Who was Artemis?
Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt, the moon, chastity and childbirth.
When Artemis was still young she requested her father Zeus allow her to keep her maidenhood forever. An important aspect of Artemis’ persona was her virginity, a seemingly contradictory concept given her role as a goddess of childbirth and protector of young women. However, the link likely stems from Artemis’ role as a huntress. In Greek tradition hunters traditionally abstained from sex prior to the hunt – this was a form of ritual purity borne from the belief that the scent could scare off prey. Virginity was a prerequisite to marriage for women in the ancient world, and afterwards married woman were subservient to their husband. As a result, Artemis’ virginity can also be seen as symbolic of her authority, power and independence. It signifies Artemis’ role as master of her own life and destiny rather than being a form of asexuality, and as such gives her equality with the masculine Gods of the Pantheon.
Artemis is the daughter of the God Zeus and Leto, and was also twin sister of Apollo. As a daughter of Zeus she had numerous other siblings, including Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Ares, Athena, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, the Graces, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, the Horae, Dionysus, the Litae, Minos, the Muses, the Moirai, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus and Rhadamanthus.
Artemis was often depicted in art as the ‘Queen of Beasts’, a winged goddess holding either a lion, a lioness or a stag. She was regularly shown as a young and slim maiden huntress, often tall and wearing hunting boots, cloak, headgear such as a crown, tiara or bonnet and a pelt draped on her shoulders. She is often positioned in the shooting pose equipped with her symbolic bow and arrow, accompanied by a hunting dog or stag. Other common symbols depicted in association with Artemis included chariots, spears, nets, lyres, bears, boars, guinea fowl, buzzards, palm trees and cypress trees. Sometimes portrayed as a moon goddess, Artemis wore a long robe and a veil covering her head alongside the crescent moon, notably in classical art. Occupations associated with Artemis include archery, astrology, astronomy, fishing, gamekeeping, hunting, midwifery, shooting and taxonomy.
Similar deities to Artemis which are found in other cultures include the Roman Goddess Diana, Egyptian Goddess Bastet, Norse Goddess Skadi and the Hindu God Saraswati.
The Artemis Archetype
Artemis’s association with hunting has led her becoming the archetypal seeker, embarking on a journey of discovery, often preferring their own company over that of society. Like Artemis, this archetype tends towards perfectionism and fears conformity, thus becoming known for their seeking of individuality.
The archetypal Artemis as a seeker has unending creativity, energy and ambition fueled by an independent spirit which is determined to reach the high goals which they have set for themselves. Self-reliant and able to get through life without the support of a long term partner, they often prefer to avoid what they would see as the burden of having to work as part of a team, feeling that others would just slow them down. They are lone wolves, not necessarily because they are unsociable but because they are quizzical of those around them, unable to entirely understand how other people tick and thus preferring to rely on their own competence and intuition to get them through.
The archetypal Artemis tends towards perfectionism, finding those who do not live up to the standards they set frustrating. They prefer not to conform to the norms of society, as Artemis herself did not conform to expectations to marry and have children. Rather they fear commitment and being required to comply with standards set for them for someone else, preferring to live life by their own rules. Whilst admired for many for this independence it can lead to them becoming self-centred and lonely, causing them to develop a bitterness as they move through life.
The archetypal Artemis has a tendency to feel strongly about causes and principles, acting as a strong advocate for the issues that concern them, and this combined with their ambition, competence and focus can make them a powerful force for change in the world when properly harnessed. They often come to the defence of those they perceive as weaker than themselves and will fight for the rights of the oppressed in society. Many will pursue careers which lack commercial value but allow them to pursue causes which they believe in or to make the most of their creativity.
A contemporary example of the Artemis archetype can be seen in the character of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games novels. Katniss comes from the poorest district in the fictional dystopian autocratic nation Panem. Katniss volunteers to replace her sister Prim after she is chosen to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death, using her knowledge of hunting and archery to survive She becomes one of two victors after defying the Capitol’s attempt to force one to kill the other, before going on to Katniss become a symbol of rebellion against the oppressive regime.
Characteristics of the Artemis archetype
“To Artemis, Fumigation from Manna. Hear me, Zeus’ daughter, celebrated queen, Bromia and Titanis, of a noble mien: in darts rejoicing, and on all to shine, torch-bearing Goddess, Diktynna divine. Over births presiding, and thyself a maid, to labour pangs imparting ready aid: dissolver of the zone, and wrinkled care, fierce huntress, glorying in the sylvan war: swift in the course, in dreadful arrows skilled, wandering by night, rejoicing in the field: of manly form, erect, of bounteous mind, illustrious Daimon, nurse of humankind: immortal, earthly, bane of monsters fell, ’tis thine, blest maid, on woody mounts to dwell: foe of the stag, whom woods and dogs delight, in endless youth you flourish fair and bright. O universal queen, august, divine, a various form, Kydonian power, is thine. Dread guardian Goddess, with benignant mind, auspicious come, to mystic rites inclined; give earth a store of beauteous fruits to bear, send gentle peace, and health with lovely hair, and to the mountains drive disease and care.”
– Orphic Hymn 36 to Artemis
‘She is life and being, starry-bright, sparkling, blinding, mobile, whose sweet strangeness draws man on the more irresistibly the more disdainfully it dismisses him; an essence crystal-clear, which is nevertheless intertwined with the dark roots in all animate nature; a being childishly simple and yet incalculable, sweetly amiable and diamond-hard; girlishly demure, fleeting, elusive, and suddenly brusque and contrary; playing, frolicking, dancing, and in a flash most inexorably serious; lovingly anxious and tenderly solicitous, with the enchantment of a smile that outweighs perdition, and yet wild to the point of gruesomeness and cruel to the point of repulsiveness. All of these are traits of the free, withdrawn nature to which Artemis belongs, and in her the piously intuitive spirit has learned to perceive this eternal image of sublime femininity as a thing divine.’
– Walter Friedrich Otto, The Homeric Gods: The Spiritual Significance of Greek Religion
‘I’m obsessed with Greek mythology. My favorite goddess is Artemis. She’s strong and reminds me of Katniss, the heroine of ‘The Hunger Games.’
– Isabelle Fuhrman
Further reading on the Artemis archetype includes: