We first meet Atalanta in Book 8, when she takes part in the hunt for the boar that is rampaging through Calydon.
Also on the hunt is Meleager, who immediately falls in love with her.
The band of hunters heads into the woods and encounters the boar. At first, things don't go so well; none of them can hit it with their spears, but it puts a number of them on the injured list.
Finally, however, Atalanta manages to hit it behind the ear. Meleager cheers her on.
The other men now feel ashamed that a woman has taken the honor of striking the boar. One of them, Ancaeus, recklessly attacks it at close quarters with an axe – but the boar disembowels him with its tusk. Ouch. The other warriors cast their spears recklessly, and miss.
But then Meleager succeeds in striking the boar with a spear, bringing it down. The other warriors cheer him on – if Meleager gets the credit, it will be less of an affront to their manhood. But Meleager insists that Atalanta share the credit. He even offers her the spoils.
Unfortunately, Meleager's two uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, who were among the hunters, step in and say that he has no right to give these gifts to Atalanta. This sends Meleager into a rage – so he kills them.
The end result of this is that Meleager gets killed by his mom Althaea.
When we next meet up with Atalanta, it is in a story that Venus tells Adonis. Here is what she tells him:
Venus tells Adonis how Atalanta was an incredibly fast runner – she could beat any man who challenged her. One day, she (Atalanta) went to ask an oracle whom she should marry.
The oracle told her that she shouldn't get married; it also said that she would ignore this advice, and it would turn out the worse for her. Weird. For some reason, she decided that the best course of action at this point would be to hold a running contest: whoever could beat her, she said, could have her as his wife. Oh yeah, and whoever didn't beat her would be killed.
The day of the contest arrived. Among the spectators was a guy called Hippomenes. He thought it was crazy that anyone would risk his life for a wife. Then he saw Atalanta strip in preparation for a race. Want to place bets on what happened next?
That's right; Hippomenes walked right up to her and challenged her to a race.
Atalanta wasn't sure what to do; she liked the look for Hippomenes, and would be sorry to see him killed. Then she decided to race him anyhow.
Venus told Adonis that, before the race, Hippomenes prayed to her for help. She explained that, at that time, she just happened to be carrying three golden apples; she gave these to Hippomenes.
On your marks…Get set…Go! For most of the race, Hippomenes and Atalanta were neck and neck – mostly because Atalanta felt sorry that he will have to die, and slackened her speed; then, however, her pride got the better of her, and she sped ahead again.
As they came down to the homestretch, however, Hippomenes busted out the big guns: he threw one of the golden apples on the ground. Atalanta, like a bird attracted to a shiny object, veered off course to pick it up. She caught back up to Hippomenes. Then he threw the second apple; the same thing happened. Then, when they are just about to cross the finish line, Hippomenes threw the last apple way off course. Atalanta headed for it, and Hippomenes won the race.
As a result, Hippomenes got Atalanta as his wife.
The problem is, he was ungrateful; he didn't make any sacrifices to honor Venus. So she decided to get revenge on him. One day, as Hippomenes and Atalanta were walking past a shrine of Cybele, she made him crazy with desire for his wife. Immediately, he took her into a cell attached to the temple complex, and they started getting it on.
Cybele was shocked by what was going on, so she turned the two lovers into lions. Then she yoked them to her chariot. (Expect to see them on an upcoming episode of Pimp My Chariot.)
That's the end of Venus's story. It's also the last we hear of Atalanta.