On many occasions when the Olympian gods decide to smash a naughty human being to smithereens, transform them into some unsavory beast or ship them off to Tartarus for an eternity of hard labor, there's a fairly good reason. However, every once in a great while, there's that one poor mortal guy or girl who gets stuck in the wrong place, the wrong time, and squarely in the crosshairs of a god's very bad hair day.
The story of ACTAEON (ak-tee-on) is one such tale, where you just have to ask "man, do the gods forgive anyone for doing something by accident?" Evidently, the answer to that is no. Absolutely and completely NO. The poor guy was destined to find out what hitting upon a deity on a rough day was all about, much to his own peril...
But first off, who was Actaeon? Actaeon was a good lookin' young guy who hailed from the ancient Greek city-state of Thebes, and who happened to be the son of Aristaeus, the god of bee-keeping and animal husbandry. He had a way-beyond-excellent reputation as a hunter; his skills came courtesy of the wisdom and training he received from Chiron the Centaur (who had also trained his dad, Aristaeus years before...) and he was known far and wide across the land as an almost-supernaturally good tracker of beasts of all sizes (being a demigod definitely had perks!).
Everyone in the area knew his name well for his many tricked-out hunting feats and he and his hunting dogs were the stuff of legend in and around Thebes.
One fine ancient Greek day, a perfect day with blue skies and a warm breeze rambling through the air, Actaeon decided it'd be a great idea to take the dogs out and go looking for a deer to hunt. Grabbing his bow and quiver of arrows, he took off for one of the best hunting grounds the area had to offer; a deep, thickly wooded area called Orchomenos.
Minding his own business and very much dedicated to stalking any woodland creatures that may have happened across his path, he all at once stumbled out of the woods and onto the banks of a small sun-lit, out-of-the-way forest spring-pool. Not in itself a big deal, but when Actaeon got a glimpse of the pool and the surrounding area, that's when he got the surprise of his life; there in the pool, stark-naked and bathing, was the goddess Artemis, accompanied by some of her rather attractive hunter-nymphs!
Amazed and utterly dumb-struck by her beautiful, athlete's body and divine grace, he couldn't help but find himself staring. Now before anyone get's all upset about that, in defense of Actaeon, it really couldn't be expected that ANYONE male wouldn't have been bug-eyed to see the sight of a goddess in a woodland pool, unable to move for a minute or two if they ran into this same scenario.
He certainly wasn't LOOKING for trouble and he wasn't a Peeping Tom; he WAS actually out hunting, scouting the woods with his dogs, looking to score some grub, and simply found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn't as if Artemis and her pals had posted signs! But try telling that to an at-first-shocked, then embarrassed and then insanely ticked off Olympian goddess. No excuses, true or not, were going to work.
Artemis and her gang of fellow bathers became aware of this accidental intrusion, and it didn't take more than a few seconds for the shock of being noticed wore off. Artemis, no fan of men in general to begin with, went ballistic at the notion of having been seen nude by one uninvited, and decided, in her blind rage, to teach Actaeon a lesson he'd never forget for being rude. And you KNOW that wasn't going to end well for the young hunter.
Rather than letting Actaeon off with a few stern words and accepting him apologizing over and over again as he scampered out of there all red-faced, completely embarrassed and near tears, Artemis decided to punish him in an extremely nasty and totally expected Olympian fashion. Revving up her goddess magic and kicking it into overdrive, she tossed some water on the panicking hunter, and within seconds, painfully transformed him into a stag, a full-grown male deer.
Understandably freaked out at this rather horrible turn of events, Actaeon fearfully tore off through the woods, antlers popping out of his head and his feet and hands turning to hooves as he ripped through the underbrush. To make matters even worse for the poor guy...er...stag, Artemis had one last piece of vicious magic to bestow. She blasted Actaeon's own hunting dogs, fifty of them, with a touch of frothy-mouthed madness and set them off to hunt their own master, whom they didn't recognize any longer.
He didn't smell like Actaeon anymore and instead had the scent of the tasty prey they were trained to track, hunt and pin down. The hounds charged after him, leaped on him with sharp fangs out, tore him to shreds and pieces and devoured him down to the bone, never knowing that the stag they had just chowed down on was their much beloved master. Dang. And all of that for a simple mistake. It just goes to show that on any given day, its unwise to mess with an Olympian, accidentally or on purpose. The mercy and compassion you're going to get is non-existent!
Hard to tell if Artemis even remembered the event after a few days...
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