Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo. She is the goddess of the hunt and of the wilderness. Her father was Zeus and her mother was Leto(the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe). After giving birth to Artemis in the city of Ortygia, Leto finds refuge in the city of Delos to give birth to Apollo. It is said that Artemis helped in the birth of her brother. This was her first act in her role as the goddess of childbirth. This is the role taken on by Artemis in addition to her other roles. She shares this role with other goddesses.
She is the eternal virgin, and the light bringer who wanders during the night. Artemis is
the protector of young maidens, and aids women in childbirth. It may be that Artemis takes on
this role of protecting women due to the circumstances of her own birth, as well as the birth
of her twin brother Apollo.
Artemis protects her purity and the purity of her followers with ferocity. Ovid gives us
the more famous example of this in Metamorphoses. In it we are told the story of Actaeon, who
unwittingly discovers Artemis naked. Artemis is preparing to bathe her virgin body after
becoming tired from the hunt. Her nymphs began to prepare her as they always had when the
lost hunter Actaeon stumbled into to her cave in the secluded grotto.
The nymphs beat their breasts and screamed as they scrambled to shield Artemis and her
naked body with their own. But as they were much smaller than Artemis their bodies proved
inadequate. Her naked body had been uncovered by this bumbling man and she grew flush and
angered. Whipping around to seek her bow she finds that it is not there and grasps at any
weapons she can find.
All that is within reach is some water. She then flings it into his face as she threatens
him with his curse. Her ominous message, ” Now you may tell how you saw my nakedness, if you
can.. ” Then after these words he began to grow horns from where the water she flung had
struck him. He began growing the skin of a deer, as his hands and feet
transformed to hoofs.
He now has the form of a deer and the timidity that goes along with it. He flees from the
grotto, and looks upon his reflection in a pool. He still has the mind of a man, but is
unable to speak. The form of a deer is all that rest of the world will see. Even his own
hunting dogs mistake him for a deer, and he is forced to flee again. He continued to run
longing to cry out to his hounds, but unable.
He is eventually cornered and the rest of his hunting party surround him. All of them
unable to recognize him as anything other than a deer. The hounds bite and tear at him as he
screams out, but none can hear him. He eventually succumbs to his wounds and dies adding
finality to the vengeance of the huntress.
Not all stories of Artemis are of her vengeance and strength. Homer shows us the
weaker side of Artemis. She is shown as a weeping child distraught with the woes brought
by Hera’s anger in the Iliad. The depiction given by Homer here shows a more fragile and
human personification of Artemis. Weary from the war she falls to her knees weeping at the
feet of her father. Her father asks her what is wrong, and she tells of the beating by Hera.
The beating by Hera was fierce. Hera grasps both her wrists with one hand and grabs her
bow with the other. Hera then proceeds in beating the huntress with her own bow. Her body
flailing in the midst of the fierce blows. She seizes upon her first opportunity to flee. She
flies away leaving behind her bow and arrows. Not wishing to engage in battle with Hera, Leto
takes up the bow and arrows so that she may return them to her daughter the huntress.
The huntress Artemis is portrayed as a moon goddess in other works. She is the eternal
virgin and serves a dual role as the protector and the executioner of young women. She is
the twin sister to the far shooter Apollo who is great among the gods. She also assists women
in childbirth. She may also have been represented as a fertility goddess in some traditions,
and the nymphs surrounding her are said to have represented her various characteristics.