Apollo is the god who uses his intellect to tame nature and build cities. Artemis is the goddess who lives wild and free in the natural world. Zoos show these two archetypes at work…and it brings up questions about how ethical zoos are in the first place.
The interplay of civilization with the wild fascinates me.
It makes me think of the relationship between the god Apollo and his twin sister, the goddess Artemis.
Archetypally, Apollo is the god who prizes his intellect over all things. He is rational and loves building grand, shining cities where people can congregate to build even grander, shining things—sciences, language, universities. In order to build his cities, he destroys nature and paves over it.
Archetypally, Artemis is the goddess who lives wild in nature. The forests and deserts and mountains are her home. The animals are her family. She’s so Pocahontas (and yes, Apollo is so John Smith).
Artemis doesn’t care for cities or pavement—in fact, she’ll destroy them if she gets a chance, the way abandoned buildings are soon overgrown with shrubs; the way termites can set up shop in the structure of your house; the way an earthquake can tumble tall buildings like they were made of Jenga blocks.
Oh yeah, it’s definitely sturdy.
Apollo and Artemis are gods not because they are superior to other beings, but because they are undeniable principles and drives that exist in human nature.
The drive to build things and shape our environment cannot be denied. It’s very human. Neither can the call to be wild and free with the natural world. These two things exist side by side within us—each so powerful and undeniable that ancient peoples saw them as gods that must be served—and yet these archetypes seem opposed to one another.
But we live in a very Apollo culture. We value our intellect over our intuition—I even know some people who say intuition isn’t really a thing—and civilization over nature.
Our intellect, some would say, is the factor that sets us apart from, or even above, the rest of the animals and the natural world. It means we can build cities and factories and tame nature as we please. And it obviously means we have the right to dominate and use other animals as we please . . . right?
We don’t see Artemis as a goddess worthy of respect.
So with all this in my head, I went to the San Diego Zoo.
I wandered around the place—one of the most highly respected and top-ranked zoos in the world for many reasons—dumbstruck by how explicit an example it was of Apollo and Artemis interacting in our society.
Artemis’s family was all there: the tiger, the polar bear, the peacock and elephant and common tufted deer. Her palace was all around: trees and bushes and flowers of more species than I could recognize hugged every trail and paved path; towered over the exhibits like a forest; offered shade to animals and visitors alike.
And Apollo had put all this together: he had gathered the animals from the far corners of the globe, studied them, categorized them, and penned them. He had built aviaries for the birds and paved paths (even escalators!) to move people from here to there conveniently. He had built a sanctuary for the giant panda and even helped this endangered species to breed in captivity.
On one hand, it was gorgeous and overwhelming. I felt like I was in the heart of humanity’s love for the wild and civilization at the same time—the natural and the civilized working together and supporting one another.
On the other hand, Apollo’s destroying the polar bears’ f—king ice caps. (Really considerate of him to offer them a cheap enclosure to live in instead.) He only had to preserve the endangered giant panda because he’s cutting down their damned bamboo forests.
Apollo just doesn’t get it.
It’s not that he doesn’t love his sister, the wild Artemis. He does. The spectacular San Diego Zoo was enough to convince me of that. It is an ode to the beauty and majesty of the natural world. It is a love song. But at the same time, it is not the natural world.
So yes—Apollo loves his sister. But I don’t think he understands what it means to love her.
I don’t think we, as a culture, understand what it means to love nature. We don’t know what it means to stop trying to control and subdue it, and to love it for what it is. (We might even fear it, in its natural state.)
Uhh…maybe I could build a treehouse or put up a zipline or something?