Hero Tales

Page: 8

"Sadly troubled was Oineus, and he knew not what to do. For the fierce beast could not be slain, but with his terrible tusks he had sent many a rash hunter to an untimely death. Then the young man Meleager said, 'I will call together the heroes of Greece, and we will hunt the boar in the wood of Calydon.'

"So at the call of Meleager, the warriors flocked from every land, to join in the hunt of the fierce wild boar. Among them came Castor and Pollux, the twin brothers; and Idas, the boaster, the father-in-law of Meleager; and mighty Jason, captain of the Argo; and Atalanta, the swift-footed daughter of Iasus, of Arcadia; and many Acarnanian huntsmen led by the brothers of Queen Althea. Thither also did I hasten, although men spitefully said that I was far more skilful in taking tame beasts than in slaying wild ones.

"Nine days we feasted in the halls of Oineus; and every day we tried our skill with bows and arrows, and tested the strength of our well-seasoned spears. On the tenth, the bugles sounded, and hounds and huntsmen gathered in the courtyard of the chief, chafing for the hunt.

"Soon we sallied forth from the town, a hundred huntsmen, with dogs innumerable. Through the fields and orchards, laid waste by the savage beast, we passed; and Atalanta, keen of sight and swift of foot, her long hair floating in the wind behind her, led all the rest. It was not long until, in a narrow dell once green with vines and trees, but now strewn thick with withered branches, we roused the fierce creature from his lair.

"At first he fled, followed closely by the baying hounds. Then suddenly he faced his foes; with gnashing teeth and bloodshot eyes, he charged furiously upon them. A score of hounds were slain outright; and Cepheus, of Arcadia, rushing blindly onward, was caught by the beast, and torn in pieces by his sharp tusks. Then swift-footed Atalanta, bounding forward, struck the beast a deadly blow with her spear. He stopped short, and ceased his furious onslaught.

"Terrible were the cries of the wounded creature, as he made a last charge upon the huntsmen. But Meleager with a skilful sword-thrust pierced his heart and the beast fell weltering in his gore. Great joy filled the hearts of the Calydonians when they saw the scourge of their land laid low and helpless. They quickly flayed the beast, and the heroes who had shared in the hunt divided the flesh among them; but the head and the bristly hide they offered to Meleager.

"'Not to me does the prize belong,' he cried, 'but to Atalanta, the swift-footed huntress. For the first wound—the true death stroke, indeed—was given by her; and to her, woman though she be, all honor and the prize must be awarded.'

"With these words, he bore the grinning head and the bristly hide to the young huntress, and laid them at her feet. Then his uncles, the brothers of Queen Althea, rushed angrily forward, saying that no woman should ever bear a prize away from them; and they seized the hide, and would have taken it away, had not Meleager forbidden them. Yet they would not loose their hold upon the prize, but drew their swords, and wrathfully threatened Meleager's life.