Atalanta was the daughter of Iasus and Clymene. Although she was an Arcadian princess, she was often described as a Greek goddess.
King Iasus wanted a son; when Atalanta was born, he left her on a mountain top to die. Some stories say that a she-bear suckled and cared for Atalanta until hunters found and raised her, and she learned to fight and hunt as a bear would.
Having grown up in the wilderness, Atalanta became a fierce hunter and was always happy. She took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis; when two centaurs, Rhoikos and Hylaios, tried to assault her, Atalanta killed them.
Calydonian Boar Hunt
When Artemis was forgotten at a sacrifice by King Oienus, she was angered and sent a wild boar that ravaged the land, men, and cattle and prevented crops from being sown. Atalanta joined Meleager and many other famous heroes on a hunt for the boar. Many of the men were angry that a woman was joining them, but Meleager, though married, lusted for Atalanta, and so he persuaded them to include her. Several of the men were killed before Atalanta became the first to hit the boar and draw blood. After Meleager finally killed the boar with his spear, he awarded the skin to Atalanta. Meleager‘s uncle and brother, Plexippus and Toxeus, were angry and tried to take the skin from her. In revenge, Meleager killed his uncles. Wild with grief, Meleager's mother Althaea threw a charmed log on the fire, which consumed Meleager's life as it burned.
Apollodorus says she wrestled and defeated Peleus at the funeral games for Pelias.
In some versions of the quest for the Golden Fleece, Atalanta sailed with the Argonauts as the only female among them, suffered injury in the battle at Colchis, and was healed by Medea. Other authors claim that Jason would not allow a woman on the ship.
Some time after the Calydonian boar hunt, Atalanta was rediscovered by her father. He wanted her to be wed, but Atalanta, uninterested in marriage, agreed to marry only if her suitors could outrun her in a footrace. Although she gave them a head start, those who lost would be killed by a dagger when Atalanta caught up to them. Many young men decided not compete against her while others died in their attempt to win. This changed Hippomenes (or Melanion) came along, he was a from a rich family from a city down the coast. His father, Megareus, was a son of Poseidon, and he trained under Chiron. Hippomenes asked the love goddess Aphrodite for help and she gave him three golden apples to toss as Atalanta caught up, in order to slow her down. The apples were irresistible, so every time Atalanta got close to Hippomenes, he rolled an apple ahead of her, and she would run after them and stop to pick them up. In this way, Hippomenes won the footrace and came to marry Atalanta. Eventually they had a son, Parthenopaios, who was one of the Seven against Thebes.
Zeus (or Rhea) turned Atalanta and Hippomenes into lions after they made love together in one of his shrines. Other accounts say that Aphrodite changed them into lions because they did not give her proper honor. She filled Hippomenes with lust and he stripped Atalanta in the shrine. Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes had it both ways; Aphrodite lured the couple to one of Zeus' shrines to make love so Zeus would turn them into lions. The belief at the time was that lions could not mate with their own species, only with leopards; thus Atalanta and Hippomenes would never be able to remain with one another. Some myths say the two lions were later used to pull the chariot of the goddess, Cybele. But most of them state the two just went into the wilderness and were impossible to hunt.
In Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes, Atalanta was described to be a gorgeously beautiful young woman with bronze skin and long blonde hair. She was taller and more powerfully built than any woman of the village in which she had been raised, and "her fierce stare could make the most seasoned warrior back down". Atalanta was also said to prefer wearing fur pelts to dresses, and when she raced against her suitors, she wore a simple white chiton, and her blonde hair was tied back into a braid.
- Hunting: Atalanta was an expert huntress famed for her skills, so much so that Meleager recruited her for the Calydonian Boar Hunt. As a huntress, she was particularly proficient in:
- Archery: Atalanta was an excellent archer - by the time she was fourteen, she could shoot a bow better than anyone in the village she was raised in. She also shot the two centaurs who tried to rape her with "deadly accuracy", and during the Calydonian Boar Hunt, she drew first blood by shooting the boar with such force that her arrow penetrated its spine, immediately paralyzing it.
- Knife-Fighting: Atalanta was an expert in knife-fighting - by the time she was fourteen, she could wield a knife better than anyone in the village she was raised in.
- Speed: Atalanta's greatest and most famous talent was her running speed - she could outrun the fastest horse, and effortlessly defeated all her suitors in footraces. If Hippomenes had not had Aphrodite's help, then it was highly likely that he would have lost to her as well.
- Bacchus incorrectly believes that the city of Atlanta was named after Atalanta.
- In the myths, Atalanta was said to have sworn an oath of maidenhood to the goddess Artemis, suggesting that she might have been one of the Hunters. This is yet to be confirmed in the series however.
- Atalanta is partially said to be the inspiration for Annabeth Chase.
- One version of the race to marry Atalanta, written by Betty Miles, was almost entirely different. Hippomenes was named Young John, all the men raced with her at the same time, the death penalty and golden apples were omitted, and the race ended in a tie but they became good yet separated friends and may have married in the future. The story still had the main theme of Atalanta wanting to "choose her own future."