Greek Mythology and Poetics

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Chapter 10. On the Death of Actaeon

Such evidence, however, is inconclusive: the theme of Actaeon’s wearing rather than having the hide of a stag may be a visual as well as verbal metaphor. On the verbal level peribállō implies clothing, as in the Philomele passage of Aeschylus quoted above. The gods transform Philomele into a nightingale, but the words of Aeschylus represent the action as if the gods clothed her with the démas ‘body’ of a nightingale. The meaning of peribállō as ‘clothe’ is commonplace in Greek (Odyssey v 231, xxii 148; Herodotus 1.152.1, 9.109.1; Euripides Iphigeneia in Tauris 1150, and so on), and the derivative períblēma actually means ‘garment’ (Aristotle Problemata 870a27, etc.). I propose, then, that the wording peribállō Stesichorus PMG 236 is also metaphorical: ἐλάφου περιβαλεῖν δέρμα Ἀκταίωνι ‘[that the goddess] flung the hide of a stag around Actaeon’, meaning that the goddess transformed him into a stag.

Thus we have comparative evidence in favor of the argument that the text of Stesichorus PMG 236 reflects a traditional usage, which we can interpret metaphorically to mean that Actaeon was indeed transformed into a stag. The iconographical evidence may be explained as an equally symbolic means of representing the same conception as we find in the poetic evidence.


[ back ] 1. Rose 1931.

[ back ] 2. Ibid.

[ back ] 3. Bowra 1961.99-100.

[ back ] 4. Bowra pp. 99-100, 125-126, with the alternative representation of Actaeon as sprouting antlers also taken into account

[ back ] 5. Richter 1950 fig. 411

[ back ] 6. Bowra 1961.125.

[ back ] 7. Bowra p. 100.

[ back ] 8. Renner 1978.286n16, citing e.g. Burkert 1983.111-114.