Oral Storytelling

Picture in Focus online exhibition – Reading School, Reading

Literacy

A Year 12 pupil wrote an account of the Diana and Actaeon myth for a piece of oral storytelling. The active engagement of the listener in the horror that befell Actaeon was the key focus behind this story, which was called 'Everything Dies in Time'.

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The sky is lapis blue, like the eyes of a beautiful goddess, and infrequent whispers of clouds pass through it like silent fishing boats on a serene horizon.

You often hear the far-off shrieks of a raven from somewhere entrenched in the forest, through the middle of which a slender snake of a river meanders on its gentle course, presumably after drawing its first breath at the summit of a far-off hill.

“Right in the breast!” cries Erasmus in jest, as you watch him leap from his shabby saddle and tear some distance through the exquisite embodiment of chartreuse nature which surrounds you both from all directions. After marvelling at him hurdle several shrubs and tree stumps with the athleticism of one reared in an amphitheatre, your heroic hunting acquaintance labours to wrench his handmade arrow of yew from the heart of the innocent and now scarlet-sticky deer lying before him. A meritorious mark of the might he’s continually been able to unleash from the toned muscles lying concealed under his veil of bronzed and unblemished skin. Everything dies in time.

In truth, you too are bursting with youth. As you brush an unspecified splash of chestnut-coloured mud from your broad and brawny right arm, you caress the ripples in the surface of your bulging bicep. The swatch of auburn linen, which scarcely obscures your waist, stretches at the seams when you retract your bow with haste, and, as you’re taking your last few leaps through your final years of adolescence, your exposed legs have recently become concealed by a carpet of coarse, charcoal curls. A bellwether of passing youth. Everything dies in time.

Ominous eyes gleaming with a desire to slay yet more of the wondrous creatures taking refuge in the forest, Erasmus pleadingly implores you to remain where you are with your hound and skin the carcass for tonight’s meal, while he heads off with his equally blood-thirsty bitch. As the day’s courses have taken their toll on your body, you nod acceptance at his request and before you can even wish your fervent friend a productive pursuit, he dashes away on horseback into the distant darkness of the dusk.

It doesn’t take you long to strip off the beige skin, and you’re soon watching with weariness at the perishing muscles within. In fact, you become so jaded from waiting for Erasmus to return that you decide to go on a modest trot for yourself, and now find yourself sitting on the river bank, mind wandering aimlessly amongst the stars to the sound of the azure water slashing off the serrated rocks.

Abruptly, your thoughts flash upon the deer. The daydreaming dwindles. Everything dies in time.

The deer! You have left the carcass where you flayed it, in some anonymous clearing back up the river. Oh, how infuriated Erasmus would be if the fruits of his hunt had been devoured by another famished denizen, dwelling here in this dreadful forest! But from where had you begun your little amble? As your eyes dance deliriously over the stupendous scenery before them, you realise that each rock seems the twin of the one beside it, that each unyielding trunk bends skywards just like its companion behind it and, as the weak wind wafts over the faint footprints that only an adept hunter like yourself could make, you realise that they’re being refilled with honeyed sand every falling second. The towering trees seemed to have transformed with time too, their moulding membranes filling your nostrils with the dreadful stench of putrefied bark. It’s not a surprise though; everything dies in time.

As you embark with prudence up the river, a voice reverberates through your soul and your body starts to shiver. You detect another pitch; another voice! And one more! Tinkling tones galore! With every step a further melody seems to dance with delight around your numbing ears! But then you stop.

In all your life, in all the dreams you’ve ever concocted, in all those years hunting the most curious and cumbersome creatures, you’ve never beheld eyes like hers. Two jagged flints set into stone, Diana’s headlong gaze pierces through you like a trusty hunting arrow.

All previous beauty now means nothing to you. Everything dies in time.

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Image above: Detail from Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556-9 © The National Gallery London / The National Galleries of Scotland

 
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