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Artemis and Actaeon

In a Nutshell

Long before Katniss Everdeen darted through the forests outside District 12, the huntress goddess Artemis roamed the forests of Greece. Artemis was the original awesome lady with a bow and arrow, and boy did she kick some butt. Not only did she have stunning outdoor survival skills and a fierce posse of nymphs, but she never took any sass from anyone, especially the dudes who tried to hit on her.

Unfortunately, this independent goddess also had a temper, which occasionally got the better of her and led to some cringe-worthy misunderstandings. And that's where we find ourselves in the myth of Artemis and Actaeon. When a young hunter named Actaeon accidentally sees Artemis taking a bath in her secret outdoor grotto (what, you don't take baths in your secret outdoor grotto?), she's so angry that she turns him into a stag. He's then quickly devoured by his own hunting dogs. Oh dear.

But we've all been there. Haven't you ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time? You know, stumbling into a private meeting or accidentally opening the bathroom door when someone's in there? Awkward.


Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

With her archery skills, fondness for hunting woodland creatures, and yes, sometimes prideful nature, the goddess Artemis shares more than a few characteristics with Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.

Ovid retells the myth of Artemis and Actaeon in Book 3 of the Metamorphoses, and comes out firmly in Actaeon's defense. You know, bros before goddesses.

Shakespeare was more than a little obsessed with the Artemis and Actaeon myth. In Twelfth Night, the Duke Orsino identifies himself as a "hart" (a.k.a. male deer) that is being pursued by the "cruel hounds" of his desires.

In As You Like It (another of Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedies), the Bard borrows language from Ovid's retelling of Artemis and Actaeon in order to describe a crying deer that's been wounded ("The wretched animal heaved forth such groans […] and the big round tears/ Coursed one another down his innocent nose"). Willy S. clearly had a soft spot for defenseless deer—perhaps he was a stag in a past life? 

Shakespeare also gives Diana (a.k.a. Artemis) a shout-out when describing the chaste Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet.

Maggie, one of the main characters in Tennessee Williams' acclaimed play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is also strongly associated with Artemis. Sassy and strong (though certainly not chaste), she even won a trophy for her archery skills in college.

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