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The "Barberini Atalanta",[1] formerly in the Barberini Palace, Rome, now in the Vatican, inv. 2784. Either Greek original, 1st century BC or Roman copy, 2nd century AD

Atalanta (/ˌætəˈlæntə/; Greek: Ἀταλάντη Atalantē) is a character in Greek mythology, a virgin huntress, unwilling to marry, and loved by the hero Meleager.

According to the Bibliotheca of pseudo-Apollodorus, Atalanta was the daughter of Iasus, son of Lycurgus, and Clymene, daughter of Minyas.[2] She is also mentioned as the daughter of Mainalos or Schoeneus (according to Hyginus), of a Boeotian (according to Hesiod), or of an Arcadian princess (according to the Bibliotheca). The Bibliotheca is the only source which gives an account of Atalanta's birth and upbringing. Prince Iasus wanted a son; when Atalanta was born, he left her on a mountaintop to die. Some stories say that a she-bear suckled and cared for Atalanta until hunters found and raised her, and she learned to fight and hunt as a bear would. She was later reunited with her father.

Having grown up in the wilderness, Atalanta became a fierce hunter and was always happy. She took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis, and slew two centaurs, Hylaeus and Rhoecus, who attempted to rape her.[3][4]

Calydonian Boar Hunt[edit]

Meleager, assisted by Cupid, presents Atalanta with the head of the Calydonian Boar. Oil on panel, studio of Rubens, Rothschild collection, Château de Ferrières. Another large version by Rubens c.1635 is at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and a smaller version at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

When Artemis was forgotten at a sacrifice by King Oineus, she was angered and sent the Calydonian Boar, a wild boar that ravaged the land, men, and cattle and prevented crops from being sown. Atalanta joined Meleager and many other famous heroes on a hunt for the boar. Many of the men were angry that a woman was joining them, but Meleager, though married, lusted for Atalanta, and so he persuaded them to include her. Several of the men were killed before Atalanta became the first to hit the boar and draw blood. After Meleager finally killed the boar with his spear, he awarded the hide to Atalanta. This act of Meleager’s generosity caused a set of events that led to his death.[5] Meleager's uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, were angry and tried to take the skin from her. In revenge, Meleager killed his uncles. Wild with grief, Meleager's mother Althaea threw a charmed log on the fire, which consumed Meleager's life as it burned.


Guido Reni – Atalanta and Hippomenes – WGA19271

After the Calydonian boar hunt, Atalanta was rediscovered by her father. He wanted her to be married, but Atalanta, uninterested in marriage, agreed to marry only if her suitors could outrun her in a footrace. Those who lost would be killed. King Oeneus agreed, and many young men died in the attempt until Hippomenes, a grandson of Poseidon, came along.[5] Hippomenes asked the goddess Aphrodite for help, and she gave him three golden apples in order to slow Atalanta down. The apples were irresistible, so every time Atalanta got ahead of Hippomenes, he rolled an apple ahead of her, and she would run after it. In this way, Hippomenes won the footrace and came to marry Atalanta. In some versions, Atalanta loved Hippomenes and hoped he would win.[5] Eventually they had a son Parthenopaios, who was one of the Seven against Thebes. Zeus – or his mother, Rhea – turned Atalanta and Hippomenes into lions after they had sex together in one of his temples. Other accounts say that Aphrodite changed them into lions because they did not give her proper honor. The belief at the time was that lions could not mate with their own species, only with leopards; thus Atalanta and Hippomenes would never be able to remain with one another.

The Argo[edit]

In many versions of the quest for the Golden Fleece, such as that published by Robert Graves in 1944, Atalanta sailed with the Argonauts as the only woman among them. She jumped aboard the ship soon after the expedition set out, invoking the protection of Artemis, to whom she was a virgin priestess. She was following Meleager, who had put away his young wife for Atalanta's sake. Atalanta returned his love but was prevented by an oracle from consummating their union, being warned that losing her virginity would prove disastrous for her. A disappointed Meleager joined the Argo, but Atalanta would not let him out of her sight. She plays a major part in various adventures of Jason's crew, suffered injury in a battle at Colchis, and was healed by Medea. Apollonius of Rhodes, on the other hand, claims Jason would not allow a woman on the ship because she would cause strife on the otherwise all-male expedition (Argonautica 1.769–73).


Peleus and Atalanta wrestling, black-figured hydria, c. 550 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Inv. 596).

