The Hounds of Artemis

I grew up with dogs, I love dogs (I love cats to but lets stay on topic shall we). We have a wide variety of breeds throughout my childhood, everything from huskies to small terriers to Chihuahuas. Dogs have a special place in my heart, which is probably why after many years I have a dog again. Having a dog in the house has made me somewhat reflective on the role of dogs religiously, more specifically in regards to the hounds of Artemis.

Dogs have a long history as human companion and guardian. Their loyal and fierce protective nature likely made them a good model for various spirits. From Cerebrus who happily greeted the newly arrived dead (and not so friendly if the dead tried to leave because hey he is a loyal puppy), and protector of the entrance to Hades, to what I understand as the conception of eudaemons taking the form of dogs as protective benevolent spirit to individuals that they watch over. Overall dogs belong to Artemis, so it would not be surprising if collectively the eudaemons, as imagined as dogs, would belong to her retinue. Dogs to guard the living over whom she takes great care and nurturers, and dogs to drive the souls of those under their care to greater heights.

Of course I can imagine the protest..”but what of the myth of Actaeon?” Actaeon itself is a curious myth that comes with many interpretations to it. The myth itself is complicated. First you have Actaeon, the grandson of Apollon through his father Aristaios. There seem to be two different versions of the myth, one is that in his visit (paying court with design on marriage to Semele I believe, although one play has him as her nephew) during which  time he happens upon the goddess bathing in a stream with her nymphs, and the goddess, so affronted, transformed him into a deer whom his own dogs tore apart. Another version of the myth as Apollodoros tells us is that according to Arkadian account, Actaeon was playing court on Artemis whom he was trying to woo that she would marry him. Same story follows from there. The very idea of the dogs tearing apart the transformed youth can call into question any kind of idea of the hounds of Artemis as benevolent daemons, never mind that in myth it is typically his own hunting dogs rather than her hounds that do the job. But even so there has been commentary of the actuality of a cult that sprung up around the myth in which Actaeon himself played the role of a sacred sacrifice and the result of his own apotheosis. As such, his transformation into a creature sacred to the goddess, and his own tearing apart by dogs that led to his death would suggest that if this were the case it is probable that the hounds here were a medium of his apotheosis. They served the role for which I stated above, that in moving the soul forward. That these are his own dogs specifically could solidify the idea that the dogs were of nature to be loyal and protective of him, which would make this action remarkable. If we read in between the lines we may find a character not unlike Hippolytus in which we have a young hero who has devoted himself in adoration to Artemis. The primary difference here would be that unlike the chaste love of Hippolytus (or so we must presume from the writing of Euripedes), that the love of Actaeon was of such passionate nature that he desired to be united with the goddess in marital bonds. In both instances we would then have the death and apotheosis of young heroes who adored the goddess and gave her reverence above all others. In such a view, his hounds could very well be representative of the eudaemons that she set by his infant cradle, that were destined to immortalize him.

I do personally ascribe, regardless of what the myth of Actaeon does or does not  tell us, that Artemis as a nurturing goddess (by which she also is serving as goddess of the hunt as provider) is a goddess who directs the hounds, as representing eudaemons, to the care and guardianship of mortals. And that perhaps the images of dogs in the cemetaries may well reflect the eudaemon’s benevolent presence in life as the stone dog watches for ages gone by over the final resting place of the dead. This devotion can be seen even in the myth of Hecuba who became the dog of Hekate because of such love and devotion to her family that Hekate granted her this for the grief  over her loss of her family. This may in part inspired some thought that eudaemons could possibly be the souls of those who have loved you. Some philosophical thought has also seemed  to have addressed them as the higher nature of the individual rather than a separate spirit. Regardless, the eudaemon has been  universally addressed as a being of utter goodness.

While not everyone may not agree on what a eudaemon is or how they appear, for reasons outlined above  to me they are ever in the form of dogs, and because of this whenever I look into the eyes of a dog, I see the benevolent grace of the eudameon reflected there. The dog is the perfect symbol of the  kindly protective spirit and Artemis  is the leader of the dogs, O nurse of all.

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