Roman Mythology

Ovid: Metamorphoses

1st century BC, Latin, Roman.

The goddess Diana threw a handful of water and where the water hit Actaeon, he began to sprout antlers.

'Scary thought, really,' said Quintin.

'Well, it depends on your interpretation,' said Miranda.

'It seems pretty clear to me,' replied Quintin. 'The solitary deer that Actaeon’s hounds and huntsmen bring down at the end of a long chase is their master Actaeon himself. The message seems plain.'

'Let’s look at the whole story,' said Miranda. 'Actaeon is a grandson of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes in Greece. Although recorded by Ovid in the first century BC, then, the story harks back to a time many hundreds of years before that. One day, Actaeon goes out hunting deer with his companions in the forest and at noon they all call it a day and seek shelter from the heat. Actaeon wanders off and finds a lonely valley that he has never explored before. At its head he comes across a cave, and inside is the goddess Diana bathing in a spring with her nymphs. She is startled by this unlawful trespass and throws a handful of water in his direction. Where the water hits Actaeon, he begins to sprout antlers. Fleeing from the cave and back down the valley he finds that he can run much faster than before; his feet are swifter than he has ever known, all four of them! Arriving back in the part of the forest where he left his companions, he chances to see his reflection in a pool. He is a deer. Unable to decide whether to return to his father’s house and endure the shame of it all, or stay in the forest with all its dangers, he suddenly hears the barking of his own hounds.'

'And it ends,' interrupted Quintin. 'with Actaeon trying to call out to his own friends that the deer that his dogs have brought down and savaging to death is their own master! But his companions cannot understand, since he has lost the power of speech. He can only make a sound like a frightened deer and resign himself to his fate.'

'Shows the power of the Goddess,' said Miranda.

'Shows a little bit more than that, I think,' replied Quintin.

Story fragment recounted from: Innes, Mary M., 1955. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated from Latin with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Ovid: Metamorphoses, Book III [141–259], pp 78–80.

See for yourself

Ovid – Wikipedia

Ovid's Metamorphoses – Wikipedia

Actaeon – Wikipedia

Artemis – Wikipedia

Roman goddess Diana – Wikipedia

Ovid's Metamorphoses, a complete English translation – translated by Anthony S Kline


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