Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A New Hero, or Actually, Heroine

In the past, I have written about two Greek Heroes I feel very close to, those being Theseus and Bellerophon, and how among the Heroes, I prayed to them the most. However, a Heroine (female Hero) has entered my practice as one who is close to me as well, Her name being Atalante. You might know Her best by Her Latin name, Atalanta. This is a brand new experience for me in all my years of Hellenism, because it's the first time a female Hero has called to me, and in many ways, I am still trying to figure out why. In recent years, I have thought of myself as someone mostly destined to connect with male divinity, but the longer I live, the more the female is starting to take an active presence in my life.

The beginning of Atalante's life is a sad one. Like some parents in ancient times and modern, Her father abandoned Her in the wilderness as a newborn because, it is said, he preferred a male child. He simply left Her there to die. Fortunately, however, the cries of the infant did not avoid the ears of Artemis, the Goddess who protects children, and She sent a she-bear (a symbol of Artemis), to care for the helpless baby, and eventually, She also sent hunters, being the Goddess of the Hunt, to take the baby into their care and raise Her. So they did.

From that point on, Artemis never forgot Her. In fact, Atalante grew up a virgin and pledged Her chastity to the Goddess, Artemis being a Virgin Herself. Thus, Atalante always defended it. In other words, She never allowed Herself to succumb to sexual desire, and pity fall on any male who dared to try to take it from Her, for She was not afraid to use Her arrows to strike down the advances of sex. She was not only a virgin of Artemis, but also a fierce and powerful Huntress in Her own, perhaps in service to Her Goddess. As well, Atalante possessed not only a swift foot and deadly aim, but also great physical strength, as She fought off the advances of Centaurs and defeated men in wrestling matches.

Perhaps Her aggression against males and men was rooted in the fact that Her father committed against Her the greatest harm that a parent possibly could. This was and is not an uncommon thing. Even in our modern time, we know that women who are terribly uncomfortable with men, usually have father or male abuse issues. However, Atalante would later become more comfortable with the opposite sex.

She one day became reunited with Her father, who was a king, because Her princess status of Arkadia was then recognized.  Of course, in those days, it was not proper for a girl of such high status to be without husband, so Her father declared that She should marry. This no doubt weighed on Atlante's heart, for She had held this conviction of virginity Her entire life. However, She eventually consented to marry any man who could defeat Her in a foot race. If he won, She would be his. If he lost, his life would pay the price of the pursuit. There was only one man who finally beat Her, by the name of Hippomenes, and he did not do so fairly, but there were no rules on how the challenger could win. From the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, he received apples (the symbol of female sexuality), to throw down during the race before Atalante. He did so, and Atalante found the apples so appealing that She had to stop to pick each one up. This allowed Hippomenes to win the race, and thus he became Her husband.

The race and the apples may call to us as a metaphor in some regards. Atalante did not stop to pick up apples in the literal sense. What happened was that She finally was moved off course by Her sexuality and desire, specifically for Hippomenes, and the stopping to pick up the apples represents that obstruction, to which She could not overcome. The men chasing after Her all died in the sense that their pursuit was unsuccessful, perhaps even their hearts broken or reputations left in disgrace, until finally the last man peaked Her interests.

It is unclear whether She felt She could continue Her devotion to Artemis after having had sexual intercourse, and at the end of Her life, She lived among nature, some say as a lion after being turned into one by Zeus. Perhaps Atalante was meant to live forever among nature, or perhaps Artemis took Her back, since Artemis is the Mistress of Animals. One of the great things about the Greek stories is that there is no "one true way" to interpret them. So we're left to think, believe and philosophize, which is good.

So, the question remains, what does Atalante mean to me and how does She take presence in my life? To me, She is a protector of infants and children, like Artemis. But more so, I see Her as an avenger and defender against the injustices, cruelty, and ruthlessness of this world. Being left in such a vulnerable state as a child Herself, I see it as only fitting that She would not want to see that, or other harmful or cruel acts, happen to the innocent, or that those who are guilty of such barbarity be punished. I also, for obvious reasons, associate Her with nature, the wild, forests, hunting and animals, as well as strength and perseverance for keeping Her virginity for so long. However, I also see Her as someone who helps and sympathizes with those who lose their course in life and helps put them back on it, for as we know, She Herself was pulled off Her own course, and therefore I would consider Her to know a lot about it.

Now why does all of this matter to me? What good does it have in my life that I can invoke Atalante? There are a great many ways I can list. I invoke Her for protection and care of my own child, and for the infants and children of the world, both before and after birth. I invoke Her for protection of nature itself. And I invoke Her as a defense against cruelty and injustice, to keep me on my course in life, to help me be strong in all my challenges, but also to comfort, encourage and direct me when I falter on that course. She's a wonderful Heroine to have, and I hope She follows wherever life takes me.

In the Goodness of the Dodekatheon and Atalante,

Work Cited:
Atsma, Aaron, Atalanta, (General Information), Auckland, New Zealand, 2011, 

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