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The Cult of Artemis at Vravrona – Dragging My Mother on the Most Unlikely Quest

Almost ten summers ago I arrived in Athens for the first time beginning  an epic 6 week Mediterranean journey with my mother. It was self funded and completely driven by my need to stand in as many of the locations I discussed, analyzed, and pondered over for years as I wrote my dissertation.  At the top of my list was the sanctuary at Vravrona (ancient Brauron Βραυρών).

The sanctuary of Vravron was excavated by John Papadimitriou in 1948.  Unfortunately, he died suddenly in 1963 and the excavation project took another 40 years to become public. While much of the archaeological findings have been cataloged, it appears that only a small sample has been published of the “hundreds and hundreds of krateriskoi found all over the sanctuary” at Vravron. Artemis of Vravron, also known as the Taurian Artemis is mystical, and her worship was orgiastic and connected, at least in early times, with human sacrifices. According to Greek legend, there was in Tauris a goddess, whom the Greeks identified with their own Artemis, and to whom all strangers that were thrown off the coast of Tauris, were sacrificed. (Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 36.).

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John Papadimitriou and crew, Artemis Vrauron Museum, photo of a photo is my own

After asking the hotel rep, who patiently watched me bouncing out of my skin with excitement as he informed me no tours went to the site, then checking my travel book for details, which was basically two lines about the ancient location, I realized this was another Artemis adventure that I was meant to travel on my own. 

My mother, who continues to practice a strict Eastern European hoverparent technique, refused to let me travel from Athens to Vravrona ‘all alone’. So we took a bus, and a subway, and another bus, and finally, after much hand signalling, pointing at the guide book and my very broken Greek, we were unceremoniously dropped off in one of the best beach towns in Greece.

athens-beaches-1280
 https://www.greeka.com/

It took a minute to stop looking at the wonder that was the beach bar culture of the town and remind myself the temple was built in what used to be a port, so a modern  party  city made perfect sense. Of course I saw no temple, nor any “temple of Artemis” signs or directions. So we used the time old trusted method of ‘ask somebody’. Although the locals we approached in the numerous bars strewn across the beach front had very little idea or interest in our quest, the bartenders and fruit venders were more than happy to point us towards the main highway and say “keep walking that way, its about 2kms or so”. Two kms later, the heat and sun bearing down on our backs, my mother stops to ask another vendor selling seashell bracelets for directions. She smiles at my mother and repeats the local mantra, “keep going, about 2kms or so”. Approximately 8kms later, dehydrated and almost completely discouraged we arrive at the first sign we’ve seen so far.

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on the road to the temple, photo my own

Although excited at the prospect of arriving, it seemed as though the task of “2kms or so” was still upon us. Concerned for my poor dehydrated mother I suggested we turn around. “It’s too far, we can come back another day, there’s no where to get water around here, how are we gonna make it back” were all my reasons for giving up. My mother looked at me with that didiactuallygivebirthtothisperson look and told me that under no circumstances whatsoever had i talked her ear off for 5 years about this temple and was now going to give up when it seemed we were only “2kms away”.

Fine. We continued beating the hot pavement until finally we the entrance booth to the temple ruins! We must’ve been a sight because as soon as the woman sitting in the booth laid eye son us she rushed outside with two bottles of water and a plastic chair for my mother. I gratefully accepted her kindness and looked around the open site. The remains of the temple walls were as scarce as many of the other locations we had traveled to. But at least a small structure of what used to be the courtyard remains standing.

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Artemis temple ruins at Vravron, photo my own

After walking around the site enjoying the fresh water and the open, calm feel of the ruins, I walked back to the booth where my mother and the attendant had become fast friends. I knew there had to be a site museum somewhere near the ruins as Papadimitriou claimed he found hundreds of artifacts when they first started digging in the early 1940s.

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Artemis temple ruins at Vravron, photo my own

 

 

 

I hoped I could take pictures of his findings and maybe one day use them for my own work. I also suspected that the site predated the Greek Artemis and may have been connected to an early mother goddess or water goddess cult.

Walking back to the entrance booth, I imagined all the ways the water used to be right outside the temple property. Although I knew more than first hand how far away the sea was now, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath hoping to smell the salt of an ancient port and the the sounds of an archaic worship.

“It’s beautiful here isn’t it?” the attendant smiled at me like she too shared my daydreams.

