Many are aware of the broad outlines of the Classical instance of Artemis having Actaeon put to death. Roughly speaking – Actaeon commits an outrage against the Goddess’s modesty, and so is turned into a deer and torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs.
What few realize is that this particular story is also told in the Heavens – in no small part, one presumes, because the manner in which it is related … is actually via the Vedic Aryan star-lore rather than the Greek. Thus pointing toward a shared and likely far more archaic (Proto-)Indo-European origination for the Classical account with its Vedic antecedent.
To again approach things rather succinctly – in the Vedic understanding, we have Prajapati (Brahma) attempt to carry out a rather more forceful outrage against a certain Goddess (Who happens to be His Own Daughter), has the shape of a deer whilst doing so, and is then dismembered by a certain ‘Hunting Dog’ or ‘Wolf’ as a fairly direct and vehement castigationary response. Prajapati is said to correspond with the Mrgashira [‘Deer’s Head’] constellation (part of the constellation of Orion in the Western astrogation), with Rudra being the star Sirius.
It is not hard at all to see how these are quite clearly ‘resonant’ understandings, even afore we start ‘building in’ various of the other conceptry I discussed in my recent ‘Astra – The Star Weapon Of Orion, Ardra, Rudra’ looking at mythology and theology around Orion.
However, we can take things further. Much further. You see, the identity of that Goddess, in Vedic terms, is rather interesting. Various sources identify Her as Saraswati or as Diva [that is to say – a feminine form of the theonym ‘Dyaus’ … akin to how the ‘Ju-‘ of ‘Juno’ is coterminous with that of ‘Jupiter’ ; or the standard ‘male / female’ paired names of quite an array of Indo-European divine couples], or via ‘Ushas’ (and this, to be sure, could introduce some ‘complications’ contingent upon which Ushas is in fact meant). The later, Puranic iteration of the myth has the Goddess in question as quite expressly Shiva’s Wife – either Parvati being menaced by Brahma, or in a somewhat ‘refracted’ format, Sati caught in an entirely different kind of moral outrage due to Her Father, Daksha (a certain Son of Brahma, and tellingly also accorded a ‘Prajapati’ epithet – with the situation of certain other Gods having teeth knocked out, eyes blinded, etc. due to Rudra not having been given His due share of the offering … being directly commensurate with the Shatapatha Brahmana’s presentation of the aftermath of Rudra’s shooting of Prajapati).
Now in the course of my earlier works looking at Artemis, I have demonstrated that this Goddess is coterminous to a perhaps surprising extent with our Hindu understandings of Vak Devi (that is to say – Saraswati, Aditi, etc.). And so therefore, whilst upon the face of it it should seem odd for a myth that in Greek terms is pointedly about a Virgin Goddess … to actually be coterminous with a Hindu myth around a Husband protecting His Wife – we can plausibly explain this as the result of the Greek tellings choosing to develop their portrayal in a certain way which de-emphasized Artemis’ connexion to a partner. Indeed, there is some evidence for other (and more archaic) understandings of the Goddess in question in the Hellenic (or Hellenic-adjacent) spheres, being ‘attached’ in this way – even if the seeming-inevitable result of the pairing is a conflict (entailing Scorpio – the constellation and/or the creature) that (temporarily) brings the Husband low. But more upon those mat(t)ers some other time.
My reason for raising the romantic situation of Shiva & Parvati (or, for that matter, evidently Rudra – Dyaus Pitar – and Devi Diva) here is because there is another Classical perspective upon the ill-starred Actaeon. Wherein the reason for his death is due to his attempt to marry Semele – thus significantly displeasing Zeus, Who would brook no competition for Her affections.
Why does this matter? Why is it of significant interest to us here? Because, put simply, Semele is no mere ordinary human woman. But rather, we can demonstrate Her to be an expression of the Indo-European Mother Goddess. The name by itself is something of a giveaway – consider Russian ‘Zemlya’ or Lithuanian ‘Zeme’ (whence ZemePatis for a figure presumably Her Husband); with the ‘folk-etymology’ of Semele as ‘Shaking’ (‘Seio’) plus a ‘Mel’ term (ostensibly ‘Body’ – although I’d ponder whether the ‘Song’, ‘Thought’, ‘Honey’, and ‘Spear’ senses or terms might also be of probative value) nevertheless retaining some figurative utility given, as we have covered extensively elsewhere, the role of the relevant Goddess in bestowing Divine Inspiration … Furor, Vipra, etc. Certainly, this would render the Roman ‘Interpretatio’ linkage of Semele with their own Goddess-perception known as ‘Stimula’ (which means effectively what you think it does) quite logical. And, for that matter, the ‘Thyone’ epithet under which Semele was hailed a Goddess by the Greeks themselves (although there is rather more we can and almost certainly should say about this particular theonym – but, again, another story for another time).
