Legends of Artemis
by Carla Osborne

According to the Agraeans, after being born on Delos Artemis hunted for the first time on their lands.
She then went to Ambracia, where she discovered the people were being tormented by the tyrant
Phalaexis. The Ambracians believed that Artemis had a lioness tear him apart. It is just as likely that
she beat him in a fight, or that he died in a hunting accident.


A muddled Greek tale to explain worship of Artemis under this title runs as follows:

During the Persian War, the Persian army set out for Megara. The Megarans, fearful for their city,
prayed to Artemis for help. The enemy became lost in the forested hills at night, and shot the majority
of their arrows into the forest. Each time an arrow hot a tree, Artemis caused the Persians to hear the
groans of wounded people. Convinced they were killing Greeks, the Persians finished off their
ammunition and were an easy mark for the Megarans in the morning. In thanks for Artemis' help, the
Megarans built her a temple.

The improbable behavior of the Persians aside, the story seems to have suffered with age. It may have
been a rough replacement for an older myth.


While much of Classical Greek mythology portrays Artemis as retiring and indisposed to act unless
personally insulted, a few do show her as quick witted and decisive. One of these myths concerns the
tragic fate of Otus and Ephialtes, giants whom the Greeks writers called sons of Poseidon.

These two giants were extremely arrogant, and cared only for each other. Selfish and wasteful, they
existed for the instant gratification of whatever desires they happened to have. One day, they decided
that they would take over Mount Olympus. Astonishingly, they nearly succeeded, forcing Zeus to throw
them back to earth with a thunderbolt. He was going to kill these violent rivals in order to secure his
position, but Poseidon convinced him to let them go.

Thwarted in one foolish desire, Otus and Ephialtes came up with another. Each decided that they would
rape a Goddess. One chose Hera, the other, Artemis. However, Hera was unreachable, and Artemis
was not merely the chief hunter on Olympus, but chief defender of all Goddesses. She allowed the two
giants to pursue her, leading them into the sea. They were sons of a sea god, and they ran across it as
wasily as if it were land. No one notes if they were surprised that Artemis could also perform this feat.
Since she is the daughter of a sea Goddess, perhaps it wasn't surprising.

Artemis led Otus and Ephialtes to the island of Naxos and allowed them to approach her so closely they
nearly touched her, and felt the movement of the air when she disappeared. Some distance away, at the
edge of the forest appeared a white hind with silver hooves, which dashed away. True to their short
attention spans, the brothers grabbed their spears and chased it instead. Eventually they each arrived at
opposite sides of a glade. Able to see only the hind at its centre, they threw their spears and impaled
one another.

These giants seem to have been personifications of the waves (Otus means 'he who pushes back' while
Ephialtes means 'he who leaps upon'), which cancel each other out almost as often as they beat the


This Cretan Goddess is far more than just the lover of Great Artemis. Gortyna is named for 'gortys' the
Cretan word for cow, an animal sacred to this Great Goddess. Her own name means 'good maiden.'
She was the youthful aspect of the threefold Great Goddess of pre-Hellenic Crete. She was a young
hunter accompanied by snakes, suckling babes, who carried arrows. A cthonic figure (which led to her
sometimes being associated with Hecate), a guardian of the dead sometimes portrayed as a mermaid.
Diktynna was the second member of the trinity, not merely the inventor of nets for fishing and hunting,
a relation used to ignore her greater role. That role was as Goddess of Mount Dikte, from which she
passed down laws (edicts), as explained by Barbara G. Walker in' The Women's Encyclopedia of
Myths and Secrets'. The third member of the trinity was Rhea, better kown as the Goddess of Mount
Ida. She was also called Carme, Charmel, or Carmenta, meaning wise one, great kindness, and Cartha
the Wise respectively. She was the mother of Britomartis and the inventor of language and the
alphabet. The Caryatids were sometimes called Rhea's priestesses, and her major concerns included
prophecy, particularly augury, which she invented.

Carme may have been Phoenician originally before being absorbed by Rhea, which explains a curious
myth of Britomartis' origins. In it, Britomartis was the daughter of a Phoenician king who travelled from
Phoenicia to Cephallenia, and finally to Crete. Since she was a Sun Goddess, the Phoenicians
associated her with their own Sun Goddess. Due to her great age, it is likely that the trip was in the
opposite direction.

Another explanation for Britomartis was that she was the daughter of Leto, and that Artemis deified
her after her death. This contradicted the more generally known story of her leap into the sea and near
drowning during an attempt to escape Minos, who wished to rape her. Since she eluded him
successfully for nine months and ultimately escaped, there has clearly been a great deal of revision.
The situation became so muddled that it was claimed that Ariadne was a form of her.

Ariadne was another major Cretan Goddess whose consort or son Minos was originally a positive
figure. His job was to travel into the underworld for half of each year, greeting and guiding souls. Men
in bull masks and women wielding the tools of Ariadne were the personnel who helped guide people
through the religious rituals of Crete. The story was later revised to denigrate the older religion and
replace the Cretan deities with Olympian ones.

People never really forgot the Great Triple Goddess of Crete, or the original Ariadne and Minos. The
very island of Crete represented the Great Trinity, Diktynna of the East, Ida (Rhea) in the centre, and
Britomartis in the West. Britomartis, titled Aphaea was worshipped on Aegina, and Spartans
worshipped both her and Artemis as Ladies of the Lake.


Often scolars claim her name meant 'she of the fishing nets' when in fact her name meant 'lawgiver.'
She is the mother aspect of the Cretan Great Trinity. Often portrayed as a naked woman riding a goat
with a net in one hand, and an apple in the other, accompanying her were a hare and a raven. The net
connects her not to life giving water, and the apple to wisdom and sacred sexual mysteries. This image
sheds new light on the tale of Lady Godiva, whose name means 'Goddess-Goddess.'

Diktynna gave her laws from Mount Dikte on the east part of Crete. They were carved on stone
tablets and passed down to the people, a common method used by law giving Goddesses. It is
interesting that today words like 'dictate' and 'edict' have mainly negative connotations, since both
derive from her name.

Mount Dikte may once have been a volcano, considering the geology of the area, and a bit of curious
herblore. Diktannon, now called dittany aromatic was sacred to Diktynna, as its older name suggests.
Holding a flame near its stem and below the flower can produce a flash because the plant produces
small amounts of flammable gas.


A less commonly known version of this woman's story is that she was a priestess of Artemis by choice.
Those around her were not of her faith, and commonly regarded her as a witch. Needing to curtail her
power, her 'father' Agamemnon, whose sacrificial death suggests he was a sacred king, had her
arrested and executed. Agamemnon then made matters worse by shooting a hind sacred to Artemis,
and claiming she could never have matched the shot. Artemis then asked Hera to becalm the Greek
fleet, preventing it from going to Troy. Knowing the calm wouldn't last forever, she warned
Clytemnaestra that Agamemnon intended to force patriarchal ways on the people. Going to Troy to
help Menelaus beseige it rather than respect Helen's choice of mates was part of this.

Periodically Iphigeneia is given as a title of Artemis. Titles of a Goddess often provided names for her


The curious legend around Alcestis centres more on the crass behavior of her father than Artemis, but
her role is still a major one.

Alcestis' father Pelias declared that no suitor could marry her unless he could yoke a wild boar abd a
lion to a chariot. Then the suitor would have to demonstrate control over the animals by driving a course
the old king mapped out. Depending on the version, the winner has the help of the gods to make the
animals tame, or creates a treaty between Thebes and Calydon, which used these animals as totems.
While sacrificing to the gods in thanks, he forgot Artemis, who presumably was the one who helped
him, since all wild animals belong to her. Unimpressed by his ingratitude, Artemis changed Alcestis into
a mass of snakes and demanded his life in payment, since he would have lost it if she had not helped
him. Alcestis, apparently back in human form, promptly offered to take his place, but Persphone
refused to take her to the underworld... or she did take her, but sent Alcestis back after three days.

The tale suggests a forced marriage, or an attempt to force a marriage on a powerful priestess of
Artemis who simply refused. When an attempt to kill her failed, she escaped. Snakes, the boar, and the
lion are all associated with Artemis. The boar and lion in particular represented the two halves of the
year. A wily priestess could have come up with an impossible to fulfill prophecy to buy time for an

The name Alcestis was also used for a red and white species of daisy, or as it was originally called, the
'day's eye.'


Long after the Greeks had taken over, powerful priestesses persisted in following old rituals, often with
the agreement of officials as well as common people. The new leaders often kept the old rituals for
fear of ruining the harvest, while the ordinary people felt no connection to the new deities dropped on
them by the invaders. Comaetho, a priestess of Artemis, performed the rite of the sacred marriage to
bring fertility to the land and drive away plague. The Greek overlords promptly claimed that it did the
opposite in their efforts to curtail her power and the power of other like her. Perhaps they used a
similar logic to that of Christian inquisitors who murdered witches. If a famine or plague was happening,
the witch caused it. If they succeeded in ending either of them, they had used the powers of the devil to
do it.

Clues that Artemis' worship included sexual rituals and sacred kings are also hinted at by tales like
those of Leukippe and Priene. Leukippe's son offended Artemis so deeply that she sent him to the
underworld. Leukippe's courage and determination helped her to reclaim him. This resembles many
myths where a god dies and in order to be reborn needs the assistance of the Goddess, or who is sent
to the underworld for hubris and is only released on 'good behavior' and the mercy of the Goddess.
Priene's son was supposed to have been killed by Artemis accidentally, placing him in the category of
dying god who remains in the underworld to help the dead.


As mentioned in the section titled ARTEMIS, the Grove of Nemi and its associated lake were sacred to
Artemis. One of the inhabitants of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, was captured and sold into slavery by Greeks.
Lemnos is also an interesting place, because according to classical Greek myth, it became an 'Amazon'
island when the women killed all of the men living on the island. A literal slaughter seems unlikely,
although an Amazon island colony is not impossible.

Hypsipyle was made the nurse of a child who was strangled by two snakes. The Seven against Thebes
found the dead child, and promptly began the Nemean Games to expiate the anger of the child's
parents. (Why they should have done this if they didn't hurt the child is unclear.) Usually the town of
Nemea had a consistent water supply, but it dried up when the Seven and their army arrived.
Everything suggested the gods were set against them. This pastiche of elements is a probable
attempted rewrite of older material.

When snakes visitted a child in earlier myths, they came to bless the child with the power of prophecy
and the ability to understand animals by licking the child's ears. As a priestess of Nemea, Hypsipyle
would have ensured the snakes and the child were safe, and explained what was happening to the
population at large. The Nemean games were probably to celebrate the kindness of the Goddess in
granting her blessings to the child, and to thank her for the fresh water that was usually available, or for
the return of water after drought. Any sorrow the Seven against Thebes found would be the
understandable dismay of a population faced by a foreign army demanding water and probably other


These were the nine children of the Cretan sea Goddess Thalassa. They were the first inhabitants of
Rhodes, and founded the cities of Lindus, Cameris, and Ialysus. Renowned smiths, controllers of
weather, and shape shifters, they created the first images of deities. Greek gods, jealous of their power,
talent, and wealth, attemoted to kill them. Artemis helped them escape, supposedly to no avail. This
can't be regarded as true, since they are still remembered. The Telchines were probably nine tribes
who worshipped Thalassa and were driven from their homes by invaders. Despite persecution some of
them survived. The connection to Artemis may derive from the fact that her mother Themis was also a
sea Goddess, or a folk memory of of assistance rendered by followers of Artemis.

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