Atalanta

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The "Barberini Atalanta",[1] formerly in the Barberini Palace, Rome, now in the Vatican, inv. 2784. Either Greek original, 1st century BC or Roman copy, 2nd century AD

Atalanta (Ancient Greek: Ἀταλάντη, Atalantē) is a character in Greek mythology, a virgin huntress, unwilling to marry, and loved by the hero Meleager.

Legend[edit]

Atalanta was the daughter of Iasus (or Mainalos or Schoeneus, according to Hyginus), a Boeotian (according to Hesiod) or an Arcadian princess (according to the Bibliotheca). The Bibliotheca is the only one who gives an account of Atalanta’s birth and upbringing. King Iasus wanted a son; when Atalanta was born, he left her on a mountaintop to die. Some stories say that a she-bear suckled and cared for Atalanta until hunters found and raised her, and she learned to fight and hunt as a bear would. She was later reunited with her father.

Having grown up in the wilderness, Atalanta became a fierce hunter and was always happy. She took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis.[2][3]

Calydonian boar hunt[edit]

Meleager, assisted by Cupid, presents Atalanta with the head of the Calydonian Boar. Oil on panel, studio of Rubens, Rothschild collection, Château de Ferrières. Another large version by Rubens c.1635 is at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and a smaller version at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

When Artemis was forgotten at a sacrifice by King Oineus, she was angered and sent the Calydonian Boar, a wild boar that ravaged the land, men, and cattle and prevented crops from being sown. Atalanta joined Meleager and many other famous heroes on a hunt for the boar. Many of the men were angry that a woman was joining them, but Meleager, though married, lusted for Atalanta, and so he persuaded them to include her. Several of the men were killed before Atalanta became the first to hit the boar and draw blood. After Meleager finally killed the boar with his spear, he awarded the skin (or head[4]) to Atalanta. Meleager’s uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, were angry and tried to take the skin from her. In revenge, Meleager killed his uncles. Wild with grief, Meleager's mother Althaea threw a charmed log on the fire, which consumed Meleager's life as it burned.

Footrace[edit]

The Race between Atalanta and Hippomenes, by Nicolas Colombel (1644-1717), Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna. Atalanta is slowed as she picks up the golden apples rolled down by her rival

After the Calydonian boar hunt, Atalanta was rediscovered by her father. He wanted her to be married, but Atalanta, uninterested in marriage, agreed to marry only if her suitors could outrun her in a footrace. Those who lost would be killed. King Schoeneus agreed, and many young men died in the attempt until Hippomenes came along. Hippomenes asked the goddess Aphrodite for help, and she gave him three golden apples in order to slow Atalanta down. The apples were irresistible, so every time Atalanta got ahead of Hippomenes, he rolled an apple ahead of her, and she would run after it. In this way, Hippomenes won the footrace and came to marry Atalanta. Eventually they had a son Parthenopaios, who was one of the Seven against Thebes. Zeus or his mother Rhea turned Atalanta and Hippomenes into lions after they made love together in one of his temples. Other accounts say that Aphrodite changed them into lions because they did not give her proper honor. The belief at the time was that lions could not mate with their own species, only with leopards; thus Atalanta and Hippomenes would never be able to remain with one another.

The Argo[edit]

In some versions of the quest for the Golden Fleece, for instance that published by Robert Graves in 1944, Atalanta sailed with the Argonauts as the only female among them. She jumped aboard the ship soon after the expedition set out, invoking the protection of Artemis, whose virgin priestess she was. She was following Meleager who had put away his young wife for Atalanta's sake. Atalanta returned his love but was prevented by an oracle from consummating their union, being warned that losing her virginity would prove disastrous for her. In disappointment Meleager joined the Argo, but Atalanta would not let him out of her sight. She plays a major part in various adventures of Jason's crew, suffered injury in a battle at Colchis, and was healed by Medea.

Peleus and Atalanta wrestling, black-figured hydria, c. 550 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Inv. 596).

The Bibliotheca also says she wrestled and defeated Peleus at the funeral games for Pelias. Apollonius of Rhodes, on the other hand, claims Jason would not allow a woman on the ship because she would cause strife on the otherwise all-male expedition (Argonautica 1.769-73).

Cultural depictions[edit]

The German mythologist, epigramist, composer, physician and counsellor to Rudolf II, Michael Maier published Atalanta Fugiens in 1617, an early work of mixed media which included an epigrammatic verse on the Greek myth, along with 50 emblematic images and music fugues relating to Atalanta's flight.

Handel wrote a 1736 opera about the character, Atalanta. In the 20th century, Robert Ashley also wrote an opera, Atalanta (Acts of God), with loose allegorical connections to the myth. Other works based on the myth include a play by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon, written (in the style of Greek tragedy) in 1865. Comic books have also used versions of her story, including Hercules: the Thracian Wars, and The Incredible Hulk.

A version of Atalanta appears in the television series Atlantis produced by BBC, Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, the Hallmark mini-series of Jason and the Argonauts, and Free to Be... You and Me. Video game appearances include the Golden Sun series, Herc's Adventures, an expansion of Zeus: Master of Olympus, Rise of the Argonauts, and Age of Mythology.

Sources[edit]

  • Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 9. 2 for Atalanta and 1.8.3 for the Boar Hunt

References[edit]

  1. ^ In the opinion of Lempriere's Classical Dictionary, "the finest representation of Atalanta"
  2. ^ http://www.theoi.com/Heroine/Atalanta.html
  3. ^ http://thanasis.com/store/atalanta.htm
  4. ^ Lempriere's Classical Dictionary

External links[edit]