Now I should, of course, also mention that key features of Semele’s major mythic appearance concorde with reasonable adherency to a pervasive Indo-European mythic structure for the Mother of the Striker / Thunderer (which, of course, Dionysus is not, lest there be any doubt) – however, for reasons of space we shall leave that argument to my earlier ‘Perseus , Krishna , Karna – Three Perspectives Upon The Origin Myth Of The Indo-European Striker/Thunderer’.
What all of this means is that the endeavours occasionally encountered in modern minds to re-cast the myth of Artemis (or Diana) and Actaeon as one wherein a hapless mortal is excessively punished for an accidental occurrence … are on shaky ground indeed. And one supposes similar ought be said for Ovid’s ascribing of the entire situation to “the fault [being] fortune’s and no guilt that day, for what guilt can it be to lose one’s way?”
The Vedic form of the myth concords with certain of those Classical renditions (including the oft-unfairly maligned Diodorus Siculus) wherein yes, the Goddess very much does have cause to be legitimately outraged; and wherein the figure in resultant deer shape has been a (sexual) aggressor and highly improper in his would-be conduct.
It also concords with the half-glimpsed constellation of seeming-disparate elements in the Classical sphere wherein the Goddess under threat is, in fact, engaged in a romantic partnership. And, per our (re-)introduction of the elements from the Vedic perspective, we have the rather happy thought that the Wolf ripping apart Actaeon / Prajapati is, therefore, the Goddess’s male partner (‘Husband’ we should say in more archaic terminology) in such shape, turned up to protect and defend Her against these unwelcome depredations. It may be interesting, in this light, to consider the Archer Who slays Orion in various tellings of that myth – Apollo, a deific of famed Lupine associations – and note that while it is true that the dominant Classical understanding for Artemis & Apollo appears to map onto a pair of siblings that, in Hindu terms, should likely be Shaani & Bhadra, the complicated status of Apollo may also enfold another pair spoken of: that of Rudra and Ambika, with Ambika identified as Rudra’s ‘Sister’ in the Vedas (although given the context and other considerations such as Rudra as AmbikaPataye (‘Lord/Husband of Ambika’), it is perhaps best to understand this ‘Sister’ identification as meaning ‘Female Counterpart’).
However, this introduces an obvious point of immediate objection. If Actaeon is the Prajapati of this scenario – then where is the ‘proof’? Certainly, it cannot be denied that Actaeon is ‘standing’ in the position that we should expect a Prajapati analogue to occupy – but where is the suggestion of Actaeon being either the Goddess’s immediate paternal forebear (thus supplying in large measure the ‘impropriety’), or at the very least, some divine figure.
And the answer, as it always is – is in the name.
The figure of Prajapati, as we have said, becomes Brahma in the later mythology. What is the etymology of Brahma? Well, PIE *Bhergh. What does this PIE term mean ? It is rather akin to the more recent terms in the West and Germanic sphere that you may have heard of – Berg, being the obvious one. Raised, High Place, *Peak*.
Now, as for Actaeon … the root would appear to be PIE *H2ek – also rendered as *Ak in some etymological dictionaries. What does this mean ? ‘Sharp’ – ‘Point’. And we see it occurring in a number of ways commensurate with this in the Ancient Greek corpus. The ‘Akis’ and ‘Akon’ that are ‘sharp’ instruments akin to darts, spears, arrows or javelins (most useful for a hunter); but also to refer to mountain peaks – as with Zeus Aktaios [Zeus of the Peak(s)], an intriguing epithet (also encountered for, surprise surprise, Dionysus and Apollo) which is spoken of in terms of a cultic observance carried out upon Pelion “At the rising of the Dog Star” [i.e. Sirius] per Herakleides Kritikos. Now, as we have previously established, Rudra (Dyaus Pitar) is correlate with Sirius for these purposes – and so we should be pricking up our proverbial ears to find such a mention for a Zeus observance, particularly given Aristaios, the Father of Actaeon, having been the engager of what appears to have been the close correlate to the sacrifice in question to ward the Wolf Star (and, we may presume, propitiate an Angry Zeus) so as to restore rain on Keos. But more upon this, perhaps, at some other juncture (and for how we can be reasonably sure that there’s a correlate theological understanding at play here – my earlier work ‘Sirius In Central Asia – Soma, Tisya, Tishtrya, Rudra’, looking at the particular star-form of Rudra that is closely identified with the relief of drought).
