Krewe of Atalanta
Who was Atalanta? And why is she the namesake of our Mardi Gras Krewe?
We'll tell you her story as it appears in Greek mythology.
Raised By Bears
Atalanta was born to King Schoneus, a local ruler. Since the king had wanted a son, baby-girl Atalanta was taken out to the wilderness and abandoned (things were pretty brutal in the ancient myths). Atalanta didn't die, though, because she was found by a mother bear who took care of the baby. Atalanta was later adopted by hunters who lived in the woods nearby. Living with them, Atalanta became skillful with the bow. She decided never to marry, and avoided men, modeling herself after the huntress goddess Artemis. One day her beauty caught the eyes of the centaurs Rhoecus and Hylaios. They attempted to rape her but she ran away from them and killed them with her bow.
First to wound the Calydonian Boar
During a time when a gigantic boar was rampaging through Calydonia, a group of famous warriors formed a hunting party to take the beast down. Many of the famous Greek heroes were recruited, such as Theseus, Pollux, and Jason with all of his Argonauts. Did we mention that Atalanta was the only female Argonaut? During an era when women were not accepted as sailors, her prowess as an archer earned her a place on the crew of the Argo.
But back to the boar hunt -- at first, none of the warriors could wound the boar, and many of the hunters were wounded or killed. Atalanta finally was able to shoot the boar with an arrow. This did not kill it outright, but after this others were able to strike the boar, making its defeat a team effort. Atalanta kept the boar's hide after the hunt, which made some of the men whine and fight amongst themselves in anger.
A Standing Footrace
and the Golden Apples
After Atalanta was such an important part of the Calydonian Boar hunt, her royal parents discovered her and took her back. So she returned to the royal family as an adult, and a princess! Atalanta had to adapt, for her new life was very different from how she grew up as a solitary hunter.
Even though Atalanta had decided not to ever marry, her parents still pressured her to find a husband. Her role as princess meant that she couldn't outright refuse to ever marry – but it also meant that she could be very selective. So she made a deal with her father: she would only marry a man who could win a race against her. But any man who lost would be put to death. Everyone knew that nobody was faster than Atalanta – but still sometimes a man would take the challenge, and lose, and die.
Hippomenes was the name of the man in charge of judging the races. Doing this job, he came to admire and eventually fall in love with Atalanta. But he also saw clearly that there was no way he could ever race and win, so he prayed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love for aid. She gave him help in the form of three magic golden apples. When Hippomenes raced against Atalanta, he threw one golden apple in front of her every time he needed some extra time. Atalanta paused for a moment to pick up each apple, which gave Hippomenes just enough time to win the race.
Life After Marriage
Atalanta married Hippomenes. By all accounts she was happy to marry him, and the couple shared a real love with each other. They had a son named Parthenopaios, who went on to have adventures of his own. But the couple had fallen out of favor with the gods.
Atalanta had always enjoyed the favor of Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunting. Atalanta had even promised to never marry, in honor of Artemis. So when Atalanta did marry and had a son, her former divine protector grew angry with her.
Also, Hippomenes had forgotten to ever properly thank Aphrodite for her divine help that made his victory possible. So the Goddess of Love was not happy with the couple either. One day while Atalanta and Hippomenes were hunting together, Aphrodite struck them with sexual passion, so that they had sex in the first place they could find -- a remote temple. And with this sacrilege, Zeus himself also became angry at them.
The ancient Greek poets tell different accounts of which one of these angry gods punished Atalanta and Hippomenes. But one of the gods turned the couple into a pair of lions, who the goddess Rhea yoked to pull her chariot for eternity. Perhaps Zeus was so impressed with their love that he gave them a break -- by turning them into a constellation of stars, the Leonids, which you can still see in the night sky.
Click this button to learn more about Lanta Gras, the organization that makes our krewe and every krewe in the parade possible!
To write this summary of Atalanta's life, we drew from many different sources, including Wikipedia, Bulfinch's Mythology, GoddessGift.com, GreekBoston.com, etc.