Celestial Classics: Artemis

Artemis with a Stag, believed to be 2nd Century CE and found in Rome it is now in the Louvre in Paris. Artemis is seen here with her quiver (one of her trademarks) and taming a stag (another trademark of Artemis). To me she represents the fundamentals of human survival and the necessity to both live with, and from, nature. (Credit: Rodney CC-BY-2.0)

CONTENT WARNING: Contains discussions of Greek myth which, inevitably, means discussions about sexual assault, sexual violence and rape.

I’ll be honest, this one is an excuse to chat Artemis! We’ll get to her but there’s some astronomy to get out of the way first.

We have talked about the asteroid belt before, I think. It’s a bunch of broken up little rocks between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter full of asteroids and minor planets.

We’ve talk about it before because we have covered Ceres and Vesta, the two largest planetoids in the asteroid belt, and also very important Goddesses in the Roman pantheon (the group of Gods) as well as having their Greek counterparts in Demeter and Hestia.

Showing the position of the main asteroid belt in comparison to the planets between the Sun and Jupiter. The belt is toroidal (donut) shaped and full of fragments of rock that are asteroids, minor planets or dwarf planets. (Credit: NASA, Public Domain)

It’s basically made of up the stuff the entire solar-system was made of, formed out of the same nebula that gave us the sun and the rest of our planets, but it just can’t ‘accrete’ or come together to form a planet. Because of their location between Mars and Jupiter, and given Jupiter’s mass and gravitational pull especially, nothing large could form in that region without breaking up, as well as there being regular collisions between all the protoplanets.

It’s an interesting lesson in how planets form and under what conditions they can’t!

Anyway, 105 Artemis is a designated minor planet in the main asteroid belt. It was discovered in 1868 by a man in Michigan named J. C. Watson.

Since then multiple measurements have been made, discovering the size and shape of Artemis, as well as its make-up. It is very carbonaceous (known as C-Type Asteroids) – made up of carbon or carbon compound materials. This would give them a very low albedo – the measure of reflectiveness of a celestial object – and would make Artemis difficult to see.

A shape-model of 105 Artemis, an asteroid classified as a minor planet, made up of carbon stuff, in the main asteroid belt. (Credit: Lucas, M. P, et al. Lightcurve Analysis of Five Taxonomic A-Class Asteroids, The Minor Planet Bulletin, 2011 – Used without Permission.)

But Artemis, as far as astonomy goes, is not just a minor planet in the asteroid belt.

NASA’s current program to land astronauts (specifically American astronauts, way to make it about nationalism…) back on the Moon by 2024 is named the Artemis Program.

The purpose of the program is not merely to get people back to the Moon as a PR exercise like it was in the 60s. This time around it’s not about beating Communists by providing a massive public budget to a huge national project where the funds are apportioned equivalent to their necessity and people are fairly rewarded for their labours…Wait…That sounds like…

No, this time it’s about the human exploitation of space. For one thing it is specifically nationalist – Americans want to control space. Good luck with that, it’s pretty fucking big.

Explained on their website, this is the main logo for the Artemis mission. The ‘A’ shape is a silver arrowhead allegedly to represent Artemis’ silver bow and arrow although it is my understanding she is more associated with the gold bow and arrow and her brother, Apollo, the silver…Whatever…Myths differ. The tip of the ‘A’ reaches beyond the semi-circle representing the Moon to demonstrate NASA’s mission to use the Artemis program to reach beyond the Moon. The blue cresent represents the Earth, from which the missions will originate, and our collective, global interest in the missions. The red swoosh represents the trajectory of the mission craft, moving through the ‘A’ shape, whilst the similar motif on the Apollo mission logo moved under it, to represent the differences in motivation behind the two missions. This trajectory is represented in red to demonstrate NASA’s ultimate goal with the Artemis program, as a stepping-stone for a crewed mission to Mars. (Credit: NASA, Public Domain)

But also they want to test and demonstrate new technologies of resource exploitation, chemical processing to gather resources for human use, like oxygen or water, working with commercial partners like Space-X to develop the kinds of public-private initiatives that have always proven to be ineffective money-quicksand in the past and to provide a commercial service of regular deliveries to and from an established Moon base – which they aim to start doing by 2028.

