Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and one of the protectors of young children, is one of the twin children of Zeus and Leto. Leto was a daughter of the Titans, Coeus and Phoebe. Hera, Zeus’s wife, was very jealous about Zeus’s many lovers, whether goddess or human. She did not take kindly to Leto carrying two children of Zeus. Even though conception occurred before Zeus married Hera, she sent a serpent to torment Leto. Everywhere Leto went, the serpent followed. The people of the lands she visited did not want to incur Hera’s wrath, and refused to let Leto deliver her children in their countries. Finally she was allowed to stop on her sister’s island, Ortygia, where Artemis was born. After Artemis was born, she helped her mother through nine more days of labor until Apollo was born. Artemis and Apollo were very protective of their mother, and defended her and her honor on numerous occasions.
Artemis was skilled in archery and was considered the goddess of the hunt. Because she helped her mother in the childbirth of her brother, she was considered the goddess of childbirth. When she was three, her father asked her to name any gifts she would like. She requested a bow and arrow, all the mountains of the world, just one city, and eternal virginity. Zeus happily gave her all she asked for and more. Legends of Artemis were frequently about her reacting to real or perceived slights, from humans forgetting to make a sacrifice to her when called for, humans boasting that their hunting prowess equaled hers, or otherworldly beings trying to rape her.
In one story, the twins sons of Posiedon, Otus and Ephialtes, were in love with Artemis and Hera. The brothers drew lots to decide which goddess to chase first, and Artemis was chosen. They soon spotted Artemis on the beach heading out to sea. Being sons of Poseiden, the brothers were quite capable of following her into the water. She led them out to a thickly wooded island, and then transformed herself into a beautiful doe. The brothers were so taken with the doe that they forgot about Artemis and decided to hunt the doe. Artemis led them through the twists and turns in the woods until the brothers were separated. Finally, they each saw the beautiful doe in a clearing and threw their spears. They did not see that on the other side of the doe was the other brother. At the last moment, Artemis disappeared, and the spears struck each brother, killing them.
In another story, Actaeon, a hunter, came across Artemis and her loyal following of nymphs while they were bathing in a river. Artemis was so enraged that he saw her naked that she transformed him into a stag, and he was killed by his own hunting dogs.
Artemis also caused problems for the Greeks in their battle against Troy. King Agamemnon either boasted that his hunting prowess was better than Artemis, or he killed one of her sacred stags. Either way, Artemis stranded the fleet with ill winds. She demanded a sacrifice of the king’s maiden daughter, Iphigenia, before she would release the winds. There is debate as to whether Artemis saved Iphigenia at the last minute by substituting a deer on the altar.
The moral of this story is to never offend Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt.
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