Once upon a time, Althaea, the daughter of Eurythemis and King Thestius of Aetolia, married King Oeneus of Calydon. Althaea begot Meleager, Gorge, Deianeira and several other children.
When Meleager was seven days old, the three Moerae sisters appeared. They cast a piece of wood upon wasting flames and chanted Meleager’s fate. Clotho said that Meleager would be noble. Lachesis said Meleager would be brave. But Atropus, seeing the burning piece of wood, said that Meleager would remain alive, as long as that piece of wood remained unconsumed. Then, the Moerae sisters vanished. Althaea immediately doused the burning piece of wood, and kept it in a concealed chest in her own room. This piece of wood acted as a charm for Meleager, who grew up almost invulnerable. Meleager performed several heroic deeds like joining the Argonauts, winning the funeral games of Acastus, and killing the Calydonian boar.
At the Calydonian boar hunt, a dispute arose and Meleager killed his uncles. When Althaea learned that her son Meleager had killed her brothers, she wanted to kill Meleager and thereby, avenge the death of her brothers. But her love for Meleager prevented her from killing him. However, at length, Althaea decided to kill Meleager. She lighted a fire, took out the long-extinguished wood of the hearth from the concealed chest, and initially hesitating, but later, tearfully looking the other way, threw the piece of wood in the blazing fire. As the greedy flames licked the dry wood, Meleager became progressively weaker, and when the wood was fatally burnt to ashes, Meleager died.
Althaea hung herself, and Cleopatra, the wife of Meleager, likewise, hung herself. The sisters of Meleager, lamented unceasingly and Artemis transformed them into guinea-hens, the Meleagrides, who were sent to the isle of Leros. Among Meleager’s sisters, Gorge and Deianeira were not transformed.
Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani