Delahoyde & Hughes



Cadmus, about whose ending we'll hear later in Book 4, slays a serpent "Sacred to Mars" (58) and founds the city of Thebes (60). Cadmus kills the serpent, but will become one (60). This section ends with an echo of the last lines of Oedipus Rex, appropriately enough.


Ovid challenges us to find guilt in Actaeon (61). Actaeon's transformation into a deer at Diana's hand means that he becomes the hunted; the hunter becomes the prey (64).

If we apply Greek tragic vision to this story, the tale fits into an ancient formula of art. Aristotle's Poetics defines the three characteristics of successful Greek tragedy as recognition, reversal, and tragic flaw. The story of Actaeon has all three of these elements. The hunter becomes the hunted, a classic version of reversal. Actaeon also surely must recognize what it feels like to be a deer, the one pursued by hounds. His consciousness has become entrapped in the animal world.

  • What is Actaeon's tragic flaw?
  • What are Actaeon and his friends doing at the beginning of the story? Are they hunting to survive or are they hunting for other reasons. How can you tell?
  • What do you thing the sentiment of the poet about the hunters and their actions?

Actaeon sees Diana (and her nymphs), twin sister of Apollo, an eternally virgin huntress who haunts wild places. She is sometimes referred to as Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Beasts) indicating her concern for and power over wild animals. She is also concerned with women's transition from girlhood to adulthood (via marriage) and with childbirth, a concern she shares with Hera and Eileithyia. Women who die are said to be struck down by her arrows. From a woman's point of view, Artemis represents an experience of her nascent feminine nature. But, from a man's point of view, an image of a young girl suggestive of Diana/Artemis represents the anima -- the name Jung gave to a female figure, in a man's dream or fantasy, which belongs not to the personal, but to the collective unconscious. The anima is an image of the feminine indicative of the male subject's unconscious attitudes towards women, and his notions about them. Diana/Artemis thus reflects a particular stage in his relation with his unconscious image of the feminine.

Diana without her clothes blushes, which explains the crimson colors of the dusk and dawn. She punishes Actaeon for seeing a goddess in the buff and turns him into a deer.

  • At first, how does Actaeon react?
  • Then the hounds get the scent. What happens?
  • What is the moral to this story?
  • Ovid tells us that some say Diana was too cruel. What do you think of the way she punishes Actaeon?


It doesn't pay to be the mistress of a powerful male. Semele is urged to demand that Jove (Zeus) reveal himself in all his glory, and he makes "The Rash Promise." Jove assumes the role of the mother by sewing up the fetus that will become Bacchus (Dionysus) in his thigh.


  • Who is Tiresias?
  • What did he mean when he tells Liriope that her son will live to see old age if "he never knows himself."

Narcissus and Echo:

  • Etymology: what is the meaning of the word narcissism?
  • Compare this word to "ethnocentrism" and "anthropocentrism." Similarites?
  • Juno puts a curse on Echo. Describe the curse.
  • Where is Echo now and why?
  • Narcissus and the pool: explain.
  • What happens to Narcissus? Why a flower?
Here's another case of the hunter (as Narcissus starts out in this story) becoming the hunted (68).

For medieval symbologists, the pool of Narcissus is located at the center of the Garden of Love. In the most famous and influential tale, the Lover first catches a glimpse of his beloved (Rose) reflected in this pool. What does this indicate about love?

Pentheus and Bacchus:

There's always a sullen, scornful resistence when a god of celebration comes to town. The conservative, repressed authorities are particularly nasty when women are attracted by the droves to the visiting god. In the end here, the Maenads in their characteristic frenzy tear Pentheus limb from limb.

Metamorphoses Book IV
Ovid Index
Orpheus: Roman Mythology