Cult of Artemis At Brauron - Origin Myths

Origin Myths

One of the many myths surrounding the Cult of Artemis at Brauron originates with the story of Iphigeneia. In the story of the Trojan War, as described by Aeschylus, the Greeks had earned the disfavor of Artemis by shooting one of her sacred stags and thus were unable to put to sea against the Trojans due to disfavorable winds, conjured by the goddess. In Euripides' 'Iphigeneia at Tauris' lines 1446–1468 we find a reference to this origin myth: "And you, Iphigeneia, beside the holy stairs of Brauron you must hold the keys for the goddess herself: where you will die and be buried, and – as a delight for you – they will dedicate the finely woven material of woven cloth which by chance women having lost their lives in childbirth abandon in their homes. I command you to send forth these Greek women from the ground due to their correct intentions.”

In response, an oracle declares that a human sacrifice is required and Agamemnon orders his daughter, Iphigeneia, to come forward for the sacrifice but under false pretenses. The attendants seize her and she is gagged to prevent her cries from reaching the ears of the gods. In a final act of desperation, she shrugs out of her robes and tries wordlessly, to reach out to the elders, hoping that in their pity they will release her from her hell. Iphigeneia’s shedding of her robes is an act done by the “bears” of Brauronian Artemis, as depicted by vases which show the bears having shed their robes and naked, an act which is significant as the fulfillment of a bear’s career. Iphigeneia makes the original sacrifice and the “bears” continue the ritual by shedding their saffron robes.

Another myth is much more simple. According to this myth, two Athenian men killed a bear sacred to Artemis, who, “responding by sending a plague that would cease only if the Athenians would consecrate their daughters to her, the ‘bear Artemis’, every five years.” Artemis was worshipped as the Great-She-Bear and the girls, who were required to undergo a period of ritual ‘wildness' before puberty, were her images, the arktoi, and often wore bear masks in rituals.

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