Dorian is attracted by a particular kind of beauty. In chapter XVIII, he compares Gladys to Artemis, the goddess of the forest (p. 205), which links her with the music that Dorian wants to learn. He also associates Sibyl with the forest: "I was away with my love in a forest that no man had ever seen" (p. 75). She too has a beauty suggestive of the virgin goddess of ancient Greece:
"Harry, imagine a girl, hardly seventeen years of age, with a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark-brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion, lips that were like the petals of a rose. She was the loveliest thing I had ever seen in my life." (p. 50)
Artemis was the sister of Apollo, and her primary attributes were a bow and arrows. When she was three years old, she begged her father, Zeus, that she be always attended by nine-year old nymphs. This was echoed in ritual practice. In Brauron, a town near Athens, girls were dedicated to Artemis when they were nine years old, and remained in her service until they were nubile. Artemis was a virgin huntress. By virgin was meant "unattached" (= unmarried), and hunting, in psychological terms, suggests searching for — or trying to identify — one's instinctual nature. Artemis thus represents a period between childhood and womanhood. Her love of hunting symbolizes the independence of girlhood while it slowly discovers its own adult feminine nature.
The quality in Sibyl which finally seduces Dorian is the sudden appearance of a new look in her eyes while he is talking to her after a performance of As You Like It — a play which takes place largely in a forest: "suddenly there came into her eyes a look that I had never seen there before" (p. 75). This look represents Sibyl's first awareness of her own adult feminine nature, and it is again noted in the description, ascribed to Lord Henry, in chapter VII:
There was something of the fawn in her shy grace and startled eyes. A faint blush, like the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, came to her cheeks. [pp. 81-82]
Sibyl personifies a girl on the threshold of discovering her womanhood — a moment personified in Greek mythology by Artemis.
From a woman's point of view, Artemis represents an experience of her nascent feminine nature. But, from a man's point of view, an image of a young girl suggestive of Artemis represents the anima. The anima is the name Jung gave to a female figure, in a man's dream or fantasy, which belongs not to the personal, but to the collective unconscious. The anima is an image of the feminine indicative of the male subject's unconscious attitudes towards women, and his notions about them. A middle-aged man's fantasy about a female character suggestive of Artemis is indicative of his fixation with girlhood chastity. Artemis thus reflects a particular stage in his relation with his unconscious image of the feminine.
In the Metamorphoses, Ovid gives the classic version of the most famous story about Artemis. It concerns Actaeon who, while resting during a hunt, happens to see Artemis bathing in a nearby pool. To prevent him boasting that he had seen her naked, she changes him into a stag, whereupon his own pack of hounds tears him to pieces (1977, pp. 134-143). Actaeon, a mortal, comes upon a goddess (= an anima-figure), which suggests that the myth is primarily a male projection. Ovid emphasizes the chance: "Actaeon comes wandering through the unfamiliar woods with unsure footsteps and enters Diana's grove; for so fate would have it" (p. 137). Dorian's meeting with Sibyl, as he admits to Lord Henry, is also a chance encounter — a further suggestion that she comes from the unconscious:
"After all, it never would have happened if I had not met you. ... Well, one evening about seven o'clock, I determined to go out in search of some adventure. ... I don't know what I expected, but I went out and wandered eastward, soon losing my way in a labyrinth of grimy streets and black, grassless squares. About half-past eight I passed by an absurd little theatre ... You will laugh at me, I know, but I really went in and ... To the present day I can't make out why I did so: and yet if I hadn't ... I should have missed the greatest romance of my life." [pp. 47-48]
Actaeon is transfixed by his vision of Artemis, who is an image of the feminine that is at once chaste and sexual. She offers an intimation of sexuality, but not its manifestation. In other words, she symbolizes a young woman still on the threshold of discovering her sexuality. Thus, to see her naked — i.e. in the role of Aphrodite — was not permitted. Actaeon coming on Artemis unawares therefore symbolizes a man's unwitting discovery of sexuality "within" an image of virgin purity. A similar tension between purity and sexuality lies behind the roles in which Dorian sees Sibyl act: Rosalind, Juliet, Ophelia, and Desdemona.
The stag was an animal associated by the Greeks with spiritual qualities, and thus loved by Artemis. The irony of the myth is that Artemis transforms Actaeon into the noblest of forest animals only to urge his hounds to attack him. These hounds symbolize his unconscious lust. Just as Actaeon briefly becomes a stag, so Dorian briefly enjoys a kind of nobility in his infatuation: "She is everything to me in life" (p. 50). But his unconscious lust is equally apparent:
He was walking up and down the room as he spoke. Hectic spots of red burned on his cheeks. He was terribly excited. ... His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame. Out of its secret hiding-place had crept his Soul, and Desire had come to meet it on the way. (pp. 54-55)
The word Soul in this context clearly refers to Sibyl (anima = soul), and Desire, to Dorian's unacknowledged lust. In other words, Dorian's crime is that his Desire (= his unconscious lust) has out-run the development of his inner image of the feminine. It is for this reason that he is punished. Thus, not only is Sibyl modelled on Artemis, but his discovery of her also has significant paralllels with the myth of Actaeon. This, however, is only one of the myths on which their relationship is based.
- Introduction: Fear of the Feminine-Private in the Picture of Dorian Gray
- Music: Emotion and Feeling
- Actaeon and Artemis
- Narcissus and Echo
- Adonis and Venus
- Fear of the Feminine
- Confusion of the Anima and the Self
- Wilde: The Persona and the Authentic Unconscious
Last modified 7 March 2002