Calydonian boar hunt represents a very advanced purification of the deep layers of the vital, only possible when equality is achieved.
The Boeotian Atalanta fighting with Peleus – Staatliche Antikensammlungen
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The lineage of Aethlius is an essential key for understanding the Trojan War, for it includes several characters of primary importance: Leda, the mother of Helen, Meleagros, Deianira and Diomedes, and the children of Oeneus ‘the winemaker’ or ‘the work necessary for acquiring Joy and divine intoxication’.
See Family tree 9
According to Apollodorus and Pausanias, Aethlius was the son of Protogenia, ‘she of those who advance at the forefront’, herself a daughter of Deucalion and thus a sister of Hellen (see Diagram 7). It is this genealogy which will be adhered to in this study, even though it has been suggested that Aethlius could also be considered to be a son of Aeolus. (Refer to Chapter 2 in Volume I.)
The name Aethlius, ‘that which concerns the price of the battle’, seems to designate a reply of the Divine to the seeker, who has long striven to know and unite with Him.
The aim of this struggle is the blooming of the psychic flower, Calyce ‘the flower bud’.
From the union of Aethlius and Calyce was born Endymion, ‘he who is filled with consecrated consciousness’. But according to Hesiod, Aethlius was a son of Calyce rather than her husband. Apollodorus claims that Zeus was his divine father.
Endymion, and the three generations following him.
Endymion led the Aeolians out of Thessaly and founded Elis, or succeeded his human father Aethlius on the Elis’ throne according to some accounts. He therefore indicates a turning point in the yogic process, the first stage of which ends in Thessaly, and the entry into a deep work of purification/liberation which consecrates its victory to Olympus and Elis.
Endtmion was known for his great beauty. According to some accounts, Selene fell in love with him and was so taken by his comeliness that she would contemplate her lover while he slept.
Whether there was an intervention from Selene’s part or not (see the study of this character in Volume I), almost all ancient Greek writers are in agreement that Endymion prayed to Zeus to be granted eternal sleep, and thus be exempt from the ravages of old age.
Aethlius is the symbol of a seeker who has since long fought for a consecration of his nature as a whole.
His son was Endymion, ‘he who is completely consecrated’; at this stage, the seeker asks his higher being for an ‘eternal sleep’ of the ego which will allow the power of action of the supramental – the true personality represented by Selene – to finally become active. In fact, if Helius symbolises the illuminating pole of the supramental which intervenes in the histories of the great heroes through the intermediary of his children (Circe and Aeetes, and in later texts Pasiphae as well), then Selene is the symbol of the supramental’s realisatory action, an external nature that is completely transparent and dedicated to divine action. As this transparency is very far from being realised, Selene only rarely appears in Greek mythology; completely pure act cannot in fact be carried out as long as the ego is present, even if it only continues existing in the body.
According to Pausanias, Selene bore Endymion fifty daughters, a number which indicates a totality in the world of forms, and therefore the accomplishment of consecration.
As this hero belongs to the lineage of Iapetus, the immobilisation granted by the supraconscient (the sleep induced by Zeus) can be considered to be a realisation of mental silence, as well as abolition of the ego. This attainment is definite, for Endymion’s sleep is to be eternal.
The fact that Endymion is ‘exempt from the ravages of age’ suggests that the seeker is at every moment ‘new’, available and virgin-like in the present moment, which means full adaptation to the movement of becoming.
In some sources it is added that Hypnos put him to sleep while keeping his eyes open, a sign of the continuation of active consciousness and an attainment of full awareness in the silence of the mind.
While Aethlius opens a lineage of very advanced seekers (for he weds Calyce, ‘the flower bud’), his son Endymion, as the founder of Elis, can be considered to be a symbol of advanced liberation, including psychic transformation and beginning of spiritual transformation.
