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Meleager.1611: Roman copy from original from 4C BC. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

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.


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.


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 Hellas—today known as the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS—promising to give the Boar's skin as a prize to him who should kill the beast.

Meleager gives up the skin

The CALYDONIAN 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 Curetes—an Aetolian people—did 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 the Curetes

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 events—they believe—are 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 5—called the Meleagrids—grieved 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 grief.

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.

Other siblings

Meleager's brothers—Toxeus 1, Thyreus, Clymenus 1, Ageleus, and Periphas 5—died 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 daughter.

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.







Oeneus 2 & Althaea


Ares & Althaea


King Oeneus 2 of Calydon was son of Porthaon and Euryte 2. Porthaon is son of Agenor 6, son of Pleuron, after whom the city Pleuron is named. Pleuron is son of Aetolus 2, eponym of Aetolia and son of Endymion, the man who sleeps for ever. Endymion is son of Calyce 1, daughter of Aeolus 1, son of Hellen 1, after whom the Hellenes were called. Hellen 1 is son of Deucalion 1, the man who survived the Flood.
Althaea is daughter of Thestius 1 and Eurythemis. Thestius 1 is son of Agenor 6. Althaea is said to have consorted with several gods, including Ares, Dionysus 2 and Poseidon.


Handsome Parthenopaeus died in the war of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES. He has been variously called son of Meleager and Atalanta, Melanion and Atalanta, Talaus and Lysimache 1, and Ares and Atalanta.

Cleopatra 4

Polydora 3

Polydora 3, who married Protesilaus, the first of the Achaeans to die at Troy, committed suicide on the death of her husband. The same is said of Cleopatra 4, who killed herself when Meleager died. And the same again is told of Cleopatra 4's mother Marpessa 1, who killed herself when her husband Idas 2 was slain by Polydeuces, one of the DIOSCURI. So all these women slew themselves on the death of their husbands.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Achelous, Aeolus 1, Aethlius, Aetolus 2, Agenor 6, Althaea, Apollo, Atalanta, Biantes 1, Calyce 1, Calydon, Cleoboea 1, Cleopatra 4, Clymene 2, Deimachus 1, Deucalion 1, Dorus 2, Enarete, Endymion, Epicasta 1, Euryte 2, Eurythemis, Hellen 1, Hippodamas 1, Idas 2, Marpessa 1, Meleager, Oeneus 2, Orseis, Parthenopaeus, Perimede 1, Phorbus, Phthia 2, Pleuron, Polydora 3, Porthaon, Promachus 1, Pronoe 2, Protesilaus, Protogenia 1, Pyrrha 1, Thestius 1, Tlesimenes, Xanthippe 1, Zeus.

Related sections

Apd.1.8.1.-3; Dio.4.34.3; Hes.CWE.98; Hyg.Fab.14, 71, 239; Lib.Met.2; Nonn.13.89; Pau.4.2.7, 10.31.4; Plu.PS.26; Stra.10.3.6; Val.1.435.