Padraic Colum > The Golden Fleece > Part III. The Heroes of the Quest > Chapter I. Atalanta the Huntress > III
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
ALTHÆA was in the temple making sacrifice to the gods. She saw men come in carrying across their spears the bodies of two men. She looked and she saw that the dead men were her two brothers, Plexippus and Toxeus.   1
  Then she beat her breast and she filled the temple with the cries of her lamentation. “Who has slain my brothers? Who has slain my brothers?” she kept crying out.   2
  Then she was told that her son Meleagrus had slain her brothers. She had no tears to shed then, and in a hard voice she asked, “Why did my son slay Plexippus and Toxeus, his uncles?”   3
  The one who was wroth with Atalanta, Arcas the Arcadian, came to her and told her that her brothers had been slain because of a quarrel about the girl Atalanta.   4
  “My brothers have been slain because a girl bewitched my son; then accursed be that son of mine,” Althæa cried. She took off the gold-fringed robe of a priestess, and she put on a black robe of mourning.   5
  Her brothers, the only sons of her father, had been slain, and for the sake of a girl. The image of Atalanta came before her, and she felt she could punish dreadfully her son. But her son was not there to punish; he was far away, and the girl for whose sake he had killed Plexippus and Toxeus was with him.   6
  The rage she had went back into her heart and made her truly mad. “I gave Meleagrus life when I might have let it go from him with the burning billet of wood,” she cried, “and now he has taken the lives of my brothers.” And then her thought went to the billet of wood that was hidden in the chest.   7
  Back to her house she went, and when she went within she saw a fire of pine knots burning upon the hearth. As she looked upon their burning a scorching pain went through her. But she went from the hearth, nevertheless, and into the inner room. There stood the chest that she had not opened for years. She opened it now, and out of it she took the billet of wood that had on it the mark of the burning.   8
  She brought it to the hearth fire. Four times she went to throw it into the fire, and four times she stayed her hand. The fire was before her, but it was in her too. She saw the images of her brothers lying dead, and, saying that he who had slain them should lose his life, she threw the billet of wood into the fire of pine knots.   9
  Straightway it caught fire and began to burn. And Althæa cried, “Let him die, my son, and let naught remain; let all perish with my brothers, even the kingdom that neus, my husband, founded.”   10
  Then she turned away and remained stiffly standing by the hearth, the life withered up within her. Her daughters came and tried to draw her away, but they could not—her two daughters, Gorge and Deianira.   11
  Meleagrus was crouching upon the ground with Atalanta watching beside him. Now he stood up, and taking her hand he said, “Let me go with you to the temple of the gods where I shall strive to make atonement for the deed I have done to-day.”   12
  She went with him. But even as they came to the street of the city a sharp and a burning pain seized upon Meleagrus. More and more burning it grew, and weaker and weaker he became. He could not have moved further if it had not been for the aid of Atalanta. Jason and Peleus lifted him across the threshold and carried him into the temple of the gods.   13
  They laid him down with his head upon Atalanta’s lap. The pain within him grew fiercer and fiercer, but at last it died down as the burning billet of wood sank down into the ashes. The Heroes of the Quest stood around, all overcome with woe. In the street they heard the lamentations for Plexippus and Toxeus, for Prince Meleagrus, and for the passing of the kingdom founded by neus. Atalanta left the temple, and attended by the two brothers on the white horses, Polydeuces and Castor, she went back to Arcady.   14



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