Who was Atalanta? - A History Guide with Action, Adventure, and a Surprising Amount of Gore
Updated: Jun 20
Right then, so just who is Atalanta then? Does she have anything to do with Atlantis?
Erm, no, not really. Though the names are similar, so I can see why you would think that. In actuality, Atalanta is a Hero from Greek Mythology.
Does she have a cool origin story? Was she bitten by a radioactive underwater city?
Look, she has nothing to do with Atlantis! But yes, she absolutely has a gosh darn cool origin story. At birth, Atalanta was abandoned by her parents as her father wanted a son. This deplorable action happened so much in Greek culture that they even gave it a name. They called it ‘to be exposed’. Atalanta was left by the base of Mount Parthenion to die.
Well, that’s a short and depressing story.
Don’t worry, she didn’t actually die! Instead, she was raised by a she-bear whose cubs had recently been killed. When she grew older, Atalanta was trained by woodland hunters to become the greatest hunter of them all. It’s a bit like Mowgli in The Jungle Book but far more awesome!
What hero stuff did Atalanta do then?
So. Much. Hero. Stuff.
For a start, she sailed with the Argonauts on their quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
The Argonauts were a bit like Marvel’s Avengers or DC’s The Justice League, they were a band of merry heroes united to achieve what no hero on their own ever could.
That’s pretty ace.
Isn’t it? Atalanta also slew the Calydonian Boar. This was a ginormous wild boar that was rampaging around the land; killing people, trampling crops, and generally being a bit of a nuisance. Atalanta and some other Argonauts (including Meleager, Theseus, Pollux, Telamon, and Peleus) set off to hunt the boar. To be honest, the hunt was a bit of a mess, as two of the hunters were gored by the ferocious boar before they even got started.
Not only that, but Peleus – the great numpty – managed to injure one of his fellow hunters in a case of friendly arrow fire. It was all going to Hades in a handbasket quite frankly.
Fortunately, Atalanta stepped up, and with cool, calm precision, shot an arrow from her bow straight into the flank of the boar. This action inspired the other hunters and they finally got their act together, working as one to finally slay the boar. As a reward for her awesomeness, Atalanta was awarded the boar’s pelt as a memento. However, Meleager's uncles took it away from Atalanta, as they considered it deeply uncool for a woman to be awarded such a prize. Don’t worry, Meleager killed his uncles in response. So, that’ll teach them for being such spoil-sports.
Whoa! Was Atalanta involved in any other hero stuff?
Yes, she was. Along with being a god-like hunter, Atalanta was also a super-fast runner. She would trounce everyone she met in a sprint called the stade race. You see, after her adventures with the Calydonian Boar, Atalanta’s father came back into her life. He wanted to marry Atalanta off, but she refused. Instead, she told her dad that the only person who could marry her was the one who could defeat her in a foot race. If they couldn’t run faster than her, then, not only would they remain a lonely bachelor, but they would also be put to death. As a result, loads and loads of people were killed horribly after they failed to win the race. Erm, actually, that doesn’t sound all that heroic.
No, not really.
Anyway, one dude, called Hippomenes asked the goddess Aphrodite for her help. Aphrodite gave the love-struck slow runner some golden apples, which he used to distract Atalanta mid-run and thus cheat to win the race.
Unfortunately, Hippomenes forgot to thank Aphrodite for her help, as a result, she punished him and Atalanta by turning the newlyweds into lions.
Oh, that’s a bummer of an end.
Oh, don’t worry, most Greek Heroes suffered horrible ends! Hercules was poisoned, Bellerophon broke his back, and Jason was crushed by his own ship. And they all lived happily ever after. Kind of. The end.
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In our 'Ancient Greece: Hero Training' workshop your students will learn all about the Myths & Legends of Ancient Greece by walking in the shoes of the great Greek heroes themselves.