In Greek mythology, Actaeon (pronEng|ækˈtiən) (Greek: Ακταίων), son of the priestly herdsman Aristaeus and Autonoe in Boeotia, was a famous Theban hero, [Through his mother he was a member of the ruling House of Cadmus.] trained by the centaur Cheiron, [Like Achilles of a later generation.] who suffered the fatal wrath of Artemis; (later his myth was attached to her Roman counterpart Diana). The surviving details of his transgression vary: "the only certainty is in what Aktaion suffered, his πάθος, and what Artemis did: the hunter became the hunted; he was transformed into a stag, and his raging hounds, struck with a 'wolf's frenzy' (λύσσα), tore him apart as they would a stag." [Walter Burkert, "Homo Necans" (1972), translated by Peter Bing (University of California Press) 1983, p 111.] This is the iconic motif by which Actaeon is recognized, both in ancient art and in Renaissance and post-Renaissance depictions.

The plot

Greek literature accounts for the hostility of Artemis in various ways. In the version that was offered by the Hellenistic poet Callimachus ("Hymn v"), which has become the standard setting, Artemis was bathing in the woods [Callimachus gives no site: a glen in the foothills of Mount Kithaeron near Boeotian Orchomenus, is the site according to Euripides, "Bacchae" 1290-92, a spring sanctuary near Plataea is specified elsewhere.] when the hunter Actaeon stumbled across her, thus seeing her naked. He stopped and stared, amazed at her ravishing beauty. Once seen, Actaeon was punished by Artemis: she forbade him speech — if he tried to speak, he would be changed into a stag — for the unlucky profanation of her virginity's mystery. Upon hearing the call of his hunting party, he cried out to them and immediately was changed into a stag. His own hounds then turned upon him and tore him to pieces, not recognizing him. An element of the earlier myth made Actaeon the familiar hunting companion of Artemis, no stranger. In an embroidered extension of the myth, the hounds were so upset with their master's death, that Chiron made a statue so lifelike that the hounds thought it was Actaeon. [Fragmentary sources for the narrative of Actaeon's hounds are noted in Lacy 1990:30 note 32, 31 note 37.]

There are various other versions: "Bibliotheke" states that his offense was that he was a rival of Zeus for Semele, his mother's sister, [Thus potentially endangering the future birth of Dionysus, had he been successful. Pausanias referred (9.2.3) to a lost poem by Stesichoros also expressing this motif. The progressive destruction of the House of Cadmus to make way for the advent of Dionysus can be followed in the myths of its individual members: Actaeon, Semele, Ino and Melicertes, and Pentheus.] whereas in Euripides' "Bacchae" he has boasted that he is a better hunter than Artemis: [This mytheme would link him with Agamemnon and Orion (Lacy 1990).] Further materials, including fragments that belong with the Hesiodic "Catalogue of Women" and at least four Attic tragedies, including a "Toxotides" of Aeschylus, have been lost. [Lacy 1990, emphasizing that the central core is lost, covers the literary fragments, pp 26-27 and copious notes.] Diodorus Siculus (4.81.4), in a variant of Actaeon's "hubris" that has been largely ignored, has it that Actaeon wanted to marry Artemis. Other authors say the hounds were Artemis' own; some lost elaborations of the myth seem to have given them all names and narrated their wanderings after his loss.

According to the Latin version of the story told by the Roman Ovid [Ovid, "Metamorphoses" iii.131; see also pseudo-Apollodorus' "Bibliotheke" iii. 4] having accidentally seen Diana (Artemis) on Mount Cithaeron while she was bathing, he was changed by her into a stag, and pursued and killed by his fifty hounds. This version also appears in Callimachus' Fifth Hymn, as a mythical parallel to the blinding of Tiresias after he sees Athena bathing. The literary testimony of Actaeon's myth is largely lost, but Lamar Ronald Lacy, [Lacy, "Aktaion and a Lost 'Bath of Artemis'" "The Journal of Hellenic Studies" 110 (1990), pp. 26-42.] deconstructing the myth elements in what survives and supplementing it by iconographic evidence in late vase-painting, made a plausible reconstruction of an ancient Actaeon myth that Greek poets may have inherited and subjected to expansion and dismemberment. His reconstruction opposes a too-pat consensus that has an archaic Actaeon aspiring to Semele, a classical Actaeon boasting of his hunting prowess and a Hellenistic Actaeon glimpsing Artemis' bath. [Lacy 1990:27f.] Lacy identifies the site of Actaeon's transgression as a spring sacred to Artemis at Plataea where Actaeon was a "hero archegetes" ("hero-founder") [Plutarch, "Aristeides"11.3-4.] The righteous hunter, the companion of Artemis, seeing her bathing naked at the spring, was moved to try to make himself her consort, as Diodorus Siculus noted, and was punished, in part for transgressing the hunter's "ritually enforced deference to Artemis" (Lacy 1990:42).

Actaeon in art

*Aeschylus and other tragic poets made use of the story, which was a favourite subject in ancient works of art.
* There is a well-known small marble group in the British Museum illustrative of the story, in gallery 83/84. [ [ British Museum - Rooms 83-84: Roman sculpture ] ]
*Two paintings by the 16th century painter Titian ("right"; and "Diana and Actaeon").
*Actéon, an operatic pastorale by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
* the aria "Oft she visits this lone mountain" from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas", first performed in 1689 or earlier.
*Giordano Bruno, "Gli Eroici Furori".
* In canto V of G. B Marino's poem "Adone" the protagonist goes to theater to see a tragedy representing Actaeon's myth. This episode is relevant because it is a foreshadowing of the protagonist's violent death at the end of the book.
*A composition for Brass Band by Gareth Wood and premiered by Cory Band at the Royal Northern College of Music Festival of Brass 2008



*"The Oxford Classical Dictionary", "s.v." "Actaeon".
*Ovid, "Metamorphoses", 3.138ff.
*Euripides, "Bacchae", 337–340.
*Diodorus Siculus, 4.81.4.
*Lamar Ronald Lacy, "Aktaion and a Lost 'Bath of Artemis'" "The Journal of Hellenic Studies" 110 (1990), pp. 26-42.

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