Meleager is the Latinized form of Ancient Greek Meleagros, the name of a Greek hero who features in the story of the Calydonian boar hunt. In Greek mythology, Meleager was the son of Althaea and Oeneus, the king of Calydon (though some versions put him as the son of the war god Ares). When he is born, the Fates tell his mother that Meleager would live only if a piece of wood burning in the family hearth would be completely consumed by the fire. Althaea immediately douses the flame and keeps it hidden safely. Many years later, when Oeneus forgets to pay tribute to the goddess Artemis she sends the Calydonian boar to terrorize the kingdom. Meleager and many powerful warriors banded together to kill it, including the warrior and huntress Atalanta with whom Meleager was in love with despite being married, to the dislike of the men who didn’t want a woman with them. Atalanta is the first one to wound the boar and Meleager finished it off. Afterwards, he offers its hide to her the protests of his uncles on his other’s side and when they tried to take it from her Melegaer killed them. When Althaea heard this, she took out the log of wood and threw it into the fire and when it was burned up Meleager died, just as the Fates foretold. Meleager is also mentioned as being one of the Argonauts. When Heracles went down into Hades to capture Cerberus as part of his 12 labors, Meleager is the only shade who does not flee from him. He tells Heracles his story, including his unmarried sister Deianeira, and entreats him to take her as his bride- which he does, resulting in his death later on.
The meaning behind the name is uncertain. It could be composed from Greek elements melas (black, dark) and agros (land, field) meaning “black land” or “black field”, likely in reference to burnt farmland in order to make the soil more fertile. I’ve also seen the first element possibly deriving from Greek meleos (unhappy) meaning “unhappy land”, or it could be related to Greek meleagris meaning “guinea fowl, turkey” which may make some sense; after Meleager’s death, some of his sisters were so grief-stricken by it that they were turned into guinea fowls by Artemis and were known as the Meleagrids.
- Meleagros (Ancient Greek)