Atalanta's birth was not a joyous one, for soon after she was born the tiny girl was taken into the woods and left to die. But Atalanta was spared of this cruel fate.the bear who lived in the forest heard the cries of the baby. This she-bear took Atlanta to her den and raised the child as one of her own cubs.
Many years later a band of hunters found Atalanta living in the bear's cave. The amazed group of men took her and raised her, teaching Atalanta the skills of the hunt. Each of the hunters viewed her his own daughter. At first they were apprehensive about raising a girl in the woodland wilds, but their fears soon faded. By the time she was a teenager she was more skillful with a bow and arrow and any of the hunters in the group. In addition, she was more accurate with a spear and could run faster than any of the others.
On one such lonely hunt Atalanta was confronted by two malicious centaurs. These half-human, half-horse beasts laughed at the sight of the youth who was alone in the forest. They thought they would have some cruel fun with her and came barreling down the mountainside, uttering blood-curdling words and with their hooves thundering. But Atlanta did not flee. Instead she calmly fitted a bronze-tipped arrow to her bow and shot it. While the first arrow was still in the air she quickly aimed and fired a second one. In an instant the two centaurs came tumbling down with stones clattering and dust flying in the air. Each lay motionless with an arrow though its heart.
The hunters often bragged about the skill of this maiden, And her fame spread throughout Greece. As a result Atalanta was invited to come help hunt the Calydonian boar. This fiendish animal was a huge, deadly creature with razor-sharp tusks. it had been terrorizing the countryside, killing cattle and humans alike. The bravest and most skillful hunters were called to some kill this dreaded menace.
The hunt began and the band cautiously searched through the woods for the savage beast, but had no success. At last the hunters came to a marshy thicket. So dense were the bushes the trees that they unaware the deadly monster was watching them. Suddenly the boar came crashing through the underbrush ripped apart several dogs, and was upon the hunters before they could think. A few threw their spears, but missed. As he turned to run, one man had his leg slashed by the boar's flashing teeth. Another used his spear as a pole vault and was able to leap into a tree just out of reach of the snarling beast.
The vicious creature turned and gashed the leg of another hero and would have done greater harm. However, the two armed horseback riders came charging on their milk white stallions and the boar turned to flee. Atalanta quickly fitted an arrow to her bow and the shaft flew towards the retreating beast. The arrow made a long wound on the boar's back and then stuck behind its ear.
The hunters gave a shout of joy at seeing the ferocious animal wounded and several rushed into the thicket after it. One boastful youth cried that he would not be outdone by a woman and swore he would slay the boar himself. He dashed after the beast with his glistening axe raised over his head. but the sharp-toothed creature attacked with such swiftness that the axe-bearing hunter fell dead without landing a single blow.
Meleager had more success, however. He threw two javelins at the boar and one sank into the creature's back. With his bronze-tipped spear, he then killed the wounded beast. Meleager gave the skin and the enormous tusks to Atalanta as a prize for being the first to wound the dreaded monster.
Not long after this hunt Atalanta was reunited with her parents. Her father was proud of his valiant daughter and tried to persuade her to marry. But Atlanta did not want to give up the freedom she had in the woods. She consented to marry only if a man could outrun her in a race. Many men tried but none could keep up with her. It soon became clear that Atlanta was the fastest of all humans.
One young man, Hippomenes, watched in awe as Atlanta won in one of her races. As she sped by the maiden seemed as swift and graceful as a falcon. Her dark hair rippled over her white shoulders, the colored ribbons she wore fluttered and her face grew rose-colored during the hot race. Hippomenes fell deeply in love with Atalanta and prayed to Venus for help since he knew he could never outrun the beautiful huntress.
Venus, the goddess of love, heard Hippomenes and decided to help him. She appeared to the old man and gave him three apples of pure gold. Venus told him to use the golden apples in the race and then she vanished.
So Hippomenes challenged Atlanta to a race. When she she Hippomenes, she was struck by the beauty of his golden hair and the smoothness of his face. Still, her desire for the freedom of the forest tugged at her heart. She felt she must try to outrun this young, handsome man.
The race began and Atlanta soon outpaced the youth. but Hippomenes tossed down one if the golden apples so that it landed near her feet and rolled to the side. Atlanta stopped to pick it up and Hippomenes was able to catch up with her. Soon Atlanta began to pull ahead once more and Hippomenes threw a second golden apple a little further to the side.
When Atlanta had gathered in this apple, Hippomenes had gotten ahead. Once again Atlanta's legs picked up the pace and she moved into the lead. Now the young man hurled the final apple further to the side than the other two. Atlanta hesitated for a second. The goal was now in sight. But the glistening golden apple was too tempting of a prize to pass, so Atalanta swerved to the side to grab it.
Hippomenes now had a larger lead than before. But Atalanta ran faster than anyone had ever seen her before. Though weighted down with the golden apples, she went at a pace that would weary even Hermes, the messenger god. Hippomenes was approaching the goal but his face was red with exhaustion and he was gasping for air. Meanwhile Atlanta was rapidly gaining, like an arrow flying to its target. Then suddenly the race was over Hippomenes crosses the finish line just barely a step in front of Atlanta.
Atlanta and Hippomenes were married but no one saw then after the wedding feast. It is said that Atlanta and her husband were changed into lion. Thus Atlanta and her golden maned companion continued as swift hunter of the forest for the rest of their days.
1. What skills did Atalanta have?
2. Reread the section about the Calydonian boar. Describe the animal.
3. Why was Hippomenes able to win the race?
4. What type of creature was Atlanta changed into? Why was this a fitting animal for her?
5. Illustrate a picture of either the fight with the Calydonian boar or the race with Hippomenes.
6. Write a new ending for the story telling a different ending.
7. Make up a poem about Atlanta.