Artemis

From Robert Pogue Harrison, Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 1992):

“Her name in Greek is Artemis. She is one of the oldest, most enigmatic of Greek deities. Her worship goes back to the Pre-Hellenic period, but even in historical times she was widely worshipped as a fertility goddess in Asia Minor, her cult being based at Ephesus. From that city has come down to us the famous marble statue that depicts her standing upright with arms extending outward from the elbows. A congeries of wild animals stare out from her gown and headdress, while her front side is weighed down by multiple bulbs that suggest a proliferation of female breasts.

“For a long time no one thought to doubt that these bulbs were breasts symbolizing the goddess’s superabundant fertility, but then someone looked closer and remarked on their strange lack of plastic realism. In short, a group of Austrian archaeologists recently confirmed that these protrusions do not represent breasts after all but rather the testicles of bulls. The fact is corroborated by evidence uncovered at Ephesus which indicates that on her festival days Artemis’s priests would castrate several bulls, string the scrotums together, and then place the gruesome garlands around a wooden image of the goddess, which her votives would then follow in an ecstatic procession from her sacred altar to the center of the city….

“Her virginal aspect deserves greater emphasis, for in ancient times forests were by no means always virgin or beyond the bounds of human domestication….Silviculture is an ancient practice, but our goddess had nothing to do with it. She belonged to those dark and inaccessible regions where wild animals enjoyed sanctuary from all human disturbance except that of the most intrepid hunters.

“Like her domain, the goddess too was remote and inaccessible. She refused to be seen by man or woman. Even her most ardent priestesses and votives did not set eyes on her. The story of Hippolytus, son of Theseus, confirms this. So total was the youth’s devotion to Artemis that he went so far as to spurn the power of Aphrodite, who in revenge devised a cruel fate for him at the hands of his stepmother Phaedra. In Euripedes’ Hippolytus the young hunter brings Artemis flowers from a wild meadow where no human except himself could enter, and where he was granted the extraordinary privilege of hearing the goddess’s voice. But even he could not set eyes on her. ‘True I may only hear,’ says Hippolytus, ‘I may not see God face to face.'”

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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