MELEAGER (Gk. Μελέαγρος), in Greek legend, the son of Oeneus, king of Calydon, and Althaea. His father having neglected to sacrifice to Artemis, she sent a wild boar to ravage the land, which was eventually slain by Meleager. A war broke out between the Calydonians and Curetes (led by Althaea’s brothers) about the disposal of the head and skin, which Meleager awarded as a prize to Atalanta, who had inflicted the first wound; the brothers of Althaea lay in wait for Atalanta and robbed her of the spoils, but were slain by Meleager. When Althaea heard this, she cursed Meleager, who withdrew, and refused to fight until the Curetes were on the point of capturing the city of Calydon. Then, yielding to his wife’s entreaties, he sallied forth and defeated the enemy, but was never seen again, having been carried off by the Erinyes, who had heard his mother’s curse (or he was slain by Apollo in battle). According to a later tradition, not known to Homer, the Moerae appeared to Althaea when Meleager was seven days old, and announced that the child would only live as long as the log blazing on the hearth remained unconsumed. Althaea thereupon seized the log, extinguished the flames, and hid it in a box. But, after her brothers' death, she relighted the log, and let it burn away until Meleager died. Then, horrified at what she had done, she hanged herself, or died of grief. The sisters of Meleager were changed by Artemis out of compassion into guinea fowls and removed to the island of Leros, where they mourned part of the year for their brother. The life and adventures of Meleager were a favourite subject in ancient literature and art. Meleager is represented as a tall, vigorous youth with curly hair, holding a javelin or a boar’s head, and accompanied by a dog.
See R. Kekulé, De fabula meleagrea dissertatio (1861); Surber, Die Meleager sage (Zurich, 1880); articles on “Meleager” and “Meleagrides” in Roscher’s Lexikon der Mythologie; L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie; Apollodorus i. 8; Homer, Iliad, ix. 527; Diod. Sic. iv. 34; Dio Chrysostom, Or. 67; Hyginus, Fab. 171; Ovid, Metam. viii. 260-545. In the article Greek Art (fig. 41) the hunting of the Calydonian boar is represented on a fragment of a frieze from a heroum.
- On the torch as representing the light of life, see E. Kuhnert in Rheinisches Museum, xlix., 1894, and J. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology (Eng. trans, by J. Stallybrass, 1880), ii. 853.