Endymion fathered three sons, who characterise three distinct modalities of yoga: Aetolus, ‘he who calls liberation’, Paeon ‘the healer’ (this name being also applied to a song in honour of Apollo, ‘the psychic light’), and Epeius, ‘stable consciousness’. The only legend which refers to them describes a race organised by their father in Olympus to choose the successor of the Elis’ throne, which was finally won by Epeius. Aetolus ascended to the throne after his brother and established Aetolia, ‘the province of freedom in the plane of the spirit’, a place designated for vital purification.
(Endymion also fathered a daughter named Eurycyda, who coupled with Poseidon and bore Eleius, a symbol of the work carried out in the subconscious most probably with the same objective. However, we do not have sufficient details to make a reliable interpretation).
The three generations following that of Aetolus do not appear in any notable legend, and only their names can be used to indicate a certain progression in the process of liberation. Unfortunately, their precise meaning most often escapes us, and the ones listed here must be considered with care.
Aetolus was joined in marriage to Pronoia, ‘she who puts forward the spirit’, who bore him two sons, Pleuron, ‘he who navigates in the right manner’, and Calydon, ‘he who calls for union’.
Pleuron wed Xanthippe, ‘a golden energy’. This colour is the sign of an energy or force more refined on the vibratory plane than that represented by Leucippus, ‘white energy’ or purified energy. She bore him four children: Laophonte, Stratonice, ‘the victory in combat’, Sterope, ‘a wide vision’, and Agenor, ‘that which leads evolution’. The latter wed his cousin Epicasta, ‘she who goes forward towards integrity’. Epicasta was the daughter of Calydon, ‘he who calls for union’, and of Aeolia, ‘she who is always in movement’, the latter being the daughter of Amythaon, ‘he who is wordless’.
Agenor, ‘he who leads evolution’, and Epicasta, ‘she who goes forward towards integrity’, bore two children, Demodice and Porthaon, the latter later becoming the father of Oeneus, ‘the winemaker whose work is devoted to joy’.
Agenor therefore founds two distinct lineages, which develop in a parallel manner however.
The lineage of Demodice, ‘the right manner of acting in the outer being’, which allows the appropriate force to express itself on the plane of forms. The god Ares became her lover in fact, and she bore him a son named Thestius, ‘inner sincerity and rectitude’.
The lineage of Porthaon, ‘he who is plundered’, indicates an inner evolution of an even greater degree; only a total devastation of the egotistical nature can allow Joy to be established in the being.
The lineage of Demodice: Thestius and his children, Leda, Althaia, Hypermnestra and the Thestiads.
Demodice, ‘a right manner of acting in the external being’, was according to some sources responsible for founding Elis, ‘the province of liberation’. Its founding is more often attributed to her forefather Endymion, or even to Aethlius. She therefore represents a precision in each thought, each feeling and gesture.
She was very beautiful, but would not accept any of the suitors who sought her favours except for the god Ares by whom she bore two children. This indicates that she can only represent an objective for a movement of yoga which inscribes itself in an exactitude covering all aspects of the being, for only a force belonging to the overmind could lead to a right act. It is therefore Ares, the son of Zeus in charge of the right renewal of forms, who became the father of her children Evenus, ‘a right evolution’, and Thestius, ‘the rectitude which comes from within, sincerity’.
Evenus became the father of Marpessa, who was courted by Idas and Apollo and whose story we have discussed previously. He therefore represents a stage in which the seeker cannot yet completely abandon the leadership to the psychic being.
Thestius, ‘sincerity’, was the king of Pleuron, the city of ‘those who navigate in the right manner’. He coupled with Eurythemis, ‘a great higher law’, and engendered three famous daughters, Leda, Hypermnestra and Althaia, as well as several sons known collectively as the Thestiades. The latter were only known for having been slain by Meleagros during the Calydonian boar hunt. From this detail we can understand that at this stage, the personal will is no longer capable of directing on its own the process of yoga, and the three daughters of Thestius consequently represent the ‘goals’ of advanced seekers who devote themselves to the work of consecration.
Hypermnestra embodies ‘an aspiration for what is most elevated’ in the mind. She is paired with Oicles, ‘a renowned consciousness’, who was the grandson of Melampus, the seer ‘of the black feet’. The perception of the latter is, however, only a mental one, as confirmed by his belonging to the lineage of Cretheus in the ascension of the mental planes. Hypermnestra and Oicles bore the renowned seer Amphiaraos, ‘he who draws near to the right perception’, who symbolises one who is striving to express true knowledge. He is especially visible in the purifying Theban Wars and predicts the heroes’ deaths during their first expedition.
Leda represents a union through purification. Although her daughter Helen, symbolising the evolution of liberation, is unambiguously a daughter of Zeus, her story and those of her children will be studied along with that of Tyndareus the king of Sparta, who belongs to the lineage of Taygete (Taygete is the sixth Pleiad, and represents the stage of the intuitive mind).
The third movement symbolised by Althaia refers to a will for growth and for healing oneself, and perhaps also a will for inner freedom. She wed Oeneus, ‘he who strives for joy’, who was the son of Porthaon, an analysis of whose lineage follows below.
The lineage of Porthaon, his son Oeneus and his grandchildren Deianira, Tydeus and Meleagros.
Porthaon, ‘he who is plundered or ransacked’, wed Eurytia, ‘a vast spirit’. The latter was a daughter of Hippodamas, ‘vital mastery’, and the granddaughter of the river god Achelous, ‘the movement of consciousness which strives for the accomplishment of liberation’, and his wife Perimede, daughter of Aeolus. Porthaon therefore represents the seeker whose outer being is “annihilated”, but who acquires a vast consciousness through a mastery of his vital.
From his union with Eurytia were born several sons, of which only Oeneus, ‘the winemaker who strives for joy’, plays a role of any major importance. His other sons seem to indicate contradictory movements within the being, a simultaneous emergence of the seeker’s darkness and as well as his light. His other sons are named Agrios ‘the violent’, Alcathoos ‘of great swiftness’, Melaneus ‘the black’ and Leucopeus ‘the right balance and right equality’.
According to the Catalogue of Women, Porthaon also took part in another union from which were born several daughters companions of the Nymphs and the Muses. Among these daughters was Sterope ‘a large vision” who coupled with the river Achelous to become the mother of the Sirens. This genealogy confirms that the spiritual illusions represented by the Sirens, beings depicted as half-women and half-birds, last till a very advanced stage of the path.
The name Oeneus, ‘the winemaker’, indicates a seeker who aspires to and strives for divine joy. It would seem necessary to distinguish this joy, which results from a deep vital purification and detachment (for the children of Oeneus are Meleagros and Deianira), from that incarnated by Ganymede in the descendance of the fifth Pleiad Electra, ‘the illumined mind’. Ganymede became the cup-bearer of Zeus, and in fact symbolises a joy in the spirit to a great extent, while the final outcome of Oeneus’ work is a joy in the physical body.
With his first spouse Althaia, ‘she who heals’, Oeneus fathered two children of renown: Meleagros, ‘he who strives for exactness’, and Deianira, ‘detachment’. Ares became the divine father of Meleagros, and Dionysus that of Deianira.
Some other of his children are mentioned, and although they do not seem to have particularly remarkable destinies, their names are all meaningful. Some of them are Toxeus, ‘archery’, Agelaos, ‘he who is led by vision or will’, Thyreus ‘the doorway’ and Clymenos ‘the renowned’. In the Catalogue of Women another daughter is also listed, named Gorge, ‘the impetuous’, which we can understand as the counterpart of detachment. She is sometimes considered to be the mother of Tydeus.
A second wife, named Periboea, ‘all about light coming into matter’, daughter of Hipponoos ‘the power of spirit’, would bear the hero Tydeus, ‘he who aspires to union’, who in his turn became the father of Diomede, ‘he whose goal is to become divine’. The latter would become one of the great heroes of the Trojan War.
