Maternal Artemis

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Continuing our look at Artemis at Brauron, this week we’re going to talk about the maternal aspects of the goddess and how that impacts her role at this sanctuary.

Have you heard the myth of Artemis’ birth? Her mother was Leto, the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. She became pregnant by Zeus, and Zeus’ wife Hera was not happy (as usual). She forbade Leto to give birth on solid land, so the heavily pregnant woman wandered the earth trying to find some place suitable. The island of Delos came to her rescue; islands were considered to be detached from the mainland in ancient Greece, floating on the sea like little boats. Leto first gave birth to Artemis, who emerged as divinities often do, fully grown. The adult Artemis then acted as a midwife to her mother and helped her to give birth to her twin brother, Apollo.

From this myth, we see that Artemis assisting in childbirth is present even in the earliest myths about her. Brauron was a sanctuary that was visited by pregnant women asking for help in childbirth, and leaving clothing and small statues of children as thanks to the goddess.

In Euripides’ Suppliants, the chorus is made up of mothers whose children were killed beneath the walls of Thebes. These women weep because as their children are dead, they are no longer under the protection of Artemis Locheia. As we discussed last week, Locheia was Artemis’ epithet as protector of pregnant women and mothers.

In the Hymn to Artemis, Callimachus says that angering the goddess Artemis can cause the illness or even death of a woman in childbirth. If the woman managed to survive, the baby would not. This would certainly prompt pregnant women to be diligent in their offerings to Artemis during their pregnancy. This is also an example of the dual nature of Artemis: she is a protector, but also a bringer of death in certain circumstances. Her brother Apollo is similar, for he is a god of healing but also of sickness.

From Caskey & Beazley, plate XLVIII. Boston 10.185.
From Caskey & Beazley, plate XLVIII. Boston 10.185.

Brauron was an important site for offerings to Artemis in order to ensure a safe pregnancy and healthy baby. It was much more dangerous to give birth in the ancient world, and both infant and mother mortality was much higher. We must be sure to take seriously how important a place like Brauron would be for these women.

What other maternal divinities do you know about? Are there similar rituals from other cultures to ensure a safe and successful pregnancy?

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