The Ceryneian Hind

I didn’t spend much time speaking of the Ceryneian Hind in my last post about deer and goats because I felt it was better to address seperately as it is, within itself, almost its own topic. That said I think the fundamental information from the post yesterday will make it easier to get across my interpretations of the Ceryneian Hind.

First it is necessary to address what is the Ceryneian Hind. Specifically, according to myth this deer originated from a herd of does with golden antlers and bronze hooves. All of these Artemis took to drive her chariot except one which became the Ceryneian hind. These are particular because, though we are familiar with species of deer-like animals (like reindeer and caribou) in which the female is also antlered, generally speaking does do not have antlers. This is also represented in vase paintings were often times the does were represented without antlers, but the Ceryneian hind that still roamed the earth is represented antlered and therefore resembles (but is not) a very large stag.

Some seem to believe that this may point to the link between Hyperborea (the far northern regions where Herakles was said to have chased the hind in his persuit of her) and therefore attempt to associate with hind with reindeer of the north. However I think that this attempt to logically associate a the hind with a living animal is rather like trying to associate the gryphon with a living animal. I don’t think it works. The mythic hind is intentionally set apart from does, and how best to do that…why by making her look like a stag of course! And not like that she is bigger than all stags, so she is quite exceptional.

I would therefore suggest that most images of Artemis with a stag-like animal (as seldom as they occur) are actually representations of the Ceryeian Hind. It certainly seems logical to me that this animal as one which is sacred to her and not hunted by her would be represented in instances where the goddess is portrayed with a stag in a non-hunting sequence. This seems to be especially the case in the most common classical reproduction of Artemis, is not in front of Artemis being hunted, but is rather at her side, and just slightly behind her, leaping foreward. This can be contrasted by the mythic vision of the transformation of Actaeon whom Artemis is represented as hunting in his stag form as his dogs tear him to peices. So I see two very different images…the sacred horned doe which is related to spirituality through mythic symbolism, and the stag of Actaeon which I view through a lense of mortal maturation.

What do I mean by mortal maturation? It is that point of transformation in which a mortal passes into a transition into a new phase of life. It is the difference by and large between Hippolytus, a chaste hunter who rejected the adult maturation (and the adult relationships that it brings) in order to remain in a youthful phase as a hunter devotee of the goddess), and Actaeon, the hunter who upon maturing into the next phase of life desires Artemis (depending on which version you read for ther is the common version in which Actaeon just stumbles unawares on the goddess in her bath, and then there is the one that Apollodoros mentions in his Library that prior to this event the young hunter desired to marry Artemis. In such respect the transformation into the stag represents an exiting of the old stage of life (or the previous spiritual state of the soul) and this transformation, as an animal which is now naturally horned, becomes the prey of the goddess which she hunts into the next stage of life (or next spiritual stage). This idea is complimentary to the idea of the golden hinds for an important reason…a doe is indifferent in a large part from a fawn visually and as a soul is expressed through the feminine Psyche it could be argued that a mortal soul contains a feminine expression. However a divine feminine soul is horned equally as the male (which we also see in representations of Kyrene in which the deified princess is represented with horns in the same style of Apollon Karneios.

This then gives us an interesting interpretation on the hunt of the Ceryeian Hind. Herakles is chasing the doe in order to capture her and so to “horn himself” (as the process of his labors is undertaken as per the oracle of Delphi in order to become deified). There Herakles himself can upon capturing the hind be considered himself to be as a stag. Such can also be implied by the fact that he chased the hind all over the earth until he finally was able to capture her in Hyperborea which alternately is suggested to have been inspired by a northern people but also represents a blessed place as it is beyond the farthest northern reaches according to myth. It was from this place that Herakles also brought the olive trees to plant at  Olympia where he established the sacred games which brought humanity closer to the gods. Of course it cannot be said that he became deified upon capturing the hind because it was only his third labor, but rather that capturing the hind marked a point which plausibly propelled him foreward. It is also appropriate that it would have ocurred as the third since the number three has associations with Artemis (and Hekate too) in which it would be appropriate as the goddess would be actively influencing him at this point in which he comes into contact with her domain via the hunt for the hind. In such respect we can see the corelationship between the hind which represents the deified soul, and the stag which represents the mortal soul preparing for its evolution. And the stag naturally desires the doe.

