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Greek gods enjoyed hunting as much as their worshippers did, which sometimes brought them into conflict with disastrous consequences for the mortals. Although, with few exceptions, hunting was almost exclusively a male pursuit, the deity that presided over the hunt was the goddess Artemis. Her other responsibilities included wild animals, forests and hills, the moon, archery, little children, suckling animals and childbirth.


Greek gods enjoyed hunting as much as their worshippers did, which sometimes brought them into conflict with disastrous consequences for the mortals. Although, with few exceptions, hunting was almost exclusively a male pursuit, the deity that presided over the hunt was the goddess Artemis. Her other responsibilities included wild animals, forests and hills, the moon, archery, little children, suckling animals and childbirth.


 

Her father was Zeus, king of the gods, and Apollo, the sun god, was her twin brother. When she was just three years old her father asked her what gifts she would like. Among the gifts she asked for were: ‘as many names as my brother Apollo; a bow and arrows like his; a hunting tunic reaching to my knees; twenty river nymphs to take care of my buskins (leather boots) and hounds …’ She then went to Lipara the island of the Cyclopes, terrifying one-eyed giants, who made her a silver bow and arrows. In Arcadia the god Pan gave her three lop-eared hounds, two parti-colored and one spotted, capable of dragging live lions back to their mistress; and seven swift hounds from Sparta. She captured alive four horned hinds and harnessed them to a golden hunting chariot.

 

Although Zeus also awarded her thirty cities, Artemis spent most of her time roaming the hills hunting with her dogs and nymphs. Artemis had a dark and vengeful side and was swift to punish severely anyone who crossed her. She fiercely guarded her chastity and expected the same of her nymphs. When Zeus seduced one of them, the beautiful Callisto, Artemis flew into a rage, turned the nymph into a bear and set her hounds to chase her. On this occasion Zeus intervened, saved Callisto and placed her in the heavens as the Great Bear.

 

Actaeon was not so lucky. Out hunting one day, he stumbled upon the goddess bathing in a pool. Artemis was startled and outraged to discover the hunter gazing at her nakedness. She instantly transformed Actaeon into a large and powerful stag, with huge antlers. Terrified, Actaeon fled through the woods towards his base, but now the hunter became the hunted. His own dogs picked up the stag’s scent, brought him down and tore him to pieces as they were trained to do.

 

Other legends tell of Artemis’ prowess with her bow and arrows. One of her victims was the handsome youth Orion whom she shot, possibly in error, as he was no more than a speck swimming some distance from shore. Overcome by grief, she placed him in the heavens as a star.


 article by Celine Castelino

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