Friday, February 15, 2013

Atalanta is Wonder Woman

I'm totally OK with the fact that eyes glaze over when I tell people how much I typically dislike contemporary art. The benchmark standard for me is the Tate Modern. I really do not like that collection. But I really DO like the current exhibition in BYU's Museum of Art, called We Could Be Heroes. I like it all the way from the calendar to the potato-aerosol PVC bazooka to the colossal head of St. Theresa. It's a really really good exhibit.

One of the best works in it is a lithograph (2010) by Czech artist Catalin Ardelean, called "Atalanta vs Peleus": OGCMA0240NOTAtalanta_Ardelean. It's part of the artist's series of lithographs called "Elysian Fields." That collection, which I sought out at the Saatchi Gallery online, introduces several Marvel Comic heroes into classical mythological iconography, and all with very interesting effects. — There's Batman strapped under the belly of Polyphemus' favorite old ram, and Batman again playing board games with Ajax (an interesting nod to Exekias). And so forth. This art is worth some time for every student of classical myth.

See Saatchi Gallery online for information on artist.
While We Could Be Heroes is on at BYU-MOA, you should stop in and see Ardelean's "Atlanta vs Peleus" yourself. It's among a handful of other sort of classical icons in the same room. But do have a look at this lithograph. Ardelean is working with the familiar 6th-century hydria from Munich's Antikensammlung, a labeled pot with Atalanta wrestling Peleus over a boar's head and in front of a hung animal hide (the Calydonian Boar?). (Munich 596). Peleus's dark skin shows him to be a man of out-door action, while Atalanta's white skin makes her out to be a prize worth winning. Who will win this wrestle?

Typically Peleus wrestles women. He is most well known for his wrestle with Thetis. In that story she's a shape-changer, as are many sea-divinities. And Peleus is highly motivated, perhaps from days and days before the mast of the Argo, to woo and win the lovely Thetis. She is destined to bear a child who will be greater than his father. Achilles fits that bill, in the end. But, for the present pottery, Peleus is wrestling Atalanta. Apollodorus' Library 3.9.2 is the most readily available statement from an ancient literary source on this particular wrestle. He says that at the funeral games for Pelias — the guy who sent Jason on the quest for the Golden Fleece, the guy who was murdered in such grizzly fashion by his own daughters when Medea duped them into it — Peleus was bested by Atalanta. She, of course, was famous for her virginal stipulation that she would only marry a suitor who could beat her in a footrace. Many tried and failed. Corpses; for she murdered all she beat.

Then came Hippomanes. So handsome that Atalanta chose to lose to him, Hippomanes entered the race equipped with three golden apples offered for this purpose by Aphrodite. As she stopped during the race three times to pick up the golden distractions her suitor rolled, she willingly lost the race and won a mate.  Atalanta also participated in the Calydonian Boar Hunt.

Wonder Woman must exude that same sort of attraction that compelled Atalanta's many suitors to lose it all in her pursuit. She, Wonder Woman, has the same charisma that would qualify her to go shoulder to shoulder with the greatest (male) heroes in the two greatest pre-Trojan-War heroic endeavors, the sailing of the Argo and the Calydonian Boar Hunt. She's the right figure for Ardelean's comic heroic update of one moment when one of those greatest heroes, Peleus, really met his match.  
... And as long as Wonder Woman is on the mind here, one might note (in reference to another work in the We Could Be Heroes exhibit) that Wonderwoman is one of the rare superheroines who doesn't wear high-heels when she saves the world from bad guys.


  1. If my memory of the superhero mythos is correct, Wonder Woman was developed out of Greek mythology. Her secret identity is Diana and she comes from the capital city of the Amazons, Themyscira. She regularly fights against Greek gods such as Ares and Circe, as well as many classical monsters in her comic book world. It would be interesting to see how that could be turned into a report.

  2. Document those facts — publication and page numbers, references in secondary sources, etc. — and you're well on your way to a good paper. What can we say about the intent of the creator in his updating of an Amazon? Why is she named after Diana? Does Wonder Woman have a sort of Actaeon episode?