Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities and one of the oldest. In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of forests and hills, child birth, virginity, fertility, the hunt, and often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithyia in aiding childbirth.
She was once bathing in a vale on Mount Cithaeron, when the Theban prince and hunter Actaeon stumbled across her. One version of this story says that Actaeon hid in the bushes and spied on her as she continued to bathe; she was enraged to discover the spy and turned him into a stag which was pursued and killed by his own hounds. Alternatively, another version states that Actaeon boasted that he was a better hunter than she and Artemis turned him into a stag and he was eaten by his hounds
Artemis later became identified with Selene, a Titaness who was a Greek moon goddess, sometimes depicted with a crescent moon above her head. She was also identified with the Roman goddess Diana, with the Etruscan goddess Artume, and with the Greek or Carian goddess Hecate.
Artemis, the goddess of forests and hills, was worshipped throughout ancient Greece. Her best known cults were on the island of Delos (her birthplace); in Attica at Brauron and Mounikhia (near Piraeus); in Sparta. She was often depicted in paintings and statues in a forest setting, carrying a bow and arrows, and accompanied by a deer.
As Aeginaea, she was worshiped in Sparta; the name means either huntress of chamois, or the wielder of the javelin She was worshipped at Naupactus as Aetole; in her temple in that town there was a statue of white marble representing her throwing a javelin. This "Aetolian Artemis" would not have been introduced at Naupactus, anciently a place of Ozolian Locris, until it was awarded to the Aetolians by Philip II of Macedon. Strabo records another precinct of "Aetolian Artemos" at the head of the Adriatic. As Agoraea she was the protector of the agora. As Agrotera, she was especially associated as the patron goddess of hunters. In Elis she was worshiped as Alphaea. In Athens Artemis was often associated with the local Aeginian goddess, Aphaea. As Potnia Theron, she was the patron of wild animals; Homer used this title. As Kourotrophos, she was the nurse of youths. As Locheia, she was the goddess of childbirth and midwives. She was sometimes known as Cynthia, from her birthplace on Mount Cynthus on Delos, or Amarynthia from a festival in her honor originally held at Amarynthus in Euboea. She was sometimes identified by the name Phoebe, the feminine form of her brother Apollo's solar epithet Phoebus.
The ancient Spartans used to sacrifice to her as one of their patron goddesses before starting a new military campaign.
Athenian festivals in honor of Artemis included Elaphebolia, Mounikhia, Kharisteria, and Brauronia. The festival of Artemis Orthia was observed in Sparta.
Pre-pubescent Athenian girls and young Athenian girls approaching marriageable age were sent to the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron to serve the Goddess for one year. During this time the girls were known as arktoi, or little she-bears. A myth explaining this servitude relates that a bear had formed the habit of regularly visiting the town of Brauron, and the people there fed it, so that over time the bear became tame. A young girl teased the bear, and, in some versions of the myth it killed her, while in other versions it clawed her eyes out. Either way, the girl's brothers killed the bear, and Artemis was enraged. She demanded that young girls "act the bear" at her sanctuary in atonement for the bear's death.
Virginal Artemis was worshipped as a fertility/childbirth goddess in some places, assimilating Ilithyia, since, according to some myths, she assisted her mother in the delivery of her twin. During the Classical period in Athens, she was identified with Hecate. Artemis also assimilated Caryatis (Carya).
The oldest representations of Artemis in Greek Archaic art portray her as Potnia Theron ("Queen of the Beasts"): a winged goddess holding a stag and leopard in her hands, or sometimes a leopard and a lion. This winged Artemis lingered in ex-votos as Artemis Orthia, with a sanctuary close by Sparta.
In Greek classical art she is usually portrayed as a maiden huntress clothed in a girl's short skirt, with hunting boots, a quiver, a bow and arrows. Often she is shown in the shooting pose, and is accompanied by a hunting dog or stag. Her darker side is revealed in some vase paintings, where she is shown as the death-bringing goddess whose arrows fell young maidens and women, such as the daughters of Niobe.
The attributes of the goddess were often varied: bow and arrows were sometimes replaced by hunting spears; as a goddess of maiden dances she held a lyre as a goddess of light a pair of flaming torches.
Only in post-Classical art do we find representations of Artemis-Diana with the crown of the crescent moon, as Luna. In the ancient world, although she was occasionally associated with the moon, she was never portrayed as the moon itself. Ancient statues of Artemis have been found with crescent moons, but these moons are always Renaissance-era additions.
On June 7, 2007, a Roman era bronze sculpture of “Artemis and the Stag” was sold at Sotheby’s auction house in New York state by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery for $25.5 million. At Ephesus in Ionia (Turkey), her temple became one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was probably the best known center of her worship except for Delos. There the Lady whom the Ionians associated with Artemis through interpretatio Graeca was worshiped primarily as a mother goddess, akin to the Phrygian goddess Cybele, in an ancient sanctuary where her cult image depicted the "Lady of Ephesus" adorned with multiple rounded breast like protuberances on her chest. They had been traditionally interpreted as multiple accessory breasts, or as sacrificed bull testes, as some newer scholars claimed, until excavation at the site of the Artemision in 1987-88 identified the multitude of tear-shaped amber beads that had adorned her ancient wooden xoanon. In Acts of the Apostles, Ephesian metalsmiths who felt threatened by Saint Paul's preaching of Christianity, jealously rioted in her defense, shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
Only one of 121 columns still stand in Ephesus. The rest were used for making churches, roads, and forts.
A minor planet, Artemis; a lunar crater; the Artemis Chasma and the Artemis Corona (both on Venus) have all been named for her.
As Selene she is associated with the Moon, and as Phoebe her name was borrowed for a moon of Saturn.