The Legend of Atalanta
Atalanta was an Arcadian princess whose father, King Iasus, left her on a mountain to die, because he wanted a son.
A she-bear adopted Atalanta; she learned to hunt and fight like a bear. She was happy and free in the wild, fierce and wild and free.
Atalanta took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis, and when two centaurs (half-man, half-horse creatures that roamed those hills at the time) attempted to rape her, she killed them both.
The King forgot to make a sacrifice to Artemis. Artemis was one angry goddess!! She sent a wild boar to savage the men, the crops, the fields...the cattle. The country all about was at the mercy of this fierce and vicious creature.
Atalanta, who had been reunited with her father in a myth twist lost in the mists of time, went on the hunt for the wild boar, along with Meleager and many other famous heroes of myth and legend. Atalanta was the first to draw the boar's blood, after it had killed many of the male hunters. After Meleager dealt the boar the finishing blow with his spear, he awarded the pelt to Atalanta.
Atalanta's father wanted her to marry. Atalanta was so very beautiful; she attracted many suitors, but mindful of her vow of virginity to Artemis, Atalanta proposed that the man who would win her had to beat her in a footrace. The losers of the footrace were killed outright. She proposed this to discourage the suitors from applying for her hand.
Was it male ego? Was it male hubris? Was it just because Atalanta was so very beautiful, as beautiful as a goddess? King Iasus agreed, and many young men died in the attempt to win Atalanta's hand in marriage.
Hippomenes asked the goddess Aphrodite for her assistance in winning the hand of Atalanta.
Aphrodite gave Hippomenes three golden apples. During the footrace, when Hippomenes was losing, he cast the apples ahead of himself, one at a time, to distract Atalanta and slow her down. It was in this fashion that Hippomenes won the footrace, and the hand of Atalanta in marriage.
Leontyne Price, singing "Care Selve" from the Handel opera "Atalanta". Listen to her wonderful, rich voice...
This particular myth is one of my very favorites: the hero is a woman, and that woman is STRONG! She takes no prisoners, she beats men routinely at hunting and running and various physical activities. She survived, in spite of her unloving parent who was the ultimate male chauvinist pig, leaving her on a mountain to die, just because she was born a girl instead of a boy.
All of these Greek myths and legends have survived, because they are powerful stories, and because they have their place in our collective unconscious. There is always something a bit brutal about these Greek myths and legends. The gods and goddesses of the time apparently had no moral sense whatsoever; and very little ruth for each other or for human beings. Human beings were (quite justly, if you believed the stories!) frightened of the gods' and goddesses' whims, and would seek to propitiate them.
This particular story of Atalanta has survived both in an aboveground and in an underground way. There is a place in our stories and our hearts for extremely strong women figures.
I was still a bit surprised to discover, when I researched the matter, that there many, many bits and pieces of the legend of Atalanta incorporated into video games, television programs, cartoons, toys, songbooks, a television special, a play by Swinburne, of all people...about the boar hunt in the Calydonian forest...even shoes, designer shoes, named after Atalanta, as well as butterflies and eggplants.
Atalanta is still, in her way, a strong feminist figure, in our hearts and our imaginations, which is where we truly live.
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