A Book of Myths

Page: 39

At that the brows of the heroes grew dark, and angrily one cried:

“Lo, now,
Shall not the Arcadian shoot out lips at us,
Saying all we were despoiled by this one girl.”

Like a spark that kindles the dry grass, their kindling anger spread, and they rushed against Atalanta, seized the trophy she had been given, and smote her as though she were but a shameless wanton and not the noble daughter of a king.

And because the heart of Meleager was given very wholly to the fair huntress, and because those whom he deemed his friends had not only dishonoured her, but had done him a very grievous wrong, a great rage seized him. Right and left he smote, and they who had been most bitter in their jealousy of Atalanta, the two brothers of his own mother, were laid low in death.

Tidings of the slaying of the boar had been brought to Althæa by swift messengers, and she was on her way to the temples bearing gifts to the gods for the victory of her son, when she beheld the slow-footed procession of those who bore the bodies of the dead. And when she saw the still faces of her two dear brothers, quickly was her joy turned into mourning. Terrible was her grief and anger when she learned by whose hand they were slain, and her mother’s love and pride dried up in her heart like the clear water of a fountain before the [Pg 76] scorching of a devouring fire. No sacrifices to the gods would she offer, but her dead brothers should have the greatest sacrifice that mother could make to atone for the guilt of her son. Back to the palace she went, and from its safe hiding-place drew out the brand that she had rescued from the flames when Meleager the hero was but a babe that made his mother’s heart sing for joy. She commanded a fire to be prepared, and four times, as its flames blazed aloft, she tried to lay the brand upon the pile. Yet four times she drew back, and then at last she threw into the reddest of the ashes the charred brand that for a little she held so close to her breast that it seemed as though she fondled her child.

A wreath of leaves as sign of victory was being placed on Atalanta’s beautiful head by the adoring hands of Meleager when his mother gave him his doom. Through his body there rushed a pang of mortal agony. His blood turned to fire, and the hand of Death that smote him was as a hand of molten lead. In torture his gallant spirit passed away, uncomplaining, loving through his pain the maid for whose dear sake he had brought woe upon himself. As the last white ashes in the fire crumbled and fell away into nothingness, the soul of Meleager departed. Swiftly through the dark valley his mother’s shade followed him, for she fell upon a sword and so perished. And Diana, looking down on the grief-stricken sisters of Meleager and on the bitter sorrow of his father, had compassion on them and turned them into birds.