Hymn to Artemis III


ARTEMIS [not lightly do poets forget her) we sing, who amuses herself on mountains with archery and the shooting of rabbits and wide circle dances.

When Artemis was still just a little slip of a goddess, she sat on her father’s knee and said: “I want to be a virgin forever, Papa, and I want to have as many names as my brother Phoibus, and please, Papa, give me a bow and some arrows – please! – not a big fancy set: the Cyclopes can make me some slender arrows and a little, curved bow. and please, Papa, give me a bow and some arrows – please! – not a big fancy set: the Cyclopes can make me some slender arrows and a little, curved bow.

“And let me be Light Bringer and wear a tunic with a colored border down to the knee, loose for when I go hunting wild game. “And give me sixty dancing girls, daughters of Ocean, all nine years old, all little girl sea nymphs, and twenty wood nymphs from Amnisas for Naiaids to take care of my boots and tend my swift hounds when I’m done shooting lynx and stag, and “Give me all the mountains in the world, Papa, and any old town, I don’t care which one: Artemis will hardly ever go down into town. I’ll live in the mountains, and visit men’s cities only when women, struck with fierce labor pangs, call on my name, for the Moirai ordained when I was being born, that Artemis be a helper of women, because mother in bearing and birthing me had no pain at all: I just slipped right out of her dear round belly.” And with that she stretched out her hands to her father’s beard, but hard as she tried couldn’t reach his whiskers; and he nodded, laughing and caressing her, and said:

“When goddesses bear me children like, this, I hardly mind Hera’s jealous anger. Take, child, everything you want, and Father will give you other things even better:

“I will give you thirty citadels, not just one, thirty cities with towers that will know to exalt Artemis alone, thirty cities to call your own! And quite a few more to share with other gods, inland and island, with altars and groves of Artemis in all.

“And you will be Guardian of harbors and Roads.” No sooner said than done, confirmed with an Olympian nod of his head.

The girl walked upon the white Cretan mountain, through its thick woods, and on to the Ocean, picked out her nymphs all nine years old, all still little girls. Rejoice, river Kairatos, Tethys, rejoice for daughters sent to serve Leto’s own daughter.

The nymphs trembled at the sight of these monsters, rough as Ossaian cliffs, one eye beneath each beetling brow glaring like a four-ply oxhide shield, trembled at the anvil’s thud, the deafening blast from the bellows, the Cyclopes’ groans.

Aetna cried aloud, Sicily shouted – seat of Sikanians – her neighbor Italy screamed, and Corsica tumbled and roared, when they raised hammers high or took sizzling bronze from the forge or hammered iron in turn striking the anvil with a chorus of grunts.

The Daughters of Ocean didn’t dare ignore them, nor look them in the eye, nor unstop their ears, and no wonder: not even the Blessed Ones’ daughters, well past toddlerhood, can look without shuddering, When not so divine little girl disobeys, her mother calls out the Cyclopes on the child, Arges or Steropes, and up from the basement, smeared with ashes, Hermes comes and plays bogy to the frightened child, who hides her eyes with her hands and runs plunging into mother’s lap.

But you, Goddess, were only three years old when Leto first took you to Hephiaistos’ forge (he had some presents to give you). Brontes set you upon his stout knees, and you plucked shaggy hair right out of his chest, tore it right out, so that even today his sternum is hairless (you would think the monster had a touch of mange).

Nor did you mince words with them now, Goddess “Cyclopes, make me a Cretan bow, and a quiver full of arrows, for I too am a child of Leto, no less than Apollo. And whatever wild animals I kill in the hunt the Cyclopes may have as meat.”

And as you spoke they filled your order.

You were ready in a flash, Goddess, and off to get whelps for your pack. Here is the Arkadian tent of Pan, Pan in front butchering lynx from Mainalos for the dogs to eat, and the grizzled god gave you: two half-white dogs, three with hanging ears, one speckled (these could pull down lions, seize their throats, and drag them home still alive) and seven Spartan bitches (swifter than wind in pursuing fawns and wide-eyed hare, keen on the scent of stag, porcupine, and the trace of gazelle).

And you were gone, dogs running along, to the foot of the Parrhasian mountain, frisky deer there browsing on the banks of black-pebbled Anauros, deer bigger than bulls, and their horns shone with gold. Struck with wonder you said to yourself: “Here is a first catch worthy of Artemis.” Leaving the dogs behind, to get the deer unharmed, you caught four of the five to pull your chariot: one escaped, hid by the Keryneian Hill, guided by Hera over the Keladon River, a later labor for Heracles.

Artemis, Virgin, Killer of Tityos, in golden armor and belt, you yoked a golden chariot, bridled deer in gold. From where did the horned team begin its first run?

Thracian Haimos, where Boreas’s hurricane blows ill frost on the cloakless.

Where did you cut pine for torches, lit by what flame?

Mysian Olympos. You breathed into the torches the unquenchable light of fire distilled from Father’s lightning bolts.

How many times, Goddess, did you test your silver bow? First you shot an elm, an oak, a wild animal; then you shot into the city of wicked men, who assault strangers and curse themselves; you pierce them with a cutting anger: Plague grazes on their cattle, hoarfrost on their fields; old men cut their hair mourning for sons, women die giving birth or escape death with crippled children.

But those whom your smile and grace illumine: their fields flourish with corn-ears, their livestock and wealth multiply, only the very old go to the grave, and strife, which wastes even well-established houses, avoids the family: wives of brothers and husband’s sisters sit around one table.

