Atalanta, devotee of Artemis and defiant of men and marriage, was a popular figure in ancient literature and art. Although scholars have thoroughly investigated the literary evidence concerning Atalanta, the material record has received less scrutiny. This article explores the written and visual evidence, primarily vase painting, of three Atalanta myths: the Calydonian boar hunt, her wrestling match with Peleus, and Atalanta's footrace, in the context of rites of passage in ancient Greece. The three myths can be read as male and female rites of passage: the hunt, athletics, and a combination of prenuptial footrace and initiatory hunt. Atalanta plays both male and female initiatory roles in each myth: Atalanta is not only a girl facing marriage, but she is also a female hunter and female ephebe. She is the embodiment of ambiguity and liminality. Atalanta's status as outsider and as paradoxical female is sometimes expressed visually by her appearance as Amazon or maenad or a combination of the two. Her blending of gender roles in myth offers insight into Greek ideas of social roles, gender constructs, and male perceptions of femininity. Erotic aspects of the myths of the Calydonian boar hunt and the footrace, and possibly also her wrestling match with Peleus, emphasize Atalanta as the object of male desire. Atalanta challenges men in a man's world and therefore presents a threat, but she is erotically charged and subject to male influence and dominance.
This article attempts to establish and examine the context of the two remaining mythological paintings in the Macellum, the central market of Pompeii. Panels of Io and Argos and of Penelope and Odysseus grace the interior walls, and while the identification of the Penelope figure has been the subject of debate, she clearly derives from Greek prototypes of Penelope, both material and theatrical. Indeed, scholars suggest that the Io panel and perhaps the Penelope painting as well are copies of Greek panel paintings created by a fourth-century B.C. artist, but it is argued here that their pairing seems to be a Roman creation and that they were part of a larger narrative program. The paintings are compositional opposites and share the narrative technique of depicting moments of quiet tension; this choice of narrative moment is one that began in the Greek world; particularly during the Hellenistic period, and was developed and enhanced by the Romans. Moreover, this interest in creating tension for the spectator, and in the relationship between viewer and image, is also demonstrated by the inclusion of a spectator figure in the Penelope painting. Although the other paintings do not survive, their subjects are known from a nineteenth-century drawing and from nineteenth-century descriptions, and these too share the same narrative technique. If the lost paintings are (also) copies of Greek originals, then the Macellum may have served as a picture gallery for Pompeii's inhabitants. A careful reading of the Macellum paintings (both extant and lost) of Greek myths, their juxtaposition and relationship to each other, and their reception in Roman literature and society reveals that the paintings were arranged as a program, a moralizing ensemble, designed to instruct the viewer on the proper behavior of Roman matrons.