And so the scene regarding the confrontation over the Ceryneian hind is one that is often artistically portrayed in which Herakles is confronted by Artemis and Apollon (or in the case of the scene from Veii we have Herakles confronted by Apollon specifically) who initially are there to remove the hind from the keeping of Herakles until he promised to return it…which I interpret that Herakles is capturing the hind for his spiritual evolution but isn’t going to deliver into the keeping of the unworthy king. So when Eurystheus desires to receive the hind Herakles states that the king must take it from him by his own hands so that when Herakles releases his hold on it the hind escapes and he is able to counter the anger of the king by stating that he was not fast enough to keep hold of it. From this I can interpret that Herakles may aid us but it is up to us to be at the point in our own journey to which we can grasp hold ourselves too. We cannot become as the stag until we are able to reach that point in our own spiritual evolution. And Herakles continues some relationship with Artemis too as Herakles and Apollon are both cited as gods who receive that which is hunted by the goddess.

In closing I feel that the symbolism of the stag, and the Ceryneian hind are very specific in Hellenismos.


3 thoughts on “The Ceryneian Hind

  1. Interesting. Artemis has a string of unsuccessful mortal suitors–Orion, quite famously, Otis and Ephialtes, too. Hippolytus is not only spared but recovered from death by virtue of his chaste attachment to Artemis, the only male and mortal associate I can recall who survives the association. She appears to as a slayer of those mortals who consorted with divinities and betrayed them–the mother of Aesculapius, her child by Apollo, as one example.

    The skin of a fawn seems to have a symbolic role that antedates the Hellenes. It appears as symbolic perhaps of a marriage bed, perhaps of chastity, not only in Hellenic myth but as far afield as the pre-Aryan Indus valley and representations of the seated Buddha and an even earlier ‘divinity’ seated in a Yogic position.

    I don’t know quite what to make of it all.

    • You make some good points. I do think though that there is some difference though between Actaeon and the group represented by Orion, Otis and Ephialtes. To the accounts that Actaeon wished to marry her are those, if memory serves me correctly, that he was leaving gifts to the goddess with an idea to woo her. This is quite different to a more forceful approach that seems to be apparent elsewhere, to which the goddess would be by far more aggrivated. But I do think that the distinction between Hippolytus and Actaeus is an interesting one for we have one that is immortalized as the charioteer (Hippolytus) having been brought back to life by Asklepios, and we have the other of whom we don’t really hear of again to any significance who therefore represents to me a symbol of transformation and the end of the previous state in result of transformation, but not a conclusion exactly. But Hippolytus also reminds me of other deified figures that were cut down in their youth…like Hyakinthus and Ganymedes. Therefore they enter into a different strain of symbolism to me. In one case we have a naturally evolution of life which includes reproduction, and in the other we have an immediate seperation from life and deification.
      I did once read somewhere that in Argos Actaeon was treated by some as a divine being, but I cannot be certain of that since I have yet to see it repeated elsewhere since I initially read it.
      However it is true that we also have instances were we see Artemis slaying as a form of retribution such as on Coronis, and the children of Niobe. However I am of the thought not all instances of slaying should be taken as absolute forms of retribution just as the act of destruction shouldn’t be taken entirely specifically as punishment. Death is a natural part of transformation and continuance.

      However I do think that these are very complex ideas that can take the person pondering them into various directions….these are just some conclusions that the meanderings of my mind have come up from turning the myths around in my head a bit 🙂

  2. Pingback: (PBP) E is for Elaphebolion | Beloved in Light

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