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The Myth of Atalanta

In ancient Greek mythology, there were gods and goddesses who ruled over all of existence with almost absolute power. These deities were unique among ancient religions because while they were powerful, they were subject to human emotions. They cry, gloat, whine, and essentially throw temper tantrums. Many Greek gods had favorites, mortal human equivalents who appear in mythology as parallels of the deity. For example, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt. She was one of the most revered deities of ancient Greece, and in mythology she has several human followers, famous female huntresses who frequently outshine their male counterparts. One of these was Atalanta.

Statue of Atalanta, 2nd c. Roman sculpture restored in the 17th c. The Louvre

Atalanta was a human huntress whose name derives from the Greek 'atalantos' which means 'equal in weight.' She swore an oath of virginity to Artemis to prove her devotion, and these two themes, virginity and hunting, dominate most myths about her. Atalanta shows up across Greek mythology, and whether wrestling and defeating male heroes like Peleus or riding on the Argo with Jason and the Argonauts, she's always taking names and kicking tail.

Origin Story

According to Greek mythology, she was born in Arcadia, a region of Greece in the southern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. As an infant, Atalanta was abandoned by her father and left to die in the woods, presumably because he wanted a son. She was saved and suckled by a she-bear who protected her until she was found by a group of hunters. These hunters raised Atalanta. She soon learned to hunt like a bear and became a skilled huntress. She grew up fending for herself, hated the idea of marriage, and didn't really care for men in general. Before long she was full-grown and fully lethal, killing centaurs in the name of Artemis.

'Atalanta and Meleager Hunting the Boar' Peter Paul Rubens

The Calydonian Boar Hunt

The first major event in Greek mythology where Atalanta appears is the Calydonian boar hunt. The king of the Greek region Calydon failed to honor Artemis, so the goddess got angry and summoned a demon boar to ravage his lands. The Calydonian Boar was one of the great monsters of Greek mythology, and many great male heroes came together to kill it. There was also a woman there: Atalanta, armed with her trusty bow and arrow, was the first hunter to wound the boar. When it was finally killed, the man who killed it, named Meleager, gave Atalanta the head and skin as a reward. Meleager also did this to profess his love, but unfortunately his jealous uncles tried to steal these trophies from Atalanta. Meleager killed his uncles, causing his own mother to kill him in revenge.

The Footrace After helping kill the monstrous boar, Atalanta grew in fame. At this time, her father popped back into the picture and demanded she get married. Atalanta reluctantly agreed, but on the condition that the suitor must beat her at a footrace. Several footraces were held, but Atalanta was one of the fastest mortals in Greece, so she remained single. Also, she had a habit of spearing the suitors during the race if she caught up to them. Then along came Hippomenes, who is sometimes referred to in mythology as Melanion. Hippomenes knew he could not outrun Atalanta, so he went to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, for help. Aphrodite gave him three golden apples because she was offended by Atalanta's dislike of love. During the footrace, Hippomenes dropped the apples in front of Atalanta. Unable to resist, she stopped to pick up the beautiful apples, giving Hippomenes a chance to win the race.

Aphrodite’s cheat works, and Hippomenes wins the race. For some reasons, Atalanta doesn’t seem to hold it against him—perhaps she approves of his cleverness, as well as his athleticism. Further, he seems to appreciate her: rather than trying to turn her into a traditional ancient wife, the two become comrades in hunting together.

Tickets to our Mythical Feast: Atalanta are on sale now.

Myth retrieved from


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