1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Artemis

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13294761911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — ArtemisJohn Henry Freese

ARTEMIS, one of the principal goddesses in Greek mythology, the counterpart of the Roman Diana. The suggested etymologies of the name (see O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, ii. p. 1267, note 2), as in the case of most of the Olympian deities, are unsatisfactory, and throw no light upon her significance and characteristics. The Homeric and later conception of Artemis, though by no means the original one, may be noticed first. She is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin-sister and counterpart of Apollo. She is said to have been born a day before him (on the 6th of the month) and tradition assigns them different birthplaces—Delos to Apollo, Ortygia to Artemis. But Ortygia (“home of quails”) applies still to Delos, and may well have been a synonym for that island. In its original sense it does not apply either to the island of Ortygia at Syracuse, or to Ortygia near Ephesus, which also claimed the honour of having been the birthplace of the goddess. Artemis is the goddess of chastity, an aspect of her character which gradually assumed more and more importance—the protectress of young men and maidens, who defies and contemns the power of Aphrodite. Her resemblance to her brother is shown in many ways. Like him, armed with bow and arrows, she deals death to mortals, sometimes gently and suddenly, especially to women, but also as a punishment for offences against herself or morality. With him she takes part in the combat with Python and with Tityus, in the slaughter of the children of Niobe, while alone she executes vengeance on Orion. Although Apollo has nothing to do with the earlier cult of Artemis, nor Artemis with that of Delphi, their association was a comparatively early one, and probably originated in Delos. Here the connexion of Artemis with the Hyperborean legend (see Apollo) is shown in the names of the maidens (Opis, Hecaerge) who were supposed to have brought offerings from the north to Delos, where they were buried. Both Opis (or Oupis) and Hecaerge are names of Artemis, the latter being the feminine of Hecaergos, an epithet of Apollo. Like her brother, she is not only a goddess who deals death, but she is also a healing and a purifying divinity, οὐλία (“the healer,” cf. Apollo Oulios), λύη, λυαία (“purifier,”) and σώτειρα, “she who saves from all evils” (cf. Apollo ἀποτρόπαιος). Her connexion with the prophetic art is doubtful, although mention is made of an Artemis Sibylla. To her association with Apollo are certainly to be referred the names Delphinia and Pythia, and the titles referring to state and family life—προστατηρία, πατριῶτις, βουλαία. It probably accounts for her appearance as a goddess of seafarers, the bestower of fair weather and prosperous voyages. At Phigalia in Arcadia, Eurynome, represented as half woman and half fish, was probably another form of Artemis. To the same association may be traced her slight connexion with music, song and dance.

It is in the Arcadian and Athenian rites and legends, however, which are certainly earlier than Homer, that the original conception of the goddess is to be found. These tend to show that Artemis was first and foremost a nature goddess, whose cult shows numerous traces of totemism. As a goddess of fertilizing moisture, lakes, rivers, springs, and marshy lowlands are brought into close connexion with her. Thus she is λιμναία, δέσποινα λίμνης (“lady of the lake”), ἑλεία (“of marshes”), ποταμία (“of rivers,” especially of the Cladaus and Alpheus, whence her name Ἀλφειαία). Her influence is very active in promoting the increase of the fruits of the field, hence she is specially a goddess of agriculture. She drives away the mice (cf. Apollo Smintheus) and slays the Aloidae, the corn spirits; she is the friend of the reapers, and requires her share of the first fruits. Her character as a harvest goddess is clearly shown in the legend of the Calydonian boar, sent by her to ravage the fields out of resentment at not having received a harvest offering from Oeneus (see Meleager). As ἐπιμύλιος and ἐπικλιβάνιος (“presiding over the mill and the oven”) she extends her protection over the further development of the grain for the use of man.

