Atalanta — Early life and the rise of one of Greece’s greatest heroines.
At bina, there are few things we like more than story time. Well, to be honest, there are none.
Twice a month we scour the globe in search of some of our favourite myths. We then write a short "bina" version of the story which you can watch below or listen to on Instagram.
Today's story is of the Greek heroine, Atalanta.
Atalanta is a heroine from Greek mythology and was the only daughter of Iasus and Clymene. Atalanta was abandoned at birth by her disgruntled father who wished dearly for a son. Luckily, she was saved from the cold by a bear and then raised and educated by a group of hunters. She became one of the most exciting heroines of Greek mythology. Atalanta was a woman that surpassed many men with her hunting, running, and wrestling skills. She only agreed to marry the one who could beat her in a race. Hippomenes wished to marry her desperately but knew Atalanta's running was far superior to his. He beseeched Aphrodite (the goddess of love) for advice. Aphrodite suggested that he throw golden apples at her feet during the race to distract her and gain valuable seconds. They piqued her interest, and so did he. She lost the race and gained companionship - later giving birth to the hero Parthenopaeus, a hero almost as grand as his mother.
Image adapted from: Barberini Atalanta, 1st century BC or Roman copy, 2nd century AD.
Greece is a mountainous country in the Mediterranean Sea. The country consists of the mainland with two peninsulas and an archipelago of about 6,000 islands, Crete being the largest. As of 2020, there are 10.6 million people living in Greece. The capital city is Athens, which is the oldest capital city in Europe. It was named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
Greece/Hellenic Republic/locally, also referred to as Ellas or Ellada.
Greek is its language, and its alphabet has 24 letters. The word "Mythology" is a Greek word; it means a collection of tales belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition.
bina's retold myths - Atalanta
A hero is born
'Why not a girl?' asked Clymene while patting her growing belly.
'When they are young, they are great, but then they become women, they get married and leave' replied Iasus.
'Men also get married!' Clymene exclaimed.
Iasus shrugged as he stacked logs on the fire, saying 'When I got married, my father gave me this farmhouse because he could count on me to take care of it.'
Clymene couldn't believe her ears! 'Excuse you! I work here too; I take care of the sheep, churn the cheese and make sure our finances are in order.'
'Yes...but don't forget you came to live here with only your dress and sandals.' Said Iasus with a smirk.
Clymene scowled 'That fault is hardly mine; my brother got the farm'.
'Perhaps, but this is how it is. Boys are strong, brave, and can look after farms' Said Iasus.
Abandonment and adoption
Clymene thought that he would soften with the cuteness of his newborn and not care about its gender. But she was wrong, horribly wrong. When Iasus first met his fierce-eyed baby girl, he fumed. In his rage, he gave her to a farmer to take her far, far away.
Atalanta was lucky. A bear that had recently lost her own cub adopted the baby girl and raised her as her own. When Atalanta started babbling, the bear knew it was time for goodbyes. She brought her to a small hunters hut.
'This is where you belong, with your kin' said Mama Bear as she kissed Atalanta and beat a hasty retreat, before the hunters caught her!
Early life and the call to adventure
Atalanta grew with the hunters; her talent was undeniable. She was the fastest runner, the best horseback rider (much better than the boys, of course) and a master archer.
'Could you maybe cook some dinner or clean the hut?' The hunters would ask as they tried from time to time to convince the zealous archer to be like most women they knew. Atalanta was patient and wise, replying 'if you want a meal, let's cook it together, it was me who caught your dinner'. The result hunters would agree, in shame, 'Yeah, we guess you are right, It makes more sense that if you hunt our dinner, we can take care of the rest'.
During dinner one night, a hunter told the group that while he was visiting the village on the hill, he heard them speak of an enormous and scary wild boar, threatening their animals and that it even ate one shepherd that wasn't quick enough to run away.
'Oh no!' Said Atalanta.
'They are so scared they stopped leaving their houses; they are waiting for a hero to save them' Said one of the hunters 'And, there is a big prize for whoever does'.
The hunters were interested in hearing more about the prize, but Atalanta said, 'You should be ashamed of yourselves! What kind of pathetic heroes are you anyway? I don't care about the award; I want to know that the village is safe and sound'.
'Well, a little award doesn't hurt- if you don't care about it, how about you stay home and give us a chance to win?' Said one hunter bashfully.
'Yeah, you may be the best with bow and arrow, but what if the beast attacks you? You are only a woman. Leave the dirty work for us!' Said another.
Atalanta wasn't sure if she would cry or scream- 'I will show them' she told herself as she got up from the table. It was then she heard Meleager’s voice.
He was the bravest of the gang 'We need to thank the gods that Atalanta is willing to join us. We all know that lightning is slow when compared to her, and she is at the very least, as courageous as every single one of you. I am sure that this will be the case tomorrow, too, when we all go to slay the boar.'
The Calydonian boar hunt
The next morning, not only the hunters from Atalanta's pack came to the mountain but many other greek heroes. The bands of warriors hid between the shrubs with their spears ready and arrows knocked.
Then they heard a great rustling in the forest.
A few seconds later, between the bushes, emerged a huge and ghastly boar. A cry went up among the hunters 'Charge!'as they dashed toward the beast, arrows already whistling through the air. The feral hog was swift and dreadful; sensing danger it tried to flee down the mountain, trampling, barging and using its sharp tusks to pierce whatever was in his way.
The wounded voices rose: 'I am hurt! save me!'. The mayhem and the danger was too great to tend to those poor souls as the boar still cut a swathe through their ranks. His giant body created a mist of dust. Grunts and snorts filled the air as the hunters were felled.
Only two, the bravest of all, Atalanta and Meleager, stood their ground. Silently, and with nothing but a look, the pair agreed that Atalanta would lurk to the left, and Meleager would sneak to the right. When the boar passed between them, they would attack. Atalanta with her arrow and Meleager with his spear. Long terrifying moments passed. They knew well that the most dangerous prey is a cornered one. Good hunters remain calm and cool, choosing the precise moment to act. Any wrong move would cost them their lives. 'I can not miss!' Thought Meleager. 'I will be the one to slay this beast.' Thought Atlanta.
The boar sensed Meleager first and turned to charge at the helpless hero. 'Now!' Atalanta knew, taking a step back, she drew her arrow across her chest. She aimed, then sent it flying through the air to pierce the middle of the beast's spine, precisely. The boar stumbled and stopped, just before trampling Meleager. With his heart pounding in his ears, Meleager thrust his spear into the great animal's ribs. The boar breathed out, and was still.
To the victor, the spoils
It was taken back to the villagers that would use its skin and meat. 'The skin of the boar is the prize for returning peace to our lives' Said the village elder 'Wait, which of the heroes deserves it anyway?'
'You deserve it,' said Meleager 'Your arrow stopped him and saved my life.'
'Thank you, Meleager,' Said Atalanta 'But what am I going to do with it?' Meleager chuckled then said with a grin: 'Just show it to whoever dares to say that a woman can not be a brave hunter.'