In ancient mythology there occur two personages of this name, who have been regarded by some writers as identical, while others distinguish between them. Among the latter we may mention the Scholiast on Theocritus,1 Burmann,2 Spanheim,3 and Muncker.4 The common accounts distinguish between the Arcadian and the Boeotian Atalanta.
The Arcadian Atalante is described as the daughter of Iasus (Iasion or Iasius) and Clymene.5 Her father, who had wished for a son, was disappointed at her birth, and exposed her on the Parthenian (virgin) hill, by the side of a well and at the entrance of a cave. Pausanias6 speaks of a spring near the ruins of Cyphanta, which gushed forth from a rock, and which Atalante was believed to have called forth by striking the rock with her spear.
In her infancy, Atalante was suckled in the wilderness by a she-bear, the symbol of Artemis, and after she had grown up, she lived in pure maidenhood, slew the centaurs who pursued her, took part in the Calydonian Hunt, and in the games which were celebrated in honor of Pelias. Afterwards, her father recognized her as his daughter; and when he desired her to marry, she made it the condition that every suitor who wanted to win her, should first of all contend with her in the foot-race. If he conquered her, he was to be rewarded with her hand, if not, he was to be put to death by her. This she did because she was the most swift-footed among all mortals, and because the Delphic oracle had cautioned her against marriage.
Meilanion, one of her suitors, conquered her in this manner. Aphrodite had given him three golden apples, and during the race he dropped them one after the other. Their beauty charmed Atalante so much, that she could not abstain from gathering them. Thus she was conquered, and became the wife of Meilanion. Once when the two, by their embraces in the sacred grove of Zeus, profaned the sanctity of the place, they were both metamorphosed into lions.
Atalante has in the ancient poets various surnames or epithets, which refer partly to her descent, partly to her occupation (the chase), and partly to her swiftness.
Atalanta is depicted on various Greek vases as a huntress during the Calydonian Hunt, such as on the François vase (ca. 570 BCE). She was represented on the chest of Cypselus holding a hind, and by her side stood Meilanion. She also appears as a huntress in a group of statues of the tympanum of the temple of Athena at Tegea (probably Scopas, mid-fourth century BCE).8 Atalante and Meleager can be found on several sarcophagi and murals, such as at the Casa di Meleagro at Pompeii. More recent is a painting by Guido Reni.
- iii, 40.
- on Ovid's Metamorphoses x, 565.
- on Callimachus, 275 ff.
- on Hyginus' Fabulae, 99, 173, 185.
- Aelian. Varia Historia xiii, 1; Hyginus. Fabulae, 99; Callimachus. Hymn to Artemis, 216.
- Description of Greece iii, 24.2.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 9.2; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid iii, 313; Athenaeus, iii., 82.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 19.1; viii, 45.4.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.