A Book of Myths

Page: 36

“He shall be strong,” said one, as she span her thread. “He shall be fortunate and brave,” said the second. But the third laid a billet of wood on the flames, and while her withered fingers held the fatal threads, she looked with old, old, sad eyes at the new-born child.

“To thee, O New-Born,” she said, “and to this wood that burns, do we give the same span of days to live.”

From her bed sprang Althæa, and, heedless of the flames, she seized the burning wood, trod on it with her fair white feet, and poured on it water that swiftly quenched its red glow. “Thou shalt live forever, O Beloved,” she said, “for never again shall fire char the brand that I have plucked from the burning.”

[Pg 70] And the baby laughed.

“Those grey women with bound hair
Who fright the gods frighted not him; he laughed
Seeing them, and pushed out hands to feel and haul
Distaff and thread.”

The years sped on, and from fearless and beautiful babyhood, Meleager grew into gallant boyhood, and then into magnificent youth. When Jason and his heroes sailed away into a distant land to win the Golden Fleece, Meleager was one of the noble band. From all men living he won great praise for his brave deeds, and when the tribes of the north and west made war upon Ætolia, he fought against their army and scattered it as a wind in autumn drives the fallen leaves before it.

But his victory brought evil upon him. When his father Œneus, at the end of a fruitful year, offered sacrifices to the gods, he omitted to honour the goddess Diana by sacrificing to her, and to punish his neglect, she had sent this destroying army. When Meleager was victor, her wrath against his father grew yet more hot, and she sent a wild boar, large as the bulls of Epirus, and fierce and savage to kill and to devour, that it might ravage and lay waste the land of Calydon. The fields of corn were trampled under foot, the vineyards laid waste, and the olive groves wrecked as by a winter hurricane. Flocks and herds were slaughtered by it, or driven hither and thither in wild panic, working havoc as they fled. Many went out to slay it, but went only to find a hideous death. Then did Meleager resolve that he would rid the land of this monster, and called on all his [Pg 71] friends, the heroes of Greece, to come to his aid. Theseus and his friend Pirithous came; Jason; Peleus, afterwards father of Achilles; Telamon, the father of Ajax; Nestor, then but a youth; Castor and Pollux, and Toxeus and Plexippus, the brothers of Althæa, the fair queen-mother. But there came none more fearless nor more ready to fight the monster boar of Calydon than Atalanta, the daughter of the king of Arcadia. When Atalanta was born, her father heard of her birth with anger. He desired no daughter, but only sturdy sons who might fight for him, and in the furious rage of bitter disappointment he had the baby princess left on the Parthenian Hill that she might perish there. A she-bear heard the baby’s piteous cries, and carried it off to its lair, where she suckled it along with her young, and there the little Atalanta tumbled about and played with her furry companions and grew strong and vigorous as any other wild young creature of the forest.