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Actaeon and Diana

A reading from Ovid, Metamorphoses 3

Read and translated by George Sharpley

Recordings © the LATIN QVARTER, 2015

As Actaeon wanders through the forest taking a breather from hunting, he stumbles upon Diana's grove where she is bathing with her nymphs.

She takes none too kindly to this and turns him into a stag, whereupon his own hounds pick up his scent.

Metamorphoses 3.174-231

ecce nepos Cadmi dilata parte laborum
per nemus ignotum non certis passibus errans
pervenit in lucum: sic illum fata ferebant.
qui simul intravit rorantia fontibus antra,
sicut erant, nudae viso sua pectora nymphae
percussere viro subitisque ululatibus omne
inplevere nemus circumfusaeque Dianam
corporibus texere suis; tamen altior illis
ipsa dea est colloque tenus supereminet omnis.
qui color infectis adversi solis ab ictu
nubibus esse solet aut purpureae Aurorae,
is fuit in vultu visae sine veste Dianae.
quae, quamquam comitum turba est stipata suarum,
in latus obliquum tamen adstitit oraque retro
flexit et, ut vellet promptas habuisse sagittas,
quas habuit sic hausit aquas vultumque virilem
perfudit spargensque comas ultricibus undis
addidit haec cladis praenuntia verba futurae:
'nunc tibi me posito visam velamine narres,
si poteris narrare, licet!' nec plura minata
dat sparso capiti vivacis cornua cervi,
dat spatium collo summasque cacuminat aures
cum pedibusque manus, cum longis bracchia mutat
cruribus et velat maculoso vellere corpus;
additus et pavor est: fugit Autonoeius heros
et se tam celerem cursu miratur in ipso.
ut vero vultus et cornua vidit in unda,
'me miserum!' dicturus erat: vox nulla secuta est!
ingemuit: vox illa fuit, lacrimaeque per ora
non sua fluxerunt; mens tantum pristina mansit.
quid faciat? repetatne domum et regalia tecta
an lateat silvis? pudor hoc, timor inpedit illud.
dum dubitat, videre canes, primique Melampus
Ichnobatesque sagax latratu signa dedere,
Cnosius Ichnobates, Spartana gente Melampus.
inde ruunt alii rapida velocius aura,
Pamphagos et Dorceus et Oribasos, Arcades omnes,
Nebrophonosque valens et trux cum Laelape Theron
et pedibus Pterelas et naribus utilis Agre
Hylaeusque ferox nuper percussus ab apro
deque lupo concepta Nape pecudesque secuta
Poemenis et natis comitata Harpyia duobus
et substricta gerens Sicyonius ilia Ladon
et Dromas et Canache Sticteque et Tigris et Alce
et niveis Leucon et villis Asbolos atris
praevalidusque Lacon et cursu fortis Aello
et Thoos et Cyprio velox cum fratre Lycisce
et nigram medio frontem distinctus ab albo
Harpalos et Melaneus hirsutaque corpore Lachne
et patre Dictaeo, sed matre Laconide nati
Labros et Argiodus et acutae vocis Hylactor
quosque referre mora est: ea turba cupidine praedae
per rupes scopulosque adituque carentia saxa,
quaque est difficilis quaque est via nulla, sequuntur.
ille fugit per quae fuerat loca saepe secutus,
heu! famulos fugit ipse suos. clamare libebat:
'Actaeon ego sum: dominum cognoscite vestrum!'
verba animo desunt; resonat latratibus aether.

Oh look! Cadmus’ grandson is enjoying a break from his exertions and makes his way through the unfamiliar wood, uncertain of his course, and reaches the grove: thus the fates guided him. As soon as he stepped into the grotto, which was dripping with fountain spray, the nymphs caught sight of him, and just as they were, naked, beat their breasts and filled the whole wood with their sudden cries; and thronging around Diana they shielded her with their own bodies. She, however, a goddess, was taller than they, and stood out head and shoulders above them all.

     The colour of purple Dawn or of the clouds when reflecting the rays of the sun that was the colour on Diana's face when she was seen without her clothes. Although she had her attendants thronging around her, she stopped sideways on, and looked back. She would have wanted to have had her arrows to hand but she picked up what she had, water, and splashed it over the man's face, sprinking his hair with vengeful drops, and added these words foretelling the trouble to come:

     'Now you can go and say you have seen me unrobed, if you can say anything.' And with no more threats she adds length to his neck and sharpens the tops of his ears. She changes his hands to feet, and his arms to long legs and covers his body with dappled skin. Fear was added too. The hero flees, Autonoe's boy, and in mid-stride marvels at his speed. When he actually sees his face and antlers in some water ‘For pity’s sake ...’ he wants to say, but no words follow. He groans – the limit of his speech – and tears flow down the face he doesn’t know; only his mind remains from before. What should he do? Make his way back home to the royal palace, or hide in the woods? He is afraid to try one, and ashamed of the other.

     While he hesitated his hounds caught sight of him: first Melampus and keen-scented Ichnobates took up the cry as a signal for the others, Cretan Ichnobates and Melampus of Spartan stock. Then others pick up the chase, faster than a rush of wind, Pamphagos, Dorceus, Oribasos, Arcadians all, mighty Nebrophonos, wild Theron with Laelaps, and surefooted Pterelas and keen-scented Agre, and fierce Hylaeus recently gouged by a boar, and Nape the wolf-pup, Poemenis the sheepdog, and Harpyia with her two youngsters close by, and Sicyonian Ladon with hollowed flanks, and Dromas and Canache and Sticte and Tigris and Alce and whitehaired Leucon and dark-haired Asbolos, and powerful Lacon, and the stayer Aello, and Thoos, and Lycisce with her brother Cyprius, and Harpalos recognisable by the white star in the middle of his black forehead, and Melaneus and Lachne shaggy all over, and Labros and Argiodus of a Cretan father but Spartan mother, and shrill-voiced Hylactor ... and others too many to mention.

     This pack, eager for its prey, sweeps over cliffs and crags and rocks with no access, wherever it is difficult, wherever there is no way through. He flees, through places he had often followed. Oh no! He is running from his own faithful servants. He wanted to shout: ‘I am Actaeon: recognise your master!’ But words fail his will; and the air resounds with baying.

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