Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 171 (previously 49c) - Book Appreciation: Artemis/Diana in Fiction - transcript
(Originally aired 2020/08/15 - listen here)
As part of this month’s focus on the Goddess of the Hunt, whether as Greek Artemis or Roman Diana, I thought I’d do one of my thematic book lists. I have not, alas, had a chance to read though most of the works I’ll be mentioning. So this isn’t a review show, but simply a look at what’s out there. And in a change from my usual book lists, this time I’m not filtering by any particular representation or sexuality. This list isn’t exhaustive, by any means. Some works were suggested by readers on Twitter. Some I found through Goodreads lists. And some I encountered through having their authors on my show.
The works discussed here may have the goddess herself as a protagonist, or may focus on one or more of her followers. One of the features of the Artemis or Diana of myth is that she was attended by a community of women who, like her, had sworn off relations with men.
The books that sparked the idea for this month’s theme are in Rick Riordan’s young-adult Percy Jackson series. The series as a whole tells the adventures of a group of half-mortal offspring of the Greek gods who get caught up in the political machinations of Olympus, as well as being in a somewhat uncomfortable position of neither mortal nor gods themselves -- a theme that is prominent in the original mythology. Artemis and her band of hunters appear prominently in the third book, The Titan’s Curse, as supporting characters who assist the protagonists, and two of the central secondary characters join the Hunters. The rules the hunters have about associating with men are a minor plot point. Based on various references in the books, it appears that Rick Riordan’s version of the followers of Artemis involves them swearing off romantic relationships entirely, not only heterosexual relationships, and there is one reference to a female couple who had left the Hunters when they fell in love so that they could live as a couple. Riordan is on record as saying that the Hunters are an attractive career option for women who are aromantic and asexual, though it isn’t an absolute requirement. The Twitter discussion that sparked my theme this month revolved around his portrayal of Artemis herself as aromantic and asexual, not simply as rejecting love and sex with men.
While Riordan’s series is aimed at the YA readership, Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams have a middle-grade series based on Greek mythology, with a couple of titles featuring Artemis as one of the students at the Olympus Academy. So, sort of a magical school for young deities. One might think that a series aimed at much younger readers might stick with Artemis’s initial “yuck, boys” approach and leave it at that, but Artemis the Brave decides to fix on the one Greek myth that gives the goddess of the hunt a crush on a boy, and sets her up to fall for the mortal foreign exchange student, Orion.
The image of Artemis and her Huntresses in Elizabeth Tammi’s Outrun the Wind is similar to Rick Riordan’s. Those who follow the goddess are pledged not to fall in love with anyone, but when Kahina the Huntress saves the daring Atalanta, she begins to find that pledge hard to keep. Atalanta needs help to devise an impossible task for her unwanted suitors, and Kahina is handed the job of helping her. When both of them face hazards from their past, the gods aren’t the only shadow hanging over them. Elizabeth Tammi was a guest on the podcast to talk about her book, which views the women-only followers of the huntress as a fertile ground for same-sex romance, even if Artemis herself doesn’t partake.
Another aromantic and asexual take on Artemis can be found in the poetry collection Goddess of the Hunt by Shelby Eileen. I got a pointer to this one from @mizelle on twitter. Artemis herself is the focus of the poems, rather than being a background figure. Rather than viewing the goddess’s life of chastity as a renunciation, the poems reveal it to be an expression of her true self, maintained against those who want to change her.
The webcomic series Theia Mania by Li Österberg is a sardonic take on the family drama of Mount Olympus and includes not only a same-sex romance involving Artemis, but one between Demeter and Hecate as well. They aren’t necessarily the central characters but the relationships are treated as ordinary ... well, as ordinary as the Greek gods ever really get. The art is fabulous and shows a deep familiarity with ancient Greek styles as well as reflecting modern sensibilities. I got a pointer to this one on twitter as well, from @SerenaJenk this time.
Also turned up on twitter is a very short story Olympic Hearts by Madeline Kelly which pairs off Artemis with the goddess of love, Aphrodite herself. Aphrodite gets around to be sure, but once or twice she’s fallen for a woman. A quick and bite-sized romance.
The huntresses of Artemis were sometimes conflated with the similarly man-shunning Amazons, and K. Aten’s Arrow of Artemis trilogy blends these themes in a classical-mythic setting. The focus is on the human followers of Artemis-the-goddess rather than bringing Artemis into the story as a character herself, but the series comes down solidly on the side of Artemis as lesbian icon. K. Aten came onto the podcast a while ago to talk about the series so check out her interview.
So there we are: not as many stories as I thought I’d find, but a diverse buffet of interpretations of the role and character of Artemis. I didn’t find any modern novels that interpreted her through the Roman version as Diana, though I mentioned several older works in last week’s show that have characters either corresponding to, or meaning to evoke, the goddess by that name. And next week I’ll talk more about the mythic stories and historic re-workings of the goddess that speak to how her sexuality was interpreted across the ages. If you know of any other books that would fit this category, drop a comment at the website. The link, as always, is in the show notes.
In the Book Appreciation segments, our featured authors (or your host) will talk about one or more favorite books with queer female characters in a historic setting.
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