“The Transformation of Actaeon into a Stag” (ll) – Ovid

by richibi

Diana and Actaeon, c.1518 - Lucas Cranach the Elder

          Diana and Actaeon

                 Lucas Cranach the Elder



               Now all undrest the shining Goddess stood,
               When young Actaeon, wilder’d in the wood,


wilder’d in the wood, wandered

in the wild, in the forest

               To the cool grott by his hard fate betray’d,


grott, grotto


betray’d, treacherously confronted,

his hard fate would not be on his

side for this one

               The fountains fill’d with naked nymphs survey’d.


survey’d, observed, espied,

considered, contemplated


               The frighted virgins shriek’d at the surprize

               (The forest echo’d with their piercing cries).


listen, you can hear it

               Then in a huddle round their Goddess prest:
               She, proudly eminent above the rest,
               With blushes glow’d; such blushes as adorn
               The ruddy welkin, or the purple morn;


ruddy welkin, red sky, as at sunset

               And tho’ the crowding nymphs her body hide,
               Half backward shrunk, and view’d him from a side.
               Surpriz’d, at first she would have snatch’d her bow,
               But sees the circling waters round her flow;
               These in the hollow of her hand she took,
               And dash’d ’em in his face, while thus she spoke:


These, ’em, the circling waters

               “Tell, if thou can’st, the wond’rous sight disclos’d,
               A Goddess naked to thy view expos’d.”


not a warning here, but a curse, if thou

can’st being the operative expression,

for Actaeon, now in the process of

transformation, will no longer be able

to utter words

               This said, the man begun to disappear
               By slow degrees, and ended in a deer.


begun, began

               A rising horn on either brow he wears,
               And stretches out his neck, and pricks his ears;
               Rough is his skin, with sudden hairs o’er-grown,
               His bosom pants with fears before unknown:


the skittishness of a deer

               Transform’d at length, he flies away in haste,
               And wonders why he flies away so fast.


how did I do that, Actaeon wonders

               But as by chance, within a neighb’ring brook,
               He saw his branching horns and alter’d look.


his reflection, however by chance,

however inadvertently, in the water, 

the neighb’ring brook, reveals to him

his transformation, his metamorphosis

               Wretched Actaeon! in a doleful tone
               He try’d to speak, but only gave a groan;
               And as he wept, within the watry glass


the watry glass, the mirroring rivulet,

rill, waterway, brook

               He saw the big round drops, with silent pace,
               Run trickling down a savage hairy face.


the association with Bambi here for

me is inescapable, however grim

might be later Actaeon’s own fate

               What should he do? Or seek his old abodes,
               Or herd among the deer, and sculk in woods!
               Here shame dissuades him, there his fear prevails,
               And each by turns his aking heart assails.


something like the onset of puberty,

I think, that frightful fundamental

biological transformation, the fear,

the shame, remember


compare Calisto pregnant before the

very same goddess, Diana / Artemis

incidentally, the evidently unforgiving

deity before anything but unsullied

modesty, before uncompromised

chastity, who’s presently, consider,

condemning Actaeon

               As he thus ponders, he behind him spies
               His op’ning hounds, and now he hears their cries:


op’ning, advancing


               A gen’rous pack, or to maintain the chace,

               Or snuff the vapour from the scented grass.


or to … Or, either to … Or


maintain the chace … snuff the vapour,

dogs doing what dogs do

               He bounded off with fear, and swiftly ran
               O’er craggy mountains, and the flow’ry plain;
               Through brakes and thickets forc’d his way, and flew
               Through many a ring, where once he did pursue.


brakes, bracken, brush


a ring, a territory, a circumscribed



where once he did pursue, Actaeon

had earlier been not the hunted, but

the hunter

               In vain he oft endeavour’d to proclaim
               His new misfortune, and to tell his name;
               Nor voice nor words the brutal tongue supplies;


“Tell, if thou can’st, Diana / Artemis

had warned, and now [n]or voice

nor words the brutal tongue supplies,

allows, Actaeon, to speak


               From shouting men, and horns, and dogs he flies,

               Deafen’d and stunn’d with their promiscuous cries.


promiscuous, unleashed,


               When now the fleetest of the pack, that prest
               Close at his heels, and sprung before the rest,
               Had fasten’d on him, straight another pair,
               Hung on his wounded haunch, and held him there,
               ‘Till all the pack came up, and ev’ry hound
               Tore the sad huntsman grov’ling on the ground,
               Who now appear’d but one continu’d wound.


the attack

               With dropping tears his bitter fate he moans,
               And fills the mountain with his dying groans.
               His servants with a piteous look he spies,
               And turns about his supplicating eyes.


His servants, the jolly huntsmen, the

friends he’d advised to [t]ake the cool

morning to renew the chace

               His servants, ignorant of what had chanc’d,


what had chanc’d, the transformation,

the metamorphosis, Actaeon become

a stag

               With eager haste and joyful shouts advanc’d,
               And call’d their lord Actaeon to the game.


Actaeon seemed to them not there,


               He shook his head in answer to the name;


he couldn’t speak, could only [shake]

his head

               He heard, but wish’d he had indeed been gone,


gone, away, in another place, as [h]is

servants thought him to be

               Or only to have stood a looker-on.


a looker-on, observing rather than

having been the centre, the subject

of the situation

               But to his grief he finds himself too near,


too near, indeed present, central,

in the very thick of the fray

               And feels his rav’nous dogs with fury tear
               Their wretched master panting in a deer.


Actaeon doesn’t survive this

transformation, nor is he

transmuted, like so many others

who’d displeased the gods, into 

sets of stars, or constellations


a recurring theme seems to be,

as the poem advances, how

arbitrary the fate of humans is

in the hands of the, apparently

capricious, gods


to follow



R ! chard