Thursday, February 23, 2012

Features of Meleager and Atalanta

Among the curious features of Ovid's story of Meleager, Atalanta, and the Calydonian Boar Hunt:

The large assembly of mythological heroes from all around Greece -- a gathering comparable only to the group that joined Jason in his quest, and to the armies of Agamemnon in the Iliad.

The manner in which Ovid introduces the heroes is interesting. He names 36 men in rapid-fire succession, and many of them are paired as brothers, twins, or close friends (Theseus and Pirithous, e.g.). Then he comes to Atalanta. Only she receives a description:


And Atalanta, the warrior girl of Tegea, the glory of Arcadia’s woods, with a polished brooch clasping the neck of her garment, and her hair simply done, caught in a single knot. An ivory quiver, holding her arrows, that rattled as she moved, hung from her left shoulder, and her left hand held the bow. So she was dressed: as for her face, you might truly say, the virgin was there, in a boy, and a boy, in the girl.

This gesture of singling out one from a crowd will be repeated within the story itself. Here the one singled out is distinguishable in part for the ambiguity of her features -- she's almost a single set of twins, boy and girl in one, and her childhood -- saved and reared by bears and hunters! She seems a being on the border between the human and a thing of nature.

Wikipedia offers some background on Meleager and Atalanta. Ovid sets the scene in "rich Achaea" in the north of the Peloponnese peninsula.

Prior to the Metamorphoses, Meleager appears in Apollodorus, and in a tale told by Phoenix in the Iliad 9.529 ff -- there he's cited as a parallel to and gloss upon Achilles, sitting out the siege of his own city because of anger towards his mother. This is discussed here as well.

A common themed sarcophagus in Roman times was the Meleager Sarcophagus.

More about Meleager.

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