In Greek mythology, Artemis is the Olympian goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and wild animals, and childbirth. This virgin goddess is the daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo. Artemis -- a highly independent goddess -- refused to conform to convention and tradition, fiercely valued and protected her freedom, and never allowed herself to depend on men or succumb to love. She was a protector and nurturer, but also a vengeful and impulsive goddess who would even bring harm to those whom she protected.
Artemis the Huntress
Artemis was associated with nature because her role as goddess of the hunt meant she spent most of her time roaming the wilderness with her nymph companions to hunt for lions, panthers, hinds and stags. Artemis was well-known for her hunting skills, sharp focus and perfect aim. She also protected the wild animals she hunted by overseeing their well-being, safety and reproduction. Though she hunted them herself, the possessive goddess punished anyone who killed one of her sacred animals.
Chastity and Virginity
Artemis is associated with chastity because she never lost her virginity. As a child, she asked Zeus to give her eternal virginity and allow her to live without the distractions of love, men and marriage. Her companion nymphs were also virgins, and Artemis was as protective of their purity as she was of her own. Artemis swiftly punished any man who tried to dishonor her or her companions. She even punished one of her hunting companions, Callisto, who violated her vow of chastity when she was seduced by Zeus, in disguise, and gave birth to his child.
Independence and Freedom
Artemis strongly valued and protected her independence, freedom and privacy -- and punished anyone who tried to restrict her freedom or invade her privacy. The huntsman Actaeon once stumbled upon Artemis and her nymphs while they were bathing naked. Artemis immediately punished him, not only for invading their privacy but for dishonoring their purity by stopping to stare. She turned him into a stag before setting his own hunting dogs upon him. Artemis also protected vulnerable, suffering women who did not share her freedom and defended women from the unjust treatment of men.
Childbirth and Healing
Artemis was born one day before Apollo and assisted Leto during Apollo's delivery. Artemis became the patron of childbirth, protecting and aiding women during delivery. She was also associated with guarding and protecting children. Conversely, she could bring sudden death to women during childbirth with her arrows. While Artemis' role as protector and nurturer included healing, she was also known to cause and spread diseases like leprosy, rabies and gout.
- British Museum: The Greek Goddess Artemis
- Collin College: Jungian Archetypes From the Mythic Unconscious
- Brown University: Artemis
- University of Washington: Artemis, Aphrodite and Revenge
- Greek and Roman Mythology, A to Z; Kathleen N. Daly
- Greek Mythology Systematized; Sarah Amelia Scull
- The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology; Robin Hard
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images