Atalanta and Milanion

              Atalanta and Milanion        If you should really want to hit the mark, Striking your target where the bull’s-eye stares, Do not allow your aim to be disturbed By the intrusion of distractive thought      Or sight; just concentrate on your intent!.       […]

              Atalanta and Milanion


     If you should really want to hit the mark,

Striking your target where the bull’s-eye stares,

Do not allow your aim to be disturbed

By the intrusion of distractive thought

     Or sight; just concentrate on your intent!.


     A princess lived in Greek Arcadia

Whose name was Atalanta. She was famed

As artful huntress who had helped to kill

The monstrous boar of Calydonia

Through application of her matchless skill.

     As well as this, she could outrun all men;

For she was half divine by birth, endowed

With storm-wind speed and crushing stamina.

     Allied to these proud attributes, she owned

A loveliness of features and of form

Rare even in those long-gone days of charm

And supernatural perfection’s rule.


     Hence, many suitors came to press their hopes

Of favour, that they might enjoy her love,

Take her in marriage and, through her, beget

Invincible dynastic families.

     Vain hopes!. For she preferred her freedom more

Than bonds of domesticity’s dull chores —

Bearing and rearing children, or those cares

Of household management and polity —

That were the chief concerns of wedded wives,

However nobly born or highly matched.

     So she refused, consistently, all pleas,

Though some pursued her no less ardently

And importuned no less incessantly.


     Beset by these unwanted aspirants

Who sought — more for their own ambitions’ sakes

Than love — to limit her untrammelled joy

Of hunting and its fleetfoot chase through warm,

Green forest fastnesses, she then devised

A cruel scheme to rid herself, at last,

Of their encumbrance, ruling that each man,

(Whether a prince or baser-born),  who wished

To marry her should undertake to race

One mile with her on foot. If he should win,

She would submit herself to be his wife.

     The penalty of failure to outrun

This famed athletic huntress — confident

In her unmatchable velocity

To vanquish all competitors — would be

The forfeit of his life in sudden death

As public punishment for too great pride!.

     Some, undeterred, attempted to outpace

This jealous guardian of chastity.

They paid the price for their temerity

And her despisal of their humbled hearts.

(As poets know, beauty may hide a cold

And stony core rather than gentle warmth!).


     One day there came to her Milanion,

(Surnamed Hipppomenes), to risk his neck

By challenging her to the fateful race.

     Though he was not a prince, no fool was he —

Wisdom, luck, courage are not only found

In high-born scions or rich parvenus! —

For he had gained the strong protective aid

Of Aphrodite, (love’s epitome,

Goddess of beauty, grace and elegance),

Supportress of all those whose amorous

Intents are worthy of accomplishment.

     She’d deemed his love for Atalanta free

From taint of crude ambition so, to help

His cause, she gave to him a priceless gift;

Three golden apples of exquisite shape

And lustre, (enhanced with precious gems rare

In their beauty and that pure craftsmanship

By which they were inlaid), on which she had

Bestowed a divine charm that rendered them

So irresistibly attractive that

No mortal woman could but covet them

Beyond wise rationality’s constraints.

     These baubles were designed to trance the eyes

And heart of anyone who chanced to glimpse

Their supernatural delightfulness.

     Milanion accepted them, without

Demur, from Aphrodite’s hands; he knew

That, to achieve the near-impossible,

Pre-planning is a golden principle!.


     So, on the duly nominated day,

(Those treasures in his tunic hid from view),

Milanion and Atalanta stood

Beside each other at the starting-post

That marked the outset of their fateful course

Inside the crowded, steep-tiered stadium.

     (A host will always gather when the chance

To witness someone else‘s life-blood spilt —

Whether or not the victim’s crime was such

To merit death — presents itself to them.

Sometimes we humans more resemble beasts

Than we care to admit to our own selves!).

     The racing-track, two furlongs in its length,

Must be two times in each direction run —

By him who hazarded his life for her

That haughtily stood by him at the start —

Around twin posts marking its turning-points.


     The Master of the Race raised up his wand.

Inside his tunic bold Milanion

Slipped his hot hand and grasped an apple there.

Then, as the signal fell to start the race,

He handed Atalanta such a prize

As never was donated at the end

Of any contest, never mind before

The first foot had been put across the line!.

     Astonishment quite took her breath away

And turned her mind from she had to do.

She stood, transfixed by awe, her eyes alight

With such an ecstasy as lit her face

More brightly than the morning sun that peered

Above the wooded hills of Arcady.


     Meanwhile, Milanion did not delay

To put such distance as he might between

The lovely huntress and her destined prey.

So only when he’d turned the distant post

Marking the quarter-mile could she — recalled

To sense by rising clamour from the crowd —

Withdraw her gaze from that delightful toy

And focus on what now she must achieve

To win the race, retain her liberty

And so preserve her prized virginity!.


     But when she launched herself, with swift full strides,

Into the contest, then what gracefulness

And devastating power she revealed!.

Faster than arrow down that track she flew,

Her feet mere blurs of motion seeming scarce

To touch the sand they scattered in her flight.


     Although Milanion could run as well

As any mortal might, just as he reached the post

That marked the half-mile point, Atalanta —

The bauble tightly clutched in her right hand —

Already had eliminated all

The loss of distance and was at his heels!.

     He sensed, hearing the roaring crowd’s acclaim,

She was about to overtake him!. From

His tunic he took out another bright

Gold apple which he tossed, despairingly,

Over his shoulder. Atalanta tried

To catch it but, athletic though she was,

(The one-in-hand hampered her reflex lunge),

It slipped her grasp — deceivng both her eye

And hand — to bounce away behind her feet.

