Trigger warning: Sexual assault
This article includes discussion of sexual assault in Greek mythological stories.
There has been a lot of excited talk about the NASA program Artemis, which is a plan to return astronauts to the moon’s surface by 2024. But not just any astronauts: “the first woman and next man”! Once this is accomplished, they will be setting their sights on Mars. But why name the program “Artemis”? To understand better why her name is more than befitting to such an important endeavor, we are going to look at this larger than life figure and what she means to us Geek Gals and all women who have their eyes on the sky.
This article is part of a series where we look back in history at strong women – from real life, fiction, or the blending of both into legend – who blazed new trails, had great adventures, and stood up for what was right. They are the originals that our grandmothers and generations of women before admired and who became the stepping stones for us, the Geek Gals of today. We shall call these female forbearers our Classic Geek Gals.
I’d like to introduce to you our next Classic Geek Gal: the Greek Goddess Artemis.
Who is Artemis?
Artemis is a Greek goddess, daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin to her brother Apollo. She rules over the moon (Apollo rules over the sun), hunting, wild animals, and chastity. Some sources also cite her as the goddess of midwifery, having helped her mother give birth to her brother. Artemis is best known as a huntress and maiden who vowed to never give up her freedom and marry. She is frequently depicted carrying a bow and arrow or hunting knives with deer posing next to her.
She is the goddess of the moon.
As goddess of the moon, Artemis drives the Moon Chariot across the sky at night (something she inherited from the original moon goddess Selene), just like her brother Apollo drives the Sun Chariot across the sky during the day. It is believed that this Moon Chariot also affected the phases of the moon. It is likely that this reputation of guiding the moon across the skies is the inspiration for NASA’s Artemis program.
She is the goddess of chastity.
In a time when it was everything for girls to grow up fast so they could marry and have babies as soon as possible, Artemis was a symbol of strength and hope to those that saw another path for themselves. She swore from a young age that she would never marry so that she could always be in charge of herself. It’s written that:
In this light, Artemis’ virginity is also related to her power and independence. Rather than a form of asexuality, it is an attribute that signals Artemis as her own master, with power equal to that of male gods. (…) However, some later Greek writers did come to treat Artemis as inherently asexual and as an opposite to Aphrodite.
This is an important interpretation, because it shows that Artemis wasn’t a virgin because she was “saving” herself; she was chaste by choice. To make the statement in ancient Greece that a person’s expression of their sexuality is THEIR choice and not something to be forced on them by society was a radical then and something that many of our Geek Gals still struggle with today.
She is vengeance for assaulted women.
Artemis protected not only herself, but also the women who worked in her temples. She took quick vengeance on any who were assaulted. Here are just a few stories of Artemis’ justice:
- When Bouphagos has thoughts of forcing himself on Artemis, she strikes him down.
- Actaeon, a hunting companion of Artemis, tries to rape her. She turns him into a stag that is then hunted down and torn apart by his own hunting hounds.
- Otos and Ephialtes, the twins boast that they will kidnap Artemis and Hera and force them to become their wives. While the other gods are afraid of them because of their size and that they could not be killed by anyone other than the other brother, clever Artemis tricks them into killing each other.
- Arethusa, one of Artemis’ attendants, fights off Alphaeus as he attempts to rape her. Artemis takes pity on her and turns her into a spring in the temple.
Was Artemis the inspiration for… Wonder Woman?
While Wonder Woman’s appearance was inspired by the creator William Marston’s wife and life partner, there is a strong likelihood that the character’s attributes and identity were initially created with an eye toward Artemis. They are both athletic, not afraid to fight, and possess Greek origins and superpowers given by the Greek gods. (Although Artemis herself is a Greek goddess and Wonder Woman is an Amazonian.) Even Wonder Woman’s human name, Diana, is the Roman version of Artemis, and the Wonder Woman mantle is later temporarily held by a woman named Artemis. However, while that makes for a lot of similarities, that does not give us a definitive conclusion that Wonder Woman was based on Artemis.
A guiding light, a wild huntress, a strong female who will not be controlled… However you see Artemis, she is a fierce power that makes no apologies for who she is and her life choices. I hope that we can all burn as brightly, believing in ourselves and living life with no regrets. I hope this for you, and that you know that you are the light in the dark that helps the others see.