For a while I’ve been considering a new tattoo, the last one I had celebrated passing my MA in Classical Civilisation and was inked back in 2003. The image I had chosen was taken from the Francois Vase, a large piece which dates to the 6th century BC.
It’s an astounding piece with an array of images, the one which I decided back then was that of Ajax carrying the body of Achilles.
This struck me as a very poignant scene. We know much of the glory of war in Homer, but this was the other side, it also carried the theme of loyalty and duty. Both these characters were the most formidable in the Greek army but here they are the opposite, Achilles is dead and Ajax is vulnerable. Known for carrying his massive shield he now sets back to camp with a very different accessory.
There was an image directly above this on the vase, it was of a character holding two animals. In fact this is Artemis as Potnia Theron, the mistress of animals as Homer referred to her in the Iliad.
The association Artemis has with animals seems contradictory, she is both the hunting deity yet also the protector of them. But remember that most deities possessed this duality, Apollo was the god of sickness and healing after all. What we also have here isn’t the cutesy Artemis, often she is depicted as a teenage girl with a short tunic. Yet we know she had a very dark side, Artemis had links to human sacrifice. The Spartans worshipped her as Artemis Orthia and human blood was considered a suitable offering.
If you wanted to hear more about Artemis I had Dr Carla Ionescu on an Ancient History Hound podcast episode to talk all about her. Why not have a listen?
A deity holding two animals either side of them isn’t something solely associated with Artemis. The famous Seated woman of Çatalhöyük (circa 6,000 BC) had lions either side of her. In earlier art we find gods holding animals either side or flanked by them as a sign of their prowess. This stance has been seen is the art of Mesopotamia, so it belongs to an old tradition which existed far from Greek shores and not just with female deities. This stance is also found elsewhere in Greek art (for more on this read my blog piece on it).
A winged goddess with a gorgon’s head holding a bird in each hand (circa 600 BC).
Potnia Theron – The result!
Amy from the Gilded Cage in Brighton is hugely talented and was able to reverse the image (I wanted Artemis facing forward). It’s sublime, thanks Amy!