Warning: Virgins Bathing Ahead

What have we here? Diana and Actaeon by Giuseppe Cesari, circa 1605
The Greek gods are kind of funny, and by that, I’m not talking comedians. They do like jokes, but most of those tend to be one-sided, as in one side thinks it’s funny, but the other side is mightily ticked. When a joke is between gods, not a whole lot happens. One might go complaining to Zeus, who never seems to spend much time on Olympus. If it was your job to settle disputes between the gods you might choose to be out of the office, too. Of course, what Zeus spends his time doing out of the office is a story for another time.

When it comes to mortals, the jokes gods play are very seldom funny. Worse than that, the gods have a funny sense about pride. The absolute worst thing you can do to the Greek gods is to wound their pride. They take that personally. Worse, they won’t kill you. They’re fond of turning people into other things whether it be plants, animals, or insects. When you wound a god’s pride, expect to undergo a metamorphosis. There’s actually an entire collection of myth stories by the Roman poet Ovid called The Metamorphoses detailing these stories.

One of these stories is about a guy named Actaeon. Unfortunately for Actaeon, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He went hunting in the forest. He was after a nice stag, and had his hunting dogs with him. But he didn’t know that a goddess was in this forest.

The Goddess Artemis is very special in Greek mythology: she is the goddess of the hunt, she has a twin brother, Apollo, and she is the daughter of Zeus. Oh, and she’s a perpetual virgin. She actually went to Zeus and asked to forever remain a virgin. She then chose to surround herself with attendants who were virgins. After some good hunting, she and her virginal nymphs spend their time bathing in a spring in the forest.

This is the same forest where Actaeon is hunting.

Actaeon stumbles upon Artemis and her bathing nymphs. Now, there was no sign out there inscribed Warning: Virgins Bathing Ahead, which would have been nice info to know. Hmm, on second thought, that wouldn’t be enough to deter anyone. Something more like Danger Ahead: Vengeful Goddess Who Will Exact Painful Penance on Any Who See Her Naked. That might be a little lengthy for a sign, though.

Now, Actaeon is not blameless here. Upon stumbling upon the women, he did not do the gentlemanly thing and avert his eyes or withdraw. He stayed. For a while. For a long while. He filled his eyes of the bathing beauties, and had no shame of what he did, not realizing the severity of his crime, or knowing when to bug out.

Since he stuck around, of course he was discovered. Artemis, the eternal virgin, had been leered at, had suffered a sexual assault, and had lost her pride. The last was the most egregious. Her punishment was swift and harsh. She transformed Actaeon into a stag. He became the very thing he had hunted. He became the very thing his dogs hunted.

And as goddess of the hunt, Artemis sent Actaeon’s own dogs after him.

Those who were hoping for a happy ending, stop reading now.

The dogs caught Actaeon then viciously ripped him apart.

So, important safety tip, crimes against the pride of a god, never pay off. Oh, and if you do stumble upon nymphs bathing in the forest, turn around and get out of there. You’ll be better off for it.


Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at A3writer.com about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.

Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.

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