed no mercy to anyone who broke their vows, even if it was not their fault. For example, one of her close friends was a nymph named Callisto. When Callisto was raped by Zeus, Artemis turned her into a bear and shot her.

Once Niobe, a mortal woman with 16 children, bragged she was better than Leto, because she had more children. Leto, Artemis, and Apollo were enraged! Artemis and Apollo immediately killed her children. Then, while she was weeping for her loss, they turned her into stone. However, she continued to cry and is said to weep for eternity.

When Agamemnon forgot to sacrifice to Artemis when embarking on the Trojan war, she sent a strong wind that prevented them from sailing to Troy to retrieve Helen. A seer told Agamemnon that the winds would let up only if he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. Iphigenia was told that she would marry Achilles, who was a famous warrior. She did not realize that she was going to be sacrificed until she got there, but she bravely went up to the sacrificial altar for the sake of her father. Artemis, seeing this, took pity on her and accepted a doe in her place.

Artemis did not mind adolescent girls, who were under her protection, marrying, but they had to sacrifice all their childhood mementos to her when they did so. Artemis was actually worshiped in some places as a fertility goddess. The temple of Artemis was dedicated to this aspect of her. She often was depicted in Greek art as having wings.

Written by Kate Rayment

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