In ancient Greek mythology, Actaeon was a prince of Thebes and famed hunter.
Actaeon’s crime varies depending on the source, but his ultimate fate remained constant. Artemis transformed the hunter into a stag and he was hunted and torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs.
The most common retelling of the story of Actaeon was that Actaeon was hunting in the forest where Artemis happened to be bathing. The hunter came across the goddess and stared at her naked beauty. Enraged at this insult to her chastity, Artemis cursed him to silence. If he spoke a word, he would be transformed into a stag. Hearing the call of his fellow hunters, Actaeon called to them and changed form.
Panicked, he ran through the forest until he came to a pond and beheld his reflection and cried out in despair. His own hunting hounds then turned on him and chased him down and tore him apart.
Some versions of this myth cast Actaeon as a friend and hunting companion of Artemis, while others cast Actaeon as a stranger. Sources also differ on the nature of Artemis’s wrath, with some versions emphasizing Artemis protecting her chastity and other versions emphasizing Actaeon being a hunter who failed to show proper deference to the goddess of the hunt.
This theme of hubris, or arrogance before the gods, is shown in several variants of the story. In some variations, Actaeon did more than merely stare at Artemis’s naked beauty: he went so far as to try to marry her. Other sources state that Actaeon’s act of hubris was attempting to compete with Zeus for the affections of the beautiful Semele, or that his crime was that he boasted that he was a better hunter than Artemis.
Whatever Actaeon’s crime, his fate was always that of the hunter who became the hunted. In art, Actaeon’s death is a common theme, often with Actaeon still in his human form.
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