     Believing she could catch him once again,

She stopped and turned and chased after the gaud

That rolled along the margin of the track

Away from her. The errant fruit soon caught,

She gazed on it stock-still in wonderment

That two such treasures in a single day

Should come her way.


                                               Milanion, meanwhile,

Ran on as fast as shortening breath — and limbs

Feeling more heavy with each step he took —

Allowed. He knew that, once she had retrieved

The apple and got over her surprise,

She’d hunt him down again as easily

As she had done before. His only hope

Was to pursue his course as best he might,

Expending all his energy to gain

The winning-post before she got there first.

     His muscles pained, his tendons strained, his heart

Beats sounded in his ears, as sweat poured down

His face and in his bulging eyes. He scarce

Could see the track and vertigo — brought on

By his fatigue — was leading him away

From straightest route to victory’s release.

     For him, (whether or not he did achieve

His aim), it literally was a case

Of life or death. He must succeed or die!.


      At length — roused by the crowd’s bewildered cries —

Swift Atalanta broke her reverie.

She saw her crafty challenger was half

Way down the final straight whilst she still had

Two complete lengths to run. She also saw,

With her keen huntress-eyes, that he was spent,

Losing speed and staggering like someone

Drunk on too much wine.

                                                     Placing the apples

In a dress-fold, (by one hand held secure),

Now galvanised into fresh urgency,

The passion of her huntress-heart and will

To win supremacy, she was impelled

To frenzied action. Like some shooting-star

Skimming across the sky, spectacular

In her élan,  she ran along the track

So rapidly the eyes of  those who watched

Could scarce keep pace with her. Somehow she turned

The post, still at top speed, and sprinted down

The straight; a cheetah in pursuit of prey!.

     The crowd was dumb-struck at the awesome sight

As Atalanta — demi-goddess she,

Implacably relentless in her rage

At her opponent’s trickery – devoured

The distance as a starving predator

Ingorges fresh-killed meat!.



Pressed on, although his strength was draining through

His feet into the sandy track that seemed

A clinging quagmire. Suddenly he heard,

Above the wheezing of his airless lungs

And pounding heartbeats roaring in his ears,

A mighty bellow from the crowd and knew

That Atalanta once again was close

Behind his heels ready to overtake

Before he reached the finish-post that now

Was just four paces — more or less, he guessed —

From him!.

                            Despite the physical distress,

His mind’s lucidity did not desert

Him; Aphrodite whispered in his ear

Encouragement, reminding him that one

Gold apple still remained. If he would earn

Reprieve from that grim forfeit he had pledged

And still desired this huntress as his bride,

Then he must use it now. To hesitate

Would seal his doom!.

                                                So, as his senses swooned —

From painful cramps and and utter disregard

Of anything except the sweet relief

That soon he need no longer force his flesh,

By power of his single-minded aim,

Beyond its normal capabilities —

He threw the final bauble to the ground

Heedless of whether Atalanta would,

So close to victory, bother herself

With it; for her’s it would be, if she won,

And he her sacrificial offering

To liberty and virgin purity!.


    Lithe Atalanta, having twice been duped,

Was ready this time!. With athletic stoop

And perfect poise she caught the trinket up

Just as it bounced beside her fluent feet,

Without breaking step. But Aphrodite’s

Magic was too strong for her resistance.

     She glanced at it one moment — that was all —

But in that instant she renounced the chase

Because, unwittingly, she slowed her pace

Sufficiently for brave Milanion

To pass the post just half a step ahead

Of  Atalanta, his distracted foe!.


     The huntress saw her erstwhile prey collapse

Into oblivion. Although she knew

She had been tricked out of her victory,

She also understood that nothing’s barred

To hunted creatures which must save their lives

By any ruse their wits can improvise.

So she accepted with good grace the loss

Of that invincibility which had

So long sustained her proud virginity

And independent liberty to live

Untrammelled by wed domesticity.


     Thus, when Milanion awoke, it was

To find his head pillowed upon her lap

Whilst she, with tender care, bathed his hot head

With cooling cloths and murmured in his ear

That he was master of her life and fate.

     (Sure, she had lost the race, but won instead

Not only this courageous husband who,

With foresight, had prepared himself to win

The object of his heart — which promised well

Of his abilities as future king

Of that realm which would come to him, in time,

Through her inheritance — but also those

Three jewelled golden apples whose rare charms

Had stolen victory from her, but won

Her back to that humanity which had

Too long lain dormant in her heart and life.

     Such gains outweighed the losses and brought her

The satisfactions of contentedness

And future consequential benefits).

So she was glad to share Milanion’s

Self-evident signals of happiness.


     Sly Aphrodite, watching these events,

Delighted in the knowledge that she had

Not only helped love win its earned reward,

But also gained a new recruit — the proud

And noble Atalanta — who would spread

Love’s influence more widely in the world!.


     The lessons of this story should be plain

For all to see and understand. For first

It tells that talents, of themselves, cannot

Assure success — no matter their degree —

Unless intelligently used to best

Effect through wise appliance of courage,

Determination and consistency.

     Second, that even mediocre skills,

(Enhanced by concentration and good sense

Right to imagination’s fullest stretch),

Can win achievements far beyond what they

Might be expected, even outperform

More highly-gifted individuals

Who lack the necessary strength of will

Or the creative brilliance of  bright

Imagination’s inspirational


                    Thirdly, the best endowed may fail,

The less advantaged win success, through this

Sole difference; how well a mind can use

The raw materials available

To conjure excellence from seeming dross.

This difference divides the losers from

The winners of life’s constant challenges.


     If you should really mean to hit the mark,

Striking your target where the bull’s-eye stares,

Do not allow your aim to be disturbed

By the intrusion of distractive thought

     Or sight. Just concentrate on your intent!.

Author: J. A. Bosworth

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