Meleager was among the ARGONAUTS and the CALYDONIAN
HUNTERS. He died in a war which he might have
provoked, or else because a certain piece of wood
was consumed by fire.
Meleager.1611: Roman copy from original from 4C BC. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.
When Meleager was seven days old, the three MOERAE appeared and
declared that the child should die once the brand
burning on the hearth was burnt out. Clotho said
that he would be noble and Lachesis that he would
be brave, but Atropus looked at the brand burning
on the hearth and declared:
"He will live
only as long as this brand remains unconsumed." (Hyginus, Fabulae 171).
Meleager's mother Althaea, having thus being
informed of her child's fate, took up the brand and
put it into a chest. But many years later this same
brand was set afire again and Meleager died.
ARGONAUTS and CALYDONIAN
In the meantime Meleager, who was virtually
invulnerable, joined the ARGONAUTS and sailed
with them from Hellas to Colchis in Caucasus in
order to fetch the Golden Fleece. At their return,
many among those who had been ARGONAUTS participated in what became known as the Calydonian Boar Hunt. This hunt took place because because Meleager's father, King Oeneus 2 of Calydon, while
sacrificing the first fruits of the annual crops of
the country to all the gods, had forgotten Artemis. To punish his negligence, the goddess sent a boar of extraordinary size and strength that prevented the land from being sown, and destroyed both cattle and people. To get rid of the nuisance, King Oeneus 2 assembled the noblest men of Hellastoday known as the CALYDONIAN
HUNTERSpromising to give the Boar's skin as a prize to him who should kill the beast.
Meleager gives up the skin
HUNTERS then, led by Meleager, hunted the boar,
which was shot first by Atalanta. After her, Amphiaraus shot it in
the eye, and then Meleager finished it by a stab in
the flank. However, on receiving the skin as prize,
Meleager, being in love with Atalanta, gave it to the huntress. But the sons of Thestius 1 who took part in the hunt representing the Curetesan Aetolian peopledid not approve of Meleager's gallant gesture because, in their view, a woman should not get a prize in the face of men. So, they reasoned, if Meleager did not take the skin, it belonged to them by right of birth. Meleager, however, was not in a disposition of accepting instructions regarding what he should do with the prize he had won, and in the course of the dispute that ensued he slew the sons of Thestius 1, giving the skin to Atalanta.
The piece of wood consumed
Unfortunately, these "sons of Thestius 1" were Meleager's uncles, and his own mother's brothers, herself being a daughter of the same Thestius 1. And having heard of her brothers' death, Althaea was possessed by such a grief that she caused his own son to die by taking the brand out of the chest, kindle it, and let it be totally consumed by the flames.
8105: Part of panel from a Roman mosaic pavement from the 4th century AD. Meleager, on horseback, spears a leopard. British Museum, London.
Killed by Apollo or
Now, there are those who do not believe in such
tales, and are not interested in hearing about
Fates coming from above or below prophesying about
magic brands that, on being consumed, may cause
someone's death. For such eventsthey
believeare most unusual and unlikely to take
place in the real world. Meleager, they assert, did
not die because of those extraordinary reasons, but
was instead killed in battle by Apollo or by the Curetes,
who lived side by side with the Calydonians in
Aetolia, a region in mainland Greece north of the
Gulf of Patrae.
Reasons for conflict
According to them, Thestius 1's son Iphiclus 2 was the first to hit the terrible boar, and that is why the sons of Thestius 1 and the Curetes claimed the skin. When Meleager and the Curetes could not agree, war broke out between the two clans, although some believe that they were not quarreling for a boar skin but for the possession of territory, Thestius 1 being the master of Pleuron and the leader of the Curetes, and his rival Oeneus 2 the ruler of Calydon. At the beginning of this war, they tell, Meleager sallied out and slew some of Thestius 1's sons; and Althaea, having learned what her son had done, cursed him. And beating upon the earth with her hands, called upon Hades and Persephone: that they should bring death upon her son. Seeing her anger, Meleager stayed at home and refused to fight, but when the enemy approached the walls of the city, he listened to those who supplicated him to come to their rescue and sallied out again. In this second sally, he killed the rest of the sons of Thestius 1, but himself met his death in the battlefield.
Grief for his death
2127: Meleager. Roman copy from 340-330 BC. Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
His wife Cleopatra 4 and his mother Althaea hanged themselves after the death of Meleager, and some have said that his sisters Eurymede 2 and Melanippe 5called the Meleagridsgrieved so much the death of their brother that they were turned into birds by Artemis. There are also
those who affirm that Meleager's wife died of
Advises Heracles 1 to marry his sister Deianira 1
Meleager himself came to Hades, being seen
there by Heracles 1 when he came to fetch the hound Cerberus 1. Some have said that it is following Meleager's advice that Heracles 1 came
to Calydon and married Meleager's sister Deianira 1.
Meleager's brothersToxeus 1, Thyreus, Clymenus 1, Ageleus, and Periphas 5died in the war against the Curetes. His brother Tydeus 2 became one of
the SEVEN AGAINST
THEBES and father of Diomedes 2; he has been regarded as inferior in judgment to his brother Meleager. Meleager's sister Gorge 2 married Andraemon 1, and had a son Thoas 2 who led the Aetolians against Troy.
After the Trojan War,
the exiled Odysseus came to the court of Thoas 2 in Calydon, and married his
Collection of firebrands
On referring this story, the mythographer Hyginus recalls and counts several fatal firebrands: That which Queen Hecabe 1 of Troy thought or dreamt she
brought forth when Paris was about to be born; that of Nauplius 1, when he caused the shipwreck of the Achaeans at the Capharean Rocks (see Map: The Returns and Palamedes); that of Helen, which she displayed
from the walls, signalling to the enemies of Troy; and finally that of
Althaea, which destroyed her own son.