Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 126

Meleager slays his uncles.

All the hunt now gathered around the boar’s corpse, and watched Meleager take its spoil, which he gallantly bestowed upon Atalanta. Althæa’s two brothers were present at the hunt; and, as they wished to possess the skin, they bitterly reproved their nephew on their way home for giving it to a stranger. They added taunts to this reproof, which so angered Meleager, that, in a sudden fit of passion, he slew them both. When Althæa saw her brothers’ corpses, and heard that they had been slain by her son, she vowed to avenge their death, drew the carefully cherished brand from its hiding place, and threw it upon the fire burning brightly on her hearth. When the last bit of the precious wood crumbled away into ashes, Meleager died. All Althæa’s affection for her son returned when his lifeless corpse was brought to her, and in her despair she committed suicide.

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Atalanta’s race.

In the mean while, Atalanta, proud of her skill and of her spoil, had returned to her father’s court, where, no other heir having appeared, she was joyfully received, and entreated to marry. Many suitors came to woo the fair princess, but most of them refrained from pressing their suit when they heard what conditions were imposed upon all who would obtain her hand; for Atalanta disapproved of marriage, and, anxious to keep her freedom, decreed that she should marry only on condition that her suitor would beat her in a foot race. [278] If he were beaten, however, he must pay for his defeat by forfeiting his life.

The golden apples.

In spite of these barbarous terms, a few youths had tried to outrun her; but they failed, and their lifeless heads were exposed on the racing ground to deter all other suitors. Undaunted by these ghastly trophies, Hippomenes, or Milanion, once came to Atalanta and expressed a desire to race with her. This youth had previously obtained Venus’ protection, and concealed under his garment her gift of three golden apples. Atalanta prepared for her race as usual, and, as usual, passed her rival; but just as she did so, one of the golden apples rolled at her feet. For a moment she paused, then stooped and picked it up ere she resumed the race. Her adversary had passed her and won some advance; but she soon overtook him, when a second golden apple caused a second delay. She was about to reach the goal first, as usual, when a third golden treasure tempted her to pause, and enabled Hippomenes to win the race.

“Hippomenes turns her astray
By the golden illusions he flings on her way.”

Atalanta could now no longer refuse to marry, and her nuptials were soon celebrated. In his happiness at having won such a peerless bride, Hippomenes forgot to pay the promised thanks to Venus, for which offense he and his wife were severely punished by being transformed into a pair of lions, and doomed to drag Cybele’s car (p. 19).