Atalanta ( _el. Αταλάντη, English translation: "balanced") is a character from ancient Greek mythology.


Her father, Schoeneus or Iasius (Iasus, Iasion), wanted a son so badly that when Atalanta was born, he left her in the middle of the forest in the mountain tops to die. Artemis sent a "she-bear" to suckle her and eventually a hunter raised her.

Years later, a beast called the Calydonian Boar was stalking the land. King Oeneus sent his son Meleager to gather up heroes to hunt the Boar. Among many others, Meleager chose Atalanta, who by now was a young woman and a fierce huntress, with whom he fell in love, though she did not outwardly reciprocate and continued to refuse marriage offers from him.

Atalanta participated in the hunt and struck the first wound, though Meleager killed the boar. Since she had caused the first drop of blood to be shed, Meleager awarded her the fur. Some of the people that were part of the hunt were jealous of Atalanta, that a woman was awarded the fur, and tried to take the prize back. Also during the hunt, Eurypylus and Iphicles insulted her, and Meleager killed them.

Toxeus and Plexippus (Meleager's maternal uncles) grew enraged that the prize was given to a woman. Meleager killed them too in the ensuing argument. Althaea, Meleager's mother, caused his death by throwing the log that was his life into the fire in retribution for the death of her two brothers.

The grief-stricken Atalanta sought out her father who claimed her as his offspring and wanted her to get married. Although a very beautiful maiden, Atalanta felt marriage would be a betrayal to Meleager. In order to get her a husband, her father made a deal with Atalanta that she would marry anybody who could beat her in a foot race. Anyone who tried to beat her and failed, however, would be killed. Atalanta agreed, as all her life she could run extremely fast.

She outran many suitors, who were then executed. The suitor Melanion (also known as Hippomenes) knew that he could not win a fair race with Atalanta, but he was enthralled by her beauty. Atalanta, too, found him most agreeable both physically and as a person, and so she begged him not to race her (and risk his life), but he could not be dissuaded. Melanion then prayed to the goddess Aphrodite for help. The goddess gave him three golden apples (in some variations of apples as instead quince) and told him to drop them one at a time to distract Atalanta. Sure enough, she stopped running long enough to retrieve each apple. It took all three apples and all of his speed, but Melanion finally succeeded, winning the race and Atalanta's hand. Some versions hold that she used the golden apple as an excuse to let him win.

In some versions of the quest for the Golden Fleece, Atalanta sailed with the Argonauts as the only female among them, suffered injury in the battle at Colchis and was healed by Medea. Other authors claim Jason would not allow a woman on the ship.

Atalanta was told by an oracle that if she married, she would have been ruined. Atalanta bore (Ares or Meleager) a son: Parthenopeus, who participated in the campaign of the Seven Against Thebes.

Zeus (or Cybele or Rhea) turned Atalanta and Melanion into lions after they made love together in one of his temples. Other accounts say that Aphrodite changed them into lions because they did not give her proper honor. The belief at the time was that lions could not mate with their own species, only with leopards, thus Atalanta and Hippomenes would never be able to remain with one another.

Handel wrote an opera about the character, "Atalanta". Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote his play (in the style of Greek tragedy) "Atalanta in Calydon" in 1865.


A cartoon version of the story of Atalanta's foot race was included in, Free to Be... You and Me, a record album and illustrated songbook for children, first released in November 1972, and later in 1974 as a television special. It is presented as the story of a Princess Atalanta, whose father the King wants her to marry. The story highlights Atalanta's role as a feminist figure, where she is a skilled athlete and gifted astronomer. She makes an agreement with her father that she will marry only if there is a man as fast as her, confident there is no such man as fast as her. The penalty for losing is death. Meanwhile, a man known only as 'Young John' is seen training, and after seeing he completed a track run before an hourglass expired he feels confident enough to compete in the race. While she beats almost all the men in the foot race, she ties Young John, who is then awarded her hand in marriage by the King. Young John refuses the prize, saying he could not possibly marry the princess unless she wished to marry him, and that he ran the race for the chance to get to know Atalanta. Note this is a retelling of the original myth from a feminist perspective. Atalanta agrees that she could not possibly marry John without first going off to see the world. The two part as friends, going off to travel the world individually. The fable ends with, "Perhaps someday they’ll be married, and perhaps they will not. In any case, it is certain, they are both living happily ever after.”, reinforcing the feminist message of the tale.

In the animated television series "Class of the Titans", the character Atlanta is descended from Atalanta and has her super speed and hunting skills.

Comic books

In 2000, the Belgian comic book artist and writer Crisse (Didier Chrispeels) introduced the first of a series of comic books featuring Atalanta, who is also abandoned by her father but saved by goddesses and nurtured by a bear. She is adopted by the hunters who killed the bear and becomes well known for her fast running. The series focuses mainly on her adventures with the Argonauts whom she accompanies as a means of later joining the Amazons. The series also features Jason, Hercules and other heroes and gods and goddesses of Greek mythology; though the emphasis is mainly on humour ( [ Atalante] ).

Atalanta is currently one of the featured characters in the comic 'Hecules; the Thracian Wars' from 'Radical' comics. In this version she is a lesbian and seeks death after being defeated by Hippomenes and the 3 'golden apples' in the legendary foot race and then 'deflowered'. She kills Hippomenes and joins up with Hercules hoping for an honorable death to be forgiven by 'Artemis'. Other notables include the familiar Meleager, Autolycus, and Iolcaus.

In Peter David's run on "The Incredible Hulk" in 1990s, there was a character named Atalanta who was a member of a group called The Pantheon. She and other members of this group were all descendants of an immortal youth named Agamemnon, and were all named after characters in Greek mythology. This Atalanta was a brash, confident warrior-woman. Like the majority of her fellow Pantheon teammates, she had somewhat enhanced strength and agility. Her weapon was a bow that could shoot energy projectiles. She was the unwilling object of affection to a Troyjan (an alien race whose people have no noses) prince named Trauma.

Pop Culture

In the Nintendo Gameboy Advance game, Golden Sun, Atalanta (The heavenly huntress) is available for summon with two Jupiter Djinn.

In the 1997 Sega Saturn/Sony Playstation game Herc's Adventures, she is a playable character.

A version of Atalanta appears in 3 episodes of 'Hercules; the Legendary Journey's'. 'Ares'; 'Let the Games Begin'; and 'If I Had a Hammer'. Played by Corinna 'Cory' Everson. In this version she is Spartan and a blacksmith as well as a superior athlete. An Atalanta action figure was included in the 'Hercules' line. Sourced and confirmed by IMDB.

External links

* [ Rubens's "Atalanta and Meleager"] in the [ Lady Lever Art Gallery]

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