So, the roster of Greek heroes is a bit of a sausage fest. There aren’t very many women in those lofty ranks, which makes sense when you remember that ancient Greece wasn’t super woman-friendly. However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t a handful of women who were allowed to kick ass and take names.
We’re going to talk about one of the more well-known of those ass-kicking women today: Atalanta.
To start off, Atalanta was born to Prince Iasus of Arcadia and a woman named Clymene. This turns out to be a bit of a bummer for Iasus, who really, really wanted a boy. So he does what any ancient Greek parent does with an unwanted child: he schlepps her off to the woods to die of exposure!
Luckily for Atalanta, she’s found by a mama bear, who decides to raise her as her own instead of eating her. This unorthodox upbringing makes her an exceptional hunter. This comes in handy when the king of Calydonia pisses off Artemis, who sends a giant boar to fuck up all his shit.
So, a bunch of hunters gather to go an kill said giant boar, Atalanta among them. This kind of pisses off most of the other hunters, who don’t want her to screw up this hunt with her girl germs. However, the king’s son Meleager manages to convince the others to let her come along. Provided, this was mostly because he wanted to get into her chiton, but hey, can’t argue with results.
Anyway, they come across the boar, and, while Atalanta isn’t the one to kill it, she does manage to strike the first blow, which is still pretty awesome. For this awesomeness, Meleager decides to award her the boar’s hide. This pisses off his two uncles, who decide to try and take the hide from her. This results in Meleager killing both of them.
This has the effect of his mother being a bit pissed that her son killed her brothers, and she kills him by throwing an enchanted log on the fire. Because mythology.
With that little tragedy out of the way, let’s move on to the story that Atalanta is best known for.
Basically, her little advventure with the Calydonian boar has made Atalanta pretty famous. And, of course, with fame comes dudes trying to marry her. Atalanta doesn’t really want this, because she pledged her virginity to Artemis, but she makes a deal: she’ll marry anyone who can beat her in a footrace. Of course, if the dudes can’t beat her, she’ll kill them, but this little detail doesn’t deter her suitors.
Now, Atalanta has won a lot of races and murdered a lot of dudes when this guy named Hippomenes comes along. Now, Hippomenes really, really likes Atalanta. However, he also realizes that he’s got a snowball’s chance in Hades of actually beating her in a race. So he goes to Aphrodite who, thinking that they’d make a really cute couple, gives him three golden apples.
So game day arrives, and the two start racing. When it looks like Atalanta’s about to overtake him, he throws one of the apples in her path. She bends to pick it up, and Hippomenes gains the lead. Repeat two more times, and Hippomenes wins the race. True to her word, Atalanta marries him.
As an aside, this particular story doens’t make Atalanta look very smart. So I prefer an interpretation where Atalanta throws the race intentionally because she actually likes him.
Anyway, the two of them live happily ever after. At least until they bone down in one of Zeus’s temples and get turned into lions as punishment. See, it’s tragic because people at the time thought that lions only mated with leopards instead of, you know, other lions.
I guess the moral here is that the ancient Greeks had some weird ideas about biology.