Once upon a time, the fair maid Atalanta, the daughter of Schoeneus, was extremely beautiful and extremely swift-footed. Many suitors approached her. She consulted an oracle to know her fate after marriage. The oracle replied that marriage would harm her, but she would not avoid her harm, and while living she would lose herself.
Scared by the words of the oracle, she decided not to marry and repulsed every suitor. Nevertheless, the power of her beauty attracted throngs of suitors. Hence, she set a condition that the suitors must race with her, and if a suitor won then he could marry her, otherwise he would be put to death. Even the prospect of death did not frighten the suitors, and they came for the race.
Hippomenes, the son of Megareus of Onchestus, and a descendant of Neptune, had come to the race as a stranger, wondering why so many youths risked dying only to seek a wife. But when he saw Atalanta’s amazingly beautiful face and her perfect form, which was suitably disrobed for running, the flames of love leapt in his heart. He understood the value of the prize, which was indeed worth dying for, not once, but over and over again.
Reasoning that gods helped those who showed courage, he thought of taking part in the race and while he was still thinking, the race started. Atalanta flew past him, swiftly as a Scythian arrow. It seemed that her feet were borne on wings, and the breeze threw back the flying streamers fixed on her speedy ankles. The colorful ribbons tied neatly at her knees fluttered rapidly, the wind flung her hair over her snowy shoulders, and her Venus-like perfect form acquired a pink flush. Spellbound, Hippomenes gazed in wonder, as Atalanta reached her goal, leaving all the suitors far behind. The festal wreath was crowned on Atalanta’s proud head, and the suitors suffered death.
After seeing the beautiful Atalanta, the love-crazed heart of Hippomenes, burned all the more, to win her.
Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani