Atalanta in Calydon Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

neus, father of Meleager, offends Artemis, goddess of the hunt, by offering sacrifices to all the gods except her. As a punishment for his negligence, Artemis sends into Calydon a wild boar that ravages the land and the crops.

Althæa, embittered by the curse, refuses to pay homage to Artemis and rages against the gods. Althæa is a woman of strong will and determination. Years before, when her son Meleager was born, she had a strange dream concerning his birth. In the dream, three spinning women, the Fates, visited Althæa and promised that Meleager would have strength, good fortune, and a bounteous life, until the brand on the hearth burned completely. On hearing the last part of the prophecy, Althæa sprang from her bed, grasped the burning brand, and smothered the heat from it with her bare hands and feet. Then, to guard Meleager’s life, she hid the brand.

She also dreamed that the heatless brand burst into flame as a bud bursts into flower; with this strange phenomenon, Death came to blow charred ash from the brand into her breast, but there Love quenched the flame. The omen presaged for Althæa the security of her family; but in spite of her great pride, she was not unmindful of the lots that the gods might cast for mortals. These thoughts are in her mind as she goes to arm Meleager for the boar hunt. Never was there so strong a man of royal birth as Meleager. The Chorus, reviewing the life span of human beings, sums up this existence as a passing between a sleep and a sleep.

The warriors of Arcadia join the Calydonians in the hunt, and Meleager and Althæa discuss the qualities and characteristics of these men, among them the valiant sons of Leda, Althæa’s sister. Meleager describes Toxeus and Plexippus, Althæa’s brothers, as undoing their deeds with too much talk. Althæa counsels her son against having too great pride in earthly accomplishments and advises him to submit his soul to fate. The Chorus admonishes Meleager to follow his mother’s counsel.

Recounting the many tumultuous battles he experienced, Meleager points out to his mother that in all these frays he never saw evidence of the infallible gods to whom she and the Chorus would have him submit. neus reports the coming of the Arcadians and says that among them is a woman armed for the hunt. Although neus wishes to have this woman shown great respect because of her favor from the gods, he warns Meleager against becoming infatuated with her beauty. Althæa, recalling the prophecies of the Fates regarding Meleager’s career, adds to her husband’s warning against earthly love. Again imploring her son to give himself to fate, she tells him that he will not die as ordinary men die and that his death will be her death as well....

(The entire section is 1124 words.)