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Living With the Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples by Neil MacGregor

Living With the Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples by Neil MacGregor

Author:Neil MacGregor [MacGregor, Neil]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Religion, History, Art, Subjects & Themes, Religious, World
ISBN: 9780525521464
Google: w_0tDwAAQBAJ
Amazon: 0525521461
Publisher: Knopf
Published: 2018-09-16T22:00:00+00:00


Artemis dominates her Temple at Ephesus on this silver Roman coin c. 50 CE.

Across the ancient world everybody would have recognized the unmistakable, many-breasted Artemis/ Diana, protectoress of Ephesus and the Ephesians, standing between her two fawns.

Like the Virgin of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s tilma, the image of Artemis that presided over Ephesus was inherently sacred, because – crucially – it had not been made by any human hand: it was said to have fallen, at Zeus’s command, direct from heaven. And, like the Mexican image of Mary, the Ephesian Artemis was like no other: so she was instantly recognizable when copied, a protectoress who retained her local identity as she went global.

As Stephanie Lynn Budin points out, Artemis, goddess of nature and hunting, here takes on other, surprising characteristics:

She generally has fawns to either side of her and wears a ‘polos’ crown, indicative of her divinity. But strikingly her upper body is covered with what have been interpreted variously as multiple breasts, or bull’s testicles, possibly offered in sacrifice. There’s even a third possibility: these protuberances, which are her hallmark, may be bags, sometimes found on deities in Anatolia (modern Turkey), designed to contain gifts for human beings, ranging from food and drink to the blessings of wealth and children.

Thanks largely to centuries of sea-trading and colonization, the cult of Artemis of Ephesus spread eastwards into the Black Sea, and westwards to Spain. This particular – and peculiar – version of the goddess was copied everywhere, not least in her temple in Rome. Whenever you find a statue looking like this, it is very specifically Ephesian Artemis, with all the associations connected to that cult; it is distinctively Artemis with the power and prestige of this rich and important city.

Those associations were carried not just by the large statues erected in temples across the ancient world, most of which have perished. They were also present in small portable versions of Ephesian Artemis, made in ceramic or metal, gifts to be offered at her shrine, or souvenirs to be taken home, and which have survived in great quantities, all immediately recognizable. The original divine statue, said to be of wood, probably perished in a great fire in 356 BCE. Most of the surviving images are made of relatively inexpensive materials – more precious statuettes would have been melted down at various times and the metal reused. But we know from the Acts of the Apostles that there was a thriving luxury trade in such objects for prosperous pilgrims.

Saint Paul, preaching against pagan gods and their temples as he travelled, understandably caused particular alarm in Ephesus, which had the greatest temple of all. There he provoked a riot, led, the Bible tells us, by ‘Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines for Artemis, which brought no small gain to the craftsmen’. He and his fellows could see that, if the new Christian teaching took hold, ‘not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought;



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