The Little Bears

There was a large temple complex dedicated to the goddess Artemis, outside Athens at a town called Brauron. Largely forgotten today, if you were a girl growing up in Athens, then you cared about Brauron very much indeed.

Brauron seems to have been like a combination holiday camp and finishing school for girls. A girl, when she reached the age of 13 or so, packed up her belongings and was taken by her father to the temple. There she was dedicated to the goddess to be her servant for one year.

The girls were called the arktoi, the Little Bears. It was a very special time in a girl's life.

The story of why they were called Little Bears is rather odd, and goes like this: Once, long ago, a tame she-bear lived at the sanctuary of Artemis. A maiden played with the bear, and the bear scratched out her eyes. [All right, not such a tame bear...Gary]. The girl's brother killed the bear, and at once a famine fell upon the Athenians. The Athenians consulted the Oracle at Delphi, who told them Artemis was annoyed about the bear. To appease Artemis, every Athenian girl must before her marriage play at being the bear of Artemis.

The Little Bears played in the forest, had running races and games, danced, studied, and served the goddess. By all accounts it was a time every girl looked forward to.

This first image is from Wiki Commons and is a statue that was unearthed at Brauron. It's difficult to see at first, because the statue's lost its color, but in the folds of her chiton she holds a bunny rabbit. See her left hand holds up the material and her right holds the bunny? This is very typical. Every child was shown holding either a cute animal or a bird.

The fathers commissioned these statues to commemorate the girl's time as a Little Bear. It's somewhat more permanent than a family snapshot. One thing we can be quite sure about: every one of these children was loved by her parents. Firstly because she got her year at Brauron, secondly because a statue like this isn't something you do lightly.

The chiton was probably painted saffron-yellow. There are references to say that was the standard uniform. I guess this girl is at the end of her time, because her hair's loose. The usual arrangement for a maiden is for braids to be tied up like so:

I took this photo at the Getty Villa. It's the head of one of the Little Bears and despite the degradation shows the usual hair arrangement well. There are sadly few statues of children from the Greek world. I suspect most of them come from Brauron. Those that do exist look

very natural indeed, which is a big help in judging the statues of grown-ups.

When her time as a Little Bear came to an end, the girl would enter the temple to dedicate her toys to Artemis. Which means she left them there on the altar. This was the moment when she transformed from a girl to a young woman. She left the Temple of Artemis and returned with her father to Athens, where in all likelihood a marriage had already been arranged. She would remember her time as a Little Bear for the rest of her life.

The Artemision of Ephesus

The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, also called the Artemision, was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  This is a model from the Miniature Park in Istanbul.  It's probably fairly accurate, except the real thing would have been painted in bright colors.  It was built entirely in marble, except for the roof.  Back in Athens every temple was still wooden, including the columns, so the Artemision was an engineering marvel for its day.

The cult statue of the Goddess was particularly interesting.  I could describe her, but why bother when Nicolaos can do it for me.  Nico passes through Ephesus in my second book, and he could hardly miss a tour of the famous temple.  Here are Nico and Diotima inside:
We stopped at an immense red curtain, hung from the ceiling.  It was drawn up, great folds of material spilling over the ends.  The drawn curtain revealed the statue of the Goddess.  Artemis stood high and proud, her arms outstretched like a supplicant, or a mother welcoming her children.  Her chest was covered with breasts, not merely the standard two, but more than I could count at a glance, all hard and full of milk.

I admired the Goddess for some time while Diotima waited patiently beside me.  I cleared my throat.  “I take it we are not viewing Artemis here in her guise as the Huntress?”

“Hardly,” Diotima murmured. 

In Athens, Diotima was a priestess at the temple of Artemis Agrotera, which is to say, Artemis of the Hunt.  There the Goddess is depicted as a fit young maiden armed with bow, accompanied by a deer as she hunts through the forest.  The temple of Artemis Agrotera lies at the spot where Artemis first hunted when she came to Athens from the island of Delos.

“The Artemis of Ephesus is a Mother Goddess, and a Goddess of Fertility,” Diotima lectured.

“You don’t say,” I muttered, counting the breasts.  “Twenty-one, twenty-two...”