Oeneus, ‘he who strives for joy’, plays a primary role in Aethlius’ lineage. He represents the state of a seeker who, having attained a certain degree of mental calmness and abolition of ego (Endymion) and an appropriate mastery of his vital nature, seeks a deep purification (Meleager) and detachment (Deianira) so as to access the Joy and perfection of his nature. In this case it is therefore a question of a rejection of the undesirable elements of one’s nature which are archaic or simply no longer necessary for development, of a detachment from everything which blocks progress and a preparation for advanced transformation.
For twenty days, Oeneus welcomed in his home Bellerophon, the man who vanquished Chimera, and exchanged various presents with him; this work of purification and detachment cannot be carried out without a simultaneous cleansing of illusions.
The initiates of ancient times established a link with the theoretical teachings on the path of purification and liberation, making Deianira, ‘detachment’, the second wife of Heracles once the latter had accomplished his main Labours. After the wedding, this hero remained in Oeneus’ home for several years. We will therefore study Deianira in the discussion about the end of Heracles’ life.
Tydeus was forced to leave Calydon following the murder of members of his family (including his uncle Alcathoos, or in other accounts several of his uncles as well as his brother) who had attempted to usurp Oeneus’ throne. He was cleansed by Adrastos, the king of Argus, who presented him with his daughter Deipyle as a bride. From this marriage was born the great hero Diomede.
Tydeus, ‘he who aspires for joy and union’, was a son of Oeneus, ‘he who strives for joy’, borne not by Althaia but by Periboea, ‘all about light coming into matter’. Here it is no longer a question of a process of deep purification, growth and healing which must allow the detachment and liberation on the vital plane through the elimination of desire and of other movements disturbing union, as represented by Deianira and Meleager. Rather, it is an attempt to embody this joy through the power of the spirit. This is indicated by the fact that Tydeus’ mother is Periboea, the daughter of Hipponoos, ‘the force of the spirit’.
(If we consider the structuring characters Tau as symbolising mastery or power, another interpretation of Tydeus could be ‘union through the mastery and the powers of the spirit’).
The first work of yoga corresponding to Tydeus is that of maintaining a striving for Joy at the forefront of the seeker’s focus; Tydeus slew his uncle Alcathoos, ‘he who works with great speed’, a speed which in this case would be an obstacle to the establishment of joy. No other aspiration must become more important that the quest for joy (nobody must usurp Oeneus’ throne).
This attitude is just, and is why Tydeus was absolved of the slaying by Adraste ‘he who faces obstacles’ who presented him with his daughter Deipyle as a bride.
But this joy of union cannot be realised in the first attempt for purification; this work is interrupted, for Tydeus is killed in the War of the Seven against Thebes. It was his son Diomede who concluded the process ten years later during the second Theban War of the Epigoni.
Meleager and his hunters.
According to most authors, Meleagros’ human father was Oeneus, and his divine father was Ares, the god whose task is to destroy obsolete forms so as to make way for new ones.
It is said that Meleager took part in the quest of the Golden Fleece when he was barely past adolescence. Apollonius adds that none of the Argonauts could surpass him except Heracles himself.
Artemis was furious with Oeneus, who had forgotten her in his sacrifices to the gods. In displeasure, she sent a gigantic wild boar with great white tusks to daily ravage the vineyards of Oeneus, uprooting the flowering trees and plants.
Oeneus then gathered together the heroes of all Greek provinces. As he was old, it was his son Meleager who took command of the group of hunters. The latter was then joined in marriage to Cleopatra (One of the many homonymous Cleopatra), the daughter of Idas and Marpessa.
Amongst the heroes appear many of the most well-known Argonauts: Jason, Theseus and his friend Pirithoos, Peleus and his brother Telamon (son of Aeacus), Ancaeus and Cepheus of Arcadia (son of Lycurgus), Idas and Lynkeus of Messina (sons of Aphareus), the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux of Sparta (sons of Zeus and Leda), Admete (son of Pheres) and Eurytion of Thessaly, Iphicles of Thebes (son of Amphitryon), Amphiaraos of Argos (son of Oicles), and the sons of Thestius as well as Atalanta of Arcadia. This hunt took place prior to the Theban Wars.
The Calydonian boar hunt represents a process of the same kind as Heracles’ third labour, for it belongs to the great Panhellenic epics.
As in the fourth labour of Heracles, the boar in this case also represents an archaic vital movement which the seeker had to reject as not being truly his own, while the task of the Ceryneian Hind represented a complementary work of active purification and a suppression of impurities. While in the latter case it was a question of purification and a breakthrough of consciousness – for Heracles was to bring back the boar alive – in this case it is more a matter of a work of mastery and even surpassing which is demanded.
The boar symbolises manifestations of a primary vital energy at the very depths of human nature which is instinctive, rough, feral, brutal, and insensitive. These are the animal impulses and the primary desires supported by a repetitive mind of obsessive tendencies.
But if we have attributed to the Erymanthian Boar the primary vital energies as well as their impurities and imperfections, the description of the boar given here by Homer seems to limit these energies to natural impulses, for the boar is at the height of its vigour. The fact that the boar is alone suggests that these energies are easily identifiable as they are unmixed with other elements, and the boar’s white tusks suggest that they are not perverted but linked to the root of desire, the instinctive movement of captation. This struggle demands a great sincerity, which allows the seeker to perceive his own inner ‘boar’ with a true vision in his acts, thoughts and feelings.
Although this primordial energy remains mostly masked in civilised man, it has remained engraved in subconscious memory; it can take the form of the impulse for immediate gratification, the desire to monopolise, etc. We could therefore attribute to it both the manifestations of anger as well as deep reflex habits in sexuality and diet.
The whole world carries these memories, and it would be vain to believe ourselves to be able to ignore them. Furthermore, these energies must evidently find their appropriate outlet over the course of the growth of the personality, and the battle which is necessary in this case cannot be held prematurely or by principle alone.
But when it presents itself, it does so with sufficient insistence to keep it from being pulled away from the task, for the boar returns each day and tears down great trees.
In respect to these primary impulses associated with sexual desire, it is perhaps in this myth only a question of mastery, but we cannot however discard the idea that it might be about complete abstinence. In fact, for a long time sexuality does not constitute an obstacle on the path, as long as it is lived in an appropriate manner. It progressively extinguishes itself when the seeker surpasses the animal stage, but the seeker can also choose to accelerate the process.
Sri Aurobindo warns against justifying an inclusion of sexuality within the yogic process. He also warns against the risk incurred by an opening to universal love before the realisation of unity with the divine is established in its supreme purity, for there is always the risk that universal love may become universal desire. Finally, he states that the sexual vibration is completely incompatible with the supramental when the seeker reaches the stage of ‘transformation’ through the forces of the Divine, a stage which follows the two first transformations, the ‘psychicisation’ and ‘spiritualisation’ of the being.
The work of purification corresponding to this boar hunt led by Meleager must allow the attainment of a state of perfect purification and detachment, which presupposes a victory over desire, for Meleagros’ sister is Deianira, ‘detachment’, with whom Heracles will be joined in marriage at the end of his Labours. This work will be completed with the Theban Wars.
The boar is sent by Artemis, for the seeker is always confronted by what he has left behind or omitted to purify due to negligence or lack of interest; Artemis was furious with Oeneus, who had failed to honour her in his sacrifices to the gods.
The leader of the expedition is Meleager, ‘he who strives for exactness’, the son of Oeneus, ‘he who strives with Joy as his aim’.
Homer does not mention any of the heroes gathered by Oeneus to go forth with his son. Lists of these hunters however, numbering from sixteen to thirty-six names, were given by Hyginus, Apollodorus, Ovid and Pausanias. In this study we will only address the names which appear on all the lists. For the most part, these heroes are ones we have already encountered in the study of the quest of the Golden Fleece, and they of course include Theseus and Pirithoos.
