31. Artemis’ wrath kills Actaion

Once upon a time, Actaion, son of Aristaios and Autonoe, was hunting in the forest along with his hunting dogs. To rest for a while, he climbed an oak tree and lay on a thick shady branch, while his dogs rested below at the foot of the tree. A little away, Actaion saw a beautiful clear spring, where few nymphs were having a bath. Remaining hidden, he focused his gaze and saw that it was Artemis and her band. Greedily, he ravished the most rare sight, of the unwedded virgin goddess Artemis having a bath. However, a Naiad nymph, with a sidelong glance, discovered his presence, and started shrieking in horror.

Artemis was furious and her wrath changed Actaion to a stag. His jawbones became long cheeks, curved antlers sprang from his forehead, limbs became thinner ending in cloven hooves, and his body became covered with hair all over. As a stag, he fell from the tree and landed amidst his dogs. The wrath of Artemis was not subdued and so, with a nod of her head, she made the hunting dogs of Actaion go in a frenzy. Actaion’s own dogs began to cut him in pieces. Actaion tried to speak with his dogs, reminding them that he was their master, but only unintelligible noise came out from the mouth of the stag. Actaion was tormented with unbearable feelings of pain, which grew more and more, as the razor fanged jaws of the dogs tore him apart, little by little. Ultimately, Actaion painfully died, being torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs.

When the rumour of Actaion’s death reached Aristaios and Autonoe, they searched for their son. Unable to find Actaion or any of his remains, they returned home and fell asleep crying. Aristaios saw a disturbing dream, wherein his son Actaion as a dappled stag, told all that had taken place. Aristaios woke up and along with Autonoe, went to the forest. Wailing loudly, Autonoe collected the torn remains of the stag, entombed them and along the tomb, carved what all Aristaios had seen in his dream.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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