Zeus and His Dysfunctional Family

13 Artemis

Apollo, draped in a himation and wearing a crown, stands holding a sceptre. In front of him stands Artemis, similarly dressed with a cap and holding a bow. Beside the two of them stands a small spotted deer.
Apollo and Artemis, red-figure skyphos, ca. 470 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)


Sections & Primary Sources

In the Greek mythological tradition, Artemis and Apollo were both the children of Zeus and Leto. This made them full siblings, unlike most of the younger Olympians, and in some traditions they were twins.  Pseudo-Apollodorus (1.4.1) says they are twins, and that Artemis was born first and assisted her mother in the birth of her brother, thus reflecting her role as a goddess of childbirth.

As a young girl, Artemis goes to Zeus and asks that he give her a bow and arrows and nymphs to be her companions. She requests that she be allowed to remain a virgin forever and never marry or know the company of men.


Callimachus, Hymn 3, “To Artemis” (trans. A. W. Mair, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek hymn, 3rd century BCE

This hymn to Artemis was written by the Greek poet Callimachus in the third century BCE. Callimachian hymns are similar in style and content to the Homeric Hymns, but because we can trace them to a single author, we can date their composition more precisely. As with all ancient Greek hymns, this one opens with an invocation of and praise for the goddess.


[1] Artemis we hymn – it is no light thing for singers to forget her – whose study is the bow and the shooting of hares and the spacious dance and sport in the mountains; beginning with the time when, still a little girl sitting on her father’s knees, she spoke these words to her father [ Zeus ], “Allow me to keep my virginity, Father, forever, and allow me to have so many names, that Phoebus cannot compete with me. Give me arrows and a bow – wait, Father, I do not ask you for a quiver or for a mighty bow. The Cyclopes right away will make arrows and a well-bent bow for me. But allow me to be Bringer of Light and allow me to be dressed in a tunic with an embroidered border reaching to the knee, so that I can slay wild beasts. And give me sixty daughters of Ocean for my choir – all nine years old, all maidens still ungirdled– and give me twenty nymphs of Amnisus as handmaidens, who will care for my boots, and, when I no longer shoot at lynx or stag, will tend my swift hounds. And give me all mountains. For my city, assign me any, whichever you want. For Artemis seldom goes down to the town. I will live on the mountains, and I will visit the cities of men only when women plagued by the sharp pang of childbirth call me to their aid. Even in the hour when I was born the Fates ordained that I should be their helper, for my mother suffered no pain either when she gave me birth or when she carried me in her womb, but delivered me without labour.” So spoke the child and would have touched her father’s beard, but she reached out many times in vain, trying to touch it.

[28] And her father smiled and bowed his agreement. And as he caressed her, he said, “When goddesses bear me children like this, I do not need to worry about the anger of jealous Hera. Take all that you ask for, my child,  happily. Yes, and you father will also give you other things that are even greater. I will give you three times ten cities and towers– three times ten cities that will not glorify any other god except you and be called ‘of Artemis.’ And you will be Watcher over Streets and Harbours.” So he spoke and bent his head to confirm his words.

[40] And the maiden travelled to the white mountain of Crete, leafy with woods; from there to Ocean; and she chose many nymphs, all nine years old, all maidens still ungirdled. And the river Caeratus was exceedingly glad, and Tethys was glad that they were sending their daughters to be handmaidens to the daughter of Leto.

[46] And then she went to visit the Cyclopes. She found them on the island of Lipara – at that time its name was Meligunis – at the anvils of Hephaestus, standing around a molten mass of iron. For they were quickly completing a great work. They fashioned a horse-trough for Poseidon. And the nymphs were frightened when they saw the terrible monsters that looked like the crags of Ossa: all had single eyes beneath their brows, like a shield made of four hides in size, glaring terribly. And they were frightened when they heard the din of the anvil echoing loudly, and the great blast of the bellows, and the heavy groaning of the Cyclopes themselves. For Etna cried aloud, and Trinacia cried, the seat of the Sicanians, and their neighbour Italy cried too, and Cyrnos uttered a mighty noise together with them, when they lifted their hammers above their shoulders and smote with rhythmic swing the bronze glowing from the furnace or iron, labouring greatly. So the daughters of Ocean could not look at them face to face nor endure the din in their ears without feeling upset. No shame! The daughters of the blessed gods cannot even look at them without shuddering, though they are long past childhood’s years. But when any of the maidens disobeys her mother, the mother calls the Cyclopes to her child – Arges or Steropes– and Hermes comes out of the house, stained with burnt ashes. And then he plays the bogeyman, and the child runs into her mother’s lap, with her hands over her eyes. But you, Maiden, even earlier, while still only three years old, when Leto came bearing you in her arms at the bidding of Hephaestus so that he might give you gifts, and Brontes [a Cyclops] set you on his stout knees – you plucked the shaggy hair of his great breast and tore it out by force. And even to this day the mid part of his breast remains hairless, like when mange settles on a man’s temples and eats the hair away.

