Atalanta was a famous Greek huntress and an exceptional athlete. She was also a favourite of the goddess Artemis because of her survival instinct, impressive skills, courage and noble character. Atalanta was known for her equality to men when it came to hunting or athletic accomplishments. She even surpassed many competitors on more than a few occasions. The heroine was abandoned upon birth by her father and was found and raised by hunters who had determined her path. After successfully proven herself in Calydonian boar hunt, her father accepted her back and offered her a place at his palace. On the request, of her father, to get married, she put up a difficult challenge for the suitors. Anyone who wanted to marry the beautiful huntress had to beat her at her favourite foot race but if he lost, he would be killed. Only one had succeeded and when Atalanta finally married, and started to enjoy her new way of life, fates turned things around.
Atalanta is usually depicted as a beautiful woman in great athletic condition. On more than few occasions, she is wearing her special athletic suit. It makes it special because it is made the way that one of her breasts is uncovered. Most of the classical arts depict her on the Calydonian boar hunt or in the company of Meleager and at her footrace with Hippomenes.
Raised in hunting spirit
Her myth begins at the moment she was born. Her father, king Schoeneus (or Iasos), eagerly anticipated a son and was extremely disappointed with having a daughter instead. His disenchantment resulted in abandoning her in the Arcadian mountains, as a meal for wild animals, and never to remember her again. But instead, of ending, her life just begun when the goddess Artemis felt pity for the child and sent she-bear to suckle her. She was later found and raised by hunters who taught and raised her in hunting spirit. Once grown up, Atalanta was acknowledged for her beauty and bravery, as well as impressive hunting skills. Those who knew her rightfully respected her but those who didn't thought they could take advantage of her. Among the latter were two centaurs called Rhoecus and Hylaeus who tried to rape her and lost their lives in their attempt. She also out-wrestled Peleus, a father of Achilles, in a funerary games of king Pelias. But before Atalanta even had the honor to participate in funerary games, she had to prove herself in the Calydonian boar chase.
Calydonian boar hunt
It all started when king Oineus forgot to donate offerings to Artemis for annual sacrifice of the first fruits. The angry goddess, in revenge, casted a powerful wild boar of enormous size which was ravaging and pillaging lands and farms of the kingdom of Calydon, creating famine and forced the inhabitants to flee behind city walls. Oineus sent a messenger throughout Greece with the intention to look for the best warriors and hunters, offering them boar tusks and boar pelts as a reward. His son Meleager was the first who offered his services and was entrusted to lead the group of great warriors and hunters that responded to the king's call and traveled to Calydon. Atalanta was one of them. She was looking for an adventure and when she first appeared, in front of prince Meleager, he immediately fell in love with her. But it was not a time for love yet, it was the time to hunt and all of the bravest went into action. While many hunters were unable to trap and scratch the boar, it was Atalanta who drew the first blood and put many men to shame. Eventually, Meleager killed the beast and offered his reward to Atalanta because she drew first blood but, more likely, it was an attempt to seduce her. However, this act provoked many men, especially Meleager's uncles who considered it disgraceful for a woman to get the reward. They forcefully took the skin from her possession which resulted in them getting killed by Meleager. In grief of loosing two brothers, Meleager's mother threw an enchanted log on the fire which consumed Meleager's life. It is said in the myth that it was Artemis behind the plot all along, planting discord which resulted in so many lost lives.
Atalanta and Hippomenes
Soon, Atalanta became so popular that her father Schoeneus (or Iasos) could no longer ignore the recognition of her daughter. He reconciled with her and offered her a place at his palace. However, there was a catch, he wanted her to be married like every other woman. But Atalanta was determined to remain a life long virgin and make her patroness Artemis proud. After a long period of persuasion she had no choice but to agree, in order to regain her personal space and peace. Atlanta agreed to marry on one condition though. The condition was that she would marry any man who was to be the first in beating her at her favourite foot race, but if he wasn't able to beat her, he would pay this with his life. Despite the offer being catchy, there were still many suitors who eventually lost the race and, consequently, their lives. It seemed as if the challange was too difficult for anyone, at least until one day when a young man by the name Hippomenes came along and fell in love with Atalanta. He was brave and very intelligent and he was aware that he would lose the race to her, if he challenged her. Therefore, he went to Aphrodite, asking for help and the goddess, who was against virginity, gladly helped the young man by giving him three irresistible golden apples to distract Atalanta during foot race. When the race started, Atalanta took the lead just after the start. Hippomenes used the first apple and threw it off the road and Atalanta could not resist and she turned around and off the road to get the apple. Hippomenes went ahead but it didn't last long because Atalanta was just behind him and was about to take the lead again. He threw his second apple way off the course. However, this did not help him much because she had picked the apple and fastened back to take the lead again. When they were reaching the finish line, Hippomenes took his chances by throwing the final apple which distracted Atalanta just enough that he was able to cross the finish line first.
Married couple punished by the Gods
They got married and were just adapting to their new way of life. They started to enjoy each other and the ages ahead of them. But, as it is said in the myth,, instead of living a happy life, Hippomenes was inflicted with short memory by fates and therefore forgot to honour Aphrodite who made this marriage possible. The goddess acted vengefully and inflicted a spell of passion on the couple while they were praying in the temple of Zeus. They made passionate love inside the temple and dishonored Zeus who, later in his act of justice, turned them into lions and therefore never to be able to mate again because ancient Greeks believed that lions can only mate with leopards.