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Japanese version (japanv.gif--100x36) August 17, 2003

Please click me to see some books about Atalanta.
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.


Two Atalantas

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 down.

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 happily ever after.

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 her son?

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.

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Who gave Althaea a divine revelation?
    - Maria Sunger

The Fates appeared and told her so. The Fates were three sisters: Lachesis (which means lot), Clotho (the spinner), and Atropos (not to be turned). According to the Greek notion of the "thread of life", Lachesis allots each man a length of the thread of life, Clotho spins it, and Atropos severs it. No oneŚnot even Zeus, ruler of the godsŚcould alter their decisions.
    - Akira
Copyright Akira Kato
About this author:
  • Educated both in Canada and Japan
  • Traveled extensively in Europe, Far East, and North America
  • Worked as management consultant, computer systems analyst, college instructor and freelance writer.
Akira Kato

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Greek Mythology


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