[80] So you addressed them boldly, “Cyclopes, fashion for me a Cydonian bow and arrows and a hollow quiver for my shafts; for I am also a child of Leto, just like Apollo. And if, with my bow, I slay some wild creature or monstrous beast, you Cyclopes will have it to eat.” So you spoke and they carried out your request. Then you armed yourself, Goddess. And speedily again you went to get your hounds; and you came to the Arcadian fold of Pan. And he was cutting up the flesh of a lynx of Maenalus so that his dogs might eat it for food. And the Bearded God gave you two black-and-white dogs, three reddish, and one spotted one, which could even pull down lions, clutching their throats and dragging them still living to the fold. And he gave you seven Cynosurian hounds swifter than the winds – that breed which is swiftest at pursuing fawns and the hare which does not close his eyes; swiftest too at marking the lair of the stag and where the porcupine has his burrow, and following the track of the gazelle.

[98] Departing from there, your hounds speeding with you, you found a mighty herd of deer frolicking by the base of the Parrhasian hill. They always gathered by the banks of the black-pebbled Anaurus, larger than bulls, with shining gold horns. And you were suddenly amazed and said to yourself, “This would be a first capture worthy of Artemis.” There were five in all and you captured four on your own speedy feet, without the help of your dogs, to draw your swift chariot. But one [ the Cerynitian Hind ] escaped over the river Celadon, by Hera's devising, so that it might be a labour for Heracles in the future, and the Ceryneian hill received her.

[109] Artemis, Maiden, Slayer of Tityus, your arms were golden and your belt was gold, and you yolked a golden chariot, and put golden bridles on your deer. And where did your horned team first carry you? To Thracian Haemus, from where the hurricane of Boreas comes, bringing an evil breath of frost to cloakless men. And where did you cut the pine and with what flame did you light it on fire? It was on Mysian Olympus [in the Uludağ mountains], and you put the breath of unquenchable flame in it, which your Father’s bolts create. And how often goddess, did you test out your silver bow? You shot first at an elm, and next at an oak, and third at a wild beast. But the fourth time – it was not long before you shot at the city of unjust men, those who did many evil deeds to one another and towards strangers, cruel men, on whom you inflict your harsh wrath. Plague feeds on their cattle, frost on their crops, and the old men cut their hair in mourning for their sons, and their wives are either struck down or die in childbirth, or, if they escape, bear children cannot stand on straight ankles. But on whomever you look, smiling and gracious, for them the crops bear grain abundantly, and the four-footed animals prosper abundantly. They do not go to the tomb, except when they carry the old people there. And family divisions separate them – divisions which ca ravage even a well-established houses. But brother’s wife and husband’s sister set their chairs around one table.

[134] Lady, be my true friend, and I will be yours, Queen. And may I zealously pursue the art of song forever. My song will have the marriage of Leto, in which your name will be sung many times. Apollo will be in that song, and all your labours, and your hounds and your bow and your chariots, which carry you lightly in your splendour, when you drive to the house of Zeus. There in the entrance you meet Hermes and Apollo. Hermes the Lord of Blessing, takes your weapons, Apollo takes whatever wild beast you bring. Or at least Apollo did before strong Alcides came, but now Phoebus no longer has this task. And the Anvil of Tiryns [ Heracles ] stands ever before the gates, waiting to see if you will come home with some fat morsel. And all the gods laugh endlessly at him and most of all his own wife’s mother, when he brings from the chariot a great bull or a wild boar, struggling to carry it by the hind foot. He admonishes you, goddess, with this stunning speech, “Shoot at the evil wild beasts, so that mortals will call you their helper like they call me. Leave deer and hares to feed upon the hills. What harm could deer and hares do? It is boars which ravage the crops of men and boars which ravage the plants; and oxen are a great curse to men. Shoot also at those.” So he spoke and swiftly busied himself in preparing the mighty beast. For although beneath a Phrygian oak tree, his flesh was made into that of a god, still he has not ceased from his gluttony. He still has that belly with which he met Theiodamas at the plough.

[162] The nymphs of Amnisus rub down the deer for you, after they are freed from the yoke, and they gather much swift-springing clover from the field of Hera for them to feed on, which also the horses of Zeus eat; and they fill golden troughs with water to be a pleasant drink for the deer. And you yourself enter your Father’s house, and everyone offers you a seat, but you sit beside Apollo.

[170] But when the nymphs encircle you in the dance, near the springs of Egyptian Inopus or Pitane – for Pitane too is yours– or in Limnae, or in Alae Araphenides, where you came to live from Scythia, renouncing the rites of the Tauri, then may I not have to work for a foreign ploughman, earning a wage by driving my cattle as they plow a four-acre, fallow field. Or they would surely return to the cowshed injured and with tired necks, even if they were Stymphaean cattle, nine years of age, drawing by the horns. These [Stymphaean] cattle are by far the best for plowing a deep furrow. For the god Helios never passes by that beautiful dance, without stopping his chariot to gaze at the sight, and the lights of day are lengthened.

[183] Which islands, what hill, do you favour the most? What haven? What city? Which of the nymphs do you love above the rest, and what heroines have you taken as your companions? Tell me, goddess, and I will sing your words to others. Out of the islands, Doliche is your favourite; of cities, Perge; of hills, Taygeton; of havens, Euripus. And more than any of the others you love the nymph of Gortyn, Britomartis, slayer of stags, the noble archer. Long ago, Minos was distraught from love of her and roamed the hills of Crete. And the nymph would hide herself first under the shaggy oaks and then in the low meadows. And for nine months he roamed over crag and cliff and did not stop pursuing, until, nearly caught, she leapt into the sea from the top of a cliff and fell into the nets of fishermen, which saved her. From then on the Cydonians called her the Lady of the Nets (Dictyna) and the hill from which the nymph leaped they call the hill of Nets (Dictaeon), and there they set up altars and make sacrifices. And on that day they wear pine or mastich garlands, but they do not touch myrtle. For when she was in flight, a myrtle branch became entangled in the maiden’s robes. For this reason she was greatly angered against the myrtle. The Cretans also call you Upis, Queen, fair-faced Bringer of Light, after that nymph.

[206] And you made Cyrene your comrade, to whom you yourself once gave two hunting dogs, with whom the maiden daughter of Hypseus won the prize beside the Iolcian tomb. And you made the fair-haired wife of Cephalus, son of Deioneus,  your companion in the chase, Mistress. And they say you loved fair Anticleia as much as your own eyes. These were the first who wore the gallant bow and arrow-holding quivers on their shoulders. They carried the quiver strap on their right shoulders, and their right breasts were always bare. Furthermore, you greatly praised swift-footed Atalanta, the slayer of boars, daughter of Arcadian Iasius, and taught her how to hunt with dogs and the skill of archery. Those men who were called to the Calydian boar hunt found no fault with her. Indeed the tokens of victory went to Arcadia, which still holds the boar's tusks. And I do not think that Hylaeus and foolish Rhoecus, for all their hate, insult her archery down in Hades. For their flanks, whose blood flowed down from the height of Maenalus [mountain], will not support the lie.[1]

[225] Lady of many shrines, of many cities, greetings! Goddess of the Tunic, sojourner in Miletus! Neleus made you his guide when he left with his ships from the land of Cecrops. Lady of Chesion and of Imbrasus, on the highest throne, Agamemnon dedicate the rudder of his ship to you in your shrine, a charm against bad weather, when you bound the winds for him, that time when the Achaean ships sailed to attack the cities of the Teucri, angry for Rhamnusian Helen.

[233]Proetus established two shrines for you, one for Artemis the Maiden, because you gathered his maiden daughters for him when they were wandering over the Azanian hills; the other he founded in Lusa to Artemis the Gentle, because you took the spirit of wildness from his daughters.[2] The Amazons, whose mind is set on war, established an image for you, beneath an oak trunk in your shrine in Ephesus beside the sea, and Hippo performed a holy rite for you, and they themselves, Upis Queen, danced a war-dance around the image – first in shields and armour, and again in a circular choir. And the loud pipes piped shrill accompaniment for them, so that they could dance together (for not yet did they pierce the bones of the fawn, Athena’s handiwork, a curse to the deer).[3] And the echo reached to Sardis and to the Berecynthian range. And they beat loudly with their feet and their quivers rattled.

[248] And afterwards a shrine of broad foundations was raised around that image. Dawn sees nothing more divine than it, nothing richer. It would easily outdo Pytho. For which reason, in madness insolent Lygdamis threatened that he would destroy it, and brought a host of Cimmerians against it, people as numerous as grains of sand, who milk mares, and who have their homes near the Straits of the cow [the Cimmerian Bosporus], daughter of Inachus, [ Io ]. Ah! foolish king, how greatly he erred! For neither he nor any other of those whose wagons stood in the Caystrian plain were destined to return again to Scythia. And your arrows are set in front of Ephesus forever as a defence.

[258] Lady of Munychia, Watcher of Harbours, greetings, Lady of Pherae! Let no one disparage Artemis. For no pleasant struggles came upon Oeneus, who dishonoured her altar. Nor let any compete with her in the shooting of stags or in archery. For the son of Atreus suffered no small punishment for his boasting. Neither let any court the Maiden; for neither Otus, nor Orion courted her to their own good. Nor let any neglect the yearly dance; for Hippo’s refusal to dance around the altar was not without tears. Greetings, great queen, and graciously receive my song.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/CallimachusHymns1.html#3


Artemis in Action

Goddess of the Hunt

Artemis' main pastime was hunting in the woods with her nymph companions, who had, like herself, made vows of permanent chastity.


Homeric Hymn 9, "To Artemis" (trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek hymn, 7th century BCE

This short Homeric Hymn, written in Greek in the 7th century BCE, touches on some of main attributes of the Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunting.


[1] Muse, sing of Artemis, sister of the Far-Shooter, the virgin who delights in arrows, who was raised with Apollo. She waters her horses from Meles deep in reeds, and swiftly drives her all-golden chariot through Smyrna to vine-clad Claros, where Apollo, god of the silver bow, sits waiting for the far-shooting goddess who delights in arrows. And so greetings to you, Artemis, in my song and to all goddesses as well. I sing of you first and I begin with you. Now that I have begun with you, I will turn to another song.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/HomericHymns3.html#9


Homeric Hymn 27, "To Artemis" (trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek hymn, 7th century BCE

This second Homeric Hymn to Artemis, also written in Greek in the 7th century BCE, expands on the themes of the previous one, detailing the attributes and pastimes of Artemis and her twin brother Apollo.


[1] I sing of Artemis, whose arrows are of gold, who cheers on the hounds, the pure maiden, shooter of stags, who delights in archery, sister of Apollo with the golden sword. Over the shadowy hills and windy peaks she draws her golden bow, rejoicing in the chase, and sends out dreadful arrows. The tops of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes awesomely with the outcry of beasts, the earth quakes and the sea also where fishes shoal. But the goddess with a bold heart turns in every direction, destroying the race of wild beasts and when she is satisfied and has cheered her heart, this huntress who delights in arrows loosens her supple bow and goes to the great house of her dear brother Phoebus Apollo, to the rich land of Delphi, there to order the lovely dance of the Muses and Graces. There she hangs up her curved bow and her arrows and leads the dances, gracefully arrayed, while all utter their heavenly voice, singing about how neat-ankled Leto bore children supreme among the immortals, both in thought and in deed. Greetings to you, children of Zeus and rich-haired Leto! And now I will remember you and another song also.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/HomericHymns3.html#27



Several of Artemis' myths involve her protecting herself or other women from the unwanted gaze and sexual advances of men (gods and mortals alike). Perhaps the most famous of these stories is that of Actaeon, a cousin of Dionysus and a prince of Thebes.


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Book 3 (trans. J. G. Frazer, adapted by L. Zhang)

Greek mythography, 2nd century BCE

This passage from the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus summarizes the demise of the hunter Acteon, a prince of Thebes, when he fell afoul of Artemis' wrath.


[3.4.4] Autonoe and Aristaeus had a son named Actaeon, who was raised by Chiron to be a hunter and then afterwards was devoured on Cithaeron by his own dogs. He perished in that way, according to Acusilaus, because Zeus was angry at him for wooing Semele; but according to the more general opinion, it was because he saw Artemis bathing. And they say that the goddess at once transformed him into a deer, and drove the fifty dogs in his pack mad, who devoured him, not knowing who he was. When Actaeon was gone, the dogs howled pitifully, seeking their master, and in the search they came to the cave of Chiron, who fashioned an image of Actaeon, which soothed their grief.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus3.html#4


[content warning for the following section: sexual assault]

The story of Orion has quite a few variations. In some versions of the myth he is a giant who challenges Artemis to a contest (of discus or archery) and attempts to rape one of her nymphs; she kills him in anger. In another version, he is a friend and hunting companion of Artemis. In his arrogance, he claims that he can kill any beast produced on the earth, which angers Gaia, who then kills him. Finally, a third version of the myth tells us that Apollo was jealous of Artemis' closeness with Orion, and so he tricked his sister into killing her friend. To commemorate her hunting companion, Artemis put Orion up in the sky as a constellation.


Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica (trans. M. Grant, adapted by T. Mulder and P. Rogak)

Latin mythography, 2nd century CE

In some versions of the myth, such as this one here, it is Leto or Zeus who makes Orion and his foe, the scorpion, into constellations.


[2.26] The constellation [Scorpio] was put in the sky, it is said, for the following reason: Orion, since he used to hunt, and felt confident that he was most skilled of all in that pursuit, said to Diana and Leto that he was able to kill anything the earth produced. Tellus, angered at this, sent the Scorpion, which is said to have killed him. Jove, however, admiring the courage of both, put the Scorpion among the stars, as a lesson to men not to be too self-confident. Diana, then, because of her affection for Orion, asked Jove to show to her request the same favour he had given of his own accord to Tellus. And so the constellation was established in such a way that when Scorpion rises, Orion sets.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/ArtemisFavour.html#Orion


[content warning for the following section: sexual assault]

Another myth with different versions is that of Artemis' companion, Callisto. According to one version of the story, after Zeus sexually assaulted Callisto, the jealous Hera turned her into a bear. Not knowing what had happened, Artemis accidentally killed Callisto while out hunting. She placed her among the stars as the constellation Ursa Major in commemoration. In another version of the myth, Artemis herself changed Callisto into a bear as a punishment for breaking her vow of chastity, despite the fact that Zeus had assaulted her against her will.


Hesiod, Astronomia, Fragment 3 (from Pseudo-Eratosthenes, Catasterismi Frag 1.2) (trans. H. G. Evelyn-White, adapted by T. Mulder and P. Rogak)

Greek epic, ca. 8th century BCE

This is one version of the Callisto myth, a fragment from an ancient Greek epic poem called the Astronomia, which has been attributed to the poet Hesiod. This fragment was preserved in a fragment of another text called the Catasterismi by Pseudo-Eratosthenes. Many texts from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds are known to us only in fragments like this one, preserved in the works of other authors.


The Great Bear [Constellation Ursa Major]. Hesiod says [ Callisto ] was the daughter of Lycaon and lived in Arcadia. She chose to hunt wild beasts in the mountains together with Artemis. When she was raped by Zeus, this kept going on for some time without the goddess knowing, but after a while Callisto was seen bathing and so it was discovered that she was pregnant. Upon learning this fact, the goddess was enraged and turned her into a beast. Callisto became a bear and gave birth to a son called Arkas . . . but [later] Zeus rescued her because of his previous exploit with her and transformed her into a constellation bearing the name Bear (Arktos) because of what had happened to her.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/ArtemisWrath3.html#Kallisto


Agamemnon and a veiled Clytemnestra stand holding hands, by a luxurious tent surrounded by attendants. In the background, Artemis runs with a deer.
The sacrifice of Iphigenia, Roman mosaic (Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya MAC, Barcelona)

Before the start of the Trojan War, the Achaean (Greek) army was preparing to set sail for Troy. The leader of the Achaeans, Agamemnon, had angered Artemis by claiming that he was a better hunter than she was. To punish him, she withheld the winds that the Achaean's needed to sail to Troy. She informed Agamemnon that in order to restore the winds, he needed to sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. In some versions of this myth, at the last minute Artemis rescues Iphigenia, carrying her off to safety and substituting a deer in her place on the sacrificial altar.

For further discussion of the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, see chapter 26 and chapter 30.


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome (trans. J. G. Frazer, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, 2nd century CE

The myth of the sacrifice of Iphigenia is given in this passage of the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus. In this version, Artemis rescues Iphigenia at the altar.


[E.3.21] But when they set sail from Argos and arrived for the second time at Aulis, the fleet was windbound, and Calchas said that they could not sail unless the most beautiful of Agamemnon's daughters were presented as a sacrifice to Artemis; for the goddess was angry with Agamemnon, both because, after shooting a deer, he had said, “Artemis herself could not (do it better),” and because Atreus had not sacrificed to her the golden lamb.

[E.3.22] When he received this oracle, Agamemnon sent Ulysses and Talthybius to Clytemnestra and asked for Iphigenia, mentioning a promise of his to marry her to Achilles as a reward for his military service. So Clytemnestra sent her, and Agamemnon set her beside the altar, and was about to slaughter her, when Artemis carried her off to the Taurians and appointed her to be her priestess, substituting a deer for her at the altar; but some say that Artemis made her immortal.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/ApollodorusE.html#3


In addition to her protection of young women, Artemis, along with her brother Apollo, took revenge against anyone who attempted to harm or insult their mother, Leto. They slew the giant Tityus and killed the children of the mortal woman Niobe.

Pindar, Odes, "Pythian 4" (trans. D. A. Svarlien)

Greek victory ode, 462 BCE

The giant Tityus and his punishment at the hand of Apollo and Artemis appears in one of Pindar's victory odes (a poem celebrating a win), which he composed for Arcesilus of Cyrene, the winner of the chariot race in the Pythian Games in 462 BCE. These victory odes often contained mythological themes, usually incorporating many stories into one ode.


[85] Nevertheless, one of the awed onlookers said even this, “Surely this is not Apollo, nor Ares, the husband of Aphrodite, with his bronze chariot. And they say that the sons of Iphimedeia—Otus and you, bold lord Ephialtes—died in splendid Naxos. [90] And indeed Tityus was hunted down by the swift arrow of Artemis, which she shot from her unconquerable quiver, so that men might desire to touch only the objects of their love that are within their reach.”


Taken from: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0162%3Abook%3DP.%3Apoem%3D4


Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Book 1 (trans. J. G. Frazer, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Greek mythography, 2nd century BCE

[content warning for the following source: sexual assault]
In this section of Pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheca, Apollo and Artemis kill the giant Tityus, son of Zeus and Elare, after he tries to rape their mother Leto.

[1.4.1] Not long afterwards he [ Apollo ] also killed Tityus, who was a son of Zeus and Elare, daughter of Orchomenus; for, after he had seduced her, Zeus hid her under the earth for fear of Hera, and brought forth to the light the son Tityus, of monstrous size, whom she had borne in her womb. When Leto  came to Pytho, Tityus saw her, and overpowered by lust drew her to himself. But she called her children to her aid, and they shot him down with their arrows. And he is punished even after death; for vultures eat his heart in Hades.


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Text/Apollodorus1.html#4



Niobe was a queen of Thebes who boasted that she had twelve children, six sons and six daughters, while the goddess Leto only had two, Apollo and Artemis. In punishment for her arrogance, Apollo and Artemis killed Niobe's twelve children. She wept uncontrollably until Zeus turned her into a stone.

Homer, Iliad, Book 24 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek epic poem, 8th century BCE

The passage comes from the end of the final book of Homer's Iliad. The old king Priam has slipped secretly into the Greek camp to beg for the body of his son Hector from the Greek hero, Achilles. After killing Hector, Achilles has been abusing his body for days, dragging it around the walls of Troy behind his chariot. Achilles agrees to hand over Hector's body to his father and, with compassion for the old man, in whom he sees a likeness of his own father, Achilles encourages Priam to eat, drawing an analogy to Niobe, who even in her grief at the loss of her children, ate.


[552-620] With this, noble Achilles returned to the hut and sat down again on his richly inlaid chair opposite Priam, saying: ‘Venerable lord, your son’s body has been placed on a bier and I shall release it to you as you wished. At dawn you may look on him, and carry him back, but now let us eat. Even long-haired Niobe eventually thought to eat, though her twelve children had been slain, six daughters, six sons in their prime. Apollo angry that Niobe had boasted of bearing so many children compared with Leto who had borne but two, killed the sons with arrows from his silver bow, while his sister Artemis killed the daughters. The pair slew them all, and left them lying in their blood, for nine days, since Zeus had turned the people to stone and there was no one to bury the corpses. On the tenth day the heavenly gods gave them burial, and only then did Niobe, exhausted by her grief, take sustenance. Now, turned to stone herself, she stands among the crags on the desolate slopes of Sipylus, where men say the Nymphs that dance on the banks of Achelous take their rest, and broods on the sorrows the gods sent her. Come let us too take sustenance, venerable lord: in Ilium you can lament your son once more, and grieve for him with a flood of tears.’


Taken from: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Iliad24.php

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved.


Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 11 (trans. A. S. Kline, adapted by L. Zhang and P. Rogak)

Latin epic poem, 1st century CE

[content warning for the following source: graphic descriptions of death (206-312), suicide (267-312)]
This version of the myth of Niobe comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, a Latin epic poem written in the 1st century CE. Ovid connects this story about the hubris (meaning arrogance) of Niobe to the similar myth of Arachne. Both involve women who did not show proper reverence to the gods and were punished.

[146-203] All of Lydia murmurs: the tale goes through the towns of Phrygia, and fills the whole world with talk. Niobe had known Arachne. As a girl, before her marriage, she had lived in Maeonia, near Mount Sipylus. Nevertheless, she was not warned by her countrywoman’s fate, to give the gods respect, and use more modest words. Many things swelled her pride, but neither her husband Amphion’s marvelous art in music, nor both of their high lineages, nor the might of their great kingdom of Thebes, pleased her (though they did please her) as much as her children did. And Niobe would have been spoken of as the most fortunate of mothers, if she had not seemed so to herself.

Now Manto, the daughter of Teiresias, prescient of the future, stirred by divine impulse, went through the middle of the streets, declaiming. ‘Women of Thebes, Ismenides, go, as a crowd, and wreathe your hair with laurel, and bring incense with holy prayer to Leto, and Leto’s children, Diana and Apollo. Leto commands it through my mouth.’ They obey: all the Theban women, as commanded, dress their temples with sweet-bay, and bring incense and words of prayer to the sacred flames.

Look, Niobe comes, followed by a crowded throng, visible, in her Phrygian robes woven with gold, and as beautiful as anger will let her be. Turning her lovely head with the hair falling loose over both her shoulders, she pauses, and looks around with pride in her eyes, from her full height, saying ‘What madness, to prefer the gods you are told about to the ones you see? Why is Leto worshipped at the altars, while as yet my godhead is without its incense? Tantalus is my father, who is the only man to eat the food of the gods. My mother is one of the seven sisters, the Pleiades. Great Atlas, who carries the axis of the heavens on his shoulders, is one of my grandfathers. Jupiter is the other, and I glory in having him as my father-in-law as well. The people of Phrygia fear me. Cadmus' royal house is under my rule: and the walls, built to my husband’s lyre, and Thebes’ people, will be ruled by his power and mine. Whichever part of the palace I turn my eyes to, I look at immense wealth. Augment it with my beauty, worthy of a goddess, and add to this my seven daughters, as many sons, and soon my sons- and daughters-in-law! Now, ask what the reason is for my pride, and then dare to prefer Leto to me, that Titaness, daughter of Coeus, whoever he is. Leto, whom the wide earth once refused even a little piece of ground to give birth on.

'Land, sea, and sky were no refuge for your goddess. She was exiled from the world, until Delos, pitying the wanderer, gave her a precarious place, saying “Friend, you wander the earth, I the sea.” There she gave birth to twins, only a seventh of my offspring. I am fortunate (indeed, who can deny it?) and I will stay fortunate (and who can doubt that too?). My riches make me safe. I am greater than any whom Fortune can harm, and though she could take much away, she would leave me much more. Surely my comforts banish fear. Imagine that some of this host of children could be taken from me, I would still not, bereaved, be reduced to the two of Leto’s family. In that state, how far is she from childlessness? Go home – enough of holy things – and take those laurel wreaths from your hair!’ They drop them, and leave the rite unfinished, except what is their right, worshipping the goddess in a secret murmur.

[204-266] The goddess was deeply angered, and on the summit of Mount Cynthus she spoke to her twin children. ‘See, it will be doubted whether I, your mother, proud to have borne you, and giving way to no goddess, except Juno, am a goddess, and worship will be prevented at my altars through all the ages, unless you help me, my children. Nor is this my only grief. This daughter of Tantalus has added insult to injury, and has dared to put her children above you, and has called me childless, may that recoil on her own head, and has shown she has her father’s tongue for wickedness.’ Leto would have added her complaints to what she had told, but Phoebus cried ‘Enough! Long complaint delays her punishment!’ Phoebe [Diana] said the same, and falling swiftly through the air, concealed by clouds, they reached the house of Cadmus.

There was a broad, open plain near the walls, flattened by the constant passage of horses, where many wheels and hard hooves had levelled the turf beneath them. There, a number of Amphion’s seven sons mounted on their strong horses, and sitting firmly on their backs, bright with Tyrian purple, guided them using reins heavy with gold. While Ismenus, one of these, who had been the first of his mother’s burdens, was wheeling his horse’s path around in an unfaltering circle, and hauling at the foaming bit, he cried out ‘Oh, I am wounded!’ and revealed an arrow fixed in his chest, and dropping the reins from his dying hands, slipped gradually, sideways, over his mount’s right shoulder.

Next Sipylus, hearing the sound of a quiver in the empty air, let out the reins, just as a shipmaster sensing a storm runs for it when he sees the cloud, and claps on all sail, so that not even the slightest breeze is lost. Still giving full rein, he was overtaken, by the arrow that none can avoid, and the shaft stuck quivering in his neck, and the naked tip protruded from his throat. Leaning forward, as he was, he rolled down over the mane and the galloping hooves, and stained the ground with warm blood.

Unlucky Phaedimus, and Tantalus, who carried his grandfather’s name, at the end of the usual task asked of them, had joined the exercise of the young men, and were gleaming with oil in the wrestling match. And now they were fully engaged, in a tight hold, chest to chest, when an arrow, loosed from the taut bow, pierced them both, as they were. They groaned as one, and fell as one, their limbs contorted with pain. As they lay there, they cast a last dying look, as one, and, as one, gave up the ghost. Alphenor saw them die, and striking at his breast in anguish, he ran to them to lift their cold bodies in his embrace. In this filial service he also fell, for Delian Apollo tore at his innermost parts with deadly steel. As the shaft was removed, a section of his lung was drawn with it, caught on the barbs, and with his life’s blood his spirit rushed out into the air.