Artemis was naturally also a goddess of trees and vegetation. Near Orchomenus her wooden image stood in a large cedar-tree—an indication that her worship was originally that of the tree itself (κεδρεᾶτις, “the cedar goddess”); at Caryae there was an image of Artemis καρυᾶτις (“the nut-tree goddess”). Two curious epithets in this connexion deserve notice: λυγοδέσμα (“bound with withies”), derived from the legend that the image of Artemis Orthia was found in a thicket of withies, which twined round it and kept it upright (λύγος is the agnus castus, and points to Artemis in her relation to women); and ἀπαγχομένη (“the suspended”), probably a reference to the custom of hanging the mask or image of a vegetation-divinity on a tree to obtain fertility (Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, ii. p. 429; cf. the “swing” festival (αἰώρα) of the Greeks, and the oscilla of the Romans).

The functions of the goddess extended from the vegetable to the animal world, to the inhabitants of the woods and mountains. This is clearly expressed in the cult of Artemis Laphria (possibly connected with λάφυρα, “spoils”), at whose festivals all kinds of animals, both wild and tame, as well as fruits, were thrown together on a huge wood fire. Her general name in this connexion was ἀγροτέρα (“roaming the wilds,” not necessarily “goddess of the chase,” an aspect less familiar in the older religion), to whom five hundred goats were offered every year by the Athenians as a thanksgiving in commemoration of the victory at Marathon. Numerous animals were sacred to her, and at Syracuse all kinds of wild beasts, including a lioness, were carried in procession in her honour. It has been observed that she is rather the patroness of the wild beasts of the field than of the more agricultural or domestic animals (Farnell, Cults, ii. p. 431), although the epithet ἡμερασία (“the tamer,” according to others, the “gentle” goddess of healing) seems to refer to her connexion with the latter. The bear was especially associated with her in Arcadia, and in her worship as Artemis Brauronia at Brauron in Attica. According to the legend, Callisto, an Arcadian nymph, became by Zeus the mother of Arcas, the eponymous hero of the Arcadians. Zeus, to conceal the amour, changed Callisto into a she-bear; Hera, however, discovered it, and persuaded Artemis to slay Callisto, who was placed amongst the stars as ἄρκτος (“the bear”). There is no doubt that Callisto is identical with Artemis; her name is an obvious variation of καλλίστη, a frequent epithet of the goddess, to whom a temple was erected on the hill where Callisto was supposed to be buried. It is suggested by M. Kraus in Classical Review, February 1908, that Aphaea, the cult-name of Artemis at Aegina, is of Semitic origin and means “beautiful.” Closely connected with this legend is the worship of Artemis Brauronia. The accounts of its institution, which differ in detail, agree that it was intended to appease the wrath of the goddess at the killing of a bear. A number of young girls, between five and ten years of age, wearing a bear-skin (afterwards a saffron-coloured robe) danced a bear-dance, called ἀρκτεία, the girls themselves being called ἄρκτοι. In one account, a maiden was ordered to be sacrificed to the bear Artemis, but a certain man who had a goat called it his daughter and offered it up in secret, just as at Munychium a fawn dressed up as a girl was sacrificed to the goddess. In place of the goat or fawn a bear might have been expected, but the choice may have been influenced by the animal totem of the tribe into whose hands the ritual fell. The whole is a reminiscence of earlier times, when the goddess herself was a bear, to whom human sacrifice was offered. Callisto was originally a bear-goddess worshipped in Arcadia, identified with Artemis, when nothing remained of the original animal-worship but name and ritual. The worship of Callisto being merged in that of the greater divinity, she became the handmaid and companion of Artemis. A stone figure of a bear found on the Acropolis seems to point to the worship of Artemis Brauronia. Her death at the hands of the latter was explained by the wrath of the goddess—in her later aspect as goddess of chastity—at Callisto’s amour with Zeus (see A. Lang, Myth, Ritual and Religion, ii.; Farnell, Cults, ii. p. 437). The custom of flogging youths at the altar of Artemis Orthia[1] at Limnaeum in Laconia, and the legend of Iphigeneia (q.v.), herself another form of Artemis, connected with Artemis Taurica of the Tauric Chersonese, are usually supposed to point to early human sacrifice (but see Farnell). Various explanations have been given of the epithet ὀρθία: (1) that it refers to the primitive type of the “erect” wooden idol; (2) that it means “she who safely rears children after birth,” or “heals the sick” (cf. ὄρθιος applied to Asclepius); (3) that it has a phallic significance (Schreiber in Roscher’s Lexikon). Scholars differ as to whether Artemis Taurica is identical with Artemis Tauropolos, worshipped chiefly at Samos with a milder ritual, but it is more probable that ταυροπόλος simply means “protectress of bulls.”

The protecting influence of Artemis was extended, like that of Apollo, to the highest animal, man. She was especially concerned in the bringing up of the young. Boys were brought by their nurses to the temple of Artemis κορυθαλία (= κουροτρόφος) and there consecrated to her; at the Apaturia, on the day called κουρεῶτις, boys cut off and dedicated their hair to her. Girls as well as boys were under her protection. Her function as a goddess of marriage is less certain, and the cult-titles adduced in support of it are hardly convincing; such are ἡγεμόνη, interpreted as “she who leads home the bride,” σελασφόρος, “bearer of light,” that is, of torches at the marriage procession. On the other hand, her connexion with childbirth is clearly shown: in many places she is even called Eilithyia, who in the earlier poets was regarded as distinct from her. In one version of the story of her birth she is said to have been born a day before Apollo, in order to assist Leto at his birth; women in childbirth invoked her aid, and after delivery offered up their clothes or a lock of hair. As already noticed, in Homer Artemis appears as a goddess of death; closely akin to this is the conception of her as a goddess of war. As such she is νικηφόρος (“bringer of victory”); the title κολαινίς is possibly connected with κολεὀς (“sword-sheath”); and λαφρία (see above) may refer to the spoils of war as well as the chase.

The idea of Artemis as a virgin goddess, the “queen and huntress, chaste and fair,” which obtained great prominence in early times, and seems inconsistent with her association with childbirth, is generally explained as due to her connexion with Apollo, but it is suggested by Farnell that παρθένος originally meant “unmarried,” and that “Ἄρτεμις παρθένος may have been originally the goddess of a people who had not yet the advanced Hellenic institutions of settled marriage ... and when society developed the later family system the goddess remained celibate, though not opposed to childbirth.”

Another view of the original character of Artemis, which has found much support in modern times, is that she was a moon-goddess. But there is no trace of Artemis as such in the epic period, and the Homeric hymn knows nothing of her identification with Selene. The attribute of the torch will apply equally well to the goddess of the chase, and epithets such as φωσφόρος, σελασφόρος, αἰθοπία, although applicable, are by no means convincing. The idea dates from the 5th century, and was due to her connexion with Hecate and Apollo. When the latter came to be identified by philosophical speculation with the sun-god Helios, it was natural that his sister and counterpart should be identified with the moon-goddess Selene. But she is nowhere recognized in cult as such (see Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, ii. p. 1297, note 2).

It has been mentioned that Callisto, Iphigeneia, Eilithyia, are only Artemis under different names; to these may be added Adrasteia, Atalanta, Helen, Leto and others (see Wernicke in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie).

Again, various non-Hellenic divinities were identified with Artemis, and their cult gradually amalgamated with hers. The most important of these was Artemis of Ephesus, whose seat was in the marshy valley of the Caystrus. Like the Greek Artemis, she was essentially a nature goddess, the great foster-mother of the vegetable and animal kingdom. A number of officials were engaged in the performance of her temple service. Her eunuch priests, μεγάβυζοι (a name which points to a Persian origin), were under the control of a high priest called Essen (according to others, there was a body of priests called Essenes). There were also three classes of priestesses, Mellierae, Hierae, Parierae; there is no evidence that they were called Melissae (“bees”), although the bee is a frequent symbol on the coins of the city. Her chief festival, Ephesia or Artemisia, was held in the spring, at which games and various contests took place after the Greek fashion, although the ritual continued to be of a modified oriental, orgiastic type. This goddess is closely connected with the Amazons (q.v.), who are said to have built her temple and set up her image in the trunk of a tree. The Greeks of Ephesus identified her with their own Artemis, and claimed that her birthplace Ortygia was near Ephesus, not in Delos. She has much in common with the oriental prototype of Aphrodite, and the Cappadocian goddess Ma, another form of Cybele. The usual figure of the Ephesian Artemis, which was said in the first instance to have fallen from heaven, is in the form of a female with many breasts, the symbol of productivity or a token of her function as the all-nourishing mother. From the waist to the feet her image resembles a pillar, narrowing downwards and sculptured all round with rows of animals (lions, rams and bulls).

Mention may also be made of the following non-Hellenic representatives of Artemis. Leucophryne (or Leucophrys), whose worship was brought by emigrants from Magnesia in Thessaly to Magnesia on the Maeander, was a nature goddess, and her representation on coins exactly resembles that of the Ephesian Artemis. Her cult, however, from the little that is known of it appears to have been more Hellenic. There was an altar and temple of Artemis Pergaea at Perga in Pamphylia, where a yearly festival was held in her honour. As in the case of Cybele, mendicant priests were attached to her service. Similar figures were Artemis Coloēnē, worshipped at Lake Coloē near Sardis; Artemis Cordax, celebrated in wanton dances on Mount Sipylus; the Persian Artemis, identical with Anaitis Bendis, was a Thracian goddess of war and the chase, whose cult was introduced into Attica in the middle of the 5th century B.C. by Thracian metics. At her festival called Bendidea, held at the Peiraeus, there was a procession of Thracians who were settled in the district, and a torch-race on horseback. (For Britomartis see separate article.)

Among the chief attributes of Artemis are: the hind, specially regarded as her sacred animal; the bear, the boar and the goat; the zebu (Artemis Leucophrys); the lion, one of her oldest animal symbols; bow and arrows, as goddess of the chase and death; a mural crown, as the protectress of cities; the torch, originally an attribute of the goddess of the chase or marriage, but, like the crescent (originally an attribute of the Asiatic nature goddesses), transferred to Artemis, when she came to be regarded as a moon-goddess. The Greek Artemis was usually represented as a huntress with bow and quiver, or torch in her hand, in face very like Apollo, her drapery flowing to her feet, or, more frequently, girt high for speed. She is accompanied often by a deer or a dog. Perhaps the finest existing statue of her is the Diana of Versailles from Hadrian’s Villa (now in the Louvre), in which she wears a short tunic drawn in at the waist and sandals on her feet; her hair is bound up into a knot at the back of her head, with a band over the forehead. With her left hand she holds a stag, while drawing an arrow from the quiver on her shoulder with the right. Another famous statue is one from Gabii, in which she is finishing her toilet and fastening the chlamys over her tunic. In older times her figure is fuller and stronger, and the clothing more complete; certain statues discovered at Delos, imitated from wooden models (ξόανα), are supposed to represent Artemis; they are described as stiff and rigid, the limbs as it were glued to the body without life or movement, garments closely fitting, the folds of which fall in symmetrical parallel lines. As a goddess of the moon she wears a long robe, carries a torch, and her head is surmounted by a crescent. On the coins of Arcadia, Aetolia, Crete and Sicily, are to be seen varied and beautiful representations of her head as conceived by the Greek artists in the best times.

Authorities.—Articles in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie; Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie, and Daremberg and Saglio’s Dictionnaire des antiquités (s.v. Diana, with well-arranged bibliography); L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie (4th ed. by C. Robert); L. R. Farnell, The Cults of the Greek States, ii. (1896); O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie und Religions-Geschichte, ii. (1906); A. Claus, De Dianae antiquissima apud Graecos natura (Breslau, 1880). In the article Greek Art, fig. 11 (a gold ornament from Camirus) represents the Oriental goddess identified by the Greeks with Artemis.

For the Roman goddess identified with Artemis see Diana.  (J. H. F.) 

  1. The site of the temple of Artemis Orthia was excavated by the British School of Archaeology at Athens (see Annual, 1906). The flogging (διαμαστίγωσις) is explained by R. C. Bosanquet as a late institution of decadent Sparta, an exaggeration of an old ritual practice of whipping away boys who tried to steal cheeses from the altar (see The Year’s Work in Classical Studies, ed. W. H. D. Rouse, 1907).