AN UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTION
Sooner rather than later, viewers of the cult statues of Artemis ask what are those bumps on her chest? A cult statue is one constructed for worship so that it symbolizes the powers of the deity. What powers were the sculptors symbolizing with these statues?
Artemis was one of the most venerated of Greek deities. She was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity, and the protector of young girls. But in THE DEADLIEST FEVER, after returning from Ephesus, Nathaniel ben Ruben, explains that to the Ephesians, Artemis is much more: “Look, Artemis is the essential deity to the Ephesians, born locally before even the Greeks arrived. To Greeks, she’s the goddess of the hunt, but to Ephesians, she’s much more, the protector of the dead and the goddess of fertility.”
As the goddess of fertility, scholars first thought her bulges were breasts. Or could they be gourds, an Asian symbol of fertility? Later, some suggested they were the testicles of the bulls she hunted. But hadn’t the ancient sculptors already demonstrated how unmistakably they could depict breasts, gourds, and testicles?
The lower parts of her robe are decorated with lions, leopards, goats, griffins, and bulls in accord with her association with the hunt. Perhaps the bumps are also parts of her robe instead of her body. Those who view the bronze (left) and alabaster statue (right) say the bumps must be part of her clothing, that her garment is some sort of stylized armor the warriors, gods, and goddesses in Egypt and Mesopotamia wore. Otherwise, like the flesh of her hands, head, and feet, they too, projecting through her garment, would be fashioned in bronze.
But why let the scholars have all the fun? With the scantest of knowledge, I’ve made up my own mind. What about you?