What is the significance of the virginity of Athena, Artemis, & Hestia?

Both casual and serious aficionados of Greek mythology will know that the goddesses Athena, Artimus, and Hestia were all virgins. But the three of them had quite different characters (and of course each of their characters varies in different versions of the mythology), and it seems pretty obvious to me that the significance of their chased states also varies greatly. Thus bringing me to the thread question: how do you interpret the significance of virginity in each of these three cases?

(I realize that Hestia is the protagonist of very few stories, so if you don’t want to discuss her, feel free to skip without onus.)

In the early Babylonian/Akkadian mythos;

‘An’ is the Heavens (the Universe, not an afterlife). Anu is the related god, the male creative force of the Universe, which gives birth to the Earth, the perpetual virgin Goddess, who then gives birth to the Son (Life itself).

I don’t know the exact ancient origins of these three Greek goddesses and without a lot of research, they seem to be rather fully formed. It is entirely possible that each began as a tribal Earth Goddess who was rolled up in the Greek pantheon as the greeks developed a more enveloping ethnic identity, single mythology and were given different domains. The Babylonians instead tended to aggregate them into a singular mother goddess, Inanna-Ishtar.

If they were originally tribal mother goddesses, then their virgin nature is a callback to that prehistoric perpetual virgin mother, aka the Earth.

In the case of Artemis and Athena, it seemed to me that both were pursuing typically masculine activities and their being a virgin meant that (a) they were dedicated fully to their art and (b) they weren’t being “womanly” by physically consorting (or being submissive) to men.

I interpret it to mean that they are young and unmarried.

I’m no linguist, but I observe that when you aren’t being rude or medical, in the languages I’ve been exposed to, the old words for “young unmarried woman” (maiden) and “virgin” (maiden) seem to be the same.


Of note, one of the many things Artemis was goddess of was childbirth. Or maybe she wasn’t the goddess of childbirth, but she was the same goddess as one who was… gods are tricky about that sort of thing. Anyway, that’s not the sort of thing that’s usually associated with virginity. Unless the fact that it’s not associated means that it is, because what’s normal for gods is impossible for mortals… They’re tricky about that, too.

They wanted their lives to proceed peacefully and without hindrance. Back then, as a young goddess, if you weren’t a virgin, you were basically screwed.

Still blind. The iPhone is marvelous but it won’t read board emoticons. :frowning:

wins poster/post combo.

I see what you did there.

Hestia was hardly a young goddess, except in the sense that none of the gods get old. She was of the first generation of Olympians, same as Zeus.

As for Artemis and Athena, neither of them were terribly peaceful.

I shall not comment on the remark about screwing because I have briefly run out of voice cracks.

My last post should have ended “run out of WISECRACKS.” Ggoddamn iPhone dictation.

Monuments and Maidens by Marina Warner should satisfy every question you have on this topic of women in allegory. It’s quite exhaustive, but very engagingly written.

Methinks they were virgins because that dissociated them from the subordination of men, the necessity of childbearing and childrearing, and essentially had no male figure to whom they were accountable. Plus, unmarried women needed a patroness as well. It is somewhat like Roman Catholic saints - there is a patron saint of almost anything you can mention.

Syncretism messes this up - some goddesses who were patronesses of childbirth would get identified with another goddess who was virginal, but still.

Another part of it was that being unmarried made them, in some sense, scarier. Athena was a goddess of war, and there was no male god to whom she was connected to act as a check on her power. What was the story about the guy who got torn to pieces by the cult of some huntress god? Somewhat the same idea - unbridled unfettered female power is dangerous.

It may have been even a sort of bitter joke. Athena is the goddess of wisdom, thus she is too smart to tie herself down to a marriage, where she would be exploited or abused.


Damn! It was a “dubious” emoticon.

Also, Athena is basically the quintessential “daddy’s girl”. You get the feeling that no other man can measure up.

If you need a chuckle, you can imagine how the phrase “dubious emoticon” sounds in the iPhone’s robot voice.

I was trying to start a discussion about posters’ impressions (which I have done), not get a scholarly answer. Anyway, that book is only available in print so far as I can see, so from my point of view is as inaccessible as the many mythology tomes I already own. I have devices to allow the iPad & iPhone to read print to me, but it is still quite clumsy and slow.

There were at least three patrons of childbirth in the Greek system: Artemis, Hera, and Illithia. Only the first was perpetually virgin.

Not too long ago I listened to the (very good) lecture series on Classical Mythology by Elizabeth Vandiver from the Teaching Company/Great Courses. She said (quoting from the “course guidebook”):

“Artemis’s status as a virgin and her role as protector of women in childbirth may at first sight seem contradictory; however, both aspects of the goddess tie in to her essential wildness. Women in childbirth are most vulnerable to and most caught up in their animal natures; only in the instant of death are humans so clearly allied to the rest of the animal kingdom. Ancient Greek society associates women with nature and men with culture. Artemis’s virginity is not a rejection of sexuality per se; rather, it is a rejection of male domination in sexual intercourse.”