Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are You Artemis or Athena?

Gods or Goddesses?

Wait. Before you answer this, be sure you know these Goddesses.
Our versions of each are quite superficial—and I do want you to make a wise decision. If you read our modern American literature about the Goddesses, you may not get the real scoop. So, when you think Artemis, who do you see? A tough, independent, somewhat masculine Goddess equipped with bow and arrows…Goddess of the Hunt, right? You see her surrounded by animals. You may even see her demanding a bow and arrows from her father Zeus, at the age of three. Anything else?

Did you know that Artemis is connected to the moon and its cycles? Are you aware that she is the protectress (yes, I know, that word doesn’t show up as a real word on spell-check) of pregnant women and of childbirth? The oldest depictions of Artemis portray her with long flowing hair in long flowing (feminine) gowns. She is communing with swans, not tigers.

How about Athena? Wise feminine Goddess? Well, wise, in some ways, yes. Feminine? No. Not very. Even her statues are without curves. And there’s that small matter of her birth…yes, the one that took place without her mother Metis, the Goddess of cunning wisdom. Didn’t know that one? Athena was born from her father Zeus’ brow. This is what happens when a God eats a pregnant Goddess. He ends up with a fetus in his brain. Nice thought, huh? And you thought Athena was feminine…

Here’s an example. Take a look at the pictures above. If you know these statues, then, sorry, your vote doesn’t count. Are these Gods or Goddesses?

How did you determine their gender? They both have similar hair, similar features, almost identical garb.

On the left is the Goddess Athena. On the right is Artemis’ brother, the God Apollo. They look sort-of similar, don’t they?

I had the opportunity to see the Worshiping Women exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Specifically, the exhibit was about Goddesses, Priestesses and women participating in ritual in Classical Greece. I was struck by how Aphrodite was the only Goddess who was consistently portrayed in a feminine way. Athena was never feminine, and both my Classicist Professor friend and I were dismayed that a more recent (masculine) statue of Artemis appeared on the exhibit’s banner, rather than a more ancient feminine one.

It made me stop and think about our current state and how similar our mindset is to the one present in Classical Greece. It’s as if the influence of Plato and Aristotle has surpassed Socrates, still. What is this strange state in which we find ourselves? When did valued wisdom have to be masculine (even when contained in a Goddess’ body)? When did we trade in the multifaceted nature of Artemis for the highly specific “Goddess of the Hunt?” This is not a modern Greek creation. Ask Greeks, and many will give you a fairly accurate description of Artemis. This is our western interpretation, and it happened a long long time ago. When will we be ready and willing to reclaim our feminine Goddesses, along with their corresponding powers—all of them—not just the erotic, sexual Aphrodite?


  1. Hmm, good points. I saw the Venus de Milo in the Louvre recently, and I was struck by the fact that her abdomen seemed masculine rather than feminine shaped, and her face also looked almost masculine.

    Male sculptors and artists from ancient times to the Renaissance generally did not have women to model for them, so there was a lot of guess work that went into the anatomies. Some of the Italian masters also got female bodies really, really wrong.

  2. I liked this because today in class we were talking about what God or goddess we are. This blog is UNICORNIRFIC!!!!

  3. Thank you, Anonymous! I'm glad you are enjoying my blog.

  4. this is excellent; thank you :) I have been very drawn to both Artemis and Athena (deer, bears, dogs and owls are some of my most consistent totems) for years, and am finally designing a long-awaited upper arm tattoo (on my left arm, because I'm left-handed) of Artemis, but using some aspects or symbols of Athena. She will be pulling back her bow (symbolic of always being true to that which I came here to do - all of it, from helping and healing to experiencing the physicality of humanity, etc), flanked by a black bear cub, and a deer. Above her, right by her shoulder, on an overhanging tree branch (white birch?), a large owl. I am in school to eventually become an OB-GYN because I am passionate about supporting healthy, peaceful, empowering, transformative birth experiences for every mama and every baby - like my daughter and I got to have at home, with a midwife and doula. Every mama deserves to get to feel and experience the power of the Mystery, and our parts in it, and the certainty that we are limitless, and that we can do anything at all, including parenting a small human....even if she's stuck birthing in a hospital. Anyway, I'm mid-finals exam week, so I think I've written a mini-novel out of pure habit! ;) One last thing, I keep going back and forth about the compassion and abundance/prosperity centered deity for my right arm - I'm pretty sure I like Ganesh, inside his yantra, framed by large, fragrant roses, and with a couple of crows (another totem) on a branch overhead, a snake, and a tiger cub (my daughter was born 2010, year of the tiger) - of, and a full moon, high on my shoulder above Artemis, a bright sun, high on my right, behind Ganesh(?) My only thing is: I do like the male-female juxtaposition, especially as I'm very much my sign, which is Gemini, but I feel like I want a divine feminine infinite-compassion type of a something for the right (receiving) side as well. Ganesh is loving, but not, you know, in that Oh, Honey, You Just Come Right Here And Let Me Hug You Awhile kinda way. Would LOVE any input/insight/ideas. Thank you again for a great blog :) blessed be