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Actaeon is a skilful hunter and a follower of the goddess Artemis. One day, after a successful morning’s hunting, he wanders away from his companions and stumbles upon a pool where Artemis is bathing. Seen naked by Actaeon, Artemis is filled with rage and throws a handful of water at him. As soon as the water droplets touch Actaeon he is transformed into a stag — only his mind remains human. When he tries to run away, the hunter becomes the hunted as his own hounds chase him down and tear him to pieces.
- Starting points
- Further activities
Before getting the class to listen to the story, you may want to explore students’ views on hunting and the relationship between the hunter and the animals they hunt. Is killing animals ever justified? Is hunting ever justified? Is there a difference between hunting for survival and hunting for pleasure? Is it acceptable to hunt potentially dangerous animals such as lions and tigers? Or animals that some people see as pests, such as badgers and rats?
Once the students have listened to the story you can ask the same questions with specific reference to Actaeon, making sure the students back up their opinions with links to what they have heard:
- Does Actaeon hunt for survival or pleasure?
- Does he respect the creatures he hunts?
- Does he deserve to die?
- Does he deserve to die in the way that he did?
Other questions to ask:
- What change or changes take place in this story?
- When does the full horror of his punishment strike Actaeon? (Remind pupils Actaeon has lost his voice and as an expert hunter he would have been a great communicator in control of men and animals. Now he no longer has a human identity, only his mind remains human.)
- Is the ending predictable? Are there any clues that this will happen?
- What sort of character is the goddess Artemis? Exactly why did she punish Actaeon?
- In another version of the story (by Euripides) Actaeon boasts that he is a better hunter than Artemis. Does that make his punishment easier to understand?
- Did Actaeon commit a crime or did he just make a mistake?
- Look at Titian’s painting of the death of Actaeon (Titian | The Death of Actaeon | NG6420 | The National Gallery, London). How well does Titian capture Actaeon’s transformation into a stag?
- Listen again to the beginning of the story (up to ‘… delighting in the rippling music of the flowing water’ at 1 min 21 sec). How effectively does this set the scene for the events that are about to happen? Write your own opening paragraph, setting the scene and hinting at what is to come.
- How well does Titian (Titian | Diana and Actaeon | NG6611 | The National Gallery, London) capture the scene when Actaeon stumbles on Artemis bathing? (Note that in the title of the painting Artemis is called by her Roman name, Diana.)
- Tell/write the story in the voice of Artemis, one of the hunters or one of the hounds.
- Listen again to the section where the hunter suddenly becomes the hunted. Do you think Actaeon’s opinion of hunting changes at this point? (Relate to modern examples of this predicament, e.g. the television programme, Undercover Boss.)
- Write an alternative ending to the story.
- How effective are the adjectives used in this story? Choose any five adjectives and suggest possible alternatives.
- Research and participate in a formal debate on hunting.
- In groups create a freeze frame photograph of a moment from the story.
- In small groups enact extracts from the transcript.
- Produce a book cover (e.g. using Blurb).