Who was Atalanta the Huntress?

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Following in the steps of Camilla, I am now going to look at the huntress Atalanta. This young woman was another follower of Artemis/Diana, and has many stories told of her!

Who was Atalanta?

Atalanta was a Greek huntress from mythology. She grew up in the wilderness, having been exposed as a baby, and was suckled by a she-bear before being found by some hunters. She is famous for killing the Calydonian boar, and for only agreeing to marry a man who could beat her in a footrace.

What are the sources we have for her?

There are mentions of Atalanta in a large number of ancient texts. Some significant versions of her story are found in Pseudo-Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca 3.9.2, Callimachus’ Hymn 3 to Artemis 206ff, Aelian’s Historical Miscellany 13.1, Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8.270ff.

Who were her parents?

This is a question that many of the sources do not agree upon. Her parents are variously stated to be Skhoineus, Iasos and Klymene, Iasios, Iasion, or Mainalos. She is sometimes regarded as an Arcadian princess, other times as a Boeotian. She is often described as being exposed on a hillside at birth as her father was disappointed that she was not a son.

What did she have to do with Artemis?

As she grew up, Atalanta swore an oath of maidenhood to Artemis and was one of her followers. This meant she would not marry or be involved with men, would hunt in the woods (likely alongside other women in the same situation), and would serve the goddess.

What were some significant events in her life?

She slew two centaurs that were pursuing her, and took part in the Caledonian hunt and in games. Her father eventually recognized that she was his daughter, and wanted to marry her off. She made the condition that she would marry whoever beat her in a foot race. If she was defeated, she would marry the winner; if she won, the competitors would be killed. A man named Meilanion distracted Atalanta mid-race with beautiful golden apples given by Aphrodite, and therefore won the race and married her. Alternate versions of this story say that she was married to Hippomenes, instead. The couple then hooked up in a sacred sanctuary, and as punishment they were turned into lions. These lions are sometimes the ones that pull the chariot of the goddess Cybele.

Did she have any children?

Some sources say that Atalanta had a son named Parthenopaios. Hyginus says that this child was conceived with Ares, but others say that Meilanion was the father.

What about the Calydonian Boar?

The Calydonian Boar was sent down to Greece by Artemis, who was unhappy after being forgotten in a sacrifice. This boar was fearsome and dangerous. The greatest men in Greece were assembled to take it down, Atalanta included among them. The boar killed many of the men that tried to attack it. Atalanta was the first to wound the animal, and then with a couple of the others helped kill it. Meleagros offered her the skin of the animal as a trophy, but the other men, unhappy at sharing glory with a woman, stole it. The men all fought one another and all ended up killing each other. Atalanta survived and got the skin in the end.

What about depictions in art?

There are lots of art that shows Atalanta in the various myths associated with her. A scene on the Francois vase shows her among the others trying to kill the Calydonian boar. A 6th century BCE black-figure hydria shows Atalanta wresting Peleus (Antikensammlungen, Munich).

I hope you found this interesting! Please leave comments with any questions or additions about our fearsome huntress Atalanta!

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