Once upon a time, Meleager, son of Althaea and King Oeneus of Calydon, had slaughtered his uncles Plexippus and Toxeus, over a dispute regarding the prize of the Calydonian boar hunt. When Althaea learned that her brothers were slain, she became furious. But when she learned that her son Meleager had killed her brothers, she was grief-stricken. Being the sister of the murdered and the mother of the murderer, Althaea’s heart was torn apart.
Vengeance for her dead brothers demanded killing her son, but her motherly love implored sympathy, kindness and forgiveness. Her sisterly anger contorted her features, but her motherly compassion dissolved them. The contest ensued between a mother’s kind breast and a sister’s raging heart. The love for her son made her eyes wet with tears, but the love for her brothers made her eyes glow with wrath. As soon as the furious heat of revenge had dried her eyes, they became moist with new tears. And as soon as fresh tears drenched her eyes, they again dried up craving retribution. As a ship, caught between opposing tide and wind, sways vexed in both ways, similarly, the heart of Althaea caught between conflicting passions of love and vengeance, swayed distressed in both ways.
Pulled equally by motherly love and sisterly love, Althaea’s differing thoughts tormented her mind. Should her husband Oeneus rejoice in his victorious son, while her father Thestius mourn the death of his sons? Should the hand of a loving mother, prevent the hand of a dutiful sister? Should her son live and happily inherit the wide kingdom of Calydon, while the ashes of her brothers float pitifully in the air, as unavenged ghosts?
After experiencing profound suffering, finally, Althaea resolved to kill her son Meleager. She decided to offer her son’s life, as a funeral offering to her departed brothers, to avenge crime by another crime, and to justify death by another death.
Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani