Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 26

In the "Epic of Hades" there is a description of Actaeon and his change of form. Perhaps the most beautiful lines in it are when Actaeon, changed to a stag, first hears his own hounds and flees.

  "But as I gazed, and careless turned and passed
  Through the thick wood, forgetting what had been,
  And thinking thoughts no longer, swift there came
  A mortal terror; voices that I knew.
  My own hounds' bayings that I loved before,
  As with them often o'er the purple hills
  I chased the flying hart from slope to slope,
  Before the slow sun climbed the eastern peaks,
  Until the swift sun smote the western plain;
  Whom often I had cheered by voice and glance,
  Whom often I had checked with hand and thong;
  Grim followers, like the passions, firing me,
  True servants, like the strong nerves, urging me
  On many a fruitless chase, to find and take
  Some too swift-fleeting beauty, faithful feet
  And tongues, obedient always: these I knew
  Clothed with a new-born force and vaster grown,
  And stronger than their master; and I thought,
  What if they tore me with their jaws, nor knew
  That once I ruled them, brute pursuing brute,
  And I the quarry? Then I turned and fled
  If it was I indeed that feared and fled
  Down the long glades, and through the tangled brakes,
  Where scarce the sunlight pierced; fled on and on,
  And panted, self-pursued. But evermore
  The dissonant music which I knew so sweet,
  When by the windy hills, the echoing vales
  And whispering pines it rang; now far, now near
  As from my rushing steed I leant and cheered
  With voice and horn the chase; this brought to me
  Fear of I knew not what, which bade me fly,
  Fly always, fly; but when my heart stood still,
  And all my limbs were stiffened as I fled,
  Just as the white moon ghost-like climbed the sky,
  Nearer they came and nearer, baying loud,
  With bloodshot eyes and red jaws dripping foam;
  And when I strove to check their savagery,
  Speaking with words; no voice articulate came,
  Only a dumb, low bleat. Then all the throng
  Leapt swift upon me and tore me as I lay,
  And left me man again."

In Shelley's poem Adonais is the following allusion to the story of Actaeon:—

  "Midst others of less note came one frail form,
  A phantom among men; companionless
  As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
  Whose thunder is its knell; he, as I guess,
  Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
  Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray
  With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness;
  And his own Thoughts, along that rugged way,
  Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey."
  Adonais, stanza 31.

The allusion is probably to Shelley himself.


Some thought the goddess in this instance more severe than was just, while others praised her conduct as strictly consistent with her virgin dignity. As usual, the recent event brought older ones to mind, and one of the bystanders told this story. "Some countrymen of Lycia once insulted the goddess Latona, but not with impunity. When I was young, my father, who had grown too old for active labors, sent me to Lycia to drive thence some choice oxen, and there I saw the very pond and marsh where the wonder happened. Near by stood an ancient altar, black with the smoke of sacrifice and almost buried among the reeds. I inquired whose altar it might be, whether of Faunus or the Naiads or some god of the neighboring mountain, and one of the country people replied, 'No mountain or river god possesses this altar, but she whom royal Juno in her jealousy drove from land to land, denying her any spot of earth whereon to rear her twins. Bearing in her arms the infant deities, Latona reached this land, weary with her burden and parched with thirst. By chance she espied in the bottom of the valley this pond of clear water, where the country people were at work gathering willows and osiers. The goddess approached, and kneeling on the bank would have slaked her thirst in the cool stream, but the rustics forbade her. 'Why do you refuse me water?' said she; 'water is free to all. Nature allows no one to claim as property the sunshine, the air, or the water. I come to take my share of the common blessing. Yet I ask it of you as a favor. I have no intention of washing my limbs in it, weary though they be, but only to quench my thirst. My mouth is so dry that I can hardly speak. A draught of water would be nectar to me; it would revive me, and I would own myself indebted to you for life itself. Let these infants move your pity, who stretch out their little arms as if to plead for me'; and the children, as it happened, were stretching out their arms.