In her state of perpetual adolescence, Artemis quickly took offence at perceived slights – as one of her attendants, the nymph Callisto, discovered. Like all Artemis’ coterie, she had taken an oath of virginity. But this meant nothing to Zeus, who disguised himself as Artemis and seduced her. Later, while they were bathing, Artemis recognized the signs of Callisto’s pregnancy. Outraged, she showed no mercy. An early poem attributed to Hesiod tells how she changed Callisto into a bear. Others maintained that it was Zeus or Hera who performed the transformation and that Artemis shot her pregnant acolyte with an arrow. Happily, Zeus saved Callisto’s son, Arcas, smuggling him to safety, and turned Callisto into a constellation – the Great Bear. In Classical times bears played a role in worshipping Artemis: girls on the cusp of adolescence serving at Artemis’ sanctuary at marshy
Photo Gallery The Wrath of Artemis
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Brauron near Athens (where Iphigenia, sacrificed to appease her, was honoured with a hero-shrine) were known as ‘she-bears’.
Artemis watches while Actaeon is torn apart by his own hounds on a metope from Temple ‘E’ at Selinunte, Sicily.
Actaeon, too, provoked Artemis’ anger. A prince of Thebes, he was hunting with his comrades when, straying from the path, he came across a pool in which the goddess and her nymphs were bathing naked. Some say that he tried to rape her; others that when Artemis caught sight of him, she was flustered. She knew that, young as he was, Actaeon would soon be boasting to his comrades, describing her naked body in excruciating detail. So she transformed him into a stag. Bewildered, Actaeon bounded off; his hounds gave chase; the stag was felled; and Actaeon was torn to pieces by his dogs. Pausanias writes that his ghost then terrified the countryside, being placated only when his remains were buried and a bronze statue of him was riveted with iron to a rock.