Two of the statues I recently viewed in Italy really convinced me (as they have others such as Fleischer and LiDonnici) that the protuberances were usually understood not as breasts but as part of the costume which decorated the statue of Artemis Ephesia.
This is a statue you can now see in the Capitoline museum in Rome. This statue has many of the same characteristics that we found in the other statues in my series here (arrangement of arms and legs, decoration of Artemis’ outfit with animals) with one very important exception: the use of two different colours of stone in the carving of the statue. The artist that carved this statue, those who commissioned it, and likely many who viewed it considered the protrusions on Artemis’ front not as breasts (which would need to be black here to match the skin of her feet and arms) but as part of the clothing decoration. Clearly these are not breasts. As Fleischer and others note, it is likely that the artist was representing an earlier statue of Artemis Ephesia (perhaps a statue of dark wood) which was literally dressed in special garments on particular occasions (dressing and feeding statues was somewhat common in certain cultural circles in antiquity). The artist chose to distinguish the earlier statue itself from the clothing and paraphernalia that decorated that statue by using two different colours of stone, and the bumps on her front are part of the costume here.
That this understanding of the protrusions was not just an anomaly is confirmed by another artist’s rendition found in Neapolis, which is now preserved in the national museum in Naples (inventory no. 6278):
So although church fathers such as Jerome and Minucius Felix later tended to generalize about the “multi-breasted” Artemis (Minucius Felix, Octavius 22.5; Jerome, Commentary on the Epistle to Ephesus proem), this characterization in late antiquity arose less from common perceptions among worshippers of this goddess and more from Christian propaganda aimed at presenting “paganism” as ridiculous or bizarre. What exactly these objects are is at this point generally unanswerable, but what is clear is that they are part of Artemis Ephesia’s outfit, not her body.
As you’ll see by comparing the photo here with my previous post on this Artemis, there are certain elements that repeat themselves in the images of Artemis Ephesia from about the mid-second century BCE on into the Roman era. She is pictured standing upright with legs together, with upper arms tight against the body, and with her lower arms outstretched. The statues have elaborate costumes decorated with animals, and there are those mysterious protuberances that have led to characterizations of this deity as the many-breasted goddess. As in the previous statue I posted, these elements are also evident in the statue above that is now housed in the Vatican museum in Rome. Here you find a crowned Artemis with garments decorated with lions on the upper arms and deer-like creatures lining the front. Mythological and other figures appear on her sides and on her upper chest.
Although far from conclusive, there are hints here that the artist of this piece (and those who viewed this Artemis) may not have thought of the protuberances as breasts, since they are considerably low (and another statue of Artemis Ephesia which is now in the Antikenmuseum in Basel, Switzerland has even more clearly low-hanging protuberances that miss the chest area altogether). The next statue photos will provide more conclusive suggestions regarding this issue. Stay tuned.
My discussions of the statues are informed by the important work of Robert Fleischer, Artemis von Ephesos und verwandte Kultstatuen aus Anatolien und Syrien (EPRO 35; Leiden: Brill, 1973) and by Lynn R. LiDonnici, “The Images of Artemis Ephesia and Greco-Roman Worship: A Reconsideration,” Harvard Theological Review 85 (1992), 389-415.
Here is perhaps the best known statue of Artemis Ephesia (or Artemis of Ephesus) as preserved in the Selçuk Archeological Museum (room C, inv. 718) near the ancient site of Ephesus:
After my recent trip to the Naples archeological museum, I now have a number of depictions of Artemis Ephesia and other gods and goddesses in photo form. So I will be making a series of posts on Greco-Roman deities. As I discuss in the current series in the podcast (Honouring the Gods in the Roman Empire), there were many different local understandings and depictions of a particular god: in other words, there were many Dionysoses, Zeuses, and Artemises. Often one Zeus would be distinguished from another Zeus by an epithet: for example, there was a Zeus Soter (“Saviour Zeus”), a Zeus Brontos (“Thunderer Zeus”), and a Zeus Polieus (City-protecting Zeus). One local understanding of Zeus could be distinguished from another through art, in the depiction of the specific form of the god in statues.
Artemis of Ephesus is just one local way in which this goddess was understood. You can hear more about her in episode 4.2 of the podcast. This Artemis Ephesia is consistently depicted as associated with nature and the wild, as the animals integrated within her garb and the deer at her side indicate. And she is also always depicted with the strange protuberances which you will see in each of the photos I post.
There is some debate as to what these are. Are they multiple breasts? This may indicate notions of fertility and Artemis’ oversight over birth and life. Are they part of Artemis’ outfit here (perhaps a garment made using bull-testicles, as some scholars suggest)? Was this similar to an outfit worn by Artemis Ephesia’s main priestess and representative? Did interpretations of these objects vary even among ancient observers and sculptors? Actually, some of the photos I will show subsequently help to answer this mystery about the multiple breast-like objects.
More statues of this mysterious goddess to come!