Diotima glared.  “Keep it pious, Nicolaos.  Just because the Goddess appears to these people as the Mother is no reason she can’t transform for your benefit to something more likely to put an arrow through you.  She’s still the same person, you know.  The Gods appear to us in many forms but they’re each a single deity within.”

I commented, “The cult statue looks a little old.”  The stone and wood was stained and cracked and aged, despite their efforts to keep it pristine.  The style was stiff and, well, wooden; noticeably of a period long, long ago.

“This statue of the Goddess was dedicated by the Amazons.”

“What, as in Troy?”

“Oh yes.  The Amazons worshiped Artemis.  They came here to the Artemision several times, the first during their war against King Theseus of Athens, and that was a generation before the war against the Trojans.”

I studied the Goddess in new appreciation.  “This place is that old?”

“Older.  The Artemision was built by the demigod Ephesos, who founded the city under the protection of the Goddess.  Since that day, it's been the greatest ill-deed to lay a hand against anyone who claims protection of the temple.  The whole civilized world knows of the sanctuary of the Artemision.”

“I didn’t.”

“I said ‘civilized’.” 

Here is Artemis of Ephesus:

Diotima has her facts right (as usual), but for some slight mangles caused by the Greeks not knowing their past as well as we know it today.  There was a temple on the site of the Artemision dating back at least to the bronze age, no doubt rebuilt many times.  The Amazons were indeed believed to have worshipped there before the fall of Troy.

The curtain placement before the cult statue is correct, btw.  Pausanias, who saw it, says: At the temple of Zeus in Olympia...the curtain is not drawn upwards to the roof as is that in the temple of Artemis at Ephesos...  Alright, I'm showing off by mentioning it, but I was rather pleased with myself for spotting the detail.

The Artemision was indeed a declared sanctuary, of such importance that even the Great King of the Persians respected it.  Xerxes burnt a number of Greek temples in Asia, but he not only spared the Artemision, he ordered the sanctuary observed by his own men.  The belief in the sanctuary was so strong that at one point duing a siege the Ephesians tried to extend it by chaining the city to the temple.  Herodotus says:

The first Greeks that King Croesus of Lydia attacked were the Ephesians. These, besieged by him, dedicated their city to Artemis; they did this by attaching a rope to the city wall from the temple of the goddess, which stood seven stades away from the ancient city which was then besieged.

The version of the temple Nico and Diotima see is about 90 years old and in fact the rich Ephesians are still working on finishing touches.  A new cult statue might have been made at that date, which would have been based on the one before it.  Diotima and Nico appear to be looking at the original. 
The Artemision is one of the temples associated with sacred prostitution by both Pausanias and the Bible.  The claim is highly contentious to this day, and for my money, it's wrong.  Sacred prostitution is a subject on which I plan to write in the future because, although I think the claim is false for Ephesus, there are other places around the ancient world where it's probably true.

A more probable claim, IMHO, is that the Artemision was served by eunuch-priests or eunuch servants of some form.  Why is it more probable?  Because although the Greeks were not keen on eunuchy, the Asian side of the Aegean Sea was, and the province of Ionia, in which Ephesus lies, is in Asia Minor with a large non-Hellene population.  The Artemision was there well before the Greeks were, so a hang over from the past is viable.  Eunuch priests are also better documented than temple prostitutes.  Strabo says point blank the eunuchs were there and they were called the megabyzoi.

The Artemision had a hard time staying upright.  The temple Nico and Diotima see was burnt down 100 years later by a man who did it on purpose so he'd be remembered forever.  The Ephesians tortured him to death and didn't write down his name.  Unfortunately some fool recorded it later, but I'm not going to pass it on.

The arson is said to have happened the same night Alexander the Great was born, but this is doubtful considering how vague the calendars were.  The temple was rebuilt and then destroyed again by Goth raiders.  The next version survived until it was torn apart for the last time by a Christian mob and the stones used for other buildings, including apparently the church of Saint Sophia in Istanbul. Someone has piled some of the remaining rubble one bit on top of another to create a single, makeshift, forlorn column where one of the wonders of the ancient world once stood.

I'll leave the last word for Antipater, who created the list of the Seven Wonders:
I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.