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Actaeon, having surprised Artemis and her train of nymphs in the bath, is turned into a stag. 3320: German work from the 17th century AD. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg.

Actaeon is the hunter who was torn to pieces by his own dogs after having been turned into a stag by Artemis, whom he had seen unrobed.


Actaeon’s own death is what made him famous, for there are almost no accounts of his life, except that he was trained by the Centaur Chiron to be a hunter. And, they say, it was not any crime of his the cause of his death, but mere mischance. For not knowing anything about the secret cave of Artemis in the vale of Gargaphia, Actaeon came wandering with his dogs after a day of hunt, and entered the cave when the goddess of the wild woods was preparing to bathe in the waters of the spring Parthenius together with the nymphs who attended her.

Artemis uses water instead of arrows

When Actaeon came into the cave, the girls, with loud cries, thronged around Artemis trying to hide her body with their own. But Artemis, standing head and shoulders over the rest, took up the water and flung it into Actaeon’s face saying:

“Now you are free to tell that you have seen me all unrobed—if you can tell.” (Artemis to Actaeon. Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.192).

So soon the goddess had uttered those words, Actaeon began to turn into a stag, much as the Cretan Siproites had his sex changed by Artemis when he saw the goddes bathing. And when the transformation was completed, the goddess planted fear within his heart, and the stag Actaeon fled away. His dogs then went after him, pursuing him in all grounds around Mount Cithaeron—between Boeotia and Attica—and having finally caught him, the dogs buried their fangs in his body until there was no place for further wounds, thus causing his death. That was the misfortune of Actaeon. For not knowing what he did, he came to be punished and suffered to be hunted, just as he had hunted. Because of this deed, some deemed Artemis to be more cruel, but others judged her act worthy of her virginity.


Yet it has also been told that Actaeon presented himself as superior to Artemis as a hunter, being his boast the reason behind his unfortunate fate. And again, others say that Actaeon came into the cave, and tried to ravish the goddess who, in her anger, made horns grow on his head, turning him into a stag. Still others say that Actaeon, upon dedicating the fruits of his hunting to Artemis, purposed to marry her at the temple of the goddess. Yet others affirm that what happened to Actaeon was conceived by Zeus because Actaeon loved Semele, the mother of Dionysus 2. Artemis then cast a deer-skin round Actaeon to make sure that his dogs would kill him, so as to prevent him to marry Semele.


In any case, when Actaeon was gone, the dogs are said to have sought their master, howling in grief. Searching for him, it is told, they came to the cave of the Centaur Chiron, who made an image of the unfortunate Actaeon to soothe their grief. The death of Actaeon was much lamented by his parents. His father Aristaeus migrated to Sardinia, and Actaeon’s mother Autonoe 2 is said to have left Thebes to live near Megara, because of her grief at the death of her son.

A similar case

Far away from where Actaeon was killed, Thasius, son of Anius, son of Apollo and Rhoeo, was also reported to have been destroyed by his own dogs in the island of Delos. The death of this prince (Anius was a king) is the reason why there are no dogs on Delos.



Aristaeus & Autonoe 2

Aristaeus, the discoverer of honey, is the son of Apollo and Cyrene, daughter of Hypseus 1, son of the river god Peneus. Aristaeus was taught the arts of healing and of prophecy by the MUSES. Some say that after Actaeon’s death he migrated to Sardinia. In any case Aristaeus disappeared and though he never was seen again he received immortal honours.
Autonoe 2 is one of the daughters of Cadmus.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Actaeon, Agenor 1, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Aristaeus, Autonoe 2, Belus 1, Cadmus, Creusa 3, Cyrene, Epaphus 1, Gaia, Harmonia 1, Hypseus 1, Io, Libya, Nymph 7, Peneus.

Actaeon’s Dogs 

When Artemis in the summertime was bathing in a stream, Actaeon sought the same place for cooling himself and the dogs which he had exercised in chasing wild beasts. He then caught sight of the goddess, and to keep him from telling of it, she changed him into a stag. As a stag, then, he was mangled by his own hounds. These are the dogs of Actaeon according to three authors:

Apollodorus, Library 3.4.4: Amarynthus, Arcena, Balius 2, Bores, Lynceus 3, Omargus, Spartus.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.206ff.: Aello 2, Agre, Alce, Argiodus, Asbolus 2, Canache, Cyprius, Dorceus 1, Dromas, Harpalus 2, Harpyia, Hylactor, Hylaeus 2, Ichnobates, Labros, Lachne, Lacon, Ladon 2, Laelaps 1, Leucon 2, Lycisce, Melampus 2, Melanchaetes, Melaneus 3, Nape, Nebrophonus 2, Oresitrophos, Oribasus, Pamphagus, Poemenis, Pterelas 1, Sticte, Theridamas, Theron 1, Thoos, Tigris.

Hyginus, Fabulae 181: Acamas 5, Aello 2, Aethon 5, Agre, Agriodus, Agrius 7, Alce, Arcas 2, Arethusa 4, Argo, Aura 1, Borax, Boreas 2, Canache, Charops 2, Chediaetros, Corus, Cyllo, Cyllopodes, Cyprius, Dinomache, Dioxippe 3, Dorceus 1, Draco, Dromas, Dromius, Echione, Echnobas, Eudromus, Gorgo 2, Haemon 5, Harpalicus, Harpalus 2, Harpyia, Hylactor, Hylaeus 2, Ichneus, Ichnobates, Labros, Lacaena, Lachne, Lacon, Ladon 2, Laelaps 1, Lampus 5, Leaena, Leon, Leucon 2, Lycisca, Lynceste, Machimus, Melampus 2, Melanchaetes, Melaneus 3, Nape, Nebrophonus 2, Obrimus 1, Ocydrome, Ocydromus, Ocypete 3, Ocythous 1, Oresitrophos, Orias, Oribasus, Oxyrrhoe, Pachylus, Poemenis, Pterelas 1, Sagnos, Sticte, Stilbon, Syrus 2, Theridamas, Theriope, Theriphone, Therodanapis, Theron 1, Thous, Tigris, Urania 3, Volatos, Zephyrus 2.


In a Corinthian version of the myth, Actaeon, son of one Melissus, was loved by the Maenad Archias. She tried to abduct him, and as she fought with his father, Actaeon was torn into pieces. Melissus made a formal protest during the Isthmian Games, but when the death of his son was not punished, he threw himself down from a rock, while calling the wrath of the gods upon the city. As drought and plague afflicted Corinth, an oracle ordained that Poseidon (the god of the Isthmian Games) be placated, and Actaeon avenged. As a result, the MAENADS were expelled from Corinth, and Archias, having emigrated to Sicily, founded Syracuse.
Roscher, Lex. 1. 217. 4


Apd.3.4.4; Dio.4.81.3; Eur.Bacc.230, 340; Hyg.Fab.191; Nonn.5.288, 5.333, 32.226, 37.176; Ov.Met.3.190ff; Pau.9.2.3; Cal.BP.109ff.; Stat.Theb.4.573.