In this article:
- Diana is the Roman name for Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt and the wilderness.
- The daughter of Zeus, she rejected the strict social norms of courtly life and asked to be given a bow and arrow and dominion over the wilderness where she could roam free.
- Roaming the forests of Greece with her entourage of nymphs, Artemis/Diana was fond of turning people into animals and delivering poetic justice to anyone who insulted her.
- Diana is most often symbolized by the moon, a bow and arrow, or a deer.
- Connect with the symbolic meanings embodied by Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology.
- Modern-day pagans still worship the goddess today, admiring her independent spirit and fiercely protective nature.
Diana in Greek mythology is a larger-than-life figure who manages to compete in popularity with other principal gods of Olympus, making her among the most recognizable mythological beings to be featured in media.
The ancient Greeks painted her on their pottery, the Romans made marble sculptures of her, and today, we portray her in video games like Supergiant Games’ Hades and books such as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson where she leads a group of huntresses in the wilderness of North America.
But let’s backtrack a bit and return to the basics of who this divine huntress is.
It’s Not Actually Diana in Greek Mythology — It’s Artemis
Let’s clear up a misconception. It’s not Diana in Greek mythology but rather Artemis. Diana is the name given to the same goddess by the Romans who later adopted her as one of their gods, alongside her fellow Olympians. If you’re wondering why this is titled “Diana in Greek mythology” anyway, that’s because the algorithm gods demand it.
But back to the point. Diana = Artemis. Goddess of the hunt. Divine twin of Apollo, god of the sun. The goddess of the moon. Those are the roles she’s best known for, but like other Greek deities, Artemis has many aspects for which she’s known.
- Artemis as Potnia Theron: Queen of the Beasts, goddess of the wilderness, and wild animals.
- Artemis Hekate/Hekatebolus: Artemis the Far-Shooting or Far-Shooter. This title is a nod to her domain over archery, a skill that she shares with her brother Apollo. Both of them are known as Far-Shooters and bringers of plague, though Apollo is more often associated with this vengeful behavior than Artemis who is more partial to turning people into animals. Hekatabolus can also mean “worker from afar,” as in, someone who provides their assistance from a distance.
- Artemis Paidótrophos: Artemis/Diana is a protectress of the young, particularly young girls, in contrast to her brother Apollo who is a protector of young boys. She is also known as Artemis Sóhteira as in “Artemis the Savior”.
- Artemis Lysízohnos as in “Artemis the Releasing/Releaser” or “she who loosens the belt/girdle“. In this aspect, Artemis is a guide and protector of women as they transition from girlhood to maidenhood to womanhood, specifically referring to when they leave her domain (as a goddess of virgins) and enter the world of Aphrodite as wives and mothers. She is also known as the goddess of childbirth.
Because of these aspects, the Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology/Roman mythology is associated with symbols such as:
- The moon and lunar phases: Symbolizes Artemis/Diana’s role as a goddess of the moon, having replaced Selene much like how her brother Apollo has replaced Helios. In a more figurative sense, this symbolism is a nod to her associations with the phases of a woman’s life. Artemis protects women in their youth as virgins and returns to them again when they have children.
- The bow and arrow: Though these symbols of Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology that relate to archery have been interpreted in modern times with silver, in contrast to Apollo’s sunny gold, both of the divine twins are attested in myths and poetry to have golden bows and arrows hence the title Artemis Khryselakatos which means “Artemis of the Golden Shaft”.
- Deer and a chariot: Apollo isn’t the only one with a chariot. While the sun god was known as Phoebus Apollo, meaning Apollo the Bright One, Artemis was referred to as Phoebe Artemis for her role as a moon goddess. Her brother gets a sun chariot, she drives a chariot pulled by deer, another holy symbol of hers.
- The Ceryneian Hind: A sacred deer described in myths as being larger than a bull, sporting golden horns, and capable of breathing fire. Stories claimed it lived in Ceryneia, Greece, an ancient city-state.
The symbols sacred to Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology are derived from myths about her. These stories also give us insight into how the goddess came to be the goddess of so many domains.
So, let’s start at the very beginning with the birth of Artemis and how the goddess became a goddess of childbirth.
The Myths of Artemis in Greek Mythology / Diana in Roman Mythology
The Birth of Artemis/Diana in Greek Mythology
The first story that exists about Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology is the one related to her birth. In case you haven’t heard, she’s one of Zeus’ many children. Zeus’ philandering ways always ticked off Hera, his queen and consort, who couldn’t exactly take her revenge on him directly since he was literally the king of the gods.
So Hera’s M.O. was to go after her husband’s (often unwilling) mistresses. One of them was Leto, a Titaness who was the daughter of Koios and Phoebe (not to be confused with her grandchild).
Mild-mannered Leto drew the attention of Zeus and soon enough, she was pregnant. When Hera caught wind of this, she cursed Leto to be unable to give birth on neither land nor water and sent the monstrous serpent Python to hunt her down.
Leto eventually found the island of Delos, which was neither wholly land nor water, and went into labor. However, Hera kept Eileithyia, the goddess and embodiment of childbirth from going to Leto so she couldn’t give birth. Eventually, the other goddesses bribed Eileithyia to help. Leto first gave birth to Artemis who then helped deliver her brother Apollo.
This is why she’s a goddess of childbirth while not having any children of her own. It’s also why many myths associate her and Apollo with Delos.
Artemis Claims the Wilderness
When Artemis grew older, she and her twin went to Olympus to formally meet their father Zeus, king of the gods. Though Zeus had many children, Artemis and Apollo are spoken highly of in the myths as among his favorites which may be why he asked them to name anything they want and he would give it to them.
Apollo was more like his father, a casanova who presided over music, divine retribution, prophecy, and truth. In short, a deity of civilization. But Artemis wanted nothing to do with life in Olympus or the city-states of Greece.
Instead, she asked Zeus to give her a bow and arrow (like her brother’s, thereby equating herself with him), the mountains (letting her live in the wilderness, outside social norms), a city to be a patron of (as is her birthright as a goddess), and eternal virginity (allowing her to be free of the restrictions of being a god’s wife and mother).
Artemis and All the Men She Turned Into Animals
Artemis may be lowkey compared to her brother Apollo, but both of them were known for having a vengeful streak hence their association with sudden deaths. Artemis is especially known for turning men into wild animals.
Actaeon, a demigod, once saw Artemis bathing in the woods with her nymphs and, impressed by her beauty, tried to rape her. Artemis turned him into a stag, causing his own hunting dogs to chase him down and tear him into pieces.
Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology also doesn’t take insults lightly. Some versions of the death of Adonis say that Adonis had foolishly boasted that he was a better hunter than Artemis so she sends a wild boar to rip his guts open.
Orion seems to be the only mortal man who becomes close to Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology who doesn’t end up being killed by her which may be because he wasn’t sleazy. However, seeing that his sister was falling in love with a decent mortal man, Apollo killed Orion to prevent Artemis from breaking her vows of chastity.
Artemis and Her Huntresses
As the goddess of the hunt and protectress of women, Artemis also offered women in the mythological Greek world a way out of social expectations by vowing to remain as chaste and wild as her.
Some of them are said to have been raped by gods or to have willingly fallen in love with them. Either way, Artemis is portrayed as terribly frustrated with the loss of her huntresses, swinging wildly between destroying them and taking pity on them.
Artemis and Apollo Kill the Seven Sons and Daughters of Niobe
None of the Greek goddesses or gods took kindly to being boasted at by mortals, but what really ticked off Artemis and Apollo was when Niobe, queen of Thebes, bragged that she was better than their mother.
Niobe claimed that because she could give birth to seven sons and daughters, she had equaled and surpassed Leto seven-fold. In the absolute worst ending to a yo mama joke, Apollo murders all of Niobe’s sons and Artemis slaughters all of her daughters.
Artemis Takes Pity on Iphigenia
Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology may be vengeful to those who would claim to be better than her, but aside from the daughter killing spree, she was mostly very kind and caring towards women.
When King Agamemnon of Troy shot one of her sacred stags and said he was a better hunter than her, she stopped the sea and winds from moving, trapping Agamemnon and his troops. To calm her rage, an oracle tells him to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis.
But the goddess takes pity on the innocent girl and takes her away, leaving a deer in her place.
It’s said that Artemis brought her to Tauris, thereby linking Iphigenia with the Cult of Artemis in Tauris (Taurian Artemis) who is the only version of Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology to accept human sacrifices.
Diana/Artemis as Symbols
Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology is loaded with symbolism regarding the unique struggles of womanhood and the experience of being a woman. Her association with the moon and its phases, links her to a woman’s menstrual cycle, a monthly event.
Though she isn’t the only virgin goddess in Greek myth, she’s the only one who fully exits society and all of its conventions and restrictions.
Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategic battle, stays behind as her father’s divine executive assistant while Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, tends the hearth of Olympus, a symbol of a woman’s role as a homemaker.
By asking to remain an eternal virgin, Artemis is forever free from patriarchal ancient Greek customs since she can never be tied to a man by marriage. If it ever comes down to it, she need only answer to Zeus, her father, and really, everybody answers to Zeus anyway.
The struggles of Artemis/Diana in Greek mythology with the tension between remaining a virgin and the allure of love also show in her personal story with Orion and the loss of her huntresses.
The huntresses become stand-ins for real ancient women who must abandon the carefree wildness of their girlhood, which they had because of their youth and virginity, to join formal society as wives and mothers.
She mourns their loss and is often even enraged by it, but she can’t keep herself from helping them. She comes back as a goddess of childbirth, helping them one final time before repeating the process with their daughters.
This theme parallels the Athenian custom of sending young women to serve Artemis until they became old enough to marry.
How to Worship Diana / Artemis
Modern-day pagans still worship Artemis today. She’s a favorite among pagan and Wiccan women who adore the goddess for her fiercely protective nature and independent spirit. If you’re interested in worshipping Artemis, you can dedicate an altar to her, observe her feasts and rituals, and perform devotional activities related to her domains.