The Bibliotheca also says she wrestled and defeated Peleus at the funeral games for Pelias. The subject is popular in ancient Greek vase painting.

Cultural depictions[edit]

The Race between Atalanta and Hippomenes, by Nicolas Colombel (1644–1717), Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna. Atalanta is slowed as she picks up the golden apples rolled down by her rival
  • In Ovid's Metamorphosis Aphrodite tells the story of the footrace, and what follows, including a mysterious prophecy which in this version scared Atalanta away from marriage.
  • Founded in 1907 in Bergamo by local "liceo classico" (high school) students, football club Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio gets its name from the Greek deity. The club is for this reason also nicknamed "La Dea" (the Goddess) by its supporters.
  • The German mythologist, epigramist, composer, physician and counsellor to Rudolf II, Michael Maier published Atalanta Fugiens in 1617, an early work of mixed media which included an epigrammatic verse on the Greek myth, along with 50 emblematic images and music fugues relating to Atalanta's flight.
  • Handel wrote a 1736 opera about the character, Atalanta.
  • In the 20th century, Robert Ashley also wrote an opera, Atalanta (Acts of God), with loose allegorical connections to the myth.
  • Other works based on the myth include a play by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon, written (in the style of Greek tragedy) in 1865.
  • Comic books have also used versions of her story, including Hercules: the Thracian Wars, and The Incredible Hulk.
  • Versions of the story of Atalanta appear in the television series Atlantis produced by BBC, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, the Hallmark mini-series of Jason and the Argonauts, and Free to Be... You and Me (featuring the footrace only, Hippomenes renamed Young John, no death penalty for the losers, no golden apples, a tie, and a mutual decision that both would explore the world leaving open the question of marriage).
  • Video game appearances include the Golden Sun series, Herc's Adventures, an expansion of Zeus: Master of Olympus, Rise of the Argonauts, and Age of Mythology.
  • Atalanta also appears in the 2014 film Hercules, where she is depicted as an Amazonian archer, and member of Hercules' traveling band of mercenaries.
  • Atalanta appears in the light novel series Fate/Apocrypha (2012–2014) as the Archer of Red, and the mobile game Fate/Grand Order.
  • In the late 1920s, Studebaker adopted Atalanta as a symbolic hood ornament for its cars.[6]
  • There have been several British car manufacturing companies that used the name Atalanta, most notably Atalanta Motors Ltd. of Staines Middlesex UK, in operation 1937-39.[7][8]
  • Atalanta is the subject of the song Atalanta's Hand by Emilia Dahlin on her album Stealing Glimpses.
  • Elizabeth Tammi's Outrun the Wind brings a unique twist to the story of Atalanta.
  • The Atalanta Sandals are a piece of Legendary Armor that can be equipped in Assassin's Creed Odyssey and part of the Greek Heroes Armor Set, which also includes the Perseus Helmet, Jason's Golden Fleece, Hippolyta's Belt and the Bracers of Theseus. All of which can be acquired by defeating specific mercenaries.
  • An audiobook retelling of the story for children, Diana and the Golden Apples, was narrated by Art Gilmore with an orchestral backing of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije, and released by Capitol Records in the 1950s.[9][10] An accompanying animated short was also produced by Mel-O-Toons.
  • Atalanta and the Arcadian Beast is a 2003 novel by Robert J. Harris and Jane Yolen, part of the Young Heroe series.



  1. ^ In the opinion of Lempriere's Classical Dictionary, "the finest representation of Atalanta"
  2. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, 3.9.2 Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ "ATALANTA (Atalante) - Arcadian Heroine of Greek Mythology". Archived from the original on 2012-09-30.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-08-23. Retrieved 2012-11-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ a b c Roman, Luke; Roman, Monica (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology. Infobase Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 9781438126395.
  6. ^ The Golden Age Archived 2015-05-11 at the Wayback Machine at Studebaker 100 historical website
  7. ^ Wikipedia entry for Atalanta_(1937_automobile)Atalanta (1937 automobile)
  8. ^ Grant, Gregor (1948). British Sports Cars (1st ed.). Los Angeles: Floyd Clymer. pp. 37–43.
  9. ^ Discogs - Diana and the Golden Apples
  10. ^ "Diana and the golden apples". Library of Congress.


  • Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 9. 2 for Atalanta and 1.8.3 for the Boar Hunt

External links[edit]