ATALANTA & MELEAGERThis Greek mythological history is about the magnetic force of love in the light of the inevitability of one’s faith, with two royal children as the main protagonists. When King Jasus became father to a daughter rather than the desired son, he took the little girl deep into the forest and left her mercilessly behind. Attracted to the child’s crying, some bears found her and nourished her as one of their own. Subsequently being raised as a bear, Atalanta became as strong and fast as any other of her new family. One day, some hunters came to the forest and killed the bears; amongst them Atalanta’s foster parents. Afterwards, and to their surprise, the hunters found this young girl. They decided to take her with them and raised this remarkably strong and fast girl, whom they called Atalanta, as the only female hunter of their time.
To introduce the second royal child in this history, we have to go back to around the time that Atalanta was born. In the neighbouring country of Caledonia king Calydon did not have to get rid of a daughter, because his firstborn was a son. He called him Meleager. When the prince was still very young, some Sibyls, the feared predictors of good or bad faith in life, visited his mother. They told her that her son would die before a burning lump of wood, which they pointed out in the fireplace, would fall apart. After the Sibyls disappeared, Meleager’s mother hastily took the lump of wood out of the fire, immediately distinguished the flames and carefully hid it somewhere safe. Thus being ‘rescued’ from his predicted death, the young prince grew up to be one of the best hunters of his age.
Some years later, when his father neglected his obligatory annual offerings to the gods, divine punishment became inevitable. Caledonia was struck by a raging wild boar. Because this fierce animal scared the people and robbed their crops and foods, the king decided to organise a collective hunt to kill the raging beast. From all over Caledonia and even abroad the best hunters gathered for a massive campaign. When finally the wild boar was tracked down deep in the forest, the first one able to shoot him with an arrow appeared to be Atalanta. Nevertheless, the bleeding boar managed to run off again, heavily chased by the group of hunters. Finally it was Meleager who managed to kill the wounded and fatigued animal.
In an attempt to be courteous to Atalanta, who was the first to be able to shoot the prey, as well as romantic, because he quite fancied this young woman, he gave her the honourable price of the hunt, being the head of the dead animal. This infuriated his family, especially his uncles, who insisted that this main hunting trophy belonged to their family instead. The quarrel evolved into a real fight, which ended dramatically with the uncles being killed by Meleager. He managed to run off with Atalanta to a place far away, where they would be safe. That is where finally they made love passionately. After his mother was told that her own son had killed her beloved brothers, her sudden anger made her take the old dry lump of wood out of the hiding place. Furiously she threw it into the fire. It burned down to ashes in no time, inevitably causing the immediate and tragic end of her son. Although far away from her, Meleager suddenly dropped dead in the arms of the shocked Atalanta.
Other painters on the same subject (click to view painting):
- Unknown Pompeian painter (1st century A.D.)
- Peter Paul Rubens
- Jacob Jordaens
- Jacob van Loo
- Gerrit van Honthorst
- Charles le Brun
- Pompeo Batoni