It’s all the oracle’s fault!
Just as the younger generation would tend to do today, back in the Heroic times it was no different. Even for a young lady who had achieved great things such as winning the Pythian Games, beauty contests and travelling to far flung places, Atalanta consulted an oracle. She dreamed of romance. What did the future hold for her? Would she meet her soul-mate? Would she marry and live happily ever after? Perhaps it may have been wiser for her not to enquire, for she was told that if she took a husband, she would lose her-self in the marriage.
Saddened by this news, but not wanting to lose her freedom-loving ways, Atalanta chose an independent life. Marriage was not going to be for her. Boar hunting with Diana and enjoying a life attuned to nature filled her days. She grew strong and fearless. So fearless we are told that she defended herself against two Centaurs wanting to defile her body. Full of confidence and sound of body, she killed them both. That reputation alone, kept the wolves at bay.
If courtiers persisted in their advances, Atalanta would reveal the rules of her foot face, which were rather challenging, to say the least. To the winner, Atalanta for a wife and if they lost, they must forfeit their life. This stopped ninety-nine percent in their tracks, but there’s always that one percent who will try. They lost their lives.
Young Hippomenes happened by when such a challenge was unfolding and became enchanted by Atalanta’s beauty. The faster she ran, the more she appealed, hair flying behind her like a mane, skirts riding high, ribbons at her knees and elbows. He had never seen anything like her in his life. Ignoring the fate of the loser and believing that fortune favours the brave, he recklessly challenged the beauty to a race.
Setting her gaze on Hippomenes, Atalanta saw a beautiful youth, one who was known to have Neptune’s blood in his veins. He was something of a black horse, known to the Greeks by an alternative name, Melanion. Atalanta had not met this shining youth before as his roots were in a foreign land. She did not dare to risk the wrath of the Gods by taking the life of one of their own for if he were to lose the race, he would lose his life. Atalanta refused his challenge.
He persisted to woo her. Despite the absence of Cupid, the more they bantered, the rosier the glasses. Their line of communication was strong and becoming a stronger bond every day. He solved her technological problems – don’t lose sight of the fact that he had majored in computing and Atalanta gave him the attention he craved – an eleventh house stellium of planets. Their lives seemed destined to be entwined.
Never forgetful of what the oracle had foretold, Atalanta insisted ever more insistently that she wished he live, not die; that such a handsome youth should not forfeit his life. The courtier was determined to conquer, to have her. The courted continued to deflect his challenge.
Seeing each other every day by reason of their common endeavours, Atalanta became more enamoured by the day, eventually believing that she had met her soulmate. If only Atalanta had been more cautious, her friends and family more observant of the intentions of this young man. He was insistent that he and Atalanta should be together and so regretfully she relented and set forth to choose the venue for their race. Tears clouded her vision.
Hippomenes, meanwhile appealed to the Goddess of Desire for her favour, yet again. It was said he could charm the pants off any young thing and this beauty was just another female to be conquered as far as he was concerned. He approached Venus to come to his aid. He expected Venus to come to his aid. He was a descendant of a line of peerage was he not? Proud lion that he believed himself to be.
We know that our Goddess is easily flattered and so it is no surprise that she would agree to help Hippomenes in his cause. Venus came to his aid bearing gifts, presenting him with three golden apples from her orchard in the Hesperides. Gold apples! He rubbed his hands with glee and proceeded to learn how to use them to his best advantage. Venus had taught him the power of sex. Now she was to teach him the power of seduction. Hippomenes could not believe his luck.
Concealing the apples in his robes, Hippomenes presented himself at the venue for the challenge with Atalanta, ever confident with the Goddess on his side. Atalanta was resplendent as always. Monday’s child, fair of face; Gemini ascendant’s full of grace; a bubbly infectious laugh, quick wit and fleet of mind as well as feet, Atalanta awaited the young contestant.
Bunting fluttering, the combined scent of laurel and meadow flowers filled the air; musicians entertained the crowds gathered for the entertainment; trumpeters announced the arrival of the competitors, resplendent in their robes. Hippomenes’ and Atalanta’s eyes met as they took their places. Sparks flew. The race was on.
