Artemis is a pre-Greek deity assimilated into the classical Greek pantheon. In her Olympian guise, she yields a strong, independent, fierce, numinous and powerful presence; sovereign of the wilderness, the hunt, women, childbirth and defender of all youth. She was the first of two twins born to Zeus and Leto, a daughter of the Titans. Of course the other was Apollo. Together with the Hestia and Athena, she was one of three virgin goddesses:
Golden Aphrodite who stirs with love and all creation,
Cannot bend not ensnare three hearts: the pure maiden Vesta,
Grey-eyed Athena who cares but for war and the arts of the craftsmen,
Artemis, lover of woods and the wild chase over the mountain.
The virgin goddess was known by a great many epithets, two of the most prominent being “Cynthia” and “Selene”. The former is a direct reference to her place of birth, Mount Cynthus on the island of Delos, and the second expounds her personage as the epitome of absolute feminine energy that is itself encompassed and embodied by the lunar sphere. According to tradition, Artemis seems to have enchanted a great many gods and men, though she herself was seldom enamoured. Even masters of deceit and transformation failed at their attempt to foil her and take her unawares. According to the classical poets, Artemis fooled a river god who entertained thoughts of raping her at Letrenoi by coating her face with mud. She was immensely talented in the denomination of archery and hunting, and dutifully punished anyone who committed sacrilege by unjustly killing or slaughtering wild animals, or by claiming that their own adroitness in those particular arts exceeded hers. Adonis, the lover of Aphrodite, experiences the brunt of her wrath firsthand; in a late classical myth, the virgin goddess overhears his incessant banter on how good a hunter he is, and sends a wild boar to gouge him to death.
Artemis was intimately involved in the Trojan War, pledging fidelity to the Trojans. This should not come as any surprise given that her own twin brother Apollo was inaugurated as the patron of Troy. In Homer’s Iliad, she purposely obstructs the Greek pilgrimage to Troy by instigating doldrums at Aulis on the pretence that Agamemnon, the commander-in-chief of the unified Greek armies, had committed hubris by killing her sacred stag and openly declaring that he was a better hunter. To appease her anger and hence reinvigorate the winds Agamemnon was forced to sacrifice all that was dearest to him, his beloved daughter Iphigenia. During the subsequent clash between the Trojans and the Greeks, Artemis is wounded by Hera’s arrow. The golden bow and arrow, the cypress tree, the lunar orb, and wild animals such as the hunting dog and the stag are all sacred to her. Her Roman equivalent is Diana.