Atalanta & Hippomenes

Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) gives us a Greek myth with a feminist twist in honor of the 2021 Olympic Games.

Once a newborn girl named Atalanta was left on the mountainside because her father wanted a boy. A bear found her and nursed and cared for her. As she grew up, she lived as the bears did by eating wild honey and berries, and hunting in the woods.

As a young woman on her own, she became a follower of Artemis the Goddess of wild things. Enjoying being alone, Atalanta blissfully roamed the shadowy woods and sunlit fields. Apollo agreed with her choosing to be alone. 

“You must never marry,” he told her one day. “If you do, you will surely lose your own identity.”

In spite of her decision never to marry, Atalanta was pursued by many suitors. As men watched her run through the fields and forest, they were struck by her beauty and grace. Angry at the men for bothering her, she figured out a way to keep them away. 

“I’ll race anyone who wants to marry me!” she announced to the men following her. “Whoever is so swift that can outrun me will receive the prize of my hand in marriage. But whomever I beat will die.”

Atalanta was so certain that these harsh conditions would discourage everyone from wanting to marry her. But she was wrong. Her strength and grace were so compelling that many men volunteered to race against her; all of them lost their lives.

One day a young stranger was wondering through the countryside and stopped to observed a crowd that was watching a race between Atalanta and one of her suitors. When Hippomenes realized the terms of the contest, he was appalled. 

“No person could be worth such a risk!” he explained. “Only an idiot would try to win her for his wife!” When he saw Atalanta speed past him he realized he wanted her to be his wife.

 “Forgive me,” he said to the panting loser being taken away to his death. “I did not know what a prize she was.”

When Atalanta was crowned the victory of winning once again, Hippomenes stepped before her and spoke to her before the crowd. 

“Why do you race against men so slow? Why not race against me? If I defeat you, you will not be disgraced, for am the great-grandson of Poseidon, God of the seas!”

“And if I beat you?”

“If you beat me, you will certainly have something to boast about!”

Atalanta thought about that for a while. “Go stranger. I’m not worth the loss of your life,” she said softly.

The crowd cheered wildly until Atalanta was forced to give in. She gave the man until the next day.

In the pink twilight, alone in the hills, Hippomenes prayed to Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and beauty. He asked her to help him in the race. She led him to a mighty tree in the middle of an open field. The tree held golden leaves and golden apples. She told him to pluck three apples and told him how to use them to win against Atalanta during the race.

The crowd roared as Atalanta and Hippomenes crouched at the starting line. Under his tunic, Hippomenes hid his three apples. When the horns sounded, the two shot forward and ran so fast their feet barely touched the ground. The crowd cheered for Hippomenes but Atalanta rushed ahead of him.

When Hippomenes began to pant, he tossed one of the apples toward Atalanta. The gleaming apple hit the sand and rolled across Atalanta’s path. She left her course and chased after the glittering ball and Hippomenes took the lead. The crowd went wild, but when Atalanta got the apple, she scooted ahead of Hippomenes.

As he took out the third apple, he realized this was his last chance. He threw it as hard as he could and Atalanta watched it fly across the sky. Atalanta decided not to run after it, but Aphrodite touched her heart and told her to chase it. She ran off the course to get it and as she did so, Hippomenes crossed the finishing line.

He won Atalanta as his wife, but made a terrible mistake. He forgot to give gifts to Aphrodite for helping him. The Goddess was so enraged that she called upon the moon Goddess, Artemis, demanding that Atalanta and Hippomenes should be punished. 

One night when the couple was lying together in the moonlight, they were turned into lions. And so, Atalanta returned to life in the wild.



Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories

Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.

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