“Yes,” I smiled at her like we were kindred spirits. “Can you tell me where the site museum is from here? I haven’t seen a sign, and it’s not on the site map.”

“Ah yes,” she pulled off the wall of her booth and pointed to what we could see of the paved highway which brought my mother and I here, “You gotta keep going on that road, it’s not far of a walk from here, about 2kms or so.”

 

 

 

Posted in Artemis Temples, Uncategorized

Putting Artemis’ Temples on the Map – The Struggle is Real

So much of the search for Artemis remains uncovered. Of the 165(ish) temples that I’ve listed in my doctoral research, only less than a third have been recognized by both scholars and archaeological projects.

If you google “locations of Artemis temples” you will get a semi comprehensible map of approximately 35 temples identified by early Classicists and turned into popular tourist sites. Most of the sites refer to the Greek Artemis of the Hunt, and are spread across the Mediterranean and a few parts of the Middle East and North Africa:

Locations of Temples of Artemis

Part of the purpose of this page is to identify and document all  temples to the goddess Artemis, in all her forms, and bring to light how popular and fundamental her worship was for thousands of years.

So much of her influence was diminished under the academic endorsement of Athena and Aphrodite. Early Classicists were so enamored with the progenitor of Athens, or the goddess of fertility and love, that they continuously skipped over Artemis’ fundamental status within ancient worship and ritual.

The search for her temples is paramount in revealing her long standing traditions and the complexity of her divine transformations and mythological adaptions.

 

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The Last Goddess

How Artemis Ephesia Lost Her Crown – Lecture

Despite the attempt by the Greeks to superimpose their tradition of the Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, known for her severe approach to chastity, virginity, and rejection of marriage, onto the attributes of the Anatolian goddess of motherhood, creation, and an all-encompassing authority, they remained unsuccessful.

Artemis Ephesia retained much of her pre-Hellenic attributes and her royal lineage. Pausanias describes an epithet within the temple of Ephesus in which Artemis is labeled “Goddess of the First Throne,” also referred to as, the womb that encompasses the world
divine authority of Artemis Ephesia is still significant. Her position as Queen is completely unrelated to her Greek counterpart and fundamentally different than any other Olympian deity. It is not difficult to trace the link between an all-encompassing Mother Goddess, the Anatolian Cybele, to the Queen of Beasts or Mistress of Animals, referring to the Greek Artemis, and finally to Artemis Ephesia, the Goddess of the First Throne.

Please enjoy this introductory lecture on some of my academic research in the tradition and ritual history of Artemis Ephesia.

 

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The Strangled Goddess

3051716Apankhomene, the strangled goddess, is another surname of Artemis. Tradition claims that in the neighbourhood of the town of Caphyae in Areadia, in a place called Condylea, there was a sacred grove of Artemis Condyleatis.

Once, some children playfully tied a rope around the neck of her statue and claimed she was strangled. They were stoned to death by the village people. Later the gynaikes, young women, of Caphyae were struck with a disease and all their children were stillborn. The villagers saw this as a sign of the wrath of Artemis for stoning of children. The Oracle ordered that the children should be buried properly, and annual sacrifices made to them since they were wrongly killed.

Artemis does not shed her blood in the hunt, in sex or in childbirth. This mode of death can be associated with her being strangled. Fundamentally, the duality of Artemis strangled is primarily evident in the fact that she is a goddess who does not bleed, but who makes others bleed.

Helen King posits that Artemis being strangled, and therefore without blood, allows her to lead in the transitions of the parthenoi or virgins, into gyne or maiden, by initiating them into this new phase of life which is identified with menstruation, marriage and child birth.

Her position as a transitory agent between child and woman, or child and man, is fundamental.  Artemis is lysizonos, the ‘releaser’ of the girdle [the girdle is put on at puberty and later dedicated to Artemis as a part of the marriage process]. A special girdle is worn on the wedding night and a woman unties her girdle to give birth.

Consequently, Artemis is powerful in the lives of women and invoked by women during childbirth often as lysizonos, and after childbirth the girdle is dedicated to her.  King notes that also dedicated to her is the Lochia, often one of Artemis’ names, which is the placenta.  This clearly depicts her responsibility as overseer of the transition of young people from parthenoi and into being full gynaikes.

 

Works Cited:

King, H. Bound to Bleed: Artemis and Greek Women. Images of Women in Antiquity. A.Cameron and A. Kuhrt (Eds), London. 1993, p. 109-127.