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Artemis Is a Goddess of the Periods of Transition in Life -- Like Childbirth


East frieze of Parthenon, Artemis, 447-432 B.C.

East frieze of Parthenon, Artemis, 447-432 B.C.

CC Flickr User CÃ¥sbr
It's always best to honor the gods and goddesses. Otherwise, you never know if all you're going to get is a good cuckolding from a bull, as happened when Minos offended the sea god Poseidon, an arrow through your own chest or an order to sacrifice your child, as happened when Agamemnon offended the goddess Artemis. Of course it helps to know the reputation of the deity in question.

Virginal Artemis, sister of Apollo, daughter of Leto and Zeus, was born either on Delos or Ortygia. In some stories she is the twin sister of Apollo, but in others she was born several days earlier so she could help her mother with the delivery of her brother. Henceforth, although a virgin, she is one of the goddesses associated with childbirth. Artemis is also an avid hunter with a set of arrows to match her brother's. She also takes her chastity seriously, dealing mercilessly with anyone who threatens to compromise even the modesty of her attendants.

Artemis and the Trojan War

Unlike most of the Olympians, Artemis does not seem to have a vested interest in one side or the other in the Trojan War conflict, but she supports her brother and his choices, which puts her in the Trojan line-up, receiving grief for it from Hera. Her actual role in the Trojan War is minimal -- she helps heal Aeneas when Diomedes wounds him. While not actually involved in the conflict, her tangential role is pivotal. It is because Agamemnon either failed to sacrifice to her or because he boasted that his hunting skills surpassed the goddess' that he is told to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, at Aulis. Without that sacrifice the Greeks would never be able to set sail, land at Troy, and fight for ten years. In the Kypria (one of a series of epics on the Trojan War) and Ehoiai (a catalogue of heroines ascribed to Hesiod) Agamemnon's sacrifice is stopped at the last minute and a stag substituted. However, such clemency is unusual. Artemis is looked upon not only as a goddess of childbirth, and viginity, but of death.

Artemis As Goddess of Swift Death

Usually Artemis prefers a swift, direct means of death, which she accomplishes with her arrows.
But when the townsmen reach old age, Apollo
with his longbow of silver comes, and Artemis,
showering arrows of mild death.
Odyssey 15.408-411 Fitzgerald translation

In the Nekuia, Odysseus asks his dead mother, Antikleia, if Artemis killed her (Odyssey 11.171-73). Artemis killed Andromache's mother, as we learn when Andromache tries to persuade her husband Hector not to go off to fight in the Trojan War. She complains she will be all alone in the world.

My mother -- her who had been queen of all the land under Mt. Placus -- he brought hither with the spoil, and freed her for a great sum, but the archer-queen Diana [Artemis] took her in the house of your father. Nay -- Hector -- you who to me are father, mother, brother, and dear husband....
Iliad 6.426-429 Butler translation

Penelope, despondent about the suitors' invasion of her home, asks Artemis to bring on death:

If only Artemis the Pure would give me
death as mild, and soon!
Odyssey 18.202-203 Fitzgerald translation
"O gracious
divine lady Artemis, daughter of Zeus,
if you could only make an end now quickly,
let the arrow fly, stop my heart...."
Odyssey 20.60-63 Fitzgerald translation

Next: Artemis Kills for Revenge

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