I want to start a series of posts looking at one of my favourite archaeological sites, the temple of Artemis at Brauron. Over the next few weeks I will be looking at various elements of the site and what we know about the ritual activity that took place there.
Today I want to start with a quick overview of some epithets attached to Artemis that are relevant to her functions at this particular site.
What is an epithet?
An epithet is a descriptive name attached to the proper name of a divinity or person. It usually describes a significant physical feature, an accomplishment, a responsibility they have, or something they are involved in. We find lots of these in the epics and mythology, but real people can have epithets too. An easy example is Alexander the Great – ‘the Great’ is an epithet, though it is in English.
Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron
Homer, Iliad xxi 470
As Agrotera (‘of the wildland’) and as a Potnia Theron (‘Mistress of Animals’), Artemis was very connected to the earth and the things that roamed it. She was a goddess of the hunt, but also protector of these creatures and the environment. Potnia Theron is a title that is applied to several divinities over time aside from Artemis.
This one might be obvious, but Brauronia indicates that we are talking about the Artemis specifically attached to the site at Brauron (or at the Brauronia, the sister-site that was built later on the Acropolis). It might be a little confusing at first to understand that the Greek divinities took on different versions of themselves at different sites – it’s a slightly different Artemis at Brauron than the one at Ephesis, for instance. The main difference is in the things they are responsible for – childbearing, motherhood, children, and animals are all things that Artemis looks after, but she might not look after all of them at the same location.
comp. Diod. v. 73
This epithet is for the aspect of the goddess that looks after young children. Kourotrophos is a hard word to define. It is generally a term for a child’s nurse or teacher, but not just for humans – animals were included in this too. Artemis was worshipped as Kourotrophos as she was thought to be responsible for children’s journeys from childhood to adulthood, as well as having an influence on fertility.
Plut. Sympos. iii.10; Orph. Hymn. 35.3
Locheia is a protector of pregnant women and birth-giving. Women might appeal to Artemis Locheia during and after their pregnancy, to ask for good health, survival of their child, and for minimal pain in childbirth. They would often hang up their maternity wear as an offering of thanks after the process. This indicated a complete transition to womanhood, by ancient standards, of course.
Now that we’ve got an understanding of epithets, next week we will look at Artemis’ function as a maternal divinity! Don’t worry, eventually we will get to the archaeological stuff. I assure you the basics are important!
Are there any other epithets of Artemis that you know of? Or of any other divinities that you particularly like?