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.
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