– Jason, ‘he who heals himself’, or ‘the first reversal of consciousness’. His presence in this hunt is not always in agreement with the accounts about the end of his life, but could indicate that it is not yet the psychic that governs the being.
– Echion, ‘the evolution of concentration’, son of Hermes, god of the overmind plane.
– Theseus, ‘human consciousness turned inwards or acting from within’ or ‘the light which progressively penetrates into the inner being’ (the son of Aegeus), and his friend Pirithoos, ‘a pointed effort’ or ‘he who experiments swiftly’ (son of Zeus and Dia, who was also the wife of Ixion).
– Peleus, ‘he who plunges into the depths of what is human’ and his brother Telamon, ‘he who supports and endures’. He is a son of Aeacus.
– Idas, ‘a vision of the whole’, and his brother Lynkeus, ‘detailed vision’ or ‘he who is discerning’. He is a son of Aphareus.
– The Dioscuri: Castor, ‘the right movement towards purity in incarnation through mastery’ or ‘ an opening to uprightness in incarnation’, and Pollux, ‘he who fights with softness’, for Castor is a horse tamer while Pollux is a wrestler. They represent firmness and flexibility respectively; the power which imposes itself, and that which harmonises. They are sons of Zeus and Leda.
– Admetos, ‘he who seeks freedom, who does not submit’ or ‘a powerful mastery’. He is a son of Pheres.
– Eurytion, ‘a wide consciousness on the plane of the spirit’ and/or ‘a great mastery’.
– Amphiaraos, ‘he who draws near to a true perception’. He is a son of Oicles.
– To this list must also be added the sons of Thestius, ‘uprightness originating from within, sincerity’, who was known by a variety of names. According to some he was slain by Meleager, which provoked the fury of his mother Althaia and the subsequent death of Meleager in retribution.
For the first time in a great epic, there appears the name of a female character amongst the participating heroes: Atalanta, “equality” (as defined by Sri Aurobindo).
Two characters named Atalanta appear in Greek mythology. One is Boeotian and the other Arcadian, and must therefore be distinguished according to their native regions, for they are indicative of different points of the quest.
The first, the Boeotian Atalanta, refers to the period around the first great experience of contact with what is Real (the quest for the Golden Fleece), for she participates in the funerary games in honour of Pelias in which she overcomes Peleus.
Her presence at the opening of this stage indicates that the seeker must already establish a certain base of peace or equanimity instead of aspiring to descend too soon into the depths of what is human.
In The Catalogue of Women she is described as a daughter of Schoeneus, himself a son of the king Athamas of Boeotia and his third wife Themisto. Atalanta therefore belongs to the path of the spiritualisation of the mind (that of Iapetus on the ascension of the planes of consciousness) when the seeker engages with a path of uprightness (Themisto).
In certain accounts the authors mention Atalanta’s participation in the quest of the Golden Fleece as well, but this point is disputed by several other sources. It would in fact be erroneous to claim that peace – or even the will to establish peace – is settled so early on in the path, prior even to the first major experience, at which point the seeker is usually searching for his master and his own yogic path, unless this occurs within the frame given by a master. According to Apollonius, Jason was afraid that mishaps would occur if he allowed Atalanta on board; a premature insistence on equanimity can give rise to deviations such as over-watchfulness on oneself or a loss of sensitivity.
The corresponding myth unfolds in the following way:
Atalanta would slay any of her suitors unable to keep up with her in a race, which was something which no suitor had succeeded in. Her father Schoeneus sought to marry her to Hippomenes, to whom he had promised generous gifts if he succeeded in winning the race with his daughter.
While Atalanta did not usually accept the gifts of Aphrodite, Hippomenes tricked her by letting fall three apples given to him by the goddess. Atalanta paused to gather them, which slowed her down. She consequently lost the race, and was joined in marriage to Hippomenes.
This myth of the Boeotian Atalanta would more logically belong in the second volume, at the end of the study of the quest of the Golden Fleece, but as the information from different sources is contradictory we have preferred to discuss it alongside that of the Arcadian Atalanta.
