Atalanta's parentage is uncertain. One possibility is King Iasus with Clymene. She came into the world in the undesirable state of being female. As a result her Father had her carried into the woods and left exposed to die. Instead, she was raised during her childhood by a bear. As she grew older she began to spend time with hunters and was soon the best amongst them. She loved hunting and the outdoors and had no use for a man in her life. She also received an oracle that her marriage would end in disaster. She had no compunction in defending her virginity. When the centaurs Rhoecus and Hylaeus attempted to rape her she quickly killed them with her arrows.
She wished to join the Argonauts but, Jason thought it inadvisable to have a women among the crew, fearing problems like those that would occur during the boar hunt.
Her shooting skills allowed her to draw first blood during the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Her contribution to the hunt was marred when a quarrel over giving her a trophy of the hunt resulted in the death of Meleager and his uncles.
At the funeral games honoring Pelias, Atalanta entered the wrestling contests. Here she gained more fame by scoring a victory over Peleus.
She achieved enough that her Father forgave her for not being a son and allowed her to return home. Once there he attempted to fulfill his fatherly obligations by finding her a husband. For her to simply refuse might arouse dangerous resentment. Instead she proposed a test. The successful suitor would have to beat her in a foot race. Losing suitors would be beheaded by her. As Atalanta was one of the fastest mortals this appeared to insure her maidenhood.
For quite some time this worked. Some say that she evened the odds by wearing armor while she ran. Others say that she gave the suitors a head start of half the distance. In any case the heads stacked up.
Melanion fell in love with her. He knew that he was not fast enough to win the race. So he did what many frustrated lovers have done. He prayed to Aphrodite for help. Aphrodite has a weakness for lovers and a concern about those that reject romance to the degree that Atalanta did. Aphrodite presented Melanion with three golden apples and a plan. In return Melanion was to sacrifice to Aphrodite.
Melanion then ran his race with Atalanta carrying the apples with him. When Atalanta caught up to him he tossed the first apple at her feet. The sight of the magic golden apple was irresistible to Atalanta. She stopped to pick it up confident that she could make up the time. Soon enough she was once again passing Melanion. He threw the second apple, this time further to the side. Again, she lost time retrieving the apple. As she again caught up the finish line was near and chasing the third thrown apple cost her the race.
Despite her resistance once won marriage seemed to suit Atalanta. Melanion's happiness and joy was so great he completely forgot his obligations to sacrifice to Aphrodite. As usual when messing up with the gods payback was severe.
Aphrodite waited until Melanion and Atalanta were passing a shrine to a god, possibly Zeus. She then hit them with overwhelming desire. Melanion took Atalanta into the shrine and lay with her. At this point the infuriated god turned them both into lions. This was regarded by the Greeks as particularly poetic as they believed that lions could mate only with leopards.
There is one other mystery of Atalanta. Somehow despite her vaunted virginity she had a son - Parthenopaeus. The father is uncertain. Melanion and Meleager have both been suggested but, both of them were with Atalanta only briefly. Ares has also been put forward as the father. Out of embarrassment she left the child exposed on a mountain. He was found and raised, eventually becoming a hero in his own right.