Anthony Brian Taylor – Arthur Golding and the Elizabethan Progress of Actaeon’s Dogs

Arthur Golding and the Elizabethan Progress of Actaeon's Dogs

Anthony Brian Taylor

Published in Connotations Vol. 1.3 (1991)


The essay examines Arthur Golding’s translation of the Actaeon story, the greatest hunting episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and argues that it was a popular work in the Elizabethan Age.

It was as the Elizabethan Age opened that Actaeon's dogs set foot in English for the first time with Arthur Golding's translation of Metamorphoses.1) Golding's work reflects the impoverished poetic milieu of the fifteen sixties with its rough, earthy vocabulary, and inflexible, ungainly metre. It also reflects the limited contemporary response to Ovid; like other mid−Tudor Englishmen, Golding had little appreciation of Ovid as the pagan poet of the flesh—his interest is liable to pall rather quickly when faced by elaborate descriptions of beautiful youths by pools or nymphs in flight before gods. And in an era when English was in a "barbarous" state, struggling to establish itself as a literary language, Golding, as might be expected, conveys almost nothing of the wit and verbal brilliance with which Ovid's poem is presented. But give him a scene of action, Phaethon "reeling" in terror as he loses control of the "fierifoming Steedes" of the Sun, Cadmus "crashing the steele" between the teeth of the monstrous Snake of Mars, Achemenides "trembling like an aspen leaf" as the Cyclops savagely devours victims "yit more than half alive," and he is in his element.2) His other great joy is the countryside; he has a real interest in country people, the way they speak and the way they live—anyone curious about life in a sixteenth−century cottage should turn to Book Eight of his translation and the story of Baucis and Philemon (802−902), and at times he can display a naturalist's eye, noting fine details like the "fine red string a crosse the joyntes" in a swan's webbed feet (2.468), or the delicacy and texture of the "shere and velume wings" with which bats "hover from the ground" (4.506).

He also has an Elizabethan's delight in hunting, an activity in which the two strengths of his work, the love of action and the love of the countryside, are happily married. His vivid and knowledgeable [→page 208] treatment of hare coursing (see 1.649−58 and 7.1010−21) is cited by those seeking authorities on the sport in the sixteenth century,3) but it is his enthusiasm for the hunt itself that is paramount. An Essex man and member of a rich merchant family, whose sister had married the Earl of Oxford, an occasional courtier himself and friend of the great men of his time, Arthur Golding had doubtless ridden to hounds many a time.4) And his version of the greatest hunting episode in Metamorphoses, the Actaeon story, was to stamp itself on the English imagination. There would be far more sophisticated translators of Ovid's poem who were much more alive to its style and quality than Golding but there was none, by reason of interest and temperament, who could have afforded the most celebrated pack of hounds in literature a more vigorous and memorable entry.


The dogs first come into view when the "finders" pick up their transformed master's trail, and,

Blackfoote first of all

And Stalker speciall good of sent began aloud to call. (3.245−46)5)

Then "all the kennel" rapidly follow:

Spy, Eateal, Scalecliffe, three good houndes comne all of Arcas kinde.
Strong Kilbucke, currish Savage, Spring, and Hunter fresh of smell,
And Lightfoote who to lead a chase did beare away the bell.
Fierce Woodman hurte not long ago in hunting of a Bore
And Shepeheird woont to follow sheepe and neate to fielde afore.
And Laund a fell and eger bitch that had a Wolfe to Syre:
Another brach callde Greedigut with two hir Puppies by hir.
And Ladon gant as any Greewnd a hownd in Sycion bred,
Blab, Fleetewood, Patch whose flecked skin with sundrie spots was spred:
Wight, Bowman, Royster, beautie faire and white as winters snow,
And Tawnie full of duskie haires that over all did grow,
With lustie Ruffler passing all the resdue there in strength,
And Tempest best of footemanshipe in holding out at length.
And Cole, and Swift, and little Wolfe, as wight as any other,
Accompanide with a Ciprian hound that was his native brother,
And Snatch amid whose forehead stoode a starre as white as snowe,
[→page 209] The resdue being all as blacke and slicke as any Crowe,
And shaggie Rugge with other twaine that had a Syre of Crete,
And dam of Sparta: Tone of them callde Jollyboy, a great
And large flewd hound: the tother Chorle who ever gnoorring went,
And Ringwood with a shyrle loud mouth the which he freely spent
… .


