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MITCHELL FRANK Henri Fantin-Latour's Ariane abandonnee In 1867 the American painter Thomas Eakins was rather surprised by the large number of nudes at the Parisian Salon: 'The rest of the pictures are of p.aked women, standing, sitting, lying down, flying, dancing, doing nothing which they call Phyrnes, Venuses, nymphs, hermaphrodites, houris, and Greek proper names' (qtd in Hendricks, 39). The situation had not changed much when Henri Fantin-Latour exhibited his Ariane abcmdannl!e, a pastel on canvas, in the Salon of 1887 (Fantin-Latour, 135). Fantin's Ariadne fits the category of nude that Bram Dijkstra has coined, 'the nymph with the broken back,' of which Alexandre Cabanel's Venus, in his Birth of Venus (1863), is the first and most famous example. The almost spastic, uncontrollable helple'ssness of these women - as if their backs had been broken in some violent movement, so that they are now sprawled out as if paralyzed, having been made doubly vulnerable by their nakedness, ready to be taken with impunity by any man who happens to be passing by- is a characteristic visualization of the male preoccupation which developed during the late nineteenth century with the notion that women were born masochists and loved nothing better than to be raped and beaten. (Dijkstra, 101) In a similar vein (similar in that fear and aggression are connected), Joseph Kestner argues that the numerous depictions of dependent women, especially forsaken women, from classical mythology in nineteenth-century English painting 'reflect the psychosexual reaction of men to women's condition. The frequency with which the abandoned Ariadne was presented is the male response to this fear of the thread/pudendum/death complex associated with the female' (49). It would not be difficult to interpret Fantin's painting along the lines provided by Dijkstra and Kestner. Like Cabanel's Venus, Fantin's Ariadne lies nude with her back arched, her arms flung up, one knee bent, and her head turned away from the viewer, and may thus be seen to invite the aggressive male fantasies that Dijkstra evokes. Or her abandonment can be considered, as Kestner might argue, to express the castration anxiety of the nineteenth-century male. But there is more to say about Fantin's An'ane, especially if we consider the nineteenth-century reception of the myth and the specific characteristics of Fantin's rendition. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 66, NUMBER 2, SPRING 1997 460 MITCHELL FRANK The story of Ariadne is often told within the context of the life of Theseus, the great Athenian hero. King Minos of Crete, having defeated Athens, extracts from the Athenians a price of youths to be delivered to the Minotaur, a creature who is half-man, half-bull and whose home is Daedalus's labyrinth. Theseus, the son of the King of Athens, is sent to Crete (or volunteers, according to some sources) to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, falls in love with Theseus immediately upon seeing him and helps him defeat the beast. She provides him with a spear to kill the Minotaur and a spool of thread so that he can find his way out of the labyrinth. After his successful adventure, Theseus proclaims his love for Ariadne, and they both escape to the island of Naxos (sometimes called Dia). There Theseus abandons Ariadne while she is asleep and sails back to Athens. Dionysus then comes upon the sleeping Ariadne, is overwhelmed by her beauty, and falls in love with her. After consoling her, he marries her, gives her a crown, and then immortalizes her by turning the crown into a constellation of stars.1 Ancient writers have a serious problem on their hands when it comes to justifying Theseus's behaviour towards Ariadne. How could such a great Athenian hero abandon a woman so beautiful and so deserving ofhis love? One ancient apologist for Theseus is Diodorus of Sicily, who proposes that Theseus saw 'in a dream Dionysus threatening him if he would not forsake Ariadne in favour of the god/ and so fleft her behind him there in his fear and sailed away' (v.50.6-7). Another is Plutarch, who provides us... 2b1af7f3a8