Padraic Colum (18811972). The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles. 1921.
Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
Chapter I. Atalanta the Huntress
AS Atalanta went, the bow in her hands, Prince Meleagrus pressed behind her. Then came Jason and Peleus, Telamon, Theseus and Nestor. Behind them came Meleagruss dark-browed uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus. They came to a forest that covered the side of a mountain. Huntsmen had assembled here with hounds held in leashes and with nets to hold the rushing quarry. And when they had all gathered together they went through the forest on the track of the monster boar.
It was easy to track the boar, for it had left a broad trail through the forest. The heroes and the huntsmen pressed on. They came to a marshy covert where the boar had its lair. There was a thickness of osiers and willows and tall bullrushes, making a place that it was hard for the hunters to go through.
They roused the boar with the blare of horns and it came rushing out. Foam was on its tusks, and its eyes had in them the blaze of fire. On the boar came, breaking down the thicket in its rush. But the heroes stood steadily with the points of their spears toward the monster.
The hounds were loosed from their leashes and they dashed toward the boar. The boar slashed them with its tusks and trampled them into the ground. Jason flung his spear. The spear went wide of the mark. Another, Arcas, cast his, but the wood, not the point of the spear, struck the boar, rousing it further. Then its eyes flamed, and like a great stone shot from a catapult the boar rushed on the huntsmen who were stationed to the right. In that rush it flung two youths prone upon the ground.
Then might Nestor have missed his going to Troy and his part in that story, for the boar swerved around and was upon him in an instant. Using his spear as a leaping pole he vaulted upward and caught the branches of a tree as the monster dashed the spear down in its rush. In rage the beast tore at the trunk of the tree. The heroes might have been scattered at this moment, for Telamon had fallen, tripped by the roots of a tree, and Peleus had had to throw himself upon him to pull him out of the way of danger, if Polydeuces and Castor had not dashed up to their aid. They came riding upon high white horses, spears in their hands. The brothers cast their spears, but neither spear struck the monster boar.
Then the boar turned and was for drawing back into the thicket. They might have lost it then, for its retreat was impenetrable. But before it got clear away Atalanta put an arrow to the string, drew the bow to her shoulder, and let the arrow fly. It struck the boar, and a patch of blood was seen upon its bristles. Prince Meleagrus shouted out, O first to strike the monster! Honor indeed shall you receive for this, Arcadian maid.
His uncles were made wroth by this speech, as was another, the Arcadian, rough Arcas. Arcas dashed forward, holding in his hands a two-headed axe. Heroes and huntsmen, he cried, you shall see how a mans strokes surpass a girls. He faced the boar, standing on tiptoe with his axe raised for the stroke. Meleagruss uncles shouted to encourage him. But the boars tusks tore him before Arcass axe fell, and the Arcadian was trampled upon the ground.
The boar, roused again by Atalantas arrow, turned on the hunters. Jason hurled a spear again. It swerved and struck a hound and pinned it to the ground. Then, speaking the name of Atalanta, Meleagrus sprang before the heroes and the huntsmen.
He had two spears in his hands. The first missed and stuck quivering in the ground. But the second went right through the back of the monster boar. It whirled round and round, spouting out blood and foam. Meleagrus pressed on, and drove his hunting knife through the shoulders of the monster.
His uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, were the first to come to where the monster boar was lying outstretched. It is well, the deed you have done, boy, said one; it is well that none of the strangers to our country slew the boar. Now will the head and tusks of the monster adorn our hall, and men will know that the arms of our house can well protect this land.
But one word only did Meleagrus say, and that word was the name, Atalanta. The maiden came and Meleagrus, his spear upon the head, said, Take, O fair Arcadian, the spoil of the chase. All know that it was you who inflicted the first wound upon the boar.
Plexippus and Toxeus tried to push him away, as if Meleagrus was still a boy under their tutoring. He shouted to them to stand off, and then he hacked out the terrible tusks and held them toward Atalanta.
She would have taken them, for she, who had never looked lovingly upon a youth, was moved by the beauty and the generosity of Prince Meleagrus. She would have taken from him the spoil of the chase. But as she held out her arms Meleagruss uncles struck them with the poles of their spears. Heavy marks were made on the maidens white arms. Madness then possessed Meleagrus, and he took up his spear and thrust it, first into the body of Plexippus and then into the body of Toxeus. His thrusts were terrible, for he was filled with the fierceness of the hunt, and his uncles fell down in death.
Then a great horror came over all the heroes. They raised up the bodies of Plexippus and Toxeus and carried them on their spears away from the place of the hunting and toward the temple of the gods. Meleagrus crouched down upon the ground in horror of what he had done. Atalanta stood beside him, her hand upon his head.