Mythic Monday: Artemis and Actaeon

It’s Mythic Monday, and I’m writing tonight about Artemis and her vengeance upon a peeping Greek.
But first, you should know I have a bit of a problem with blank paper. I CAN’T STOP BUYING IT. While unpacking a corner of my office today (we better renew the lease here, because fuck if I want to pack all this shit up again in eight months!) I found no less than FIVE of the big 5-subject notebooks and six smaller notebooks/notepads. Good lord.

Those are all blank notebooks. For writing.
The blank journals (for JOURNALING, duh) are in a different space.
Slowly but surely, I’m digging out my office. A corner at a time.

Anyway, on to Artemis and her defense of her own virginity.

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, a mortal woman who was seduced (or raped, depending on the version) by the God when he was in the form of a swan. Yeah. Not weird at all.

Artemis is goddess of the hunt, of all things wild, of the moon, and of innocent independence. I mean innocent in a specific way: she’s the patron goddess of maidens and all things free of man’s interference. She’s described as the virgin huntress. There is some debate on the translation to English “virgin” as we think of it now, as it truly meant unmarried (not necessarily chaste, which specifically meant non-sexual). However, Artemis is often described as chaste as well: uninterested in the attentions of any man. Her twin brother, Apollo, generally has enough male and female sexual company to make up for her lack of it anyway, but he’s another story.

Honestly,  Artemis could be a book unto herself. I chose one specific story tonight because it’s the epitome of her response to being lusted after by both men and gods. In fact, many of Artemis’ stories deal with her avoiding or thwarting rape, which is really disturbing if you stop and consider the implications, both for men and women.

So. Actaeon, the unfortunate soul in this tale, is actually a hero from Thebes. He’s a great hunter and warrior, and famed for his hunting dogs. One day while chasing a stag into the woods, his dogs lead him to a sacred pool where Artemis is bathing. Transfixed by her beauty and, well, Goddessness (I mean, I’d likely stare as well, having never seen a goddess before in person), he stares. For a very long time.

Now here’s where things get a bit tricky. In some more recent versions, Artemis gives him the option to save himself. As punishment, she takes his ability to speak and warns him that the moment he tries he’ll be turned into a stag himself. In earlier versions, she just immediately transforms him into the very beast he was chasing on her land. The distinction is a key difference between a thought-out, rational punishment and a reactionary “gut-instinct” punishment.

If he can control himself he’ll live, in the first version. After all, he didn’t actually try to rape her, so her punishment is more about no man ever seeing her naked and living to TELL about it. AS long as he keeps his mouth shut, he’s fine.

Of course, he can’t. In every variation I found of the “removal of speech” story, Actaeon is unable to be silent. He calls out when he hears his hunting party approaching (maybe to call them over, maybe to warn them away: no one could know). In that instant a sound emerges from his mouth, he’s turned to a stag.

The ultimate price he pays is the same in both versions: hounds (either his own, the Goddess’s, or both) run him down in his stag form and tear him to pieces. Generally in the versions where Artemis changes him to a stag immediately it’s his own hounds who take him down. That’s actually a bit in ALL the tales: tear him to pieces, not eat him or kill him or destroy him: tear him to pieces. Seems rather important, since it’s the phrase that’s repeated throughout retellings. The violence and manner of his death have led some scholars to theorize this is a tale of sacrifice to the Gods. I have to say I don’t agree (with the caveat that I am not a Greek Mythology PhD in any form, so I can only read translations, which could be wrong).

I see this story as a characterization of her determination to remain free and unencumbered. What mate could be better for her, after all, than a near-hero status hunter? Yet even he, in a scene often used in myth to precede sex (accidentally finding him/her bathing) and even love, is unable to tame her. I think this is a tale that intentionally reinforces Artemis is the ultimate untame-able wild. She will not submit to anyone.

Artemis is a favorite Goddess of mine.

Not actually shooting at anything. Except the office wall.

So much so, she watches over my desk.

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