Ovid uses Greek names for the dogs, but Golding, who, like many another Elizabethan, had no great fondness for that language, uses the Latin explanations of the various names provided in Regius' notes, conveniently situated in the margins alongside the Latin text he was using.35) Thus for example, inaccuracies in Regius are picked up: Oribasus means "mountain walker" or "mountain ranger" but Regius is misleading with "mountain climber" ("montes ascendens") and Golding follows with his dog, "Scalecliffe";7) Nebrophonos is literally "Fawn−killer" but Regius is rather verbose and vague, defining the name as "killing fawns, stags and young wild animals" ("hinnulosque cervosque catulos interficiens"), and Golding consequently slightly mistranslates as "Kilbucke." The clumsiest name in Golding's list, "Eateal," is a direct echo of the words of Regius' explanation for Pamphagus (Voracious) as "omnia comedens," and once Golding gets a name wrong because working at speed, he only reads the beginning of Regius' note. Laelaps literally means "Hurricane" but Golding has mistranslated it as "Spring" because Regius begins his note discursively, "a velocitate atque impetu sic est appellata" before going on to explain that the name denotes a storm ("turbinem signat").

However, notwithstanding any deficiencies of method, Golding is well into the spirit of things from the start and Actaeon's dogs become notably more energetic and vivid in the pages of his work. He elaborates constantly; "Lightfoote" (Pterelas—"alatis sive alis impulsus") "did beare away the bell" for leading a chase, "Laund" (Nape—"terrae planities") becomes "a fell and eger bitch,"8) and "Greedigut" (Harpyia—"rapax & Harpyiarum similis") a "brach," "Ladon" "gant as any Grewnd," and "Patch" (Sticte—"a colorum varietate nomen") a dog "whose flecked skin with sundrie spots was spred." When Ovid names two dogs after animals that would mean little to the English reader, Golding departs from the literal sense to supply the dogs with good English names; "Tigris" (Tigress—"Tigridi similis, quae est fera [→page 210] velocissima") becomes "Bowman," a name evoking the English woodland,9) and "Alce" (Elk—"similis Alce, ferae pernicissimae") becomes "Royster," a word with riotous connotations of which Golding was rather fond.36) For vilis Asbolus atris ("fulginem significat") Golding uses two of his favourite darker colours in "Tawnie full of duskie haires," and departs from Ovid again with Lacon ("a patria … Laconicus esset") rendered as the more canine "lustie Ruffler." Harpalos ("rapax"), a dog with a white patch in the middle of his black forehead ("medio nigram frontem distinctus ab albo" 221) is much more clearly and attractively pictured in Golding who has him as,

Snatch amid whose forehead stoode a starre as white as snowe,
The resdue being all as blacke and slicke as any Crowe … . (2.265−6)

Golding takes a slight liberty to get "shaggie Rugge" for Lachne ("villos densitas vocatur"),10) and leaves Ovid completely to introduce the memorable "Jollyboy, a great ⁄ And large flewd hound" for Labros ("vehemens … impetuosusque") and "Chorle who ever gnoorring went" for Agriodus ("agresti ac feroci dente"),11) and deals notably with the final member of the pack, acutae vocis Hylactor ("latrator") as,

Ringwood with a shyrle loud mouth the which he freely spent … . (270)12)

The dogs spill out over the page in Golding, with flecked, spotted, and glistening coats, and starred foreheads; they are white, cole−black, "tawnie," shaggie or large flewd. One can hear them "gnooring" or crying out with "shyrle loud mouth" and their noise echoes in such names as "Blab" (Canache—"strepitum significat … quod latratu omnia resonarent"), "Ruffler," "Chorle," and "Ringwood." Their frenetic energy and capricious activities are reflected in "Scalecliffe," "Snatch," "Spring," "Royster," and "Swift" (Thous—"velox dicitur"). They have the tang of the greenwood on them with "Kilbucke," "Woodman" (Hylaeus—"sylvestris"), "Shepeheird" (Poemenis—"pastorem significat"), "Hunter" (Agre—"venatio interpretatur"), "Fleetewood" (Dromas—"cur−rens") and Bowman. And their number is slightly increased because, thoroughly enjoying himself, Golding translates one name twice. [→page 211] "Leucon" (White—"album significat") comes immediately after "Tigris" and "Alce"; hence we have "Wight, Bowman, Royster," but then, in full flow, Golding decides to translate "Leucon" again and so introduces "[B]eautie faire and white as winters snow" (259), a handsome addition to the pack and a fitting reflection of the translator's pleasure in his task.

One meets the remaining members of the pack as the transformed Actaeon is brought to bay; after "This fellowes" "clyme" "Through thick and thin" to give chase, and, as "Their crie did ring through all the Wood" and the huntsmen "cheere" and "hallow," the end comes when,

First Slo did pinch him by the haunch, and next came Kildeere in,
And Hylbred fastned on his shoulder, bote him through the skinne.
These came forth later than the rest, but coasting thwart a hill,
They did gainecope him as he came, and helde their Master still,
Untill that all the rest came in, and fastned on him to.
No part of him was free from wound … . (280−5)13)

Here Golding's expertise is apparent in the use of a series of technical terms: "Slo" (an imaginative variation on Melanchaetes—"iubam & pilos habens nigros") "did pinch him by the haunch" (280), and is joined by "Kildeere" (Theridamas—"feras domans") and "Hylbred" (Oresitrophus—"in montibus nutritus") who had got ahead of the rest of the pack by "coasting thwart a hill" (282) to "gainecope" their quarry (283).14)


In 1585 when translating Hadrianus Junius' popular compendium, Nomenclator omnium rerum propria nomina variis linguis explicata, John Higgins found a section dealing with names of dogs; it consisted of 37 names, the majority drawn from Ovid. But when translating it, his accuracy was not helped by the impression Golding had made upon him.15) One finds "Alce" (Elk or Might), for instance, appearing not only as "Stout" which is accurate, but also as "royster" which is Golding's spirited mistranslation; similarly, one finds "Canache" [→page 212] (Gnasher) as "Blab," and "Oribasus" (Mountain−ranger) as "Scalecliff." Indeed, so taken with Golding is Higgins that he picks up names he has noticed in the translation and applies them to the wrong dogs; "Labros" (Fury), for instance, becomes "Lightfoote," Golding's name for "Pterelas" (Winged), and "Lycisca" is translated correctly as "Woolfe," to which Higgins then adds as an alternative, "churle," recalling Golding's version of "Agriodos" (Fierce Tooth), and the same applies to the mistranslation of "Theron" ("Hunter") as "Kilbucke," Golding's "Nebrophonos" ("Fawn−killer").

Higgins' list is vivid testimony to the impact of Golding upon his contemporaries, and the translator's influence was to widen considerably when John Rider published Bibliotheca Scholastica in 1589, the dictionary that was to supercede Thomas Cooper's Thesaurus. Incredible though it may seem, for the "nomina canorum" near the end of the work, Rider took over Higgins' list, inaccuracies, mistranslations and all; so once again one finds "Labros" as "Lightfoote," "Theron" as "Kilbucke," "Oribasus" as "Scalecliffe," and "Lycisca" as "churle." Rider omitted one dog ("Poemenis"—"Shepherd") and made one change in the list, a change expressive of his own fondness for Golding. For "Hylactor" ("Barker") which Higgins had translated as "Ringer, chanter or barker," he substituted "Ringwood," thus increasing the debt to the translator.16) Ensconced after 1589 in the dictionaries used by generations of schoolboys, Golding's dogs thus pass down into the seventeenth century.

Elsewhere, their popularity was supplemented by their appearing in subsequent translations of Metamorphoses. In 1593, in Amintas Dale, the "fables" of which are all, with one exception, translated from Ovid's poem, when dealing with the Actaeon episode, Abraham Fraunce follows Golding with, among others, distinctive names like "Killbucke," "Spy," "Snatch," "Lightfoote," "Kildeare" and "Ringwood."17) And when Golding's translation was finally superceded in the early seventeenth century by George Sandys' version, one finds "Blab," "Churle," "Kill−deare," "Light−foot," "Royster," "(shag−haired) Rug," "Spie," and the inevitable "Ringwood" (See Book 3, 222−48).18)

Meanwhile the pack had spread out and found their way into various levels of society. Their appearance in ballads is testified by [→page 213] "Mad Tom" or "New Mad Tom of Bedlam" which contains among its verses,

Poor Tom is very dry—
A little drink for charity!
Hark! I hear Actaeon's hounds!
The huntsmen whoop and hallowe;
"Ringwood, Royster, Bowman, Jowler,"
All the chase now follow.19)

This was first noted by Anders and subsequently examined by Baldwin,20) who surprisingly does not recognise three of the dogs as Golding's, "Ringwood" and the quite distinctive "Royster" and "Bowman." And what is interesting about these dogs is that "Bowman" does not appear in the dictionaries or translations so clearly Golding's dogs did not depend on these for their popularity. Indeed, they seem to have been known to the high and the low in the kingdom; for instance, Sir John Harington, Elizabeth's godson, in his account of table talk after a hunt in The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596), writes:

… and you are rehearsing at dinner what great sporte you have had: in the middest of your sweet meates, in comes Melampus, or Ringwood, that sang the base that morning.21)

Baldwin assumes this refers to an actual hunt and draws the conclusion that "Ringwood … is not said to be Actaeon's dog" (431), an inexplicable aberration on his part because, of course, "Melampus" (Blackfoot) is the first of Actaeon's dogs in the Latin text ("primique Melampus … ⁄ … Spartana gente Melampus" iii.206−8), and "Ringwood" the last of the pack in Golding's translation.

Finally, in the last year of the Elizabethan Age, "Ringwood" appears in the work of that most classical of dramatists, Ben Jonson. In his entertainment, "A Satyre" (1603), when the huntsman is presenting the prince with the "instruments ⁄ Of his wild and Sylvan trade," these lines occur,

Better not Actaeon had,
The bow was Phoebes, and the horne
By Orion often worne:
The dog of Sparta breed, and good,
[→page 214] As can ring within a wood;
Thence his name is: you shall try
How he hunteth instantly. (214−20)22)

The hunting dog named "Ringwood" and the mention of Actaeon, is not, I think, evidence that Jonson had been reading Golding.23) Rather that by this time the most famous dog in Golding's pack had become so familiar that even the learned Ben knew of it, although his reference is unfortunately accompanied by a heavily didactic explanation of the name that would not have been out of place in the mouth of Holofernes.


Just how impressed was Golding's most famous reader with his spirited "englyshing" of Actaeon's hounds? With his Warwickshire background and familiarity with the hunt, in the normal run of things, Shakespeare had his own preferences when it came to naming hounds as is amply demonstrated by "Merriman," "Clowder," "Silver," "Bellman," and "Echo" (The Taming of The Shrew, "The Induction," 14−24), "Mountain," "Silver" (again), Fury, and "Tyrant" (The Tempest 4.1.254−55), "Sowter" (Twelfth Night 2.5.121), "Holdfast" (Henry V 2.3.48), "Brabbler" (Troilus and Cressida 5.1.101), and "Lady" (Henry IV, Pt. 1, 3.1.232 and King Lear 1.4.111). But when he thinks of hunting scenes in the classical world or of Actaeon, the case is different, and in the course of his work, he is to recall five members of Golding's pack, Jollyboy, Tawnie, Stalker, Blackfoot, and Ringwood.

