Atalanta was a huntress and a favorite of the goddess Artemis. She was one of the few female heroes in Greek mythology, and is first mentioned in “Catalogues of Women,” a poem believed to have been written by Hesiod.
Atalanta had a number of adventures. She took part in the Calydonian boar hunt. The king of Calydon, Oineus, neglected to make a sacrifice to Artemis, who got angry and sent a gigantic boar to terrorize the kingdom. Oineus sent messengers throughout Greece begging aid from the best hunters and warriors in the country. Atalanta naturally decided to take part – as did Oineus, son Meleager. As soon as he saw Atalanta, Meleager fell in love with her. During the hunt, Atalanta drew first blood, and Meleager slew the boar. He wanted to give the skin to Atalanta, but that angered many of the men, including two of Meleager’s uncles. They tried to take the skin from Atalanta, and Meleager angrily killed them.
More facts about Atalanta
• When Atalanta was born, her father, Iasus, was extremely disappointed she wasn’t a boy – and abandoned her on a mountain to die.
• A female bear found Atalanta and nursed her for a while, until some hunters found the girl and raised her as their own.
• Atalanta became a huntress herself and soon found favor with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt.
• When two centaurs tried to kidnap Atalanta, she fought and killed them.
• Atalanta vowed to remain a virgin to keep Artemis’ favor.
• Some stories say Atalanta was one of the Argonauts and helped Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece; she was the only female Argonaut.
• Other stories say Jason refused to take her, or that Atalanta decided not to go.
• Atalanta defeated Peleus, who would one day be the father of Achilles, in a wrestling match held at the funeral games for Pelias.
• Atalanta’s father was impressed by her deeds, and he sought her out.
• The two reconciled, and Iasus invited Atalanta to stay at his palace.
• He imposed one condition: She had to get married.
• Atalanta agreed – but her husband had to beat her in a footrace first.
• Atalanta was famous for her speed; racing her would be like racing Usain Bolt.
• One man, Hippomenes, prayed to the goddess of love Aphrodite for help.
• Aphrodite gave Hippomenes three enchanted golden apples, that he used to distract Atalanta during the race.
• Atalanta and Hippomenes married and had a son named Parthenopaios.
• Hippomenes forgot to honor Aphrodite, and she put a curse on him and Atalanta that compelled them to make love in a temple.
• The temple may have belonged to Zeus, Rhea, or Artemis, and the angry deity turned the couple into lions.
• The ancient Greeks believed that lions couldn’t mate with each other but only with leopards.
• Turning Atalanta and Hippomenes into lions would thus make sure they could not make love ever again.
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