The Greeks did not place much importance on the physical descriptions of their gods.
Rarely, if ever, where details like hair and eye color mentioned. More often, goddesses were simply described in general terms of beauty and grace.
Artists, of course, could envision their own images of the gods. Even in the finest sculptures, however, common attributes and symbols are used to set the deities apart rather than differences in body type or hair style.
Artemis, however, is a goddess who can sometimes be recognized based on her physicality rather than just her symbolism. Her clothing is unique, but her body type is also often dissimilar to the other goddesses.
All the gods and goddesses were presented with idealized forms, but the figure of Artemis was a slightly different ideal than the more classically beautiful nymphs or Aphrodite. Artemis, more than any other goddess, showed youth and fitness to reflect her lifestyle.
Greek and Roman writers rarely included detailed descriptions of the gods in their works. Ancient writers tended to focus more on action and narrative than physical descriptors, so with very few exceptions details like hair color were not specified.
In the case of Artemis, a few specific physical descriptions were given to her in literature.
More than one writer, for example, commented on her height. From the time of Homer in the 8th century BC to that of Ovid in 1st century Rome, it was agreed that Artemis was taller than her companions.
Among the nymphs, Homer said, it was immediately apparent who Artemis was. While all were lovely, she stood a full head taller than the other goddesses around her.
In one ancient story, another character commented on the goddess’s figure. Aura insulted the goddess with the suggestion that her curves were too mature and feminine to belong to a true virgin.
Artists tended to take a similar approach in depicting Artemis. While her body was undeniably female, she was often shown with leaner hips and smaller breasts than other goddesses.
Artemis, as a goddess, still represented an idealized form, but it was a less overtly feminine one.
Like most Greek deities, Artemis was more identifiable by her attributes and clothing than any details of her face or body.
In one story, Artemis was allowed to ask her father, Zeus, for any gifts she desired as a girl. One of her requests was for a tunic with an embroidered border that ended at the knee so she could run through the forests.
In vase painting, Artemis, like most figures both male and female, was shown with long draping robes. In sculpture and mosaics, though, she is easily identified by her short tunic in addition to her bow and hunting dogs.
More than one ancient writer referenced the chastity of Artemis in relation to her appearance. The way she was shown in art reflected both her vow of virginity and her role as a hunting goddess.
Sculptors often showed Artemis with a more slender frame that that of most female subjects. While still feminine, the most well-known images of Artemis show a less curvy body type than was seen as ideal for a Greek woman.
This was, in part, a function of the goddess’s lifestyle. Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and was usually said to spend most of her time running through the forest in pursuit of her quarry.
Practically speaking, this gave her a more athletic build than would have been expected for the more leisurely, noble lifestyle of the Olympian goddesses. Like her devotee Atalanta, Artemis would have built muscle instead of fat by running through the mountainous forests of Greece.
This practicality was also shown in her dress. The short tunic that set Artemis apart from most goddesses was sometimes draped in a more feminine way, but was of a length that was only acceptable for a goddess who needed to run and climb.
Her short tunic also allowed artists to show the huntress with a slightly more muscular build. While never heavily muscled, she was sometimes shown with less slender legs and shoulders than the more traditionally beautiful goddesses.
In one story, Leto is mocked for her masculine daughter and effeminate son. While artists never showed Artemis in a way that might be mistaken for male, her body and clothing were less traditionally feminine.
Although she wore a tunic that would have been scandalously short on the streets of Athens or Troy, however, the figure of Artemis was not a sexualized on.
The goddess’s vow of celibacy was a central aspect of her characterization and mythology. She harshly punished those who insulted this vow, so artists were careful to show her in a way that was beautiful but not desirable.
Her slender frame aided in this. It was not only a contrast to the more emphasized curves of a goddess like Aphrodite; it was also a marker of her virginity.
Aura’s insult to Aphrodite was to specifically say that she looked too curvy and feminine to be a virgin. The Greeks believed that body type and physical appearance were indicators of status and morality, including the chastity or marital status of a woman.
For women, fuller breasts and hips could be seen as a marker not only of sexual maturity, but also of activity. The ideal image of a virginal woman was one who was slender.
This was partially due to age. Most girls in the ancient world were married in their teens, so their bodies were often not fully matured before marriage.
Artemis and other virgin goddesses were, therefore, shown with somewhat immature body types. This was more obvious with the short, sleeveless tunic of Artemis than the demure veiled robes of Hestia or the long gown of Athena.
Artemis, therefore, did not have the ideal body type of an adult woman in ancient Greece. She had the ideal body of a young teen who was both physically active and unmarried.
Like most deities, Artemis is rarely given a specific physical description in Greek literature. She is sometimes described as taller than the nymphs who form her retinue, but physical descriptions were rare in ancient literature.
In sculpture, however, Artemis does have a somewhat unique form. Although still that of a beautiful young woman, Artemis’s body is usually shown as more slender and muscular than is typical of goddesses.
This is emphasized by her clothing. In both art and literature, Artemis usually wears an atypical short tunic to give her more freedom to run through the forest as she hunts.
This body type can be attributed to physical fitness and an active lifestyle. As the goddess of the hunt, she spent far more time hiking, running, and climbing than feasting or enjoying entertainment.
The slim frame of Artemis is also reflective of her status as a virgin goddess, however. A more slender body was less highly sexualized, making Artemis reflect the physical ideal of a young, unmarried girl more closely than the ideal of an adult woman.