Actaeon.Thy grandson, Cadmus, was the first to cast
thy dear felicity in sorrow's gloom.
Oh, it was pitiful to witness him,
his horns outbranching from his forehead, chased
by dogs that panted for their master's blood!
If thou shouldst well inquire it will be shown
his sorrow was the crime of Fortune—not
his guilt—for who maintains mistakes are crimes?
Upon a mountain stained with slaughtered game,
the young Hyantian stood. Already day,
increasing to meridian, made decrease
the flitting shadows, and the hot sun shone
betwixt extremes in equal distance. Such
the hour, when speaking to his fellow friends,
the while they wandered by those lonely haunts,
actaeon of Hyantis kindly thus;
“Our nets and steel are stained with slaughtered game,
the day has filled its complement of sport;
now, when Aurora in her saffron car
brings back the light of day, we may again
repair to haunts of sport. Now Phoebus hangs
in middle sky, cleaving the fields with heat.—
enough of toil; take down the knotted nets.”—
all did as he commanded; and they sought
their needed rest.
There is a valley called
Gargaphia; sacred to Diana, dense
with pine trees and the pointed cypress, where,
deep in the woods that fringed the valley's edge,
was hollowed in frail sandstone and the soft
white pumice of the hills an arch, so true
it seemed the art of man; for Nature's touch
ingenious had so fairly wrought the stone,
making the entrance of a grotto cool.
Upon the right a limpid fountain ran,
and babbled, as its lucid channel spread
into a clear pool edged with tender grass.
Here, when a-wearied with exciting sport,
the Sylvan goddess loved to come and bathe
her virgin beauty in the crystal pool.
After Diana entered with her nymphs,
she gave her javelin, quiver and her bow
to one accustomed to the care of arms;
she gave her mantle to another nymph
who stood near by her as she took it off;
two others loosed the sandals from her feet;
but Crocale, the daughter of Ismenus,
more skillful than her sisters, gathered up
the goddess' scattered tresses in a knot;—
her own were loosely wantoned on the breeze.
Then in their ample urns dipt up the wave
and poured it forth, the cloud-nymph Nephele,
the nymph of crystal pools called Hyale,
the rain-drop Rhanis, Psecas of the dews,
and Phyale the guardian of their urns.
And while they bathed Diana in their streams,
Actaeon, wandering through the unknown woods,
entered the precincts of that sacred grove;
with steps uncertain wandered he as fate
directed, for his sport must wait till morn.—
soon as he entered where the clear springs welled
or trickled from the grotto's walls, the nymphs,
now ready for the bath, beheld the man,
smote on their breasts, and made the woods resound,
suddenly shrieking. Quickly gathered they
to shield Diana with their naked forms, but she
stood head and shoulders taller than her guards.—
as clouds bright-tinted by the slanting sun,
or purple-dyed Aurora, so appeared
Diana's countenance when she was seen.
Oh, how she wished her arrows were at hand!
But only having water, this she took
and dashed it on his manly countenance,
and sprinkled with the avenging stream his hair,
and said these words, presage of future woe;
“Go tell it, if your tongue can tell the tale,
your bold eyes saw me stripped of all my robes.”
No more she threatened, but she fixed the horns
of a great stag firm on his sprinkled brows;
she lengthened out his neck; she made his ears
sharp at the top; she changed his hands and feet;
made long legs of his arms, and covered him
with dappled hair—his courage turned to fear.
The brave son of Autonoe took to flight,
and marveled that he sped so swiftly on.—
he saw his horns reflected in a stream
and would have said, “Ah, wretched me!” but now
he had no voice, and he could only groan:
large tears ran trickling down his face, transformed
in every feature.—Yet, as clear remained
his understanding, and he wondered what
he should attempt to do: should he return
to his ancestral palace, or plunge deep
in vast vacuities of forest wilds?
Fear made him hesitate to trust the woods,
and shame deterred him from his homeward way.
While doubting thus his dogs espied him there:
first Blackfoot and the sharp nosed Tracer raised
the signal: Tracer of the Gnossian breed,
and Blackfoot of the Spartan: swift as wind
the others followed. Glutton, Quicksight, Surefoot,
three dogs of Arcady; then valiant Killbuck,
Tempest, fierce Hunter, and the rapid Wingfoot;
sharp-scented Chaser, and Woodranger wounded
so lately by a wild boar; savage Wildwood,
the wolf-begot with Shepherdess the cow-dog;
and ravenous Harpy followed by her twin whelps;
and thin-girt Ladon chosen from Sicyonia;
racer and Barker, brindled Spot and Tiger;
sturdy old Stout and white haired Blanche and black Smut
lusty big Lacon, trusty Storm and Quickfoot;
active young Wolfet and her Cyprian brother
black headed Snap, blazed with a patch of white hair
from forehead to his muzzle; swarthy Blackcoat
and shaggy Bristle, Towser and Wildtooth,
his sire of Dicte and his dam of Lacon;
and yelping Babbler: these and others, more
than patience leads us to recount or name.
All eager for their prey the pack surmount
rocks, cliffs and crags, precipitous—where paths
are steep, where roads are none. He flies by routes
so oft pursued but now, alas, his flight
is from his own!—He would have cried, “Behold
your master!—It is I—Actaeon!” Words
refused his will. The yelping pack pressed on.
First Blackmane seized and tore his master's back,
Savage the next, then Rover's teeth were clinched
deep in his shoulder.—These, though tardy out,
cut through a by-path and arriving first
clung to their master till the pack came up.
The whole pack fastened on their master's flesh
till place was none for others. Groaning he
made frightful sounds that not the human voice
could utter nor the stag; and filled the hills
with dismal moans; and as a suppliant fell
down to the ground upon his trembling knees;
and turned his stricken eyes on his own dogs,
entreating them to spare him from their fangs.
But his companions, witless of his plight,
urged on the swift pack with their hunting cries.
They sought Actaeon and they vainly called,
“Actaeon! Hi! Actaeon!” just as though
he was away from them. Each time they called
he turned his head. And when they chided him,
whose indolence denied the joys of sport,
how much he wished an indolent desire
had haply held him from his ravenous pack.
Oh, how much;better 'tis to see the hunt,
and the fierce dogs, than feel their savage deeds!
They gathered round him, and they fixed their snouts
deep in his flesh: tore him to pieces, he
whose features only as a stag appeared.—
'Tis said Diana's fury raged with none
abatement till the torn flesh ceased to live.