The Fountain of Diana in Piazza Archimede, Ortigia
Hera was a jealous Goddess. And she had every right to be.
Her husband, Zeus, was mythology’s most well known philanderer and across the Greek Islands no young woman, mortal or immortal, human or semi-divine, was safe from his lust.
One of them was Leto.
When Hera discovered that poor Leto was pregnant, she explicitly forbade any place under the sun to offer shelter to her. Going further, she stopped her own daughter, Eileithyia, the Goddess of childbirth, from assisting Leto in her labour.
So Leto travelled, wearily, from place to place, searching for somewhere, anywhere, to rest and to give birth safely to her children. For she carried twins, the Golden Twins, Apollo and Artemis.
Finally she came to Ortigia, island of quails, across the seas to the west of Greece.
It was here that Artemis was born, a full week before her brother Apollo and, almost immediately after being born, she helped her mother back to Greece, to Delos, and assisted in the delivery of her twin.
Artemis is called Diana in Italian and, seeing as I am at present in the little island of Ortigia, let’s sing her praises with her Latin name.
Patroness of singers, protectress of young girls, Diana dances through the countryside in her silver sandals giving her divine protection to the wild beasts. At night she rides her silver chariot across the sky shooting her arrows of silver moonlight to the earth below.
Diana is known as the Mistress of Animals and the Protectress of Children, but she is also the Huntress of Souls and the Goddess who can bring death with her arrows.
Myths show her as strong willed and powerful, a female who could punish injustices with ferocious and deadly accuracy. Aloof and free-spirited, she remains eternally the virgin, punishing those who compromise her strict requirements for chastity.
The idea of virgin is not used to denote a woman who has no experience with sexual matters, it describes a woman who is not ruled by a man. The virgin goddess is never confined and commanded by husband or hearth. She is independent and totally free of male constraint.
Assisting her own mother through childbirth was the beginning of her role as guardian of young children and patron of women in childbirth.
(But Diana is a Goddess of contradictions, she was the protectress of women in labour, but it was said her arrows could also bring them sudden death in the act of birth. Her silver arrows were painless, and the ailing mother would slip quietly way to the gods, not linger in fever and torment for days).
While still an infant herself, Diana climbed onto the knee of her father, Zeus, and demanded 50 fine hunting hounds, 50 wood nymph followers and a silver bow with painless silver arrows. More yet, she also gained his word to never force her into marriage.
This last promise was the most important, it was not a request or a plea, it was a demand. For Diana demands, she does not importune. She is no plaything, no wife, no toy of men, she is neither meek nor mild. Indeed violence is in her nature, she moves swiftly and ruthlessly to deal out punishment to those who threaten or harm women.