SANCTUARY OF ARTEMIS at BRAURON

Brauron was one of the 12 ancient cities of Attica in the days before the synoikismos of Theseus. It was home to the Sanctuary of Artemis, founded as far back as the 9th century BCE. The cult of Artemis Brauronia was particularly important to women. In the ancient world, death from childbirth was a very real threat. Women who survived giving birth, would dedicate a set of clothing to Artemis; often dressing a life-size wooden statue (xoanon) of Artemis with the dedicated clothing.

The clothes of women who died during childbirth, were dedicated to Iphigeneia; the mythical daughter of Agamemnon. The most common myth says that Agamemnon angered Artemis when he (or his men) killed one of her sacred stags. Enraged, Artemis quelled the winds over the sea such that Agamemnon and his men could not sail to Troy to fight in the war. In order to have the winds returned, Artemis supposedly demanded Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter.

And so he proceeded. Iphigenia was taken to be sacrificed, under the guise she was being brought to wed. When she realized the truth, she fought her captors, and valiantly managed to free herself. In her struggles, her clothing was torn from her body, but she narrowly escaped.

I find the latter part of this version of the myth accurate to pre-Greek sources. But the former parts regarding Artemis’ anger, and her demand Iphigeneia be sacrificed because men killed a sacred stag to be pathetically weak. In fact, it fails on several fronts, not the least of which is the fact Artemis was a goddess who protected women. Artemis, a dominating pre-Greek goddess, would almost certainly put an arrow through the heart of a male perpetrator long before demanding he offer up a woman for his offenses.

For as much flak as Herodotus gets for his sometimes (not always) inaccurate descriptions of places he’s been, and peoples he has met, the Homers of ancient Greece were far worse (yet admired even to this day). In fact, unlike Herodotus, bards purposesly altered what they conveyed through time to fit the audience, rather than fit the audience to the what they conveyed. Herodotus expressed exactly what he was told, or believed to be true (albeit it through an understandably naive lens). But I digress.

The more accurate myth, in my humble opinion, is that Artemis took Iphigeneia under wing; no doubt threatening her father, and his men with certain death should they pursue their murderous intents. A grateful Iphigeneia then dedicated a temple to Artemis at Brauron, whereupon she became a high-priestess to the goddess. (She didn’t need Athena’s instruction to do this.)

Many pre-Greek myths were reworked by later Greeks to fit their blatantly mysoginistic culture. This isn’t a feminist point of view, but one held in consensus across the academic community. The dedication of clothing, the shedding of saffron robes by girls entering puberty… these cult practices stem from the story of brave Iphigeneia who fought off her captors, freeing herself as her clothes were ripped from her. I see the stripping of clothes as a rebirth, and so too did the ancients.

At any rate, there is so much more to discuss regarding this particular myth, and even more to share regarding Brauron, but I’m not trying to write a blog post here! Point is, most myths from the days of Homer (or more likely, Homers… plural), were grossly reworked from their much more beautiful originals… Originals that were born from Amazigh, “Minoan”, Mycenaean, and other pre-Greek cultures around the Mediterranean.

Below are some footage I shot while visiting the Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron in 2016. Music is by Ross Daly; a talented and humble man I met back stage at one of his concerts in Athens a few years ago.