But it was not a simple wound that long-haired Damasicthon suffered. He was hit where the shin begins, and where the sinews of the knee leave a soft place between. While he was trying to pull out the fatal shaft with his hand, another arrow was driven into his throat as far as the feathers. The rush of blood expelled it, and gushing out, spurted high in the air, in a long jet. The last son, Ilioneus, stretched out his arms in vain entreaty. ‘O you company of all the gods, spare me!’ he cried, unaware that he need not ask them all. The archer god Apollo was moved, though already the dart could not be recalled: yet only a slight wound killed the boy, the arrow not striking deeply in his heart.

[267-312] The rumour of trouble, the people’s sorrow, and the tears of her own family, confirming sudden disaster to the mother, left her astounded that the gods could have done it, and angered that they had such power, and dared to use it. Now, she learned that the father, Amphion, driving the iron blade through his heart, had, in dying, ended pain and life together. Alas, how different this Niobe from that Niobe, the one, who a moment ago chased the people from Leto’s altar, and made her way through the city with head held high, enviable to her friends, and now more to be pitied by her enemies. She threw herself on the cold bodies, and without regard for due ceremony, gave all her sons a last kiss. Turning from them she lifted her bruised arms to the sky, and cried out ‘Feed your heart, cruel one, Leto, on my pain, feed your heart, and be done! Be done, savage spirit! I have been buried seven times. Celebrate and triumph over your enemy! But where is the victory? Even in my misery I have more than you in your happiness. After so many deaths, I still outdo you!’

She spoke, and the twang of a taut bowstring sounded, terrifying all of them, except Niobe. Pain gave her courage. The sisters, with black garments, and loosened hair, were standing by their brothers’ bodies. One, grasping at an arrow piercing her side, falling, fainted in death beside her brother’s face. A second, attempting to comfort her grieving mother, fell silent, and was bent in agony with a hidden wound. She pressed her lips together, but life had already fled. One fell trying in vain to run, and her sister fell across her. One tried to hide, while another trembled in full view. Now six had been dealt death, suffering their various wounds: the last remained. The mother, with all her robes and with her body, protected her, and cried out ‘Leave me just one, the youngest! I only ask for one, the youngest of all!’ While she prayed, she, for whom she prayed, was dead. Childless, she sat among the bodies of her sons, her daughters, and her husband, frozen in grief.

The breeze stirs not a hair, the colour of her cheeks is bloodless, and her eyes are fixed motionless in her sad face: nothing in that likeness is alive. Inwardly her tongue is frozen to the solid roof of her mouth, and her veins cease their power to throb. Her neck cannot bend, nor her arms recall their movement, nor her feet lead her anywhere. Inside, her body is stone. Yet she weeps, and, enclosed in a powerful whirlwind, she is snatched away to her own country: there, set on a mountain top, she wears away, and even now tears flow from the marble.


Taken from: https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph6.php#anchor_Toc64106367

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved.


Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 48 (trans. W. H. D. Rouse, adapted by P. Rogak)

Greek epic, 5th century CE

The Dionysica, written in Greek by Nonnus in the 5th century CE, is the longest epic that survives from Greco-Roman antiquity. Like the Homeric epics, it is written in dactylic hexameters and comprises 48 books, centered around the life of the god Dionysus. Here, in the last book, the goddess of divine retribution, Nemesis, has a conversation with Artemis about mortals who have offended the hunting goddess.


[395] [Nemesis speaking to Artemis :] If some prolific wife provokes your mother Leto, let her weep for her children, another Niobe of stone. Why should not I make another statue on Sipylus? . . . But if some woman is persecuting you as one did your mother Leto, I will be the avenger of the offended Archeress [. . .]”
[Artemis] broke in and said to the goddess who saves men from evil , “[. . .] I have suffered just as my mother did: we are both alike–in Phrygia Niobe offended Leto the mother of twins, in Phrygia again impious Aura offended me.[4] But Niobe paid for it by changing into another form, that daughter of Tantalus whose children were her sorrow, and she still weeps with stony eyes.”


Taken from: https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/ArtemisWrath.html#Niobe


Art and Symbolism

Artemis, draped in an elaborate Himation and with a bow on her back. She looks over her shoulder at a bearded man who stands behind her. To her left is Apollo, shooting a bow, and a deer.
Artemis and Apollo, red-figure psykter, ca. 480 BCE (Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich)

The earliest representations of Artemis in Greek art portrayed her as Mistress of the Animals (potnia theron), a winged female deity holding two wild beasts to her side.


Ajax, a warrior with a plumed helm and spear, carries the body of dead Achilles draped over his shoulder. On a second level, above, stands a winged Artemis, accompanied by two dog-like animals.
Artemis, with Ajax carrying the body of Achilles, black-figure krater, ca. 570 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Florence)

Although the relationship with animals remained a well-established feature in the portrayal of the goddess, in time her image changed to that of a maiden huntress, young and athletic. Artemis was represented either in traditional hunting attire (short tunic and boots), or wearing long robes. Her main attributes were the quiver and bow, and often the skin of an animal draped around her torso. Her hair could be worn tied up with a hairband, in a bonnet, or let loose.



