A Book of Myths

Page: 38

Upon it, first of all, Jason cast his spear. But the sharp point only touched it, and unwounded, the boar rushed on, its gross, bristly head down, to disembowel, if it could, the gallant Nestor. In the branches of a tree Nestor found safety, and Telamon rushed on to destroy the filthy thing that would have made carrion of the sons of the gods. A straggling cypress root caught his fleeting foot and laid him prone, a helpless prey for the rooting brute. His hounds fell before it, but ere it could reach him, Atalanta, full of vengeful rage—the pure angered against the filthy and cruel—let draw her bow, with a prayer to Diana to guide her shaft aright. Into the boar’s smoking flank sped the arrow.

“The sudden string
Rang, and sprang inward, and the waterish air
Hissed, and the moist plumes of the songless reeds
Moved as a wave which the wind moves no more.
But the boar heaved half out of ooze and slime,
His tense flank trembling round the barbed wound,
Hateful; and fiery with invasive eyes
And bristling with intolerable hair
Plunged, and the hounds clung, and green flowers and white
Reddened and broke all round them where they came.
[Pg 74] And charging with sheer tusk he drove, and smote
Hyleus; and sharp death caught his sudden soul,
And violent sleep shed night upon his eyes.”


More than ever terrible was the monster now that it was wounded. One after the other the hunters fell before its mad rage, and were sent to the shades by a bloody and merciless death.

Before its furious charge even the heart of a hero might have been stricken. Yet Meleager, like a mighty oak of the forest that will not sway even a little before the rush of a storm, stood full in its way and met its onslaught.

“Aimed on the left side his well-handled spear
Grasped where the ash was knottiest hewn, and smote,
And with no missile wound, the monstrous boar
Right in the hairiest hollow of his hide
Under the last rib, sheer through bulk and bone,
Deep in; and deeply smitten, and to death,
The heavy horror with his hanging shafts,
Leapt, and fell furiously, and from raging lips
Foamed out the latest wrath of all his life.”

Great was the shout that rose from those who still lived when that grim hunt thus came to an end. And when, with his keen blade, Meleager struck off the head, even as the quivering throat drew its last agonised breath, louder still shouted the men of Greece. But not for himself did Meleager despoil the body of his foe. He laid the ugly thing at the feet of Atalanta.

“This is thy spoil, not mine,” he said. “The wounding shaft was sped by thee. To thee belongs the praise.”

And Atalanta blushed rosily, and laughed low and [Pg 75] gladly, not only because Diana had heard her prayer and helped her slay the beast, but for happiness that Meleager was so noble in his giving.