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Useful weblinks: Actaeon

Paintings

  • Here Titian depicts The Death of Actaeon. Questions for students: What do you think of Actaeon’s transformation into a stag? Compare the different representations of Actaeon stumbling upon Artemis bathing – which do you like the most? Which is closest to the story narrative? Why do you think some of the artists have chosen to show Actaeon as already having the traits of a stag?
  • Lucas Cranach the elder, c.1525 AD
  • Titian’s painting of Diana and Actaeon (Artemis’ Roman name), 1559 AD
  • Cesari Giuseppe, 1602-3 AD
  • Francesco Albani, c.1625 AD Rembrant, 1634-5 AD

Sculptures

  • This 18th century sculpture, was created for the Palace of Caserta, home of the Bourbon Kings in Italy. There are so many different breeds of dog! How close to the narrative is this? They have surrounded Actaeon here, who has only partially transformed into a stag - only his head! Ask students: Why do you think the sculptor chose to show Actaeon like this? If there was just a stag in place of Actaeon, how would you tell that this sculpture represented that myth?
  • The British Museum houses this marble figure of Actaeon: look how sharp the dogs’ teeth are! This statue of Actaeon really captures the spirit of the chase – both Actaeon and the dogs appear to be moving very fast! But why are Actaeon’s arms positioned so strangely? Is he trying to pull them out of the way of the dogs’ jaws?

Hunting

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book 15, Pythagoras gives a speech in which he criticises people for killing animals for food. He says that the only time it is acceptable to kill animals is if they are dangerous and threatening your life. This could be a fruitful discussion topic for students - some more ideas and stimulus materials below:

  • BBC Hunting: A general overview of hunting in the UK, including moral arguments for and against the practice. Which side of the argument do your students agree with and why?
  • Gov.uk Hunting: The (brief!) official laws on when, what and how to hunt in the UK.
  • This mosaic, from Macedonia in the 4th century BC, is an example of ancient Greeks hunting with dogs. These two wield a sword and an axe but spears and bows and arrows were also used.

Artemis/Diana

  • Artemis’ birth and life story - it seems that Actaeon wasn’t the only one Artemis got annoyed at!
  • One myth states that the famous seer Tiresias lost his sight because he saw Artemis bathing – but because he hadn’t meant to look the goddess took pity on him and also gave him the gift of prophecy.
  • From the 2nd century, this Roman sculpture based on Greek ideology shows Artemis with a stag in her grasp. Stags, as well as hunting dogs, often accompany Artemis in art! Is the stag here meant to represent Actaeon or is it just a stag?
  • The swift movement of both goddess and hunting dog is beautifully captured in this bronze sculpture. Artemis possesses such power in this modern representation (complete with stag) – she’s shooting the sun!

Different authors portray the same tale differently

How does this affect how we view Actaeon and his punishment?:

Ancient Sources;

  • Euripides Bacchae 337-40: ‘Look at Actaeon’s wretched fate, whom the man-eating hounds he had raised tore apart. He had boasted of being better at hunting than Artemis.’
  • Apollodorus 3.4: Actaeon was devoured by his own dogs because Zeus was angry at him for wooing Semele! But according to more general opinion, it was because he saw Artemis bathing.
  • Hyginus Fabulae 180: Actaeon saw Diana and wanted to rape her!
  • Ovid Tristia 2.103-8: ‘Why did I see something? Why did I make my eyes guilty? … Actaeon unknowingly saw Diana without her clothes: he became a prize for his own dogs.’ Ovid likens himself to Actaeon - perhaps he feels sympathy for the hunter? How might this have affected his telling of the tale?

Speech and Silence

  • Losing your voice in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is synonymous with losing your humanity. It occurs as a feature of a lot of the stories in the poem! The mind is usually the only human part that survives the transformation, as is the case with Actaeon.
  • The differences and similarities between humans and animals have fascinated humans in every time period.
    In the 5th century BC, Aristophanes (an Athenian playwright) has a chorus of singing frogs in his play Frogs.
    More recently, the comedy show ‘Creature Comforts’ featured talking plasticine animals and was very popular! Here’s a clip!