Notebook, 1993--



Artemis [Diana] was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin sister of Apollo. Born in Delos, she was goddess of the hunt, and of the fertility of wood and glade. She considered rivers and springs sacred for often she would be found lying along their banks with the retinue of nymphs who attended her. Goddess of chastity, but also of fertility, she often answered the call of women in childbirth to ease their pain [Artemis Locheia]. Armed with bow and arrows, she is deemed responsible for sudden deaths and would slay without mercy anyone who offended her. She frowned upon competition and rivalry, and punished Actaeon for daring to claim that he was a better hunter than she, as well as Agamemnon who had offended her when he sought to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. She too took part in the Trojan War fighting with her brother Apollo on the side of the Trojans against the Greeks. Her worship came from the East [Ephesus], or from Minoan Crete, or Tauris. In the first instance she was revered as the goddess of fertility, continually giving birth and nourishing the world with her numerous breasts. In Crete she was the Mother Goddess of the forests and wild life [Potnia Thiron, Queen of the wild beasts]. And in Tauris she was worshipped as a wild goddess who demanded human sacrifice. But the Greek spirit altered her attributes, and she became the goddess of chastity and the hunt, for such was the way they wished to see her.

Artemis was usually worshipped in the same sanctuaries with Apollo, although she had her own shrines throughout Greece and Asia, the most important of which was that of Brauron. Her symbols were without number. In art Artemis is the favourite subject of sculptors such as Pheidias, Praxiteles, Alcamenes, Menaechos, and Soidas. She was also popular with the vase painters who depicted her with long flowing hair over her shoulders and a veil.

[Kyriazis, Constantine D. Eternal Greece. Translated by Harry T. Hionides. A Chat Publication.]

Artemis is freedom - Wild, Untrammeled, Aloof from all entanglements. She is a huntress, a dancer, the goddess of nature and wildness, a virgin physically and, even more important, a virgin psychologically, inviolable, belonging to no one, defined by no relationship, confined by no bond.

She was born on the unpeopled island of Delos and she is much more at ho me with animals than with people, in her element in wild nature, uneasy in our everyday world. The wild quail is her bird, the wild fig her fruit. She is Apollo's twin, the daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the myth of her birth immediately establishes her power and self-sufficiency. She is born first, easily, with no travail and, barely a few moments old, she becomes her mother's midwife, assisting over nine agonizing days and nights at the birth of her brother.

The longing for freedom is the essential Artemisian passion. When her father asks her, at the age of three, what gifts she most desires, she answers unhesitatingly: 'Pray, give me eternal virginity.' She also asks Zeus to give her as companions and playmates sixty daughters of Okeanos, all nine-year-olds. This was the age when girls entered the adolescent stage, the equivalent of the teenage years in our own culture. And Artemis is the primordial teenager w ho never moves beyond the adolescent stage into full womanhood. The nine-year-olds who left their mothers to enter the goddess' service stayed with her until it was time for them to marry and have their own children. They grew up and left; the goddess remained. Her own independence was her essential reality, not a transitional stage. Artemis' little handmaidens were called arktoi, 'female bears', and the celebration of their service to the goddess and this stage in their lives was called 'bearhood'. Yet there was nothing tom boyish about the strength that Artemis and her [p. 69] hunting companions exuded. 'In the figure of the great huntress the little human bears met a new aspect of their feminine nature. It was a meeting with something wild and vigorous . . . . ' It was also a meeting that had about it the aura of a mystery initiation--initiation into their own untamed nature and its power.

Today's Artemis women exude this freedom and vigour in the way they dress and move, in the way they look and behave. Aphrodite's curves have either disappeared into an androgynous figure or been squeezed into jeans and leotards. Artemis asked her father for a short hunting dress: 'so that I can kill wild animals'. Today's Artemis, vital and youthful at any age, is prepared to sacrifice elegance and sensuality in her clothes for freedom and movement. The goddess of the hunt has become the goddess of sports, aerobics and dancing, and sedentary femininity has been replaced by energetic activity.

[Apollo and Artemis stride forward together during the battle between the gods and the giants, from the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi, c. 525 B.C. Apollo and his twin sister Artemis are the eternal adolescents. The longing for freedom is the essential Artemisian urge; the longing for clarity, the essential Apollonian passion. They are both distant gods, detached and aloof, at a loss in the world of love, commitment and deep relationships.] [p. 69] [Stassinopoulos, Arianna and Roloff Beny. The Gods of Greece. New York: Abrams. 1983.]

Walter Otto has given the classic description of Artemis' paradoxical being: 'It is the crystal-clear being whose roots are still hidden in animal nature; the childlike-simple, yet unpredictable one; sweet lovability and diamond hardness . . . . She is the dancer and huntress, who takes the bear cub on her lap and runs races with deer, death-bringing when she bends her bow, strange and unapproachable, like untamed nature, who is yet, like nature, wholly magic, living impulse, and sparkling beauty.' [Walter Otto]

There is passion behind Artemis' remoteness, but it is a passion directed not at relationships but at the search for one's self, one's soul, in solitude and separateness. When we experience the pull to privacy, the pull to be alone as an instinctual, animal need, it is Artemis who is working through us. And when this pull becomes destructive, a chill lack of feeling that cuts us off from any real human communication, it is Artemis' darkness that is showing through. It is the darkness embodied in the myth of Actaeon's death.

Actaeon, son of King Cadmus, was out with his companions hunting the stag in the mountains when he stopped at a grotto enclosed with cypresses and pines to drink from the stream that was flowing through it. It was Artemis' favourite wild spot, and as Actaeon lifted his eyes from the stream he saw her bathing naked with her nymphs. Without hesitating for a moment, the goddess flung the water into the face of the intruder and transformed him into a stag. He began running and his own faithful hounds cheered on by his huntsmen, turned on him and tore his heart out.

In William Rose Benét's poem, the ghost of Actaeon recollects the goddess' 'beauty beyond bearing':

I was led by the willow,
I was haunted by the pool;
In the sunlit shallow
You shone white as wool;

You glowed alabaster
In the shadows of the stream;
The hounds of disaster
Bayed through dream.

Vase of light adored,
O the haughty throat,
Beauty like a sword
As you smote!

Glory unreturning -
Your eyes were so
Blazing, burning
On the foe.

I forget the legend,
I forget the pain;
The silvered edge-end
Is the same.

Then beauty beyond bearing,
On an instant of amaze;
All the goddess flaring
From your gaze. . . .

The myth of Actaeon and Artemis, or Actaeon and Diana in Ovid's Latin version, inspired Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt and was turned into a metaphor by Shakespeare, Shelley, T. S. Eliot and Oscar Wilde. For Shelley, Actaeon's hounds are our own thoughts and emotions; we are their masters but cannot control them:

. . . He, as I guess,
Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray
With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness;
And his own Thoughts, along that rugged way
Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey.

For Oscar Wilde, Actaeon is the modern man who has no reverence for the mystery of nature:

Me thinks these new Actaeons boast too soon

Have analyzed the rainbow, robbed the moon
    Of her most ancient, chastest mystery,

Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope

Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope!

All these modern themes can be extracted from the ancient myth but, above all, it reveals dramatically the nature of the goddess. She is the goddess of distance, of inviolable boundaries, the goddess who 'must kill him who comes too close'. Here the demand for boundaries, for privacy, for time to be alone--all valid and vital needs--turns to outrage at the trespasser, to ruthlessness and the urge to punish. The huntress cannot bear to be turned into the hunted. So when Actaeon unwittingly transforms her into a passive object of desire she causes him to experience an even more drastic [p. 72] transformation: from hunter into victim. In Artemis' darkness there is no empathy, no allowance for motive and intention, no hesitation or second thoughts. She embodies the wildness both of nature and of human nature. It is a wildness that conceals great riches but its savagery cannot be evaded. The 'call of the wild' can either destroy or lead to the aliveness, the sense of freedom and vitality, that also belong to Artemis' realm. 'If you will contemplate your lack of fantasy, of inspiration and inner aliveness, which you feel as sheer stagnation and a barren wilderness, and impregnate it with the interest born of alarm at your inner death, then something can take shape in you, for your inner emptiness conceals just as great a fullness if only you will allow it to penetrate into you. If you prove receptive to this 'call of the wild', the longing for fulfillment will quicken the sterile wilderness of your soul as rain quickens the dry earth.'

The call of the wild parallels the pull to solitude in Artemis' nature, both the hallowed solitude of untouched nature and the deep solitude that connects us to the untouched depths of soul. Listening to the inner call of the soul and of unexplored wilderness can bring an exhilarating sense of freedom - freedom from the mass of commonplace opinion, freedom from what binds us to the past, freedom from what is conventionally of us in the future. But there are no maps to guide us in the wilderness, and the modern men and women who have made Artemisian freedom the supreme value are, at the same time, living out the goddess' negative dimension; they cling to their freedom and independence until they are turned into estrangement and isolation. It is a very shallow view of freedom, though, that requires denial of commitment and deep relationship. Ultimately only by risking our freedom can we preserve and expand it. And then, instead of cutting ourselves off from life, trapped in the 'Amazon armour' of the goddess' wild followers, we can turn our freedom into an inner reality that survives in the midst of all outer entanglements. This is the freedom that denies no aspect of life, that releases our imagination and creativity and gives birth to all that is new.

In fact Artemis was not only the goddess of the hunt, the lover of solitary woods and the wild chase over the mountains, she was also 'the protectress of dewy youth' and, although childless, she was the protectress of childbirth. In Ephesus there was the famous statue of Mother Artemis with many breasts, and even into the Christian era, women in Greece and in Anatolia would pray to Artemis in time of childbirth. Indeed the last temple to the goddess was forcibly closed by the church as late as 500 AD. In Artemis' realm we are confronted both with the joys and with the pain of childbirth. And the childbirths over which the goddess presides are both literal and spiritual. The [p. 73] mercurial queen of solitude' embodies the quest for a life that nourishes the soul struggling to be born in the middle of all our frenetic activity: 'Some fiercer caring demands this naked solitude for loam.'

There is fear in this radical confrontation with ourselves, not only fear of loneliness but also fear of what we may discover in these unexplored regions. And we long to escape into the arms of Aphrodite, lose ourselves in Hephaistos' workshop or prove our prowess through action and success in the world of Ares. But the solitary call of the soul cannot be stifled; only through it can we find the freedom that Artemis in her highest form embodies. 'Ask your soul', pleads Hermann Hesse in : 'Ask her who means freedom, whose name is love! Do not inquire of our intellect, do not search backwards through world history! Your soul will not blame you for having cared too little about politics, for having exerted yourself too little, hated our enemies too little, or too little fortified your frontiers. But she will perhaps blame you for so often having feared and fled from her demands, for never having had time to give her, your youngest and fairest child, no time to play with her, no time to listen to her song, for often having sold her for money, betrayed her for advancement . . . . You will be neurotic and a foe to life--so says your soul if you neglect me, and you will be destroyed if you do not turn to me with a wholly new love and concern.' And the protectress of all that is young, wild and vulnerable is also the protectress of our soul, the goddess who destroys us when other attachments distract us from the inner demands of our 'youngest and fairest child'. [p. 75]

[Roman statue of the Ephesian Artemis among other museum pieces at Ephesus. Artemis was a huntress, a dancer, the goddess of nature and wilderness. But in Ephesus the statue of Mother Artemis with many breasts represented another aspect of the goddess who, though childless, was the protectress of childbirth. And the childbirths over which the goddess presides are both literal and spiritual. The 'mercurial queen of solitude' embodies the quest for a life that nourishes the soul struggling to be born in the middle of all our frenetic activity. It is the inner call of the soul that the goddess answers first and it is to the soul that she is Mother.] [p. 70]

[Stassinopoulos, Arianna and Roloff Beny. The Gods of Greece. New York: Abrams. 1983.]



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