Actaeon

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In Greek mythology, Actaeon (pronounced /ækˈtiːən/) (Greek: Άκταίων), son of the priestly herdsman Aristaeus and Autonoe in Boeotia, was a famous Theban hero.[1] Like Achilles in a later generation, he was trained by the centaur Chiron.

He fell to the fatal wrath of Artemis,[2] but 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."[3] This is the iconic motif by which Actaeon is recognized, both in ancient art and in Renaissance and post-Renaissance depictions.

Contents

The plot

Among others, John Heath has observed, "The unalterable kernel of the tale was a hunter's transformation into a deer and his death in the jaws of his hunting dogs. But authors were free to suggest different motives for his death."[4] In the version that was offered by the Hellenistic poet Callimachus,[5] which has become the standard setting, Artemis was bathing in the woods[6] when the hunter Actaeon stumbled across her, thus seeing her naked. He stopped and stared, amazed at her ravishing beauty. Once seen, Artemis punished Actaeon: 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.[7]

There are various other versions of his transgression: Bibliotheke states that his offense was that he was a rival of Zeus for Semele, his mother's sister,[8] whereas in Euripides' Bacchae he has boasted that he is a better hunter than Artemis:[9]

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