the athlete

Nymph of the mountains and heroine of the Arcadian and Boeotian cycles, Atalanta was famous for her beauty, her fleetness of foot, and her skill at wrestling and archery.

She was abandoned as a child on mount Parthenios and brought up by a bear, because her father, disappointed at producing a girl, had exposed her there to die. Her harsh life developed her physical qualities, and her endurance and marksmanship were unrivalled. Quite capable of defending herself, she killed the drunken Centaurs who attempted to rape her, and indeed any aspiring suitor, whom she challenged and defeated in athletic contests.

At the funeral games held in honour of Pelias, she won the prize for running and wrestling, and distinguished herself in the hunt for the Calydonian boar, being the first of all the heroes to wound the beast. She took part in the expedition of the Argonauts, during which she was injured and healed by Medea.

Although the character of Atalanta also has reference to the model of Artemis, the heroine does not fight to the death, like the Amazon queens. In the myth, the solution is provided by the intervention of Aphrodite, and love weakens her resistance to the point, indeed, that she overreaches herself in an act of hubris. During a hunt, she lay with her husband Melanion in the sanctuary of Zeus itself and the father of the gods, angered by this defilement of his sanctuary, transformed the lovers into lions.


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From Medea to Sappho - Radical Women in Ancient Greece
Athens, National Archaeological Museum - 20 March - 30 June 1995