Sculpture of dark bronze of the head and shoulders of Artemis. She has her arms held out in front of her as if she was holding a bow. She wears a crown and is dressed in simple sleeveless garb.
Artemis, bronze bust, ca. 11 BCE (National Archaeological Museum, Naples)
Artemis striding forward holding a bow in one hand and drawing an arrow from a quiver on her back.
Artemis, red-figure lekythos, ca. 460 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)















The cult of Artemis was syncretized (combined different features and beliefs) with those of two Anatolian deities, which resulted in different iconographies. The first was a fertility goddess whose main center of worship was Ephesus. The cult image of Ephesian Artemis shows her standing, flanked by animals, wearing an elaborate dress and headdress decorated with parts of animals and plants. Her temple, first built in monumental form in the 7th century BCE over an earlier structure, was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and its cult continued well into the early 5th century CE.


Artemis stands looking straight ahead, her expression placid. Her skirt is elaborately carved with the heads of animals. Around her torso hang many pear-shaped protrusions, and on her head is a cylindrical hat. Small dog-like creatures stand to either side of her.
Artemis of Ephesus, Ephesian statue, 1st century CE (Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk)

The second deity with which Artemis was identified was Bendis, a Thracian goddess of the hunt allegedly introduced to Greece by the Thracians residing in Athens during the 5th century BCE. The iconography of Artemis Bendis was very similar to that of the Greek goddess, with the addition of a Phrygian cap.


Artemis standing with a deer. She is a young robed woman and wears a conical Phrygian cap.
Artemis Bendis, terracotta figurine, ca. 350 BCE (British Museum, London)

As mistress of the animals and goddess of the hunt Artemis was almost invariably represented accompanied by deer (sometimes seen dragging her chariot) or hunting dog.


Side 1: the head of Artemis, a young woman with hair tied back. Side 2: a leaping stag.
Artemis and a deer, Ephesian coin, ca. 258 BCE
Artemis runs with one arm waving in the air. In front of her run four animals, including deer, a boar, and hounds.
Artemis with wild animals, terracotta figurines (National Archaeological Museum, Madrid)
Artemis, with jewels and a fancy hat, sits in a chariot pulled by two spotted hinds.
Artemis with hinds, red-figure krater, ca. 450 BCE (Louvre Museum, Paris)










One of the myths involving Artemis most commonly represented in art is the death of the hunter Actaeon, transformed into a deer and mauled by his own hounds as a punishment for having seen Artemis and her nymphs taking a bath at a mountain spring.


Actaeon, a young man, stands and flails his arms as 3 dogs jump on him. Artemis stands by and watches.
Artemis watching the death of Actaeon, Greek relief from Selinunte, ca. 450 BCE (Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas, Palermo)
Actaeon, a young man with a chlamys cape and a sword, lies on the ground with one arm reaching desperately up. Four dogs climb on him and bite him. Artemis stands by, draped in animal skins and holding a bow and arrows.
The death of Actaeon, tracing from red-figure krater from the 5th century BCE (accessed via Theoi.com/the Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

The goddess was also often portrayed in the company of her mother Leto and twin brother Apollo.


A bearded satyr stands nude leaning against a pillar, holding a large knife. In front of him stands Artemis, with Leto just visible behind her.
Leto (far left), Artemis and the satyr Marsyas, red-figure skyphos, ca. 420 BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York)


Diana lunges holding a bow with an arrow nocked. She aims at a deer that stands grazing under a tree.
Diana, Utica mosaic, ca. 150 CE (Bardo National Museum, Tunis)

The iconography of Diana, the Roman equivalent of Artemis, did not differ drastically from that of her Greek counterpart. The goddess kept being represented as a young huntress holding bow and arrows, sometimes accompanied by deer or other wild animals.


Diana as a young woman with a tunic and sandals. She is running next to a small deer, and one of her hands reaches for an arrow from the quiver on her back.
Diana of Versailles, Roman marble statue, 1st-2nd centuries CE (Louvre Museum, Paris)
Diana as a young woman in a long gown, holding a bow and arrow.
Diana, Pompeii fresco, 1st century CE (National Archaeological Museum, Naples)

A myth that seems to have been particularly popular in Roman art was that of the rescue of princess Iphigenia, spirited away by Diana right before being sacrificed and swapped with a deer.


Two servant men carry a struggling nude Iphigenia, in Agamemnon's wake. To the left, a veiled woman mourns. Above in the sky, two goddess figures bring a deer.
The sacrifice of Iphigenia, Pompeii fresco, 1st century CE (National Archaeological Museum, Naples)

Media Attributions and Footnotes

Media Attributions

  1. Hylaeus and Rhoecus attempted to rape Atalanta, but she killed them with her bow on Mount Maenalus.
  2. Proetus' daughters (Lysippe, Iphinoe, and Iphianassa) were cursed by either Hera or Dionysus to believe that they were cows and roam the hills. The healer Melampus cured them at a shrine of Artemis.
  3. Athena is often credited with inventing the aulos flute, which was traditionally made from the bones of deer.
  4. [cw: sexual assault] Refers to an incident recounted by Nonnus, in which Artemis punishes Aura for questioning her virginity. Nemesis, Artemis, and Eros then compel Dionysus to rape Aura.


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