Saturday, May 18, 2013

Greece's Sun and Moon God Twins: Apollo and Artemis

I had dinner the other night at one of my favorite places on Mykonos, a bamboo-capped, white stone shack perched at the bottom of a waning crescent moon beach close-by the old town.  It’s called Niko’s Place but everyone knows it as Joanna’s (to distinguish it from the better known and also delightful Niko’s Taverna just off the old port).  It’s nestled in a cove on what once was the island’s most famous beach, Megali Ammos, before new roads made dozens of other beaches readily accessible. 

For me, there’s no more beautiful spot for sunset than Joanna’s.  The sea shimmers in combinations of gun-metal blue, silver, and gold against a backdrop of vermilion skies and shadowy forms of distant islands.  But for a lone white church with a blood red roof on the tiny island of Baou at the entrance to the bay, nothing in view suggests that the hand of man played a part in any of this––unless of course you look sharply to the left or right.  But no one comes here to do that.  This is a place for remembering simpler times and watching a glowing orange ball fade below the horizon.

On a clear day (as most are) you can see Tinos to the right, Syros dead ahead, and a bit of Rhenia (or big Delos, as the locals call it) off to the left.  Delos is out there too, around a bend to the left and less than a mile away.  I wrote about Delos in my very first Murder is Everywhere post.

It’s hard not to think of Delos as you watch the sunset.  After all, Delos is where Apollo, god of the sun, and his twin-sister, Artemis, the original divine personification of the moon were born to their mother, Leto, out of her assignation with Zeus.  Delos wasn’t Leto’s first choice for a delivery room, because back then it was little more than a rock bouncing around the Aegean Sea.  But she had little choice because Zeus’ wife (and sister—more about that here), Hera, had the world fearing her jealous wrath, and only tiny Delos saw nothing to lose in making a “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you bargain” with Zeus.

Birth of Artemis and Apollo to Leto

From the moment of Apollo’s birth, when golden light flooded down upon Delos, the island prospered, so much so that it rose to emerge as one of antiquity’s bastions of commerce and religiosity.

But Apollo didn’t stick around his birthplace very long.  Jealous Hera drove Leto away from her children forcing Apollo to grow up quickly—in a matter of hours to be precise (on a diet of nectar and ambrosia)—and begin a pilgrimage that launched his myth, one of the oldest of all Greek myths and one of the few of entirely Greek creation (as opposed to foreign influences).

Although Apollo’s exploits gave rise to his being known by many different names and titles—Karneios, Hyakinthios, Pythios, Thargelios, Nomios, Delphinios, Ismenios, Hebdomeios, Lykios, Musagetes, etcetera—they all in one way or another derived from his link to the eternal operation of the sun and all that the ancients attributed to it.

In much the same way Apollo’s sister, Artemis, found that the qualities attributed to the moon—bringing fertility to the earth through cool, dew filled nights and casting light into the dark night offering protection to flocks and hunters—had her identified with those traits (fertility, hunting) and called by names and titles linked to those perceived powers of the moon: Agrotora, Kalliste, Diktynna, Britomartis, Eleuthro, Orthia, Limnaia, Potamia, Munychia, Brauronia, Amarynthia, etcetera.

Adonis and Artemis

As a duet, Apollo and Artemis might be best known for a bloody, Bonnie and Clyde-style episode brought on by an affront to their mother (and them) by the daughter of a king who boasted that her own children were “more beautiful” than Leto’s.  Talk about perturbing the wrong folk.  Artemis and Apollo promptly punished the prideful mother (Niobe) by slaying all of her children, Artemis by arrows the daughters, and Adonis by arrows the sons.  In her anguish the mother turned to stone.

On the off chance I’ve written something that a buddy of those Delosian twins might find offensive, please don’t come looking for me.  You’ll want to talk to Alexander S. Murray who wrote Who’s Who in Mythology.  It’s his book that’s responsible for driving this post…so help me gods.



  1. I could have used that book on our recent travels. Will get it for next time! And will make note of your taverna - sounds like our kind of place.

  2. I can guaranty you, J&J, that the taverna is your kind of place. As for the book, well, to be honest it's a rather obtuse, academic sort of presentation that has a lot of information but isn't laid out in the most user friendly manner. Check it out first to see if it suits your purposes. It does mine, for it gives me basic info I can spin into my a process that makes me think I'm a masochist at heart.:)

  3. Mustn't mess with those Gods, huh. But those pictures remind me why I always wanted to see Greece. Is there a Delos in your future books?

    1. That's a good motto, Lil:).

      As for Delos in my books, as you know, the first in my Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series, MURDER IN MYKONOS, had Delos playing a starring supporting role (no other way to say that) one that explored virtually the entire island in such detail that I've actually heard from guide friends that some folks carry the book while hiking Delos! That's a hard act to follow, though in my new book coming out it September (#5), MYKONOS AFTER MIDNIGHT, Delos' history is discussed in the context of its link since antiquity to Mykonos.

      Still, never say never. Perhaps "Dracula on Delos." Nah, too believable. :).

  4. A friend of my daughter's is named Artemis. She began calling herself Diana when she started school. When, in third grade the class studied mythology, Diana was a hit.


  5. Hi, Beth. I sure hope that after making her announcement Diana nee Artemis took a bow.... Yes, I really said that.:)

  6. Jeff, I always love your greek god posts. The deity machinations never cease to interest me. I will even put up with intense feelings of envy about sunset dinners with spectacular views just to get those tales the wrath of the gods.

    1. I really wish I had the time to do a book giving my take on the gods and their hustles. They'd fit right in with the LA crowd. On the envy side, I've found that when living on Mykonos it's not a bad idea to wear a mati (evil eye warder-offer) especially when trying to explain to friends back in the States how difficult it is to spend a day swimming in the Aegean and not get sunburned. OUCH, Annamaria, that look hurt!

  7. I forgot that Apollo and Artemis murdered Niobe's children. As a child reading children's versions of the myths, that one made me so sad! Undoubtedly, I related to the children, not the mother.


  8. I think that's why my mother always said it's better to have good than attractive children:))

  9. The painting of Artemis Apollo and Leto is indeed very tranquil, it shows nothing but the pure essence of a relaxed motherhood that we don't see in modern times.
    Thanks for posting the picture