The work of appeasement and equality of being progresses in the mind, but there is a reluctance to extending it into the vital, where human love has its roots (Atalanta usually refuses to accept Aphrodite’s gifts). But the determination from which this sense of equality originates seeks to continue its work on the vital plane; Atalanta’s father Schoeneus, ‘the concentration of mental energy, determination’, wishes her to wed Hippomenes, ‘the work of the will in the vital plane’. To attain its goal, the will-soul uses its gifts in the domain of knowledge, received from the power which governs the evolution of love, Aphrodite.
The movement of appeasement slows down in the mind for it is still in a movement of captation, not having yet begun to establish peace in the vital: the apples are symbolic of knowledge as well as union, of non-duality and of creative capacities (Atalanta is delayed and allows herself to be seduced by the apples of Aphrodite which Hippomenes drops to trick her). The aspect of the seeker which has already acquired a certain equality of mind can therefore not overlook a work of equality in the vital, while the work of the growth of love also calls for this transformation. It is a matter of allowing the vital to collaborate in the process of yoga so as to realise a perfect equality.
According to certain authors it was not Hippomenes but Melanion, ‘a dark consciousness’, who won the race and wed Atalanta. But both were transformed into lions, for they had come together in a sacred enclosure consecrated to Zeus. This version suggests that the seeker is absolutely not ready for the appeasement of the vital, and that this movement loses itself in the ego.
The Arcadian Atalanta
The second mythological character named Atalanta belongs to the royal lineage of Arcadia, which we will study further on. The name of this lineage is derived from that of the hero Arcas, whose name signifies ‘endurance’.
See Family tree 27
It is this Atalanta who participated in the Calydonian boar hunt. She was the daughter of Iasos, ‘he who heals himself from all knots’, and the granddaughter of Lycurgus, ‘he who passionately desires light’, and through her mother Clymene was also the granddaughter of Minuas, ‘the evolution of the movement of consecration of the mind’.
She therefore represents a much more advanced phase than the Boeotian Atalanta.
According to Callimachus in fact, in the conflict which set the Lapiths against the Centaurs, Atalanta had prior to the hunt, and apparently with no difficulty whatsoever, slain two Centaurs who attempted to rape her. The seeker has therefore already carried out an important work of sincerity in the lower layers of the vital.
Her father had only wanted male children, and at her birth had ‘exposed’ her, or abandoned her. But a bear had breast-fed her till the day in which a group of hunters found her, and brought her up as one of their own. When she came of age Atalanta chose to remain a virgin, spending her time hunting in wild places. She participated in the Calydonian boar hunt.
The seeker is still exclusively oriented towards a yoga of action, and does not aspire to any realisation (Iasos only wanted sons). But he generates, despite himself in some ways, an equality which grows without his knowledge. However, the seeker does not want this just-nascent equality to become a goal of the quest yet, even if it works towards an appeasement of the vital (Atalanta chooses to remain a virgin and hunt wild animals, like Artemis).
She did however finally succumb to the advances of Meleager, or in other accounts of the god Ares or of Talaos, and bore a son named Parthenopaeus, ‘he who strives for a virgin vision’, which is to say one who is pure of all distortions. The latter later participated in the First Theban War, representative of the process of purification and widening of the centres of consciousness, which is a work which cannot be carried out without an equality of increasing depth. He met his death in this war however.
The progression of the hunt
Oeneus honoured his guest for nine days. Several of the heroes were reluctant to allow a woman to participate, but Meleager demanded that Atalanta be included in the hunt.
Many of the hunters were killed by the boar but Atalanta surpassed them all in courage, with the exception of Meleager. She was the first to strike the boar with an arrow in his back. Then Amphiaraos wounded him in the eye, and Meleager completed the assault and killed him by piercing his side.
