Atalanta was an Arcadian heroine; a huntress and a favourite of the goddess Artemis.

Parents: Iasus and Clymene

The “Barberini Atalanta”, formerly in the Barberini Palace, Rome, now in the Vatican. Either Greek original, 1st c. BC or Roman copy, 2nd c. AD.

She was exposed by her father at birth in the wilds but was suckled by a she-bear and then found and raised by hunters.


Atalanta swore to defend her virginity and when two Centaurs burst into her grove, she slew them with arrows. She later took part in the voyage of the Argonauts and defeated the hero Peleus in wrestling at the funeral games of King Pelias.

Peleus and Atalanta wrestling, black-figured hydria, c. 550 BC. Staatliche Antikensammlungen.

When King Oeneus summoned heroes to destroy the Calydonian Boar, Atalanta answered the call and was the first to draw blood. Meleager awarded her the prize of the skin but his uncles protested and tried to take it from her by force. The hero slew them for the affront.

The Golden Apples

Atalanta was eventually reunited with her father Iasus, who insisted that she wed. The heroine reluctantly agreed insisting that a suitor must defeat her in a race and that the losers be put to death. Many young men tried and failed. Hippomenes however, sought the help of the goddess Aphrodite, who provided him with three golden apples to cast before the girl in the race. When Atalanta stooped to retrieve these, she slowed down enough to allow Hippomenes to win the race.

The Race between Atalanta and Hippomenes, by Nicolas Colombel (1644–1717), Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna.

Their marriage was short-lived, for Hippomenes neglected to honour Aphrodite for her help. She cursed him and he was compelled to lie with his wife in the sacred precinct of Rhea, where the offended goddess transformed them into lions.

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