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illicit affair, Niobe, god of iron

The twins Artemis and Apollo

Author: Lena Santos

The story of the twin gods Artemis and Apollo was filled with intrigue and deception. Their conception was controversial in itself. The chief god Zeus fell in love with a beautiful nymph named Leto, a daughter of the Titans Coues and Phoebe. Hera, Zeus’s wife, was always on the look-out for her husband’s transgressions so Zeus had to turn himself and Leto into quails for them to have an illicit affair. Hera was not that naïve as not to see through the trick so she cursed Leto to prevent her from giving birth on solid ground or at any place where the sun shines. To make Leto’s quest in finding a place to deliver her babies more vexing, Hera even sent Python, a serpent, to chase after her.

No one wanted to help Leto for they feared the wrath of Hera. It was also told that Hera had the goddess of childbirth, Ilithyia, kidnapped to avert Leto going into labor. However, the other gods offered Hera a necklace as a bribe to free Ilithyia. Finally Leto found sanctuary in an island where her sister Asteria lived. The island was name Ortygia and it was here that Leto gave birth to Artemis. Leto was having a hard time giving birth to Apollo. Artemis saw the difficulty her mother was going through so she helped her go to the island of Delos where for nine days Leto labored and finally delivered Apollo. It was Themis, Leto’s aunt, who looked after the twins nourishing them with the food and drink of gods- nectar and ambrosia.

Apollo and Artemis proved to be two of the most powerful gods in the Olympic pantheon. The twins cared for their mother so much that in numerous occasions they championed her. At one time, a giant called Tityus attempted to rape Leto. Her children heard her cries that the twins quickly subdued Tityus by a deluge of arrows. Another time, the queen of Thebes named Niobe boasted that she was far superior to Leto because she had more and better children than her – seven sons and seven daughters. Apollo killed all the males while Artemis took care of the daughters, leaving Niobe to cry for the remainder of her life.

Artemis the goddess of the hunt

When Artemis was barely three years old, Zeus asked her what she wanted as gifts. It was said that Artemis used to spend hours in her father’s lap perhaps listening in awe of her father. Artemis asked for three gifts from Zeus: bow and arrows; the mountains of the world (as her playground); a city and eternal virginity. Note that Artemis was one of the eternal virgins in Greek mythology the other two being Athena and Hestia.

Zeus granted all of Artemis’s wishes with the Cyclopes forging her silver bow and a quiver filled with arrows. She was granted eternal virginity and all the mountains fell in her domain. Instead of one city, Zeus gave her 30.

Artemis was not sugary sweet. She was a vindictive goddess and those who earned her ire suffered a great deal. When Admetus forgot to offer a sacrifice to Artemis, he found snakes in his bedchamber on his wedding night. When King Oeneus of Calydon forgot to dedicate his first harvest to Artemis she sent a boar to destroy the crop. It was also said that it was Artemis who sent a boar to kill Aphrodite’s Adonis. In the Trojan War she demanded that the daughter of King Agamemnon, Iphigenia, be sacrificed for the king offended Artemis by saying he was a better hunter than the goddess.

The goddess of the hunt, moon, childbirth and wild animals’ biggest shrine was at Ephesus.

Apollo the god of light

Apollo was also the god of archery, music, healing, youth and prophecy. He was about four days old when he asked his uncle Hephaestus, the god of iron, to forge him a bow and arrows. His first kill was the serpent Python who tormented her mother. His mistake was to kill the serpent in the shrine of the Oracle of Mother Earth which was the shrine of Gaia, his Titan great-grandmother. Apollo was “cleansed” in Crete and upon his return he possessed the gift of prophecy so that the Oracle of Delphi was dedicated to him.

Though god and goddesses have both evil and good within then, Apollo had none. He was pure and no lies ever sprung from his lips. He was also known as the sun-god for it was his daily duty to drive the sun Helios out in the sky in his chariot. He was a fine lyre player and he even entered a contest against a satyr named Marsyas. He won the contest through a trick – Apollo played the lyre upside down while singing whereas Marsyas cannot do that since his instrument was a flute.

Apollo was never married but he fathered twelve children by nine women. His greatest pursuit was a nymph named Daphne but his devotion never amounted to anything for Daphne chose to be a laurel tree than succumbed to Apollo’s desire. Two other women refused Apollo, Marpessa and Sinope. Marpessa chose the mortal Idas for she feared that when she gets old Apollo will leave her. Sinope tricked Apollo by telling him that she will be with him so long as he grants her wish – and that was to be an eternal virgin.

The twins were both great archers and hunters. They were also able to deliver plague and pestilence to the world if they willed.

To the ancient Greeks the legends of Greek gods like Apollo and Artemis were more than legends. They were more of beliefs and devotion to the deities that most early Greeks shared. Greek mythology is an amazing convergence of myths, legends and narratives that inspired and captured the imagination of those who knew about them. The devotion to the Greek gods of the early Greeks brought promise and hope for those who were wanting. It also brought fear to their hearts as no one can ever displease a Greek god for repercussion was sure to come.

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