In Homer’s account, in which Atalanta is not mentioned, a battle between the Curetes and the Aetolians followed the hunt. It had been provoked by Artemis, who had not been appeased by the slaying of the boar (let us remember that Oeneus had failed to honour her with sacrifices). As long as Meleager remained in the battle, the Curetes were in a difficult position. But soon the hero withdrew to the side of his wife Cleopatra, who was the daughter of Marpessa and the granddaughter of Idas.
Afflicted and grieving for the death of her brothers (see below), her mother invoked Hades to bring death to her son, and the Erinyes carried out her plea.
The war ended with a victory of the Aetolians when Meleager, who had for long refused to take part in the battle, finally became involved.
Homer does not add any further details about Meleager’s death.
According to some sources, the hero met his death before the ramparts of Calydon. He had received the spoils of the board hunt, and had presented them to Atalanta. But his uncles the Thestiads, brothers of his mother Althaia, challenged this gift and claimed that it was rightfully theirs. Meleager was angered and slew them, which caused his mother Althaia to seek vengeance.
Soon after the birth of her son, she had been informed by the Moirai that he would meet his death when the embers burning in the hearth would be entirely consumed. She had then hastened to remove them from the fire and to preserve them safely in a closed chest.
In the outburst of anger provoked by the death of her brothers, she fetched the chest and threw it into the fire, which brought about Meleagros’ death on the field of battle.
Once the deed was done, she was overcome by grief and committed suicide.
At this stage the seeker cannot yet completely accept the path of abandonment to what is Real, which is the path of consecration or surrender, and because of this many heroes refuse to accept a woman’s presence in the quest. However, the seeker does wish to obtain results in the domain of ‘equality’; Apollodorus states that Meleager wished Atalanta to bear a child of his, and demanded that she be allowed to participate in the hunt.
The essential qualities which allow for a mastery and transformation of instinctual energies (the death of the boar), are first of all equality (Atalanta), followed by ‘the right perception’ (Amphiaraos) and ‘the work of exactness’ (Meleager).
Sri Aurobindo devotes three chapters in The Yoga of Self-Perfection to ‘equality’, which must be progressively established in all planes of the being. This equality is also known as equanimity when it pertains the mind and the vital, but Sri Aurobindo gives it a wider meaning for he considers that it must also be established in the plane of physical consciousness; perfect equality thus means being liberated from all mental, vital and physical preferences, and to have established within oneself a solid peace and an absence of all disturbances or perturbations. Ultimately, he explains that ‘to be equal is to be infinite and universal’. (Sri Aurobindo. Chapter XIII, The Action of Equality, in The Yoga of Self Perfection, Synthesis of Yoga, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Dept, 1999, p722)
The war of the Curetes, ‘the young warriors’, against the Aetolians of Calydon, ‘they who aspire for union’, was provoked by Artemis and was therefore part of the process of purification. It seems to indicate that a battle led by the mind must give way to aspiration and consecration. But this can only be done when the work of “exactness” becomes one with aspiration.
Homer does not dwell on the end of Meleagros’ life, for it is of relatively little importance in regards to the hunt. He simply mentions the curse cast on him by his mother and the consequent response of the Erinyes, spiritual forces ensuring the cohesion between evolution and higher law. We can simply suppose that the hero met his death in the battle that followed.
The alternative version, in which Meleagros’ death follows the casting of the embers into the fire, suggests that the seeker wishes to attribute the victory over the boar to his own efforts rather than to a realisation coming from a submission to the Absolute (the Thestiads resist giving the spoils of the hunt to Atalanta).
The deaths of the Thestiads and of Meleager therefore imply that within the frame of a progressive realisation of equality, the effort of exactness first makes that sincerity ceases replaced by exactness (Meleager slays the Thestiads). Then, the effort of exactness ceases with the realisation of equality (the death of Meleager brought about by Althaia). That which has at first protected the growth of the effort of exactness (Althaia as a representation of inner freedom) provokes its end once equality is acquired. This is also the end of the process of self-healing indicated by the suicide of Althaia, ‘she who heals herself’.
In this case again it is a question of a process, and the final victory over the boar can only occur at a very advanced phase of the path.