Mythology Monday: Meet an Argonaut: Atalanta

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Atalanta is my favorite Argonaut, which is a shame because not all sources agree that she was one, but lets pretend, shall we? Atalanta was born to King Iasus, and possibly an Arcadian princess, but her mother is never really talked about in mythology. The king wanted a son, not a daughter, so he left her on the mountaintop to die. She was found and raised by a bear, so she grew up hunting like a bear would. She was a fierce huntress, and unsurprisingly, worshipped Artemis.

Artemis’ name/honor was left out of a major sacrifice by Oiuneus. Artemis took issue with being left out so she sent a wild, man-eating boar to wreak all kinds of havoc. This boar became known as the Calydonian Boar. A guy named Meleager (also an Argonaut) hosted a hunt for the boar, and Atalanta and a crap-ton of Argonauts and other famous heroes joined forces to hunt down the boar.

A brief side note about Meleager. When he was born, the fates predicted his life would only last as long as a specific piece of firewood hanging above the mantle. So his mother, Althea, doused the firewood and hid it, so no harm would come to her child. He grew up a hero, married Cleopatra (Not that one) and developed a *huge* crush on Atalanta. But she was a sworn virgin for Artemis and he was married. Fate can be so cruel.

Anyway, back to the hunt, the boar killed a lot of men, and two centaurs took advantage of the chaos to try to rape Atalanta, but Meleager came to her rescue. She wounded the boar, and Meleager killed it. Because she had drawn first blood, Meleager awarded her the boar’s head or hide or both which pissed off his brothers, who didn’t think a woman deserved the prize. Meleager killed his brothers for insulting Atalanta. When his mother heard he had killed her other sons, she tossed the firewood on the fire and Meleager died in a blaze of flame.

It’s worth noting that she knew Meleager well before the hunt. The two had been Argonauts together. Some sources say she joined out of love for Meleager, that she wouldn’t consummate because an Oracle had warned her losing her virginity would be disasterous for her.

Meleager continued to have adventures in the Underworld. When Hercules visited to find Cerberus, he took the opportunity to play matchmaker, and convinced Herc to marry his younger sister, Deianira.

Anyway, after the hunt, Atalanta’s father remembered he had a daughter and tried to arrange her marriage. She made a deal that she would only marry a man who could beat her in a footrace. Many men died in the attempt to outrun her until Hippomenes came along and asked Aphrodite for help. The goddess gave him three irresistible, shiny, golden apples. As they raced, Hippomenes would throw the apples and Atalanta would veer off course to collect and eat them. He won, they got married, had a son named Parthenopaios (more on him when we cover the seven against Thebes). They either failed to honor Aphrodite, or managed to piss off either Zeus, Hera, or Rhea, and got turned into lions.

At the time, by the way, the Greeks believed that lions only mated with leopards, so the two could never actually have sex again. She lived the remainder of her life alone as a lion. Poor girl.

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2 thoughts on “Mythology Monday: Meet an Argonaut: Atalanta

  1. Pingback: Jason and the Argonauts Master Post | Kaitlin Bevis

  2. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Asclepius | Kaitlin Bevis

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