Padraic Colum > The Golden Fleece > Part III. The Heroes of the Quest > Chapter I. Atalanta the Huntress > I
Padraic Colum (1881–1972).  The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles.  1921.

Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
Chapter I. Atalanta the Huntress
THEY came once more together, The Heroes of the Quest, to hunt a boar in Calydon—Jason and Peleus came, Telamon, Theseus, and rough Arcas, Nestor and Helen’s brothers Polydeuces and Castor. And, most noted of all, there came the Arcadian huntress maid, Atalanta.   1
  Beautiful they all thought her when they knew her aboard the Argo. But even more beautiful Atalanta seemed to the heroes when she came amongst them in her hunting gear. Her lovely hair hung in two bands across her shoulders, and over her breast hung an ivory quiver filled with arrows. They said that her face with its wide and steady eyes was maidenly for a boy’s, and boyish for a maiden’s face. Swiftly she moved with her head held high, and there was not one amongst the heroes who did not say, “Oh, happy would that man be whom Atalanta the unwedded would take for her husband!”   2
  All the heroes said it, but the one who said it most feelingly was the prince of Calydon, young Meleagrus. He more than the other heroes felt the wonder of Atalanta’s beauty.   3
  Now the boar they had come to hunt was a monster boar. It had come into Calydon and it was laying waste the fields and orchards and destroying the people’s cattle and horses. That boar had been sent into Calydon by an angry divinity. For when neus, the king of the country, was making sacrifice to the gods in thanksgiving for a bounteous harvest, he had neglected to make sacrifice to the goddess of the wild things, Artemis. In her anger Artemis had sent the monster boar to lay waste neus’s realm.   4
  It was a monster boar indeed—one as huge as a bull, with tusks as great as an elephant’s; the bristles on its back stood up like spear points, and the hot breath of the creature withered the growth on the ground. The boar tore up the corn in the fields and trampled down the vines with their clusters and heavy bunches of grapes; also it rushed against the cattle and destroyed them in the fields. And no hounds the huntsmen were able to bring could stand before it. And so it came to pass that men had to leave their farms and take refuge behind the walls of the city because of the ravages of the boar. It was then that the rulers of Calydon sent for The Heroes of the Quest to join with them in hunting the monster.   5
  Calydon itself sent Prince Meleagrus and his two uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus. They were brothers to Meleagrus’s mother, Althæa. Now Althæa was a woman who had sight to see mysterious things, but who had also a wayward and passionate heart. Once, after her son Meleagrus was born, she saw the three Fates sitting by her hearth. They were spinning the threads of her son’s life, and as they spun they sang to each other, “An equal span of life we give to the newborn child, and to the billet of wood that now rests above the blaze of the fire.” Hearing what the Fates sang and understanding it Althæa had sprung up from her bed, had seized the billet of wood, and had taken it out of the fire before the flames had burnt into it.   6
  That billet of wood lay in her chest, hidden away. And Meleagrus nor any one else save Althæa knew of it, nor knew that the prince’s life would last only for the space it would be kept from the burning. On the day of the hunting he appeared as the strongest and bravest of the youths of Calydon. And he knew not, poor Meleagrus, that the love for Atalanta that had sprung into his heart was to bring to the fire the billet of wood on which his life depended.   7



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