Artemis of the Ephesians

Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

The goddess Artemis was portrayed in both Greek and Roman mythology, but in the Asia Minor city of Ephesus, she took on a slightly different persona. In this lesson, you will learn how the goddess Artemis of the Ephesians was distinct from the Artemis of classical mythology.

Who was Artemis?

It is not uncommon for mythical gods and goddesses to have different names depending on which culture's tales are being shared. This can make the study of mythology confusing, to say the least, but fortunately, scholars have untangled much of the chaotic web. However, figuring out how the gods or goddesses of one society connect to another is not always easy since not only do their names change, but sometimes, so do their roles.

Artemis is an example of just such a situation. There are three versions of the goddess Artemis- the Greek's, the Roman's, and the Ephesians. While the Romans called her Diana, their goddess is very similar to the classical Greek Artemis. She was the goddess of hunting, nature, all animals and fertility. To the Ephesians, however, Artemis was not a huntress, but a goddess of childbirth and the great mother goddess of all living things, a role the Greek's attributed to the goddess Rhea and a title the Romans gave to Cybele.

The Birth of Artemis

While the roles may be different, the story of her birth is very similar. According to myth, Artemis was a product of one of Zeus's many affairs. His wife, Hera, found out and chased Artemis's pregnant mother Leto to the Island of Delos. The Ephesians actually believe it was in their city of Ephesus that Leto fled to. Once there, Leto gave birth to Artemis and one day later (or nine, depending on the source) she had her twin brother Apollo. Regardless of how long it took, Artemis helped her mother through the labor of her brother's birth, which became the basis of her title as the goddess of childbirth. It was also because of this event that Artemis asked her father, Zeus, to make her invincible to Cupid's arrows so she could stay a virgin for eternity, presumably to avoid the pain of childbirth that she had witnessed her mother experience.

The Ephesian Artemis

Ephesus was a major city of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, where they considered Artemis their prominent goddess and protector. The Greek and Roman version of Artemis was merely a secondary goddess. While she was a fertility goddess, she was celebrated as a strict virgin, having no love interests or relationships with men. This fact has made more than one scholar question why she would be identified as the great mother goddess of all living things if she lived a life of chastity. Many, however, have justified it with her role as the goddess of childbirth which made her the midwife to all births, human and animals alike.

The people of Ephesus also credited her as a healer who had the power to give life as well as take it away. In fact, there are several tales of her doing just that. One famous story is that of Niobe, a woman with fourteen children who boasted that her birthing capabilities far surpassed Leto's as she had only given birth to one set of twins. It upset Apollo and Artemis to hear their mother being criticized, so they exacted revenge by killing all of Niobe's children. Artemis killed the seven daughters, while Apollo took out the sons. Another story is of Actaeon who had witnessed Artemis and her nymphs bathing and attempted to rape her. She turned him into a stag and directed his fifty hounds to devour him. Orion met a similar fate when he tried to force himself on the goddess. In one version, Artemis shot him with her bow, and in another, she had a scorpion sting him and his dog. The first version ends with Orion and his dog being cast into the heavens to form the Orion constellation and Sirius star. In the latter version, Orion and the scorpion become the Orion and Scorpio constellations.

A classical statue of the goddess Artemis.
Classical Artemis statue.

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