Gender and Excellence in the Myth of Atalanta
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Atalanta has a complicated and contradictory mythological tradition in classical antiquity. Her excellence in masculine activities produces tension and fascination. Shunning marriage, she races and kills suitors until one tricks her. This race emphasizes her virginity, which is largely ignored in the Calydonian boar hunt narratives. Atalanta frequently contributes to this hunt, but because of her gender disagreement arises surrounding material recognition of her excellence. Other episodes, including her childhood, metamorphosis into a lion, fight against rapist centaurs, and membership in the Argonauts, contribute to her being defined by her gender and excellence outside of the traditional feminine sphere. Conversely, bearing a heroic son perpetuates her own heroic identity while also conforming to women’s expected goal of motherhood. There is little outright condemnation of her behaviour, even while she challenges gender expectations. Atalanta’s blurring of gender boundaries is frequently problematic, but only in conjunction with men’s desire for her.