The two possibilities for ‘Actaeon’, therefore, in light of the Vedic star-myth, are as follows:
Either ‘Actaeon’ is meant in the sense of that projectile hunting-weapon aforementioned – and therefore is, perhaps, something in the sense of ‘The Speared’, ‘The Pierced’ (somebody with greater skill in Ancient Greek linguistics shall have to delve further)… recalling the situation of the Vedic Mrgashira constellation as pierced by the Arrow of Ardra / Rudra / Orion still protruding from its side (this being the three-star ‘Orion’s Belt’ asterism we are all so familiar with), as well as the mechanism via which Actaeon was slain (‘pierced’, indeed, by the teeth of that protective hunting hound );
Or ‘Actaeon’ is meant in the sense of, well, that ‘Peak’ sense also communicated via the Bhergh which turns into ‘Brahma’. Which would be a rather loose potential parallel – but effectively mean ‘High’ in a similar fashion.
The obvious question that somebody is liable to ask at this point is why, if the situation of Orion – as we had elucidated upon in ‘Astra – The Star Weapon Of Orion, Ardra, Rudra’ etc. – also appears to contain the Vedic (or, rather, Proto-Indo-European) star-myth in question … why should there then be another form of the myth in Classical circulation which has various different details to same?
And the answer to that is that it seems, itself, to be something of a frequent pattern when dealing with the Greek mythology. Stories that can easily be co-identified as the same events, featuring recognizably broadly similar personas, are found throughout the corpus – even before we had the benefit of comparative Indo-European mythology and theology to bring to bear upon the situation, the parallels in certain renditions and accounts had been noted. This is not to say that the phenomenon is exclusive to the Greeks, either – within the Hindusphere, multiple millennia and an incredibly broad territorial span has lead to a similar profusion. Hence why, to bring things back to the ‘core’ of it all, we can speak of figures named, variously, Rudra, Ardra, Pasupati, Shiva, and Bhairava carrying out sanction against Prajapati or Brahma (or Daksha) – even where certain details have clearly shifted (for instance, whether it is with an Axe or an Arrow that the Sanction is carried out; and in the case of Daksha Prajapati, the nature of the Transgression no longer being – thankfully – incestuous). It is just that with the Hindusphere elements, the rather more voluminous and in-depth state of the preservation of the corpus means that it is far easier to ‘place things back together’ – in large measure because they have always been quite explicitly linked via various densely interwoven networks of theonymics and theological commentaries.
With the Greek sphere, by contrast, we often largely have just the ‘exoteric’ forms of myths – ‘pop-culture’ renditions, almost – that are lacking much of the ‘beneath the surface’ which really makes things ‘tick’ and points the way for true archaic rediscovery and tangible recovering of true interpretation. And, to add to this, during the Classical and Pre-Classical Ages themselves, there seems to have been an evident pressure to ‘assimilate’ the mythic perspective of the Tribe Down The Road in terms not quite commensurate with one’s own. Hence, for instance, the lingering confusion over whether all the Dionysus deifics were, in fact, the same deity ; or whether the Mother of Dionysus was the Semele aforementioned, or Persephone, or Demeter. The actual answer, as we can clearly divine via comparative Indo-European analysis and just plain good sense, is a resounding “Yes” in both cases. That is to say, “yes” the several Dionysus figures are Dionysus … and as for which of Semele, Persephone, or Demeter – well, “Yes” again. Because again – this is the same Deific, just ‘refracted’ via this phenomenon we have just briefly mentioned earlier. I have, predictably, written extensively upon this latter matter elsewhere.
Indeed, to this rather select coterie we may now add an additional figure: that being Artemis, it would seem. For if Actaeon is condemned to death (assumedly in deer form) via the Hunter’s Fang due to Zeus wishing to protect Semele from an improper advance (with this clearly resonating with Rudra’s Wife being under threat from the deer-shaped Prajapati Brahma and thusly being dismembered or pierced by the Wolf God, the Hunter of the Stars), and in other tellings we find the Wolf acting in defence of Artemis Herself. I have earlier covered, in the course of my Artemis series, the perhaps unexpected (degree of) coterminity for Artemis with Vak Saraswati Aditi – with what that entails in terms of associations with the Archer God being quite pointed here. It might be interesting to speculate as to whether the interposition of Ardra (Rudra) between Mrgashira (Prajapati) and Punarvasu (Aditi) may be a similar ‘protective’ manifestation – although, of course, it is usually Rohini (on the immediate other side of Mrgashira to Ardra) that is identified with the Daughter of Prajapati to be protected thus (and we can tell this is significant, due to the situation in later texts of a Rohini as a Daughter of Daksha (Prajapati, as discussed above), and married to Chandra (often co-identified with Mahadev)).
There is much more which can and should be said upon just about all of this (including that sometimes rather … vexed relationship between the Goddess and the God that is, in this case, the Protector in some other occurrences in the cycle of myth) – but for now, it is enough.
We have a typology that we have constructed previously and referred to in earlier (A)Arti-cles – that of the Sky Father acting in defence of this Goddess from an interloper’s impropriety; the interloper appearing in stag or deer shape and/or in a particular region of the heavens (the asterisms of Orion / Mrgashira), and being pierced by the Sky Father Who is appearing in Hunter and Canine associated form.
We have set out archaic exemplars for the typology : both in Classical terms, wherein we find a Wolf-associated Archer deific (Apollo) shooting with a bow the interloper wearing the star-shape of Orion ; and in Vedic terms wherein it is Rudra (Ardra – Sirius) Who wields the TriKanda [‘Three-Point’ or ‘Three-Shaft’] and shoots Prajapati with this weapon, preserved as the three stars of what we in the West would term ‘Orion’s Belt’ – but which is known in archaic Vedic astrocartography as the Arrow of Rudra Pasupati that had pierced the side of Prajapati in Mrga (Deer) form.
We have also traced out other elements that have been preserved to the myth – and, if anything, brought into clearer, sharper relief – in subsequent tellings. Details about how – at least in various of the Hindu understandings – the Hunter, the Wolf is acting to protect His Mate from this interloper. As seen where it is Diva [‘Dyaus’ in feminine form, linguistically speaking – the Sky Father’s female equivalent] that is the identity of the Goddess thusly pursued, as seen where it is Parvati Whom Brahma is seeking to take liberties with, to name but two.
And now, we have ‘joined the dots’, by introducing this ‘alternate’ form of the very same Myth – the one wherein it is a much more overtly canine figure (a hunting dog, in fact) Who carries out the defensive action; and the significantly coterminous co-expression of that same Classical setup where it is quite explicitly the Consort of Zeus (Semele) Who is imperiled by the interloper.
Thus enabling, we may say, us to ‘check’ our typology. For I was genuinely unaware of the situation viz. Actaeon and Semele when I had initially congealed it. The evidence has therefore post-facto confirmed its accuracy – the modelling has become, in a word, ‘predictive’.
Now of course, it is necessary to acknowledge that there are other variations upon the myth or its close correlates that go in quite different directions with key details. We have briefly alluded to one of these above viz. the situation of Daksha Prajapati, Sati, and Veerabhadra / Rudra. We do not mean to imply that this core typology adequately encapsulates all forms derived (or otherwise resonate with) from this same archaic mythic interaction. Particularly not when quite vital points of nuanced distinction are to be found in those details which have shifted – in the case just immediately aforementioned, the Transgression becoming one of denying Rudra His Rightful Share of the sacrificial offerings, for instance … something which while it IS somewhat present in the Shatapatha Brahmana’s rendition of Rudra contra Prajapati, is nevertheless quite removed from the ‘core concern’ or ‘casus belli’ of the initial and major encounter.
It is also necessary, as I have said above, to note that as applies the ((Post-)Classical) Orion sphere itself, there are … several different and semi-distinct mythic typologies, mythic templates, mythic understandings which seem to have become heavily ‘entangled’ and perhaps unhelpfully conflated over the millennia as a result of the various aforementioned trends. And so this most definitely is not, and cannot be, a ‘unified field theory’ for the asterism’s mythology – precisely because a ‘unified field’ is, in many ways, the exact opposite of what is truly called for here. It’s “how we got into this mess in the first place”.
But all of that (and the intriguing potentia for a Proto-Indo-European ritual saliency around Zeus Aktaios and Sirius via light of Tishya, Ardra, Brihaspati, Rudra) we may leave for another time.
For now, it is enough to marvel at the situation we have beheld here – an archaic and evidently Proto-Indo-European myth, which has survived in multiple ‘resonances’ or ‘refractions’ , and yet which remains so eminently recognizable that we can, with great ease, ‘place it back together again’ if we know how to look.
And so, with all of that in mind –
Hail to the Wolf Who Stalks The Stars
And Also To His Goddess