In the hunting scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hippolyta occasions Theseus' description of his own hounds when she recalls,

I was with Hercules and Cadmus once
When in a wood of Crete they bayed the bear
With hounds of Sparta … . (4.1.111−13)24)

She may well have known Hercules but she never was in the company of Cadmus; the founder of Thebes was of an earlier, quite different era and consequently had no legendary association with either [→page 215] Hippolyta or Hercules. But Cadmus, and also Crete and Sparta, are introduced here because Shakespeare, his thoughts on the hunt in the classical world and a splendid pack of hounds, is recalling the Actaeon story from Golding. Actaeon was Cadmus' nephew, his story one of a series of episodes illustrating Juno's savage punishment of the House of Thebes; when he is transformed in Golding, the panicstricken boy's first thought is, "What should he doe? turne home againe to Cadmus and the Queene?" (3.242),25) and immediately his hounds appear, headed by "Blackfoote" and "Stalker," "The latter was a hound of Crete, the other was of Sparta" (2.247). There is also Theseus' description of his hounds,

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flewed, so sanded; and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew,
Crook−kneed, and dewlapped like Thessalian bulls,
Slow in pursuit, but matched in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla'd to nor cheered with horn
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly … . (118−25)

Shakespeare has Golding's phraseology in mind; in the translation, the main pack is headed by "houndes … of Arcas kinde" (250), and the huntsmen also "hallow" and "cheere their houndes ⁄ With wonted noyse" (292−3). And there are shades of "Jollyboy" the "great ⁄ And large flewd hound" who had a "dam of Sparta," and possibly also of "Tawnie," in the physical characteristics and colouring of Theseus' dogs. In addition, their being "dewlapped like Thessalian bulls" is a recall of a line from one of Shakespeare's favourite episodes in the translation, the story of Jason and Medea. In this when Jason tames the fire−breathing bulls, "Their dangling Dewlaps with his hand he coyd unfearfully."26) But Shakespeare is mistaken in his epithet; the bulls are from Colchis which is in Asia—it is Jason who is from Thessaly, a country in north−eastern Greece.27) But having mistakenly introduced Thessaly, Shakespeare keeps it in, adding it, without any justification, to Crete and Sparta as a place famous for its dogs.37)

Elsewhere in his work, when he is thinking of Actaeon specifically, Shakespeare recalls three more members of Golding's pack, who by virtue of their positions, naturally catch a reader's eye. The best known [→page 216] reference is to Ringwood, the last of the main pack, and comes in The Merry Wives of Windsor when Pistol, warning Ford that Falstaff has designs upon his wife, advises him in his own inimitable way to take action or be cuckolded:


Or go thou like Sir Actaeon, he,
With Ringwood at thy heels. (2.1.112−14)

It is not only the presence of "Ringwood" and "Actaeon" here that shows Shakespeare is thinking of Golding; it is also the reference to "Sir Actaeon." At the very moment that Actaeon received "A payre of lively olde Harts hornes upon his sprinckled head" (230), the fate of which Pistol is warning Ford, Golding, who consistently identifies the characters of Metamorphoses with the various ranks of his own society, gives him a knighthood; Diana sprinkling his face and head ("vultumque virilem ⁄ Perfudit" iii.189−90) becomes "[she] Besprinckled all the heade and face of the unluckie Knight" (3.225). Hence the appearance of "Sir Actaeon" in Pistol's lines.

The second reference is to "Stalker"; it is less obvious but also comes from Pistol. In the argument over Nym's supposed pursuit of the Hostess, Pistol's fondness for canine terminology, which can even extend to philosophy—"Hope is a curtal dog" (The Merry Wives of Windsor 2.1.105), first makes itself apparent in a magnanimous gesture of reconciliation: "thy forefoot to me give" (2.1.65). But when Nym, that "base tike," "prickeared cur," and "egregious dog," persists with threats to cut his throat, there is a memorable display of Pistolian French and one more resounding canine image:

Couple a gorge!
That is the word. I thee defy again.
O hound of Crete, think'st thou my spouse to get?

