Roman Sarcophagus with a Depiction of the Myth of Meleager

Ca. 250/260 AD

Height 96 cm



Oeneus, king of Calydon, had enraged the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, by forgetting to sacrifice to her. In revenge she sent a huge boar to ravage his country. His son, Meleager, and his companions finally succeeded in killing the beast. However, the first to hit and wound the animal was the one woman among them, Atalanta. Unfortunately the central part of the scene is missing, but the left leg that survives gives an impression of Meleager’s strength in a physical contest, and indeed the sarcophagus relief originally showed him delivering the mortal thrust with his lance. All that we can now see of the smaller-scale figure of Atalanta is her left hand holding the bow just above the massive head of the boar. On the right, one of the Dioscuri, the divine twins, is drawing back his hand to hurl a stone.

The king himself appears close to the left-hand edge, under the entrance arch of his palace. In front of him is Ancaeus, preparing to take part in the hunt. Like some of the other heroes, he will not return alive. After the hunt Meleager will award the trophy to Atalanta, thereby arousing the envy of his mother’s brothers. When they try to snatch the trophy from Atalanta, Meleager kills them. Althaea, appalled by her son’s deed, takes a log of wood that is fatefully bound to Meleager’s life and throws it into the fire. The hero dies by his mother’s will.