Ultimately it’s a stepping-stone – a proof of concept that a temporary base can be established between the Earth and other targets such as Mars, or Moons of Jupiter like Europa.

I know I’m being cynical about it – do you know what? I am! Money goes to money and whilst this plan, ultimately, will enrich the human species and achieve things we have never achieved before it’s – let’s be honest – with the public/private partnership, also about rich dickheads getting richer.

The technologies used to discover resources on the Moon will be used to do the same as we have done on Earth. Exploit and deplete those resources until they are no longer sustainable.

The main stage booster of NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket being moved to a barge, it will be first sent for testing, and should it pass the tests it will be shipped on to the Kennedy Space Centre from where it will, hopefully, launch in 2024. For as much as I am cynical about these sorts of things there is no denying the scientific, engineering and technological marvels that go into these technologies. (Credit: NASA Marshall Photo Archive, CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Commercial payloads to-and-from other celestial bodies has an aim and that aim is to mine far off objects for precious minerals, metals and materials because Earth only has a limited supply.

Yes there is real science, and real scientists invested in this. But there’s a tinge, a taint, to it, whereby the seeming aims of further exploration are not merely to expand human knowledge and horizons but harness the resources on those horizons for the benefit of a few wealthy groups, nations and persons on Earth.

I hope it does not come to that, but these are ambitious humans we’re talking about.

So that’s the ‘Celestial’, where does the ‘Classic’ come in?

Artemis. Oh! Artemis!

Sorry but if one can have anything like a divine, mythological crush, she is mine.

A statue of a seemingly carefree Artemis being looked at by a doe as if she were a Disney Princess but this Goddess, whilst potentially often wild and carefree, is the greatest hunter of all time. A power capable of taming the wilderness who chose, instead, to revel within it. To me she is the very natural, bestial aspect of humanity itself, in all its dualities of cruelty and compassion. This statue likely dates to around somewhere between the 1st Century BCE and the 1st Century CE and is of unknown Greco-Roman origin. (Credit: Wally Gobetz, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo – and I would love, love, love to get into – mixed discipline style, cultural, psychological, artistic and metaphorical analysis – how these twin siblings represent both the cruel Artemisian reality of life on Earth and the lofty, heavenly Apollonian ideal of heaven – effectively the duality between the Human as beast and the Human as thinking or ethical, higher being – but frankly there’s a PhD in that so to cover it in a few thousand words would make it dreadfully superficial and also a waste!

Artemis and Apollo are the twin children of Zeus and Leto. Zeus you should know,the son of Kronos and Rheia, the Big Guy, the only thing he throws around with more abandon than lightning is his dick, usually non-consensually, the rapist fuck. However I believe his relations with Leto were consensual, after her subtle beauty caught his eye. Not that it took much to catch his eye. Did I mention he’s a rapist fuck?

Leto is the daughter of the titans Coeus and Phoebe. Considered the Goddess of motherhood, as well as potentially feminine modesty and demure (incidentally all things her daughter would also become associated with…) as a result of her romance with Zeus, Zeus’ sister-wife Hera basically banished her and forbade her from ever resting or having a place to give birth. It is said Poseidon took pity and raised an island, Ortygia, for her to give birth on.

An Attic amphora (a wine, water or oil storage vessel) from around 515 BCE, depicting the attempted rape of Leto by the Giant Tityos. In this story the giant Tityos, a son of Zeus by the mortal princess Elara, was supposedly tasked with raping Leto by a jealous Hera. Hera was jealous that Leto had been banging Zeus. However, Leto’s children, both incredibly skilled with a bow, intervened and killed him. (Credit: Jastrow Public Domain)

Now this is a great time to say that these stories are not universal, are liable to change between versions interpretations, regions etc.

Anyway, so according to a mix of Pseudo-Apollodorus and the Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo, Leto gave birth to Artemis on Ortygia. The hymn states she then travelled with the ‘God who shoots afar’, taken to mean Artemis by Pseudo-Apollodorus, I think, looking for a place to give birth to her other twin. The Island of Delos accepted her but she had a troubled labour which caused problems amongst the Gods because Leto was awesome, but Hera was powerful and very, very jealous.

Because of this Hera kept Eileithyia, described as the ‘Goddess of sore travail’, who was basically the Goddess of midwives and childbirth, at her side so she would not aid Leto. At this point we get a beautiful insight into why I love Artemis because no mention is made of her going on a rampage and given her attitude she would have positively kicked any God or Goddess’s arse to protect and help her mother, but she was presumably consumed by compassion rather than anger at this point. Iris, the messenger Goddess and personification of the rainbow (basically a lady-Hermes) was sent to Eileithyia to inform her of Leto’s current trouble.

It is said that as soon as Eileithyia set foot on Delos, Leto immediately went into labour, grabbed the nearest palm tree and pushed out Apollo.

Leto had given birth to two ‘far shooters’, both Artemis and Apollo are associated with the bow; Apollo with the ‘silver bow’ and Artemis with the ‘golden arrow’. Again, I love the harmonious duality of these two, that yin and yang, the gnostic balance.

A statue of Leto (or Roman Latona) with her two infant children, Artemis and Apollo. Mythological accounts of their births differ. (Credit: PubliC Domain)

But we’re not talking about the two of them. We are talking about Artemis.

She is the Goddess of the hunt, first and foremost, but she is also the goddess of wilderness, animals and partially associated with the moon. To me the most interesting aspect of Artemis is also associated with chastity, protection of the innocence of maidens, but also with childbirth and the protection of mothers.

One thing I love about Artemis, in a Greek society rife with misogyny, is, like Athena, she holds her own. In fact, she more than holds her own she is the very protector of people, especially women. She, a virgin herself, protects chastity, but being of nature and knowing the inevitable she does not judge those who are unchaste – she is also the protector of mothers and the pregnant! More on that later.

To me this makes Artemis the most human of all the Gods. She is the Goddess of our fundamental needs, protecting and soothing, as is needed, our wild waters, the animals for meat, the skills of hunting, and our reproduction. She represents that primal, survival instinct within all of us. Many are the Gods to lofty ideals but she is base and yet measured, proper, in her baseness. Her virginity is almost a symbol of that. I often speak of nature as a cruel or brutal beauty – Artemis is the brutal beauty. She is at once this divine gorgeousness, and yet this blood-soaked huntress.

Based upon interpretations of the Homeric Hymns, the representation of Artemis as a master of the hunt and hounds, skewering stags with her golden arrows! But the hymn also speaks of the huntress who “when she is satisfied and has cheered her heart…Slackens her supple bow.” She is no mindless killer, the hunt is a ritual of a joyful celebration of the inherent violence of nature – but in God and human it must be tempered! It must be moderated. When one has ‘enough’ when one is ‘satisified’ one stops. And then she “goes to the great house of her dear brother Phoebus Apollo.” Apollo is associated with music, knowledge and arts as much as he is the bow and the Moon. Whilst Artemis is a goddess of wild animals, Apollo protects the domestic herds and flocks. To an extent Artemis represents the human bestial whilst Apollo represents the human divine – and yet they are not enemies – they love each other and work together. Indeed, their power is the relationship they share – an understanding of the necessity of each aspect. (Credit: Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Public Domain)

And soaked in blood she is, indeed! Many are the myths of rape in Greek tradition, such that it is danced around and almost normalised in the classics. Artemis, though, basically murders anyone who even so much as tries to get a glimpse at her!

The tale of Actaeon is probably the most famous story. Again there are multiple versions of the myth but basically he was a hunting companion of Artemis who, seeing her bathing in a spring attempts to rape her. She’s having none of it, because she’s Artemis so she turns him into a stag and has his own hounds rip him to shreds.

She is said to have killed Adonis, either directly or by sending a boar to murder him for potentially multiple reasons. Either he boasted of being a better hunter than her, or he was killed in revenge as Adonis was adored by Aphrodite who had Hippolytus, Artemis’ mate, killed – so it was revenge.

Orion seems to have been the only figure to have got close to Artemis at any point and again, there are multiple versions of the myth but it goes that Orion met Artemis and Leto on Crete and became friends and hunting companions with Artemis. Orion, being a boastful rapist piece of shit decided he wanted to kill every animal on the planet which Gaia, the Titan Earth Mother, took objection to and sent a giant scorpion to kill him. In one version the scorpion kills him; in another version Artemis kills him as he swims away from the scorpion and he boasts that she could not hit the black thing in the sea, she fires her arrow at ‘the black thing’ being his head, not the scorpion, and not recognising the hunter. She gets quite upset about this.

Artemis/Diana weeps over Orion’s dead body, before having him ascended into the heaven’s as a constellation of stars. I personally don’t like this version of the myth because Orion is a borish rapist with no respect for nature and is not good enough for Artemis but…I may be jealously biased. (Credit: Daniel Seiter, Public Domain)

There is also a version of the story in which Orion tries to grab her robe and remove it so she rightfully stuck some golden arrows through him.

It’s safe to say Artemis doesn’t take shit from anybody – again in this regard she represents something fundamentally bestial in the human. She is well-tempered until in danger, at which point she will do what is necessary, what may be animal instinct, to protect herself. But she is also compassionate and protects others, as demonstrated in her saving the young Atalanta, abandoned and exposed by her father as a baby; Or her protection of her friend and attendant Arethusa, whom the river God Alpheus attempts to rape as she unknowingly bathes in his water. Arethusa was unwilling as she wanted to remain a chaste attendant to Artemis, but Alpheus pursued her insistently. Arethusa perspired so much from the chase that she transformed into a stream and Artemis broke the very ground so that Arethusa could escape, Alpheus now insistent on having Arethusa and mixing their waters together continued the pursuit. Arethusa was protected, as a spring, in a temple to Artemis.

The Greek heroine, Atalanta, often modelled after Artemis and associated with her, having been rescued from exposure (leaving a child to just…die…alone…outside) by a she-bear, a symbol of Artemis, she grew up to be a strong, athletic woman. This is her aiding in the hunt of the Calydonian boar. The boar itself was sent to Calydon by Artemis to ravage their lands after the King failed to honour her with a sacrifice. (Credit: Giovanni Battista Palumba, Public Domain)

Every story of Artemis is bound in humanity – chastity, envy, anger, compassion, protection, bleeding, hunting, she dances with the Muses and Graces, a celebration of the seeming innate human love of rhythm and movement, she controls the earth, hunts to her heart’s content and yet, in a manner befitting sense, compassion and a love of nature, stops herself when she has had enough, she is both bloodthirsty and joyous in the hunt whilst being moderate and measured in sating that need.

Again, to me, she represents the divinity of the animal in man itself, she is a celebration of the primal origins we came from and how we must, as a matter of divine principle, celebrate them, understand them and use them wisely – with moderation.

Her protection of chastity could easily be seen as a misogynistic throwback – some insistence on women remaining, in some way, ‘pure’. I think her associations with motherhood show that assumption to be false. It is not that women should remain ‘pure’ but that, due to the nature of life at the time, the dangers of childbirth which would have been a major killer of women, they must be sure of their motives before engaging in sexual relationships. To me, the importance of chastity, to Artemis, is not a denial of a natural sexual urge but the recognition, in a world before contraception and modern medicine, that you should only give up that chastity for a man with whom you are willing to die to have their children. Because that was a very real prospect!

Artemis (central) fights one giant, believed to be Otos, to her left, whilst her hunting dog takes down another. To the right of Artemis, her mother Leto fights too. This is from the Pergamon Alter, East Frieze built in the 2nd Century BCE and depicting the Gigantomachy – when the Olympian Gods fought the race of Giants. To the right of Leto, not pictured, her son, Apollo, fights too. The placement of all three together I think symbolises the strength of their relationship, with Leto’s placement between her children showing their protective nature over her. What’s more, the frieze depicts them all as solid fighters in their own right yet the huntress, Artemis, is the only one depicting taking down two giants at the same time, thanks to her hounds! Truly a master of killing. (Credit: Carole Raddato CC-BY-SA 2.0)

As I have said, Artemis is the brutal beauty – she represents the facts of life! And life is cruel! As mentioned, the reception of, thoughts of and beliefs around Gods and Goddesses was not universal across the regions those Gods were present. In some places Artemis was the protector of the pregnant and in other cases she was the reaper of those who died in childbirth! She is the brutal beauty!