   (Henry V 2.1.70−2)

As we have seen from the hunting scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare associated Crete with hunting hounds, and Pistol is here characteristically addressing Nym, in his pursuit of Nell Quickly, as if he were a Cretan hound in pursuit of its prey. Moreover, the dramatist is thinking of one particular Cretan hound who was "speciall good of sent" (3.246), for he is quoting Golding's description [→page 217] of "Stalker," one of the leaders of Actaeon's pack, as the "hound of Crete" (247).28)

In Othello, the strand of imagery associating Iago with a dog culminates in Lodovico's fierce rebuke as the play draws to a close, "O Spartan dog ⁄ More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea" (5.2.372−73). The image has been identified with the only true Spartan dog in Actaeon's pack, the dog who with "Stalker," led to the chase to destroy its master, "Blackfoote." And it is apt because Spartan dogs were known for their audacity and ferocity in the hunt,29) and because animals with black markings traditionally delighted in blood.38) Moreover, the description of the "Spartan dog" as "fell" shows that Shakespeare is thinking of Golding. The translator was fond of the adjective, and uses it twice describing Actaeon's pack; there is "Laund a fell and eager bitch," but, more significantly, it is used at the death when Actaeon perishes through "His dogges fell deedes" (300) ("canum fera facta suorum" iii.248) and they "With greedie teeth and griping pawes their Lord in peeces dragge" (302) ("Dilacerant … dominum" 250). Underlying this particular reference, too, is a rich nexus of traditions, with which Shakespeare would have been familiar: Actaeon's dogs were associated with murderers, traitors, parasites, as well as with servants who turn on their masters;30) they were also seen as a warning to good men not to confer their favours on evildoers because, doing so, they risk honour, sanity, and their very lives, and are led into cruelty, lust, and crime.39) But perhaps the most pertinent tradition is the most familiar in which Actaeon, after "beholding sensible and corporall bewty, figured by Diana," was torn apart by the dogs who represented "his own affections, and perturbations";31) Iago, in the shape of the aptly named "Spartan dog," "Blackfoot," is, at one level, the vicious and treacherous embodiment of the basest passions and desires in his black master, who was also an intruder who had dared to behold "the divine Desdemona."

Twentieth−century readers, confronted by Golding's Ovid, an early Elizabethan work which has consistently been read out of the context of its time, and overreacting to its superficial awkwardness and clumsiness, have had a very low opinion of it, dismissing it as a second−rate, stop−gap work which Shakespeare did not like but was [→page 218] forced to use by circumstance. Hence the "myth" that his and other Elizabethan writers' familiarity with the work resulted from its being used and memorized in the Elizabethan grammar school; this persists despite the proven use of Golding by George Gascoigne (b. 1542) and Barnabe Rich (b. 1543), writers whose schooldays were well behind them when the translation was first published,32) and despite its total impracticality in terms of contemporary schoolroom practice. There is also the shaky thesis that only a writer with "small Latine," like Shakespeare, would have needed to use Golding's translation; and this lingers despite the mounting evidence that the translation was used by highly Latinate, university−educated men like Marlowe and Edmund Spenser, who, it now appears, was second only to Shakespeare in his use of Golding.33) And then there is the well entrenched but totally mistaken tradition that, because Shakespeare shared the modern reader's irritation with Golding, he took the opportunity to give the translator his satirical come−uppance in the Ovidian burlesque at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream.34)

This brief survey of the progress of Actaeon's dogs through the Elizabethan Age affords a glimpse of the very different perspective Shakespeare and his contemporaries had on Goldings's Ovid. The appearance of the translator's dogs in a ballad, the writings of an aristocrat, an encyclopaedic work, a translation, an entertainment by Jonson, as well as in Shakespeare, suggests that, contrary to the modern view, it was a popular work that was well thought of and widely−read in the Elizabethan Age.

Swansea Institute of Higher Education