The Many-Breasted Artemis of Ephesus - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Many-Breasted Artemis of Ephesus
The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Or is that the Many-Breasted Diana of Ephesus? Either way, the image of Artemis (or Diana) celebrated for centuries in this ancient city, doesn’t correspond to the classical image of those deities still so recognizable and familiar: youthful, “virginal” athletes and hunters.

During the Hellenistic period, when Greek was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world, the deity worshipped in Ephesus was commonly called “Artemis”—or at least in surviving writings. As Rome became the dominant power, this deity was familiarly called “Diana.” Significantly, both those deities, whether they are one and the same or not, lingered on the outskirts of official state pantheons—both stubborn reminders of an ancient matrilineal fertility orientation.

Frankly, the famous votive image venerated in Ephesus corresponds more closely to the great Near Eastern Mother Goddesses. This may indicate something about the hidden history of Artemis/Diana, or it is also possible that another deity (Kybele, Asherah or unknown) lurks beneath the Greco-Roman names.

This isn’t obscure history: the Temple of Artemis/Diana in Ephesus, now in modern Turkey, was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although the temple was destroyed (as was the original votive statue), the Shrine of Artemis was a major tourist and pilgrimage site: vendors sold reproductions of the statue in the same manner that modern visitors to any monument favored by tourists will find countless vendors selling countless souvenir replicas.

Reproductions of the statue of Many-Breasted Artemis survive so we know that it depicted a beautiful, regal, crowned woman, her torso completely covered by multiple breasts indicating her capacity to nurture and provide for all, her long tight skirt containing bands of animals and birds in relief.

The shrine was ancient and was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The deity herself chose the site by falling there in the form of a meteorite, which landed upon a date palm, and the shrine’s single most sacred object was a meteor contained within her crown, believed to house the very essence of the deity.

Historical records indicate that the earliest temple was built in the eighth century BCE as a simple tree shrine, allegedly by Amazons, passionate devotees of the goddess. The deity was originally not depicted as a woman but in the form of that original date palm hit by the meteorite.

That first simple tree shrine was destroyed by Cimmerians in 650 BCE. The Amazons lost control of the shrine but it survived and the temple was continually rebuilt:

Image A temple shrine was built in 580 BCE but sacked, rebuilt, and then sacked again.

Image A fourth temple, crafted from priceless white marble, was sponsored by King Croesus of Lydia.

Image In October 356 BCE, a man wishing to immortalize his name by committing a crime so tremendous it could never be forgotten, set the temple’s wooden precincts aflame, causing its destruction.

An indignant population joined together to rebuild the shrine, and this temple is the one that was called the greatest of the Seven Wonders. The lintel was so huge that the architect Dinocrates despaired of ever adjusting it correctly; he was on the verge of suicide when Artemis appeared to him in a dream and assured him that the lintel was now perfectly in place, she had taken care of it. When he awoke, it was.

Ephesus was a great city, its economy based on the Temple of Artemis/Diana. Small figurine renditions of Many-Breasted Diana of Ephesus were sold to thousands of annual pilgrims, as documented in the New Testament (Acts 19). Many reproductions are adorned with a necklace of a scorpion-like creature with a half moon or horns pointing down.

St Paul’s criticism of Diana led to rioting and his expulsion from Ephesus. As Christianity gained influence, his expulsion would be revenged:

Image The statue was destroyed in 400 CE by a Christian zealot who boasted of having overthrown the image of “Demon Artemis.”

Image In 406 St John Chrysostom preached against the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It was looted and burned soon afterwards.

Image A fifth-century inscription mentions the replacement of a statue of Artemis with a cross.

See also Aradia, Diana, Hecate, Kybele; BOTANICALS: Mugwort, Saint John’s wort, Trees.