Diane (sewblue) wrote in differentloving,

As I've been slowly plodding through Elizabeth Abbott's A History of Celibacy, I thought I would post some passages from the book. If you are offended by my violation of copyright laws
then you should probably go elsewhere because it is a regular habit of mine. The book focuses on an inordinate amount of religious celibacy, because this is the most readily available historical information on the subject, but Abbott covers a lot of territory ranging from historical to mythological and I am personally enjoying the book a lot. Here's a passage on Artemis from a chapter entitled DIVINE PAGAN CELIBACY

Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto, had much in common with her half-sister Athena, including the virginity she had longed for since she was a toddler. As she sat cradled on her father Zeus’ knee, a surge of affection infused him, and on the spur of the moment he asked her to tell him what gifts he should give her.

“Give me to keep my maidenhood, Father, forever,” Artemis replied instantly.

And give me arrows and a bow … and … a tunic with embroidered border
reaching to the knee, that I may slay wild beasts. And give me sixty daughters
of Oceanus for my choir—all nine years old, all maidens yet ungirdled; and give
me for handmaidens twenty nymphs of Amnisus who shall tend well my buskins, and,
when I shoot no more at lynx or stag, shall tend my swift hounds. And give to me
all mountains … for seldom is it that Artemis goes down to the town.

Almost as an ironic afterthought, she added that women in labor would constantly call upon her, because her mother’s feat in delivering her painlessly had prompted the Fates to designate her patroness of childbirth.

Artemis’ articulate and ready list of desires was not the whimsy of your average three-year-old. From the beginning she was as independent and self-directed as Athena. The life she had mapped out for herself was aggressively virginal. The first clue was in her demand for scores of innocent girls as companions. Unlike Athena, Artemis was a watchful and wary virgin, and she demanded celibacy from her followers. She also inspired it—the Amazons, for instance, who both worshiped and resembled her, were archers and disdained men’s company.

Artemis was ruthless to men unable to adapt to her rigid rules. The best example of this is her destruction of Orion for attempted rape. (Her treatment of the tragic Hippolytus, son of the Amazon Hippolyte, was immortalized in Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus, described below.) When the giant Tityus tried to rape her mother, she and Apollo, her brother, conspired to murder him.

Nor did Artemis extend compassion to women. When her favorite maiden, Callisto, began to swell in pregnancy after Zeus seduced her, Artemis cruelly transformed her into a bear and set her pack of hounds on it. Only Zeus’ intervention—plucking Callisto up into the heavens—foiled Artemis’ plans for the maiden’s bloody death.

Artemis’ relations with women focused primarily on their life cycles of menstruation, loss of virginity, childbirth, and death. All involve pain and bleeding, the price Artemis forces women to pay if they abandon her world of virginity. As patroness of childbirth she exacted even more, the great pain of labor.

Artemis’ other major occupation was to roam the forests and mountains with wild beasts, shunning the company of men. However, when hunters arrives, she sided with them against the animals. Her beauty, elusiveness, and mystery drove the river god, Alpheius, to fall in love with her and track her throughout Greece. Finally Artemis forced him to abandon his hopeless quest; she and all her nymphs plastered white mud on their faces so Alpheius could not distinguish among them and retreated to the sound of mocking laughter.

A much worse fate befell a young man named Actaeon, who was propped against a rock when he noticed Artemis bathing in a nearby stream. Had he fled before she noticed him, he might have lived. As it was, she was so infuriated that he might brag about the sight of her nakedness that she transformed him into a stag. His own hounds instantly tore him apart and devoured him.

Unlike the gregarious Athena, Artemis preferred a more solitary existence, though she was always accompanied by her troop of nymphs. She had antagonistic relationships with young women as well as men, prompting her stepmother Hera to jeer, “Zeus has made you a lion / among women, and given you leave to kill any at your pleasure.” She forced Agamemnon to sacrifice his firstborn, Iphigenia, in return for favorable winds for his naval expedition against Troy. With Apollo, her twin, she killed all twelve children of the mortal Niobe, who had boasted she had more children than Artemis’ mother, the goddess Leto.

Artemis’ strident chastity, her manly occupation of hunting, her raging pride, and the brutality of her vengeance stamped her as independent and as strong-willed as Athena. She was seen as an implacable deity who, since childhood, had shrugged off womanly pursuits and frailties. Her virginity was as virulent as her wrath and recast Zeus’ little girl into a towering divinity devoid of most feminine qualities.
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic