Artemis is the Greek Goddess of the hunt, forests, and childbirth. While she herself was a virgin Goddess, Artemis was closely associated with the birth process from a very young age. Immediately after she was born, she assisted her mother Leto, Goddess of motherhood, in the birth of her twin brother, Apollo. The births were painless for Leto, and thereafter Artemis was called on by women in labor to ease their pain. She also watched over infants, both human and animal, until they were weaned. She then became the protector of female children,
Artemis (as well as her twin brother, Apollo) was the daughter of the goddess Leto and Zeus. As a child, she crawled into her father Zeus’ lap and asked him to support her in her plan to be a huntress goddess and live in the mountains. She also asked her father Zeus to grant her several wishes: that she could remain a virgin forever; that she have more names than her brother, Apollo, that she could carry a bow and arrows; that she be attended by nymphs; that she should rule over the mountains; and that she have hounds to hunt with and deer to pull her chariot. Zeus granted all of her wishes, and also gave her dominion over harbors. Other areas of life that came to be ruled by Artemis include the dawn, frost, virginity, healing, the Amazons, and rabies.
One well-known story of her chilly personality has to do with the hunter Actaeon. Every one knows that if you see a naked goddess, you run away, and pray that she doesn’t notice. He was so enraptured by her beauty that he didn’t move. What he did was stare. Artemis heard him, turned around, and in fury threw water at him. As the three droplets hit him, he was transformed into a stag. At that, Artemis whistled for his hounds, and they ripped their unfortunate master apart.
The twins loved and defended their mother with a passion unparalleled, and woe to the god or mortal who offended her. One such woman was named Niobe, who complained loudly that people paid too much respect to Leto. She cried that Leto had only two children, whereas Niobe had seven boys and seven girls. Once the twins heard about her complaint, they came to her house and Apollo shot everyone of the boys with his golden arrows of extreme pain. Artemis shot the girls with her painless silver arrows, and they all lay down on their beds and died.
Like most goddesses, Artemis was not happy when she was insulted. For example, Chione bore the penalty for daring to compare herself to Artemis. She asked Apollo to tell her she was more beautiful than Artemis. This he would not do, but Artemis found out and shot Chione.
In ancient art, Artemis is usually depicted as a girl dressed in a short knee-length chiton and equipped with a hunting bow and quiver of arrows. Artemis’ name means “uninjured” or “healthy.” She is one of the oldest known and most widely worshipped of the Greek Goddesses.