Artemis was the subject of several legends which have survived. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the story is told of how the hunter Actaeon, having accidentally spied the goddess naked at her bath, is transformed into a stag, and hunted down and torn to death by his own hounds and the other members of his hunting party. Elsewhere in Ovid, we learn of Artemis’s slaughter, with the help of Artemis’s brother Apollo, of Niobe’s children in revenge for Niobe’s brag that she had fourteen children, while Latona (Leto) had but two.
The cult of Artemis was extremely popular in the ancient world, in particular at her temple in the city of Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey. At that temple the goddess was represented in statuary as a woman with many breasts. In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament the story is told of a riot fomented by the silversmith Demetrius and other merchants in Ephesus to protest the success of St. Paul and other early Christians in discrediting Artemis as a man-made god. The merchants are concerned that if the public ceases to believe in Artemis, they will lose their lucrative trade providing goods and services to the temple of Artemis and its many visitors.
Artemis / Diana was a virgin goddess, and was often referred to in that context in Renaissance literature and thereafter. For example, in Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing”, the confused Claudio accuses his fiancée of infidelity this way:
You seem to me as Diana in her orb,
As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown;
But you are more intemperate in your blood
Than Venus, or those pamper'd animals
That rage in savage sensuality.
Similarly to Athena, Artemis is sometimes used as a womens’ name in Greece. Her Roman equivalent is Diana, which is a name commonly used in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Bulgarian, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, Irish, and French languages and cultures.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book III, lines 138-252
- Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book VI, lines 146-312
- Acts 19:23-41
- Shakespeare, William, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Scene I