The story of the princess Atalanta, daughter of King Iasus, demonstrates that women can be every bit the accomplished athlete, fierce hunter, and strong warrior as any man – in spite of the fact that her father, who wanted a son, left her on a mountain to die. She vowed to remain a virgin, dedicated herself to the goddess Artemis, and proved repeatedly that she was as good a fighter as any man. Given the number of men (and centaurs) who lusted after Atalanta, once can only assume she was also beautiful. That, or men really do love an impossible challenge.
At some point, King Iasus (who, surprisingly, was reunited with his daughter and emerged unscathed) decided that Atalanta ought to marry. The clever Atalanta agreed, but only if the suitor could outrun her in a race. Any who tried and lost would be killed. Seems harsh, but presumably it discouraged the less determined suitors. Still, a fair number of fools tried. And lost their lives in the attempt. You know it wasn’t the fair Atalanta whose charms provoked them to enter the race – they really believed they could best her in the race. Hyped on testosterone and adrenaline, they gave it their all – she was just the prize. It was the thrill of the chase that suckered them in and sent them rushing headlong to their doom.
But one young man, Hippomenes, was cleverer than most. He had an edge. Though he was not the fastest, he was, apparently, the cutest – or at least the goddess Aphrodite thought so. She gave him three golden apples with which to distract the swift and deadly runner, Atalanta. The goddess of love was probably a bit tired, too, of watching so much slaughter in the name of love, and also wanted Atalanta to settle down, marry, have a few kids, mellow out, and stop killing the boys for chasing her.
But here’s the thing: Had Atalanta not been distracted by the next “pretty, shiny” apple tossed at her by the handsome Hippomenes, she might have remained free and true to her vows to Artemis, and would not have gone on to anger Zeus and get herself turned into a lioness. But no – she took her eye off the goal and let Hippomenes pass her up to win the race. Honor demanded that she marry him (and he was awfully cute, you know, to have won the favor of the goddess Aphrodite).
Now that I think about it, it might be worth pausing to look at the pretty, shiny things along the way. If they are truly more attractive than the prize you’ve set your sights on, perhaps there’s a reason for that, too. Life send many opportunities our way; it pays to be alert to them all.