Race to the finish

Remember the golden apples that Hercules stole from the Garden of Hesprides? Well those apples show up in another story too: Atlanta's Race.

Atlanta was the daughter of King Iasus. The king, annoyed at having a girl when he wanted a son, abandoned the baby on a mountain top. However, the baby didn't die. She was cared for by some bears and later taken in by hunters. A fierce hunter and swift runner, Atlanta was the only woman to participate in the hunt for the Caledonian Boar. Soon after, she was reunited with her father.

Now that she was a princess, Atlanta was being pressured to get married. Since she was not interested in marriage, she laid down a rule: she would only marry a man who could outrun her. The loser would be killed.

When the proclamation was made, everyone laughed. How could a girl outrun a man, they asked. Many young men flocked to Iasus' court to compete with Atlanta but none could defeat her. The king was distraught at seeing so many young men die because of his daughter but she would not relent.

One day, a young stranger called Hippomenes wandered into the city. He found the citizens agog with excitement. "What's going on?" he asked. "Another race with our princess," answered one man. "And the man will lose his head," added another. When Hippomenes understood what was going on, he was horrified. Why would any man want to marry someone who was out to kill him, he wondered, as he went along with the townsfolk to watch.

The final challenger

But when he saw Atlanta, he fell in love with her. After the race, he stepped up and announced that he would race against her next. The king, the people and Atlanta herself tried to dissuade him, but he would not be discouraged. Finally, the race was fixed for a week later.

Hippomenes did not bother to train. Instead, he haunted the temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love, begging her to help him. On the day before the race, he sat at the temple through the night. Finally, as dawn broke, the goddess appeared before him. She gave him three golden apples and told him how to use them.

Hippomenes appeared at the race, feeling more confident. The people who saw the handsome young man wondered at his bearing and lack of fear. The starter gave the signal and the two set off. Hippomenes let Atlanta get ahead and slowly took out one golden apple and rolled it ahead of her a little to one side. Atlanta saw the beautiful thing and stepped aside to pick it up. Immediately Hippomenes rushed ahead. When Atlanta overtook him, he flung the second apple. Again Atlanta stopped to collect it. Now he had only one apple left.

Hippomenes raced ahead but, as he neared the final post, Atlanta passed him. With a final prayer to Aphrodite, he flung the last apple ahead. Atlanta saw the glittering ball roll past and struggled between the desire to own the beautiful fruit and the need to win. Finally she moved to pick it up. Hippomenes called on his last reserves of strength and rushed past to reach the winning line. The king and the townspeople went mad with joy, as Hippomenes and Atlanta were married. There would be no more killings in that town.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 12:49:59 PM |

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