One of the most important cults of Artemis is that at Ephesus. The Ephesian Artemis is a famous figure, the supposedly many-breasted woman statue replicas of which could be seen around the Greco-Roman world.

This Artemis appears to have been mixed in with aspects of a Mother Goddess cult from the East, the Cybele (who would be an important figure in Roman mythology in her own right) a Goddess of Phrygia, but from a tradition which seems to have originated in Anatolia, Asia Minor, or basically most of modern Turkey.

The statue of the Ephesian Artemis – whilst the bulbous protrusions on her chest are often said to be breasts they may also be bull testes or gourds. She is covered with, and surrounded by, wild animals, symbolising her links to the wilderness. (Credit: Blcksprt CC-BY-SA 4.0)

In Greece this mostly manifested as associations with Rheia, the Mother of the Gods, or possibly Demeter. At Ephesus this ‘Mother Goddess’ figure seems to have become associated with Artemis making her an exceptionally important figure. The Ephesians believed Artemis was actually born at Ephesus, not Ortygia or Delos. Whilst the representation of the statue usually has the bulbous lumps on her chest representing breasts this is contested. They may be bull testes, or gourds instead – both used as symbols of fertility or abundance.

The Ephesian Artemis is often depicted with animals, showing that this association of Artemis and the wild and animals still existed – again, Artemis always seems to be fundamentally associated with the natural.

I also love her Roman equivalent, Diana, whose cult at Nemi, allegedly, had a remarkable means of becoming high-priest. The Rex Nemorensis, the King of Nemi, was the high priest of Diana at Nemi, an area about 30 km Southeast of Rome which had a lake and forests and groves and it was basically a little wilderness retreat and showpiece for rich people. Caligula famously had some ridiculously luxury barges built for Lake Nemi – again I can’t go into detail now but look ‘em up.

There was a long-standing cult to Diana at Nemi and the high priest was decided not by politics, as so many priesthoods were, not by the customary Roman nepotism or giving the priesthood to the Emperor as a matter of course. No, apparently the high-priest was decided by murder!

The Fountain of Diana, the Roman equivalent of Artemis, in this amazing 16th Century French sculpture by an unknown artist. The stag, with gilded horns, is pacifed by Diana’s touch, possibly wounded by an arrow from the golden bow she holds in her hands. The stag is flanked by one of her hounds (you can see the tail to the left of the stag). Meanwhile another dog sits beneath her legs, shielded and protected. She is both destroyer and protector, reveller in wilderness and tamer of it. (Credit: Miniwark CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The priest would be decided in a trial by one-on-one combat and even the Romans, who could rightfully leave babies exposed to kill them if they didn’t want them, habitually raped their slaves and committed incredible acts of genocidal war, thought this a barbaric practice.

It is, in a way. But in a way I can think of no greater way to prove one’s devotion and honour to Artemis/Diana than a one-on-one fight to the death in the forest. It is, again, the brutal beauty.

Artemis is one of the Twelve Olympians, the pantheon of major deities in Greek tradition and I think this is for good reason.

If you read ‘We Lack Discipline’ regularly, if you follow my Twitter, you’ll know I regularly talk biology and ecology. The natural world was, academically, my main passion and the only one I actively pursued at one point.

I am also, for all my liberal politics, socially and personally a very…for want of a better term…conservative, and ‘chaste’ person. It stems from a belief in that brutal beauty. That we are wild beasts tamed by thoughts, but those thoughts can overrun the animal and destroy the whole; and the animal can overrun the thoughts and destroy the whole. We must understand, and learn to live with, both aspects of ourselves to live a ‘good’ life. We must harness both aspects to be our best selves.