The fair Atalanta easily ran ahead of the youth, letting her ribbons tease him as she led the way, confident in her splendour. Neither she, nor her adoring family and friends, were to know of the deal the scheming youth had made. Innocents abroad.
Following his instruction from the Goddess, Hippomenes tossed one of the golden apples off to the side, falling not so far away, that the maiden would miss sight of it. She didn’t. Atalanta saw the glint of gold and chased after it, scooping up the apple and tucking it into her pocket with much glee. What a pretty thing it was.
While distracted, Hippomenes had drawn ahead of her, however Atalanta quickly caught up and passed him. Again he threw an apple, this time further a-field and again she chased it. Retrieved, Atalanta added this second golden apple to the first. He drew away once more. Atalanta was not perturbed, for she knew that she was faster than he. She was part of Team Mercury.
Atalanta was mercurial in everything she did. Her ballet was a pas de deux with all Mercury represented; her world-wide travels were his realm; her studies, her ever curious mind, her line of work – all communication, the realm of Mercury. Mercury is the messenger of the Gods. If there ever was a patron of a Flight Centre, it might well have been Mercury.
Perhaps it was the memory of Mercury’s golden cup that distracted Atalanta, or perhaps her love of pretty things, or maybe even her rose-tinted glasses. Whatever it was, she seemed destined to falter. Gold is quite heavy as we know and the combined weight of the two apples began to take effect, to weigh our heroine down.
Of course this worked in reverse as Hippomenes has now lightened his load. Oh Venus, what cunning.
The extra weight of gold in her pocket put a bit of a strain on Atalanta’s resources of energy, however despite this handicap she managed to eventually take the lead again. Her family and friends continued to cheer her on. They couldn’t see what interest she could possibly have in this young man. He was no match for her. Stop toying with him. Come on, Atlanta!
With the finish in sight, and the Amazon widening the gap between them, Hippomenes was heard to call out to Venus for her assistance. He tossed the last golden apple as hard and as high as he could, off to the side of the track. It sparkled in the sunlight as it flew through the air and landed in the rough.
Atalanta had not missed hearing his call to Venus and assumed it was for the aid of love, not trickery. Her heart swelled to overflowing. Tears of joy filled her eyes. She left the track to collect the third of the golden gifts; the beautiful but heavy golden apples. Atalanta miscalculated. Thinking she had time to fetch the third apple, as well as win the race, she stowed the last golden prize in her skirts.
Hippomenes, relieved of his golden load, crossed the finish line before her. Love had won the day, or had it?
We could end this story on a happy-ever-after note, but that is not the way of the Gods. Once the result was announced, to the winner the prize. Hippomenes, in his haste to secure his win, regrettably overlooked the ritual to honour the Goddess for his victory; to honour the deal that he had made.
He may have believed that he was superior, being descended from the great Scout Master, but that would not do in this part of the world. We are in the realm of the Gods and Goddesses here. No offering had been given, no incense burned. We can almost feel the Goddess beginning to fume.
In his haste to consummate their union, Hippomenes swept up Atalanta and sought out a quiet glade. Within the coolness of the forest, the couple happened upon a deserted temple and in the heat of the moment, the impetuous lovers entered and foolishly defiled the sanctuary. As fate would have it, the deserted temple was one which honoured the Goddess of Desire herself; a consecrated Temple to Venus.
Nothing passes unnoticed in the realm of the Gods and Goddesses. In the eyes of heaven, Atalanta and Hippomenes were star-crossed lovers. Their relationship was doomed before it had barely begun.
Venus is not one to get sentimental over lovers, as we know. She considered their penance and with death too kind, she decided to turn them into a pair of lions and presented them to the Goddess Cybele.
Harnessed together, Hippomenes and Atalanta as lion and lioness, were cast forever to draw the Queen Bee’s chariot across the sky.
After every football/soccer win, Real Madrid fans celebrate at Cybele’s fountain in Madrid, Spain. Eight metres tall, a white marble statue is the centre of attention. Holding the keys to the city of Madrid, Cybele rides in her chariot – a chariot drawn by a pair of lions – Atalanta and Hippomenes.