Artemis (also known as the Roman goddess Diana) was the daughter of Zeus, the mighty ruler of the Olympian gods. Artemis' mother, Leto, gave birth to Artemis after a short and painless labor. But then Leto's labor continued, with her contractions growing weak and painful. Moved to compassion, the infant goddess Artemis, born only a few minutes earlier, became her mother's midwife and delivered her twin brother Apollo. You could say that, of all the Greek goddesses, the goddess Artemis was literally born to serve as a nurturer and protector! The Greek goddess Artemis was frequently called upon to nurture her needy and somewhat ineffectual mother. All too often she felt compelled to come to her rescue even though Artemis received little from her mother in return. As a result of her having caused her mother no pain in childbirth, and her successful role as midwife in her brother's birth, Artemis naturally became the patron saint of childbirth, the protector of children, and the goddess who especially heard the appeals of women. The goddess Artemis was always responsive to the needs of the vulnerable and the suffering. She was quick to defend the powerless from unjust treatment at the hands of the Olympian patriarchy; it is not surprising that in current times Artemis is seen as the "feminist" goddess. Even as a small child the Greek goddess Artemis was decisive. When Zeus asked Artemis what presents she wanted for her third birthday she responded without hesitation that she wanted six things: ~ to be allowed to live without having to be distracted by love and marriage, ~ a bow and arrow just like her brother's, ~ a hunting costume and freedom from having to dress up like a lady, ~ the job of bringing light into the world, ~sixty young nymphs to be her companions and to help care for her hunting dogs, and ~all the mountains on the earth to live on. Zeus was amused by her precociousness and happily granted the little goddess Artemis her wishes. Even at this tender age it was clear that Artemis was going to be the most independent of the goddesses, one who thrived on challenges! Artemis' association with the natural world, the wilderness, symbolizes her own untamed spirit. The most independent of the goddesses, she roamed the forests in her role as huntress. The Greek goddess Artemis was famous for her hunting skills, for the sharp focus of her attention and her unerring aim. She was known as a fearless and responsible hunter, willing and able to bring down the most terrifying beasts. But Artemis was especially fierce in her protection of the gentle animals that were usually preyed upon. As the protector of animals and the young, the goddess Artemis was angered because a group of Greek sailors had slaughtered a hare and its young. She delayed them from sailing to join the Battle of Troy. Artemis was not the least interested in cultivating the land or in harnessing the forces of nature to benefit mankind (she left those responsibilities to Demeter and Athena, respectfully). Artemis could easily be described as an early environmentalist. Artemis seemed to be more comfortable with the companionship of women friends. Often depicted by artists while hunting or bathing with her band of nymphs, the goddess Artemis valued her freedom and personal space and protected them with ferociousness. Indeed, those who restricted her freedom, those who tried to thwart her commitment to reaching her goals, or simply invaded her privacy, paid dearly. When the hunter Actaeon accidentally came upon Artemis while she was bathing, she turned him into a stag, whereupon his own hunting dogs attacked and tore him to pieces. Artemis could be both vengeful and impulsive. When she discovered that Callisto, one of the nymphs in her band of companions, had violated her vows of chastity and become pregnant as a result of an affair with Zeus, Artemis, without a moment's hesitation, Artemis changed her into a bear. Had Zeus not intervened to place her in the stars as the constellation Callisto (The Bear), the young nymph would have died quickly as the victim of a hunt. With the exception of her brother Apollo, who was a frequent ally and companion, Artemis was not known to have had very satisfying relationships with men. Her one great love affair, with the handsome and respected mortal Orion, ended very badly. Upset that his sister's time and attentions had been diverted away from him, the jealous Apollo tricked Artemis into killing Orion. Knowing that Orion was swimming in the ocean, Apollo bet Artemis that she could not hit "that distant object on the horizon" with an arrow. Filled with confidence in her skills as an archer, Artemis accepted the challenge. Successful as always, Artemis discovered that her competitiveness and unerring aim had killed the only man she had ever loved. In her abject grief, the goddess Artemis turned her dead lover into stars and shot him into the night sky where he remains as the constellation Orion. Never again did she allow herself to become vulnerable to romantic love. The Greek goddess Artemis was often associated with the moon, especially the crescent or "new" moon. Phoebe was one of the many names she was called. The name Phoebe means the "light one" or "bright one". Artemis "Goddess of Light" had the divine duty of illuminating the darkness. Artemis was often depicted carrying a candle or torch, lighting the way for others, leading them through territories yet uncharted. In Greek mythology Artemis, despite her "wildness" (her refusal to conform to conventional ways or tradition) and her fierce independence, was depicted as one of the compassionate, healing goddesses. Of all the Greek goddesses, she was the most self-sufficient, living life on her own terms, comfortable both in solitude and in holding the reins of leadership. The Greek goddess Artemis gives us courage. Like her counterpart, the Roman goddess Diana, she illuminates those places that terrify us and lends us her strength to bring us safely through our fears.
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