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Artemision, historically one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is now merely a few crumbled ruins. I think this speaks volumes, as a metaphor, in our changing attitudes to how we live life and to the natural world, too.

Some of the sorry, fragmented remains of one of the world’s finest ever temples, the Artemision at Ephesus. This once Wonder of the World, much like the human understanding of our role as part of nature, part of the wilderness, and how to live with it rather than control it, lies crumbled. I can think of no greater metaphor for the trapping of human self-importance and the destruction of nature that has come with it than the ruins of this temple and the Goddess to whom it once stood. (Credit: sailko by GFDL)

Paganism, often rooted in an animist system of beliefs, a recognition of a divinity in everything, recognised something of the necessary in bloodshed, hunting, violence and wilderness.

Other religions, particularly the Abrahamic religions, speak of humankind’s ‘dominion’ over the earth and the creatures on it. The Book of Genesis talks of how humans should ‘subdue it’.

Artemis, for all that she may be the most accomplished of hunters, far-shooter of the golden arrow, represents something opposite to that. Whilst brutal with a bow she also took as her friends the Nymphs of the forest, the Oceanids of the sea, the very spirits of the wilderness and – as we have seen – she would stop at nothing to protect her friends. She befriended Pan, the wild God of forests and obtained her hunting hounds. She captured the golden stag to pull her chariot.

Artemis does not represent dominion, or subduing nature. She represents working with it, asking its spirits for assistance and assisting them in turn. Hunting only what you need, enjoying the hunt for what it is, but never taking that hunt too far – and the one time she came close in mythology, when she got lost in Orion, his death came swiftly after and she wept and knew sorrow. Even this Goddess is not stronger than the system, the innate brutal beauty itself.

A Hymn to Artemis

Artemis, leaning casually and looking like the Boss Bitch! This independent mindedness, the self-awareness, the revelry in the cruel realities of nature whilst rarely overstepping its bounds. Protecting others and keeping other people true to their boundaries too. To me this is the amalgam of the divine, the knowledge, the civilisation and the rooted, chthonian truth – the Earthly, cruel nature of all things and Artemis, my dear Artemis, represents them perfectly. (Credit: Carole Raddato CC-BY-SA 2.0)

I sing of Artemis,
whose moonlit, golden bow
sheds blood of those who mar.
But, to chaste, verdant hearts
her arrows are as those
that violent passions stir
when loosed by Him of Love,
Amorous Cupid’s, shot.
She takes, by hand, the stag,
whose piercing antlers’ dull
in tame submission to
this Huntress of the groves.
The hounds cry, barking hymns
of joy and glory much
in chasing noble beasts,
and bringing them as meat,
to honour our kin folk.
Whilst we ourselves do gift
a sacrifice to her
she pays us back in kind
and placates Mother Earth.
Then, when the hunt is done,
her bowstrings she lets slack.
Aphrodite of groves,
now, carefree, makes merry.
She dances with the trees,
the streams, the soil and air.
Leto’s brutal beauty,
and sister to the Moon,
dance by Apollo’s light
to the Orphic rhythm.
And teach us in your grace
how we can co-exist
with blood and suffering,
and still find joy, as you.

Hail, foul Zeus’ daughter,
whom Leto purified.
And may we sing to you
forever, free of pride.
For Our world is borrowed
from Gaia and from you.

By © Mercerspoems, 2021 – Read more poems here.

Learn about More Space Stuff that’s Also Ancient Myth Stuff In Our Celestial Classics Series

Celestial Classics: Introduction – The basics of why the ancients are linked to the skies.
Celestial Classics: Vesta – Roman Goddess of hearth and home, associated with willies.
Celestial Classics: Ceres – Roman equivalent of Greek Demeter, goddess of agriculture.
Celestial Classics: Proserpina – Greek Persephone, goddess of the underworld.
Celestial Classics: Orion – The hunter so renowned the Gods put him in the sky.
Celestial Classics: Pluto and Orpheus – The God of the Underworld and his fav poet!
Celestial Classics: Venus – Love goddess who dates back as old as religion itself!

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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