Diana and Actaeon
The Greek myth of Diana and Actaeon can be found within Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The tale recounts the unfortunate fate of a young hunter named Actaeon, who was the grandson of Cadmus, and his encounter with chaste Diana, goddess of the hunt. The latter is nude and enjoying a bath in a spring with help from her escort of nymphs when the mortal man unwittingly stumbles upon the scene. The nymphs scream in surprise and attempt to cover Diana, who, in a fit of embarrassed fury, splashes water upon Actaeon. He is transformed into a deer with a dappled hide and long antlers, robbed of his ability to speak, and thereafter promptly flees in fear. It is not long, however, before his fellow hunters and his own hounds track him down and kill him, failing to recognize their friend.
The story became very popular in the Renaissance. The most common scene shown was Actaeon surprising Diana, but his transformation and his death were also sometimes shown. Titian painted the first two scenes in two of his greatest late poesies for Philip II of Spain, in Diana and Actaeon and The Death of Actaeon. The latter actually shows the transformation still in progress; like many depictions the head is shown transformed, but most of the body remains human. Less often Actaeon is fully transformed when caught by his dogs. The story was popular on Italian Renaissance maiolica.
- Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. A.D. Melville. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986
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- paintings of this scene, such as one by Thomas Gainsborough now in the Royal Collection