Artemis and Apollo are twins, the children of Zeus and Leto, the daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe. Zeus, as always, had an affair, which caused Hera to resent Leto, and had her chased by the Python. Hera further decreed that Leto could not give birth on any place where the sun shone. Obviously, Leto found a spot, and promptly gave birth to Artemis. Immediately after being born, she helped her mother move to a new location, and aided in the birth of Apollo, some nine days into labor.
Yes, nine days. My mother has frequently complained over the hours of labor for my own birth, so we can respect Leto for toughing out for nine days. This is actually relevant, too, and reveals the nature of the gods. Artemis’s birth was easy; moreover, she immediately helped with the birth of Apollo. Apollo is obviously very troublesome (and this will be borne out with his own analysis later).
This story clearly demonstrates why Artemis is the goddess of childbirth. The women who pray to her are praying to have a birth that resembles that of Artemis (minus the pursuit of the Python). Not only was the birth swift, Leto had no pain in giving birth to Artemis, so obviously women throughout the world would want the same experience.
However, in one respect, this goes against Artemis’s nature. She asked Zeus to forever remain a virgin. She did this when three years old, going up to Zeus, much as a child would to Santa Claus to ask for Christmas gifts. Her litany of requests is met with excess from Zeus. He gives her more than she asks for, but the request for virginity (and she requires the same for her nymph attendants) stands out.
Athena also remains a virgin, but it is by her choice, and not something she asks for from Zeus. And after taking into account Athena’s nature, the choice makes a great deal of sense. But what’s Artemis’s excuse? Why does she wish to forever remain a virgin? Moreover, why does she not enforce this herself, as Athena does? Why does she need Zeus to make a decree to this effect? Stay tuned for the answer.