Lady, may my true friends and I be among those, Queen, and may I always care about song. I will sing Leto’s wedlock, Apollo, and always Artemis: your labors, dogs, archery, and chariot that lifts you lightly – behold – on your way to Zeus’s heavenly abode.

At the door you hand your weapons to Guileless Hermes, and Apollo brings in your kill of the day — at least he used to before Herakles came, now Phoibos no longer has this labor because the “Anvil of Tiryns” loiters by the gates, waiting for you to return bearing a hunk of fat meat. The gods laugh at Heracles, especially Hera, when he lifts from the chariot a great big bull or a struggling wild boar by its hind foot. Then he admonishes you, Goddess, with this cunning speech:

“Shoot savage beasts and win praise, as I have, from mortal men. Let deer and hare feed in hills — what harm do deer and hare do? Pigs ruin fields, ravage gardens, and oxen are a great evil for men, Shoot them instead.”

He spoke and make quick work of the huge beast; for even though his limbs were deified under a Phrygian oak, he is still a glutton; he has the same belly as when he met Theodamus plowing.

Freeing them from the yoke, the nymphs of Amnisos rub down your deer and gather quick-sprouting, three-leaved clover from Hera’s meadow for fodder, which even the horses of Zeus feed on; the nymphs fill a golden wine-vat with water, a delightful drink for deer.

You go in your Fathers house; all the gods call you to them but you sit beside Apollo. When the nymphs circle you in a dance near the springs of Egyptian Inopos or your temple at Pitane in Limnai, — yes, Pitane too is yours — Goddess, or in Alai Araphenides after you left Skythia denouncing the custom of the Tauri, then may my oxen not be under foreign hire, plowing a fallow field of four acres, for they would return to the farmyard with weary limbs and neck, even if they were nine-year-old long-horned Stymphaian cattle, who are the best at plowing a wide furrow; because Helios never passes above that lovely dance without stopping his chariot to gaze down, lengthening the light of day.

What island, mountain, harbor and city now please you most? Which nymph do you love best? Which heroine is your companion? Tell me, Goddess, and your catalogue will be my song.

Dolikhe Island, the City of Perge, Taygeton Mountain, the harbor of Eripos please you most. The fawn-slaying nymph of Gortyn, sharp-shooting Britomartis, you love beyond all others. Frenzied with desire for her Minos ran through the mountains of Crete. The nymph hid now under a shaggy oak, now in marshy meadow. Minos wandered nine months over cliffs and crags in relentless pursuit until, when she was nearly in his grasp, she leapt from the cliff to the sea – into the saving net of a fishing boat.

So the Kydonians call the nymph Lady of the Net, and the cliff where she jumped Net Mountain; there they set up altars and sacrifices, making garlands of pine or mastich (myrtle they leave untouched, for a myrtle branch caught in the nymph’s robe when she fell, so she hates myrtle).

Oupis, my Queen, shining eyed Light Bringer, the Cretans even name you after that nymph. You made Kyrene daughter of Hypsios, your companion and gave her two hunting dogs to win the contest beside the Iolkian tomb. My Lady, you chose the golden-haired wife of Kephalos, son of Deionios, for your hunting partner and they say you loved the lovely Antikleia like your eyes. Those three first bore the quick bow and quiver around their shoulders, the right shoulder and breast always bare.

You lavished praise on swift-footed Atalanta, boar-killing daughter of Arcadian Iasios; you taught her hunting with dogs and good aim. The hunters of the Kalydonian boar couldn’t find fault with her; the tokens of victory, including the tusks of the beast, went to Arcadia even though they hate her, centaurs Hylaios and senseless Rhoikos in Hades could hardly criticize Atalanta’s archery for their wounded flanks were witness; the Mainalian mountain ridge flowed with their blood.

Lady of many temples and cities, Hail, Huntress, who resides in Miletos; you guided Neleus when he led his black ships from archaic Athens. Lady of Khesion, Imbrasia, high throned: Agamemnon dedicated his ship’s rudder to you in your temple; a sweet charm against storm or deadly calm. When you bound the winds, the Greek ships sailed to grieve the cities of the Trojans, maddened over Rhamnusian Helen.

Proitos built two temples for you, one to Artemis the Daughter — because you rescued his daughters wandering mad through the Azanian Mountains; the other in Lusa to Artemis the Mild — because you exorcised the wild spirit from his daughters.

Amazons, lovers of battle, set up a wooden image under an oak, in seaside Ephesos and Hippo offered a holy sacrifice to you; Around the oak they danced you a war dance, Queen Oupis, first with shields and then a wide circledance, the shrill pipes joined in lithe song to keep time. [that was before they pierced fawn bones for flutes, Athena’s evil work for deer); the echo of the music leapt to Sardis and the Berekynthian song, their feet clicked quickly, the quivers rattled.

Afterward around that wooden image, wide foundations were built. Dawn sees nothing richer or more divine; it easily surpasses Pytho. Lygdamis, violent and psychotic, threatened to raze it. He led an army of mare-milking Kimmerians numerous as sand, who live near the Bosporos, passage of Io, daughter of Inachos. Vile King! His transgression meant that neither he not his men whose wagons stood in the Kaystrian meadow would return to Skythia; your bow always lies before Ephesos.

Lady of Munikhia, Harbor Watcher, Lady of Pherai, hail! May no one dishonor Artemis: Oineus dishonored her altars and no pretty struggles came to his city; nor strive in shooting stag or in skillful aim. the son of Atreus couldn’t boast that he paid a small price; not may anyone woo the virgin: neither Oros nor Orion wooed a good wedding; nor avoid the annual dance: Queen Hippo, not without tears, refused to circle the altar.

All Hail, Goddess, and be gracious to my song.



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