Return to Atalanta (person)
|There are conflicting accounts of Atalanta's parentage, a fact which together with other disagreements between sources as to her history contributes to the impression that she is a composite figure, at least two different women rolled into one.
Whoever her father was, it is agreed by all sources that, having craved a son, he had her exposed on a mountainside soon after her birth, as was the custom in the case of unwanted or deformed children. The goddess Artemis sent a she-bear to succle her, and later on a group of hunters found her and brought her up. Like the goddess to whom she thus owed her life, Atalanta loved to hunt and swore to shun men forever.
It is mentioned in some sources, but by no means agreed upon, that Atalanta was the only woman allowed to accompany Jason on the trip of the Argo as one of the Argonauts. There are accounts of her being wounded in the battle with the Colchians and being healed by Medea, however. A beautiful account by Robert Graves describes her racing through the forest, chasing after the departing Argo, fearful of having been left behind. Upon reaching the shoreline an seeing the ship pass in the waters below the cliff she is running along, she simply races onwards, soaring into the air and landing gracefully on the deck. Whereupon Jason had no choice but to let her continue the journey with him and the rest of his hero-only crew.
It is much more widely reported that she was one of the members of the Calydonian Boar hunt, at which she was the first to wound the beast as well as the first to shed blood of any kind - the blood of two centaurs who tried to ravish her. Having been presented with the boar's pelt and tusks in recognition of her valour her father chose to become reconciled with her, the downside of which for Atalanta was that, being now a princess, she was expected to marry.
Atalanta was the fastest runner in all of Greece. She therefore came up with the following plan: she will race any comers for her hand. Should they win, they can have her for their bride, but should they lose she can claim their lives. Despite the dangers there were many takers, and many young men perished. Until that is one Hippomenes, with the connivance of Aphrodite, always willing to aid the course of love, managed to outwit her by throwing beautiful golden apples in her path as they ran. Not being able to resist picking them up, Atalanta was slowed enough to let him have the advantage, and had no choice but to marry him.
Hippomenes neglected to thank Aphrodite properly - or, in other versions, it was just a trick of fate - and so she induced him and his young bride to make love to each oher in Zeus' sanctuary. The angry god immediately turned them both into lions - noble, powerful, but unable to mate with each other.
Out of idle curiosity, I went searching for images of Atalanta on the web. Apart from one image from a Greek vase and a paiting by Rubens depicting the Boar hunt, all representations of her capture her in her moment of downfall - stooping to pick up a golden apple... She was an uncomfortable herione for the Greeks (and probably a hang-over from earlier, Asia Minor days and tales of a more ancient and feral Artemis), as evidenced by the many contradictions found in the stories about her, and doesn't seem to have been much emancipated today.