The Punishment of Dirce was a theme that intrigued both artists and patrons of the Roman period. It appeared in diverse locations and media, notably as a wall painting in the House of the Vettii in Pompeii and the Toro Farnese once displayed in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. In all representations, Dirce struggles with the bull that will trample her to death. Traditional studies of this imagery have focused on the formal characteristics of these representations, studying issues of workshop practice and the relationship between originals and copies. Scholars seldom analyze the meaning of the myth in depth. While most studies note that Dirce often appears in the guise of a maenad, they dismiss this observation. Additionally, it is rarely noted that Dirce's semi-nudity has any role in this story. In fact, her nudity is highly significant, for it was not part of the literary accounts. This study offers a fresh interpretation of Dirce's punishment considering the function of gender. Using literary sources such as Euripides, Plautus, Lucian, and Petronius, as well as visual images in a variety of media including wall painting, sculpture, gems, medals, and lamps, it is argued that artists and patrons combined maenadism and nudity to portray Dirce as a specifically female social transgressor. As a semi-nude maenad, the queen abandons accepted female decorum. These attributes allow the viewer readily to identify Dirce as guilty of hubris against family and society.
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