February 5, 2001
Within all the text in the Dionysus section the universal theme I found is that the characters were punished by fate for no apparent reason. In one pivotal moment in each story, the innocent character loses free will and henceforth is steered by merciless fate.
In the myth of Diana and Actaeon, Actaeon has committed no crime but is punished as if he had. His seeing Diana bathing was the work of fate. As a matter of fact, Hughes reinforces this belief in the first paragraph of the story when he states, Destiny, not guilt, was enough for Actaeon. It is no crime to lose your way in the dark wood (Hughes 97). It is perfectly clear that it was purely fate guiding this story. Actaeon was Steered by pitiless fate- whose nudgings he felt only as surges of curiosity (Hughes 99). At this point one can see that Actaeon has completely lost his free will. It is no longer his decision whether to not go further in the cave. From here on, fate takes control of his life.
The only character that has gained a form of justice from this encounter is Diana. By disposing of Actaeon, she won back her purity- the essence of her virginity. This purity she had lost when Actaeon saw her exposed. Her only means of regaining her chastity is by ridding herself of Actaeon. In comparison, there is no justice in this tale for Actaeon. He was simply a victim of fate, which put him in the wrong place at wrong time.
The strongest moral of the myth of Diana and Actaeon is that fate carries no preferences. Actaeon committed no crime; he did nothing to anger the gods. Fate catches up to all people regardless of the manner in which they chose to live their lives. Ovid could have used this myth as a basis for explaining to his people why even the innocents suffer in life.
However, I found that the morals of this myth are as beauty is to the eyes of a beholder. For example, another one of the possible morals I came up with is that the hunter became the hunted. Diana, being the goddess of the hunt had the power to show Actaeon what it was like to be the hunted. This is brutally demonstrated when Actaeons own dogs, which were so peculiarly described (practically all of page 101 is dedicated to the description of these dogs), hunt Actaeon down and ravenously tear him to pieces. This idea of Actaeons own hunting tools helping to hunt him down is further emphasized when Actaeons friends and fellow hunters take part in the hunt. Actaeon found himself wishing to be at the other end of the rope. And he wished he were as far off as they thought him. He wished he were among them not suffering his death but observing (Hughes 103).
There is another aspect of the readings that I just noticed and found interesting anough to mention. It is constant theme of physical transformations that are present in each story. In the tale of Europa, Zeus transforms himself into a bull, in Cadmus; Minerva transforms the soil and Dragons teeth into men, in Actaeon; he himself is transformed into a stag, in Semele; Juno transforms herself into an old woman, and finally Tiresias transforms himself into a woman and then back to a man. Most of these transformations involve gods and most serve to teach the characters a lesson. I found these interesting enough to note because transformations can be thought of as being used to conquer foes and to escape difficult situations; they are a means of expressing power. People fear change and the metamorphosis of the characters in these stories represents this change. Perhaps showing these transformations in myths (thereby showing the powerfulness of the gods) were a way of scaring the public into fearing and never doubting or disobeying the gods?