Back To CourseAncient Greece Study Guide
13 chapters | 147 lessons
Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.
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.
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.
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.
In Greek and Roman art, Artemis was often depicted as a huntress with a quiver and bow and an animal companion. In Ephesian art, however, she stood erect with modest clothing, often with a robe covered in lions, leopards, goats, griffins, and bulls; which was fitting for her title as 'Lady of the Animals'. Her chest is also covered in nodes, but the reason is not entirely clear. There are theories that suggest they are gourds, as they represented fertility in the region. Others believe they are bull testicles, eggs, or multiple breasts, the latter supported by the fact the Roman Diana was said to have many breasts. All theories, however, can be justified as they all represent fertility.
In the center of Ephesus stood the great Temple of Artemis which served as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Plagued by several disasters- from war, to fire, to floods- the temple was built and rebuilt many times. The first fire occurred on the night of Alexander the Great's birth, and it was believed that Artemis was so busy attending to his birth that she was unable to protect her temple from being burned by Herostratus, a young vandal who just wanted notoriety for the act. The temple was turned to rubble one final time when Christianity became the major religion, and the Emperor Theodosius outlawed all worship of the goddess and any other mythological deity. A few years later, a Christian mob tore it to the ground and used the scrap material from it to build their new churches.
The Ephesian Artemis was a version of the Roman and Greek's classical goddess of fertility. All three versions credit her as being the goddess of childbirth and animals. However, the Romans and Greeks characterized her as a huntress while the Ephesians did not. To them, she was celebrated as a midwife to all human and animal births earning her the title of the great mother goddess. Artemis was also considered a prominent goddess in Ephesus, while she had only secondary status elsewhere. While typical art shows Artemis as a huntress, Ephesian art shows her standing tall with an animal printed robe and large egg-like nodes on her chest to represent fertility. The Temple of Artemis earned notoriety as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and stood in the city of Ephesus where it was rebuilt several times before being destroyed for good when Christianity became the dominant religion.
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Back To CourseAncient Greece Study Guide
13 chapters | 147 lessons
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