Modesty is an interesting concept, usually associated with very conservative societies, which the Greeks certainly were not. They admired the human body and embraced sexuality, as we ‘ve seen with their creation myths. Yet here we have Artemis who has turned her back on sexuality to embrace modesty. Does this make her prim and proper? Hardly. She spends her time in the wilds, hunting. She would most certainly be called a tom-boy by older generations.
Beyond this, though, we must keep in mind her childishness. She goes out and plays in the rough at what is recognized as a man’s occupation. Actaeon himself was a hunter, possessing 50 dogs . . . before she turned them against him. Even though she hunts and adopts manly mannerisms in that pursuit, she remains a little girl in terms of maturity. I know I keep coming back to sitting on Zeus’s lap, but it explains so much about her. Even her gross overreaction to Actaeon’s peeping is explained by her childishness.
But it can’t be that cut-and-dried as modesty is not generally a trait of small children. Every single one of my nieces, and every young girl I’ve ever met has at one point decided to become a stripper simply because they didn’t like to wear clothes. So there they go, running around in only a diaper (because they haven’t figured out how to get it off). It’s only later that they begin to understand the concept of modesty, usually after having it explained to them by parents for a few years.
Artemis, though, already knows about her physicality, though. She asked in the beginning to remain a virgin. She would only do that if she fully understood the nature of sex. Likewise, she would have to understand modesty in order to understand sexual enticement and arousal. Artemis has adopted a very strict modesty in order to preserve her reputation no just as a virgin, but to maintain her own illusion that she is not a sexual being.
Physically she is an adult, yet she doesn’t want anyone to know about her in that way as that would dispel her own self-image. In speech and deed she is still a child, daddy’s little girl. She gets to play in the forest and hunt with her bow and arrow. She is the favorite girl of her father Zeus, playfully tugging on his bear as would a little girl. She spends her time away from civilization and anything that would dispel the illusion of her being. She demands that all of her attendants likewise engage in chastity to foster the illusion. They are all a bunch of girls playing in the forest and bathing.
When Zeus seduced poor Callisto, Artemis was enraged, and attempted to hunt her down as she did Actaeon. It was only through Zeus’s intervention that Callisto and her son were saved. Callisto violated not just an oath to remain a virgin, but came dangerously close to dispelling the illusion that Artemis was a little girl playing. If one of the nymphs could be a sexual being, then they all could, and, in appearance, they all looked the same immortal age bearing adult bodies.
Whereas Athena is comfortable being a virgin by her own choice, preferring instead to indulge in mental pursuits, Artemis appears deathly afraid of anything that might dispel the carefully crafted delusion that she is still a little girl.