In Greek mythology, Artemis was the patron goddess of hunting and the protector of children and wild animals. These roles emphasized her strong connection with nature. She is often portrayed wandering through forests armed with her bow and arrows, and accompanied by a group of nymphs*. In Roman mythology, Artemis was known as Diana.
The daughter of Zeus and the goddess Leto, Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. Artemis and Apollo were fiercely loyal to their mother. Niobe, the queen of Thebes, proclaimed herself superior to Artemis’s mother because she had many sons and daughters while Leto had only two children. Artemis and Apollo took Niobe’s boast as an insult to their mother and killed all of Niobe’s children. Niobe’s grief at her loss was so intense that she turned to stone. The gods carried her to a mountainside where the craggy stone remained, flowing with tears.
Artemis prized her solitude and occasionally punished those who intruded. Actaeon, a great hunter, once accidentally came upon Artemis while she was bathing. The goddess was so distressed that Actaeon had seen her naked that she turned him into a deer. Actaeon’s hunting dogs then attacked and killed the deer.
The mighty hunter, Orion, faced a similar fate. When Orion attempted to seduce Artemis (or perhaps one of her companions), Artemis sent a scorpion to sting his heel. Upon his death, Orion was placed in the sky as a constellation. Artemis made sure the scorpion received the same honor.
In another myth, the Greek leader Agamemnon shot one of Artemis’s sacred deer just as his army was about to set sail for Troy. As a protector of animals, Artemis became furious and stopped the wind from blowing so that the Greek ships were forced to delay their departure. She refused to restore the wind until Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter.
* nymph in classical mythology, one of the lesser goddesses of nature