In the ancient world, if a devout Greek hunter wanted to honor the huntress-goddess, Artemis, one of the ways he or she could reportedly express their devotion to their patron goddess was to leave sacrificial offerings suspended in trees for Artemis. A Greek-Sicilian historian named Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE) reported that this particular method of worship was notably done by a hunter who lived in the Paestum region of southern Italy. On this unnamed hunter of legend, Diodorus Siculus claimed, “it had been his practice to dedicate to Artemis the heads and feet of animals he secured and to nail them to the trees” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 4.22). Yet, this showy (and a bit gruesome) form of worship had its risks.
As Diodorus Siculus continued the tale, the unnamed hunter began to grow lax in his religious practice. In particular, when he brought down especially fearsome and impressive prey during his hunts, he began to feel tempted to keep trophies of these animals for himself. Unfortunately, temptation eventually got the better of the hunter, and he indeed began to neglect his offerings to Artemis so he could instead display hunting trophies for his own honor. Artemis—vengeful and wrathful as any other ancient deity—did not appreciate this turn of events, and she sooner or later would take revenge. Diodorus Siculus wrote down the tale of what happened to the careless hunter:
“[O]nce, when he had overpowered a huge boar, he said, as though in contempt of the goddess, ‘The head of the beast I dedicate to myself,’ and bearing out his words he hung the head on a tree, and then, the atmosphere being very warm, at midday he fell asleep [under the tree]. While he was thus asleep the throng broke, and the head fell down of itself upon the sleeper and killed him” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 4.22).
As the saying goes, nothing good comes from a woman scorned—especially, in this case, when the woman is a goddess. According to the legend, Artemis undoubtedly had a hand in making sure the sacrilegious boar head fell fatally onto the skull of the impious hunter. Unfortunately for the dead huntsman, he received little sympathy from storytellers and their listeners. Most seemed to believe that the presumptuous hunter should have known better than to do what he did. Diodorus Siculus, for his part, commented, “In truth there is no reason why anyone should marvel at this happening, for many actual occurrences are recorded which illustrate the vengeance this goddess takes upon the impious…” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 4.22). It is vague, however, whether or not these ‘many actual occurrences’ included more cases of Artemis using this particular tactic of dropping heavy animal skulls on the heads of other hunters.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (cropped Artemis from The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, by Gaetano Gandolfi (c. 1734–1802), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).