The Myth of Diana and Actaeon, Retold

 Posted by on 3 January 2014 at 10:00 am  Film, History, Literature
Jan 032014

Metamorphosis is a stunning beautiful short film retelling the myth of Diana (or Artemis) and Actaeon. I’ve long been familiar with this myth, as it’s surely the most famous one about my namesake. But if you’re not, here’s the story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Bk III:138-164 Actaeon returns from the hunt

Actaeon, one of your grandsons, was your first reason for grief, in all your happiness, Cadmus. Strange horns appeared on his forehead, and his hunting dogs sated themselves on the blood of their master. But if you look carefully, you will find that it was the fault of chance and not wickedness: what wickedness is there in error? It happened on a mountain, stained with the blood of many creatures, and midday had contracted every shadow and the sun was equidistant from either end of his journey. Then Actaeon, the young Boeotian, with a quiet expression, spoke to his companions in the hunt as they wandered through the solitary wilds ‘Friends, our spears and nets are drenched with the blood of our victims, and the day has been fortunate enough. When Aurora in her golden chariot brings another day we will resume our purpose. Now Phoebus is also between the limits of his task, and is splitting open the earth with his heat. Finish your present task and carry home the netted meshes.’ The men obeyed his order and left off their labour.

There was a valley there called Gargaphie, dense with pine trees and sharp cypresses, sacred to Diana of the high-girded tunic, where, in the depths, there is a wooded cave, not fashioned by art. But ingenious nature had imitated art. She had made a natural arch out of native pumice and porous tufa. On the right, a spring of bright clear water murmured into a widening pool, enclosed by grassy banks. Here the woodland goddess, weary from the chase, would bathe her virgin limbs in the crystal liquid.

Bk III:165-205 Actaeon sees Diana naked and is turned into a stag.

Having reached the place, she gives her spear, quiver and unstrung bow to one of the nymphs, her weapon-bearer. Another takes her robe over her arm, while two unfasten the sandals on her feet. Then, more skilful than the rest, Theban Crocale gathers the hair strewn around her neck into a knot, while her own is still loose. Nephele, Hyale, Rhanis, Psecas and Phiale draw water, and pour it over their mistress out of the deep jars.

While Titania is bathing there, in her accustomed place, Cadmus’s grandson, free of his share of the labour, strays with aimless steps through the strange wood, and enters the sacred grove. So the fates would have it. As soon as he reaches the cave mouth dampened by the fountain, the naked nymphs, seeing a man’s face, beat at their breasts and filling the whole wood with their sudden outcry, crowd round Diana to hide her with their bodies. But the goddess stood head and shoulders above all the others. Diana’s face, seen there, while she herself was naked, was the colour of clouds stained by the opposing shafts of sun, or Aurora’s brightness.

However, though her band of nymphs gathered in confusion around her, she stood turning to one side, and looking back, and wishing she had her arrows to hand. She caught up a handful of the water that she did have, and threw it in the man’s face. And as she sprinkled his hair with the vengeful drops she added these words, harbingers of his coming ruin, ‘Now you may tell, if you can tell that is, of having seen me naked!’ Without more threats, she gave the horns of a mature stag to the head she had sprinkled, lengthening his neck, making his ear-tips pointed, changing feet for hands, long legs for arms, and covering his body with a dappled hide. And then she added fear. Autonoë’s brave son flies off, marvelling at such swift speed, within himself. But when he sees his head and horns reflected for certain in the water, he tries to say ‘Oh, look at me!’ but no voice follows. He groans: that is his voice, and tears run down his altered face. Only his mind remains unchanged. What can he do? Shall he return to his home and the royal palace, or lie hidden in the woods? Shame prevents the one, and fear the other.

Bk III:206-231 Actaeon is pursued by his hounds

While he hesitates his dogs catch sight of him. First ‘Black-foot’, Melampus, and keen-scented Ichnobates, ‘Tracker’, signal him with baying, Ichnobates out of Crete, Melampus, Sparta. Then others rush at him swift as the wind, ‘Greedy’, Pamphagus, Dorceus, ‘Gazelle’, Oribasos, ‘Mountaineer’, all out of Arcady: powerful ‘Deerslayer’, Nebrophonos, savage Theron, ‘Whirlwind’, and Laelape, ‘Hunter’.

Then swift-footed Pterelas, ‘Wings’, and trail-scenting Agre, ‘Chaser’, fierce Hylaeus, ‘Woody’, lately gored by a boar, the wolf-born Nape, ‘Valley’, Poemenis, the trusty ‘Shepherd’, and Harpyia, ‘Snatcher’, with her two pups. There is thin-flanked Sicyonian Ladon, ‘Catcher’, Dromas, ‘Runner’, ‘Grinder’, Canache, Sticte ‘Spot’, Tigris ‘Tigress’, Alce, ‘Strong’, and white-haired Leucon, ‘Whitey’, and black-haired Asbolus, ‘Soot’.

Lacon, ‘Spartan’, follows them, a dog well known for his strength, and strong-running Aëllo, ‘Storm’. Then Thoos, ‘Swift’, and speedy Lycisce, ‘Wolf’, with her brother Cyprius ‘Cyprian’. Next ‘Grasper’, Harpalos, with a distinguishing mark of white, in the centre of his black forehead, ‘Black’, Melaneus, and Lachne, ‘Shaggy’, with hairy pelt, Labros, ‘Fury’, and Argiodus, ‘White-tooth’, born of a Cretan sire and Spartan dam, keen-voiced Hylactor, ‘Barker’, and others there is no need to name. The pack of them, greedy for the prey follow over cliffs and crags, and inaccessible rocks, where the way is hard or there is no way at all. He runs, over the places where he has often chased, flying, alas, from his own hounds. He longs to shout ‘I am Actaeon! Know your own master!’ but words fail him, the air echoes to the baying.

Bk III:232-252 Actaeon is killed by the dogs

First ‘Black-hair’, Melanchaetes, wounds his back, then ‘Killer’, Theridamas, and Oresitrophos, the ‘Climber’, clings to his shoulder. They had set out late but outflanked the route by a shortcut over the mountains. While they hold their master the whole pack gathers and they sink their teeth in his body till there is no place left to wound him. He groans and makes a noise, not human, but still not one a deer could make, and fills familiar heights with mournful cries. And on his knees, like a suppliant begging, he turns his wordless head from side to side, as if he were stretching arms out towards them.

Now his friends, unknowingly, urge the ravening crowd of dogs on with their usual cries, looking out for Actaeon, and shouting, in emulation, for absent Actaeon (he turning his head at the sound of his name) complaining he is not there, and through his slowness is missing the spectacle offered by their prey. He might wish to be absent it’s true, but he is here: he might wish to see and not feel the fierce doings of his own hounds. They surround him on every side, sinking their jaws into his flesh, tearing their master to pieces in the deceptive shape of the deer. They say Diana the Quiver-bearer’s anger was not appeased, until his life had ended in innumerable wounds.

Now, here’s the short film, which is masterfully devoid of dialogue:

The painting shown at the outset is Diana and Actaeon by Italian Renaissance master Titian.

What Do You Go for in a Girl?

 Posted by on 31 December 2013 at 10:00 am  Literature, Love/Sex, Sexism
Dec 312013

This video asks: What do you go for in a girl? The answer might surprise you!

(H/T to Howard)

On Ayn Rand’s Style of Writing

 Posted by on 12 November 2012 at 10:00 am  Ayn Rand, Literature, Objectivism
Nov 122012

A while back, someone asked me about a blog post on Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged by Aaron Ross Powell — Atlas Shrugged: Initial Impressions. The post begins:

Sans its message, sans its historical significance, sans its ability to turn young people into libertarians, the first thing one picks up on when starting Atlas Shrugged is the poverty of the prose. Ayn Rand, no matter her or her followers’ opinion otherwise, just isn’t a very good writer. The language is plodding, non-lyrical, and often often awkward. For example, in one scene she writes, “He stood slouching against the bar.” To my knowledge, one stands against a bar or one slouches against a bar-but one does not stand slouching.

The only other bit of substance is the following:

What else comes to mind, a mere 200 pages into this monstrous novel? Well, I can’t imagine wanting to hang out with any of these people. Her good guys are, without exception, awful human beings. They display no compassion and evidence no empathy. A world filled with such super men would be a terrible place, indeed. Her bad guys, on the other hand-her collectivists and leftists and academics-are ugly little toads who snivel and beg from the arch-capitalists we’re all supposed to look up to when we aren’t looking for an excuse to leave. Objectivism, at least as presented in this seminal text, affords no nuance.

So, what did I say about that criticism of Atlas Shrugged to my correspondent? Let’s see:

That post was rather offensive, but very typical of some libertarians, unfortunately. It stuck me as little more than a series of snide, cutting remarks without any real substance.

Here’s my view: Ayn Rand’s style is definitely different from standard American novelists, as well as from classic English literature. It has much more in common with the stronger style of the Russian and French classics that Ayn Rand read and loved as a child and young woman. But even relatively well-educated Americans are less familiar with those, if familiar at all, so her style can seem a bit foreign. However, I cannot dislike it.

Moreover, many of the standard charges made — including in that post — are just strange. About the “slouching,” the actual sentence is “Bertram Scudder stood slouched against the bar.” That’s perfectly sensible: a person can slouch while sitting or standing, and in doing so the person might be leaning against a bar. So her sentence seems like a precise and economical description to me.

Moreover, contrary to the blogger, Ayn Rand’s characters are filled with nuance. Francisco seems to be a worthless playboy, yet also so much like his old self; Hank Rearden struggles with his view of sex as depraved; Dagny knows that she is helping the looters yet she will not join the strike; Dr. Stadler betrays his values time and again, with ever-worse results; the “wet nurse” slowly rejects all that he has been taught; Cherryl Taggart sees Jim clearly for what he really is after much painful struggle. Even the villains grow worse over the course of the novel: they work out the logic of their premises.

Oh, and notice the implicit moral standard in the post: Ayn Rand’s good guys aren’t good because “they display no compassion and evidence no empathy.” But that’s exactly part of Ayn Rand’s point: Jim Taggart is plenty empathetic: he’s definitely tuned in to people’s emotions. Yet he’s still downright evil due to his systematic refusal to think. In contrast, Dagny, the woman supposedly without feeling, displays profound depths of emotions. She loves her work passionately. She is beloved by her employees because she is just to them. In fact, due to that concern for justice, she displays the utmost kindness toward Cherryl in her desperate flight from Jim’s evil. Emotion is not what makes a person moral or not; it’s not a primary but an effect of a person’s basic adherence to facts or not.

If you’re interested in studying Atlas Shrugged in greater detail, check out my Explore Atlas Shrugged series of podcasts and discussion questions. (Yes, I have a major update of that site to do, but I make no promises as to when that will happen!)

Nov 062012

I received the following fabulous story about teaching Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem in China from Dr. Robert Garmong in November 2009. I meant to blog it at the time, but I forgot about it until I interviewed him in September on Teaching in China. As I often say, better late than never!

Tonight was my first night teaching Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem in China.

Last spring, I made the decision to petition The Ayn Rand Institute for support via their free books program. At considerable expense to the Institute, they shipped me several hundred copies of Anthem, free for my students. I think they were as excited as I was to introduce Ayn Rand’s ideas to China in a systematic way for the very first time. I handed the books out three weeks ago in my graduate-level course on American Literature.

It’s a slightly risky move, teaching any work by Ayn Rand here in China. China is still a country with censorship — for example, the Ayn Rand Institute’s website is blocked by the government. Professors have been expelled from the country for teaching ideas critical of the government, and what could be more critical of the government than a radical assault on collectivism?

On the other hand, I’ve been told that all ideas, per se, are more or less tolerated here: censorship is directed mainly at direct criticism of the Party, especially with regard to tender issues in the provinces. Those professors who have gotten in trouble, I’m told, were using the classroom for open advocacy, and/or were very unpopular jerk-professors of the sort we’ve all experienced once or twice.

The edge of uncertainty about Anthem was heightened slightly last week, when some students told me they had read the book, with a little shock in their voices. One asked what the real message was, as if she couldn’t quite believe she was reading individualism in a Chinese government-university classroom. “It is too radical,” whispered another.

Last week, the students watched “Freedom Writers,” a good movie in the “great teacher shapes up hopeless misfit students” genre. The students loved the film, and I used it to set up Anthem by emphasizing the theme of individualism versus racism. I talked at some length about the “melting pot” idea, and how that is only possible if individuals are judged as individuals, not as members of their racial or other collectives.

Then, tonight, I introduced our discussion of Anthem by asking for initial gut-reactions. That’s often a very useful barometer of students’ context and understanding of a text. If they respond to a trivial or superficial element (“I don’t like red hair, so The Fountainhead is no good”), I know they’re going to need a lot of remedial concept-formation. If they respond to the right things, but with ill-formed judgment (“Locke’s argument for individual rights condones immoral selfishness”), I know they are going to need help expanding their philosophical context in order to understand the possibility of arguments for the other side.

Teaching Anthem in China, I got a little of both. When I asked for initial reactions, one brusque-faced student dressed in black faux leather jumped in immediately with: “I do not like this book, because Ayn Rand is Russian.” I expected some sort of anti-Russian nationalism to follow (and there is strong anti-Russian sentiment here), but instead he followed up: “She chose to move to America, so she betrayed her country. Why she must betray her country?” Um… “Her country?” Why must IT betray HER?!

While I was attempting to process this, like a 1970′s calculator trying to plumb pi to too many digits, his woman-friend jumped in with a wickedly calculated “I-gotcha” look on her face. “This book is wrong. Socialism does not mean what she says. She presents collectivism nai-ga-tively, yet she calls her fur-losofee Objectivism, as if it is objective. It is not right. It is too radical.”

Then a grinning guy in the back row, wearing a military-green wool coat, jumped in. “Our China requires collectivism for its moral survival. We cannot have individualism.” (Corrupting the Morals of China, by the way, is a crime that carries the death penalty, so Grinning-Guy had thereby issued what amounts to an oblique and distant death threat. Not that it would likely be carried out, but still… everyone knows it’s there as the ultimate punishment. That has a funny way of shutting people down.)

I was attempting not to literally reel. The plurality of non-aligned students were avoiding my eyes, as Chinese students will do. I looked to my support group, the three or four students in the class who clearly and profoundly love me, my class, and all things American. They smiled exaggerated, disarmed smiles of attempted support, but they were obviously folding up inside. I was on my own.

A woman in the front-right raised her hand to say: “My Marxism professor in undergraduate university told us that all Western thinks is metaphysical. Westerner wants to find the one, and maybe it’s a little radical, but makes sense logical. China understand that there is other side, maybe not just one side. Maybe this book like that.” It’s possible was trying to throw me a lifeline, saying “this book isn’t evil, it’s just too extreme.” Not much of a lifeline, I have to say.

I asked the students how they had responded to the writing style. One support-group woman finally jumped in to say, with a bold smile but a timid voice, that she’d found the book exciting. “I thought the Equality character was changing much through the story, so I could not stop reading to find out how he would think and change each time.” I explained the concept of a “page-turner,” which seemed to return some portion of the class to learning mode.

It was time for a ten-minute break, and damned if I wasn’t ready for that break!

After break, I decided to launch into a substantive lecture on individualism versus collectivism. I hit the issue as straight-on philosophy, not trying too hard to tie my entire discussion to Anthem. I drew examples from the movie they’d watched, I laid out a grid of premises, such as “collectivism: Individual has no value. Individualism: happiness is the purpose of life.” Collectivism: The good is service to society. Individualism: The good is to promote your own well-being. I talked about how collectivism implies the metaphysical premise that the individual is nothing, and society is everything.

This time, I thought the students really understood and were enthralled. They hopped with examples and questions. The same students who had earlier disparaged individualism, now leapt to its defense.

Chinese students are fun.

Robert Garmong’s blog — professor-in-dalian — has more fabulous stories from his life as a professor and now husband in China. If you missed my fabulous interview with him, you can stream or download it here:

The Hokey Pokey by William Shakespeare

 Posted by on 30 May 2012 at 2:00 pm  Funny, Language, Literature
May 302012

“The Hokey Pokey,” as if written by William Shakespeare:

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within Then soon upon a backward journey lithe. Anon, once more the gesture, then begin: Command sinistral pedestal to writhe. Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke, A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl. To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke. Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl. The Hoke, the poke — banish now thy doubt Verily, I say, ’tis what it’s all about.

I couldn’t find a proper source for this bit of awesome, but it’s often attributed to Jeff Brechlin. If anyone knows more, I’d love to hear it in the comments!

The Hunger Games

 Posted by on 29 March 2012 at 7:00 am  Film, Funny, Literature
Mar 292012

Paul and I saw The Hunger Games on Tuesday. We really enjoyed the movie, and I thought it a particularly stellar adaptation of the book. (Paul hasn’t read the books yet, but he plans to do so soon.) The plot was compressed well, the violence was not glamorized or overdone, I loved much of the casting and costuming, and Jennifer Lawrence was superb as Katniss.

The movie was a really good proxy for the books, I think. So if you liked the movie, I definitely recommend reading the books. If you didn’t like the movie, don’t bother reading the books. Also, the movie was such a good adaptation that I don’t think that you need to read the book before seeing the movie. (That’s usually a hard and fast rule with me!)

On a humorous note, here’s two negative reviews that I ran across while searching for movie times:

Clueless #1

I went to go see this movie this weekend and it made me sick. Literally I got sick and had to leave the movie because I felt like throwing up. After seeing the children killing each other, it left me with a sick feeling. This is not what I expected this movie to be about and it was a waste of money. It’s sad when hit movie is about people enjoying a sport about children killing each other. Where is the American peoples morale’s? No wonder our world is in so much trouble when we are saying this is going to be the Movie of the year. We have enough killing in this world why do we need to encourage it. I strongly recommend parents not to let their children see the movie. All it is doing is encouraging violence.

Hollywood I pray you become convicted and start fearing God and change what you’er making. You may not have to answer to someone in this life, but you will in the next.

Clueless #2

This movies is full of hidden meaning. The rich politicians controlling every aspect of the working class. Then getting their entertainment from the children of the working class between a certain age killing each other. Plus they bet on which kid will win so they make more money. It sounds a lot like what is going on right now with the politicians and the wars in the middle east. They have control of our working class kids and they can fight them to death, then sit back and collect of every last bit of it. All the talk before they actual get to the arena is completely unnecessary. The set up of the training events reminds me a little of Harry Potter. The actual arena is boring and the action sucks. Don’t waste your time or money.

Sadly, these people probably vote.

On a more serious note, some people are upset that Rue was correctly cast as a black girl… which is revolting. I’m not sure whether the criticisms of Jennifer Lawrence as too “big” for Katniss are worse or not… but they’re still revolting.

Alas, these people likely vote too.

But hey, we live in a world in which awesome books like The Hunger Games are written and published, then made into awesome movies. So phooey on my gripes! To hell with the morons!


In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the depth of Ayn Rand’s fictional characters. The question was:

Are the characters in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged flat due to philosophic consistency? I’m reading the novel currently, and rather enjoying it. However, I’ve heard many people claim her characters are flat, one-dimensional, etc. I usually respond to this by saying that Ayn Rand’s characters are the incarnation of her ideas, the physical embodiment of her ideas: an individual is consumed with this philosophy, so much so that they are entirely logically consistent (or at least as much as humanly possible, they are human, and do make mistakes, e.g. Rearden’s marriage), thus, because of their abnormally extensive logical consistency within their philosophy, these characters merely appear to be ‘one-dimensional’. Is this an accurate understanding of Rand’s characters?

My answer, in brief:

The criticism that Ayn Rand’s characters are flat is dead wrong, as is the response that they embody ideas.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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Jane Eyre

 Posted by on 16 February 2012 at 2:00 pm  Film, Literature, Recommendations
Feb 162012

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of my personal favorites in literature, and I’d rank it somewhere in the top ten of all literature.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I gave myself the gift of watching my favorite of all the movie/miniseries versions of Jane Eyre, namely this version by Masterpiece Theater. The omissions from and changes to the plot are minor, and the characters of Jane and Mr. Rochester are perfectly written and acted by Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It was such a delight to watch again, and I highly recommend it, whether you’ve read the book or not.

(I did like the recent movie adaptation, but I didn’t think the characters were nearly as well-portrayed.)


Since the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is now available on DVD (and on Blu-Ray), I thought that I should repost my video review of the movie:

For detailed analyses of Ayn Rand’s epic novel, Atlas Shrugged, see my Explore Atlas Shrugged podcast series.

My Latest Reads on Audible

 Posted by on 27 September 2011 at 7:00 am  Advertisement, Literature
Sep 272011

As I’ve blogged before, I’ve had a subscription with Audible for many years. I listen to audiobooks in my car, as well as while cooking, cleaning, and gardening. I’ve found that I much prefer to listen to fiction than to read it, because a good reader adds a rich layer of color to the text.

With my super-fancy “Platinum Annual Membership,” I receive 24 books per year for just under $10 per book. (I’ve used it so much this past year that I’m likely going to need to renew early, since I’ve almost run out of credits!) For the less devoted, you can try Audible for free, then choose your preferred type of subscription.

Audible is part of the advertising network to which I belong. By using any of these links to purchase a subscription, you support my work without costing yourself an extra cent.

Lately, I listened to pretty much everything by Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) available on audiobook. Some were merely so-so, but I’d definitely recommend A Rogue’s Life, The Moonstone, and The Woman in White. Here’s the full list:

  • A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins (5 stars, terribly witty and entertaining, very benevolent)
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (4 stars, wonderful mystery)
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (4 stars, very enjoyable mystery, fabulous heroine in Marian Halcombe)
  • The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins (3 stars, worth hearing, but not fully satisfying)
  • The Two Destinies by Wilkie Collins (3 stars, enjoyable listen)
  • Mr Wray’s Cash Box by Wilkie Collins (3 stars, okay)
  • The Evil Genius by Wilkie Collins (2 stars, too-didactic story on the evils of divorce, and horribly read by John Bolen)

In addition, I just finished Middlemarch by George Eliot. I didn’t like that as much as The Mill on the Floss, because the plot never reached a proper climax. However, the story was engaging throughout, and the depth of insight into the characters was truly remarkable.

What’s next for me? I’m not sure!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha