Atalanta? Should it be Atlanta? Misspelled?
No, definitely not.
If you try to get some information on the place where
the 1996 Olympic Games were held, you are mistaken.
However, she has something to do with the Olympic Games because, if
she had appeared at the Games, she would have won all the track
medals—men’s and women’s.
Atalanta could run faster than
anybody on earth. Indeed, the god Apollo advised her not to get
married to preserve her superb ability.
Despite this overbearing advise, she said she would be quite happy
to marry any man, provided he could beat her on the track.
There may be two women named Atalanta, both of whom lived at the
same time. One Atalanta was born in Arcadia, the daughter of Iasius
or Iasion and Clymene. Her father wanted a son so much that he took the baby
and exposed her on a hill.
In ancient times, exposure was a form of infanticide.
A malformed baby would be exposed to wild creatures to test
its viability. If it could survive on its own it was left alone,
otherwise it died. Oedipus also was a victim of exposure.
After Atalanta was exposed she was kept alive by a she-bear who
came to suckle her. She grew up like a feral child.
Nobody knew how she developed the language skills.
In any case she must not have lived with the bear that long.
To make a long story short, a hunter found her and raised her
to be a great hunter. She wanted to remain a virgin, but
she turned out such a pretty girl that she attracted many suitors.
Well, nobody knows what Atalanta really looked like. So, I assume,
she might’ve looked like the one shown at the top of this page.
I’ve created her picture based on the above vase-painting of
Atalanta (Brauronian arktos or a bear at Brauron), which was
supposedly painted in 540 BCE. Reportedly, she lived about 1500 BCE.
The other Atalanta was born in Boeotia the daughter of Schoeneus.
This Atalanta turned into a great runner. She also desired to be
a virgin. Likewise, she grew up attractive.
These two Atalantas are sometimes taken as Artemis. In fact,
in Greek art there is no visual way of distinguishing images of
Atalanta and Artemis.
The Greatest Runner
Let’s talk about the great runner, who turned out
a stunning beauty. She looked especially attractive when stripped
to her underwear for running as shown at the top.
When Hippomenes saw her for the first time,
he fell in love, thinking that she had just the kind of physique that he
(or Adonis, the paragon of Greek male beauty) would have had himself if
he were a woman. He found himself praying that no one else would
win her before he had his chance. He didn’t have to worry about that
because she totally blew away all her current suitors, who
all knew the penalty if they lost—the loser would face
an instant death from the javelin she always carried.
But Hippomenes became so smitten that he decided to challenge her.
Atalanta got impressed by his courage, and fell in love with him.
Fortunately, Hippomenes had a secret weapon.
Aphrodite, to whom he prayed for victory, slipped him three
golden apples from her sacred tree in Cyprus.
When the race started, Atalanta had already sprinted past him.
So Hippomenes rolled one of the apples in front of Atalanta, who
stopped aside to pick it up, letting him run ahead. The same thing happened
twice more. Aphrodite made the third apple extra heavy to slow her
Because of the third heavy apple, Atalanta lost the race, and
accordingly the two athletes got married. But was
Hippomenes grateful for the help he got from Aphrodite? No, he didn’t even
bother to say thank you for all her help, carried away by his passion for
his new bride. Aphrodite, therefore, decided they would not live
The lovers went into the woods. To take a rest, the couple dropped
in at a holy cave, full of ancient statues of the gods.
Now, Aphrodite made Hippomenes horny so that he could get an
uncontrollable urge to make love to Atalanta in this forbidden
place. As they entwined like frantic animals, they began to grow fur,
their hands turned into claws, and they could only roar and grunt instead of
speaking. Both became lions, destined to roam the forest forever.
Your lesson from this episode:
Always write a thank-you letter!
The Great Huntress
When she became a superb hunter, Atalanta was invited to
join the heroes (Jason, Theseus, Castor and Pollux and many others) to
hunt down the giant boar that had been terrorizing the town of Calydon
in Aetolia—a region in mainland Greece, north of the Gulf of
Patrae between the rivers Achelous and Evenus.
Meleager, the local hero, got overcome with love as soon as he saw her.
This fellow, however, turned out too modest to do anything about it.
During the hunt Atalanta became the first to wound the boar that
had already made
fools of many strong men. This event made Meleager admire her
even more. He eventually killed the beast, but he insisted on giving
Atalanta the head, hide and tusks. This enraged his uncles, who stepped
in and stopped the presentation. what a disgrace for a woman to interfere
in men’s sport!
In some accounts, Althaea had more than two
brothers: Plexippus and Toxeus. Apollodorus called Althaea’s
brothers: Iphiclus, Evippus, Plexippus and Eurypylus, while Hyginus
named them as Ideus, Plexippus and Lynceus.
Meleager grew furious and killed them both, thus causing a terrible
dilemma for his mother, Althaea. Should she avenge her brothers and kill
Althaea had given birth to Meleager and received a divine
revelation—Meleager would die on the day when a log in the hearth
was burned to ashes. Althaea saved her infant son by putting out the fire.
To ensure that Meleager would never die, she hid the log in a chest,
and had secretly buried the chest.
Althaea, therefore, could easily kill her son, if she so wished.
After agonizing for a while, she decided what to do and took out the
log she had kept safe, and threw the wood into a fire. When the fire
completely consumed the log, Meleager died.
Your lesson from this episode:
When you go hunting and have a kill,
don’t give the head, hide and tusks to your girlfriend.
Keep them to yourself.