Study Guide

Artemis and Actaeon Summary

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How It (Supposedly) Went Down

The Short Story

It all starts as Actaeon is hunting deer with a group of friends and a large pack of dogs. Everyone's hot and sweaty from hunting all morning, so they decide to just take it easy for the rest of the day. Searching for some shade, Actaeon wanders deep into the woods and stumbles onto a secret grove. And wouldn't you know it—he sees the goddess Artemis, naked as a baby mole rat. 

Artemis is furious when she sees Actaeon peeping on her lady parts, and she transforms him into a deer by splashing water at him. Cool trick. As he runs away, Actaeon encounters his hunting dogs, who tear their former master apart with their vicious fangs.

Yep, that's it. Not a happy ending.

The Less Short Story 

  • Deep in the woods, Actaeon is hunting deer with a group of his friends and a large pack of dogs.
  • By noon, the sun is beating down on them, and the group is getting tired from hunting all morning. Actaeon decides to give everyone a break and tells his bros to that they'll resume hunting tomorrow morning.
  • Meanwhile, the goddess Artemis is also hot and exhausted from hunting. She decides to take a spa day (although she'd probably kill us for saying that) and goes to her secret grove to wash up.
  • Artemis undresses and takes a refreshing bath with the help of her wood nymph handmaidens. They brush her hair, pour water over her, and generally desweatify her.
  • Looking for a place to cool off, Actaeon wanders deep into the woods and stumbles upon the bathing goddess.
  • Oops.
  • Or not so oops. While some versions of the story say that he came across Artemis by mistake, others say that it was totally intentional—and that he even suggested that they sleep together.
  • Either way, when they see Actaeon, the wood nymphs freak out. They surround Artemis, hoping to shield her from Actaeon's gaze. No such luck, though—Actaeon has already seen the goddess's naked body.
  • Shocked and embarrassed, Artemis reaches for her trusty bow. But then she gets a better idea and splashes water endowed with magical properties at Actaeon.
  • As the water hits Actaeon, he's transformed from a man to a deer.
  • Frightened (and rightfully so), he gallops away.
  • Actaeon runs through the woods, crying and wondering what to do with himself. Suddenly, he encounters his pack of hunting dogs—35 to 50 of them, depending on who you ask.
  • The dogs don't recognize their master in his deer form, and they begin to chase him.
  • Terrified, Actaeon tries to flee, but he's unable to outrun his canine pursuers. One sinks his teeth into Actaeon's haunches and holds him down as the others descend on the poor guy.
  • Unable to call for help or defend himself, Actaeon is torn apart by his own dogs.
  • In some versions of the myth, the dogs eventually realize that they've killed their master and are heartbroken. To ease their pain, the wise centaur Chiron sculpts a statue of Actaeon for them to gaze at with their sad puppy dog eyes.

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