Calydonian boar hunt

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Meleager (sitting on a rock, with two spears) and Atalanta (standing) reposing after the Calydonian boar-hunt. Antique fresco from Pompeii.
The Calydonian boar hunt shown on a Roman frieze (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)[1]

The Calydonian boar hunt is one of the great heroic adventures in Greek legend.[2] It occurred in the generation prior to that of the Trojan War, and stands alongside the other great heroic adventure of that generation, the voyage of the Argonauts, which preceded it.[3] The purpose of the hunt was to kill the Calydonian boar (also called the Aetolian boar),[4] which had been sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia, because its king Oeneus had failed to honour her in his rites to the gods. The hunters, led by the hero Meleager, included many of the foremost heroes of Greece. In most accounts it is also concluded that a great heroine, Atalanta, won its hide by first wounding it with an arrow. This outraged many of the men, leading to a tragic dispute.

Importance in Greek mythology and art[edit]

Tondo of a Laconian black-figure cup by the Naucratis Painter, c. 555 BCE (Louvre)

Since the Calydonian boar hunt drew together numerous heroes[5]—among whom were many who were venerated as progenitors of their local ruling houses among tribal groups of Hellenes into Classical times—it offered a natural subject in classical art, for it was redolent with the web of myth that gathered around its protagonists on other occasions, around their half-divine descent and their offspring.[citation needed] Like the quest for the Golden Fleece (Argonautica) or the Trojan War that took place the following generation, the Calydonian boar hunt is one of the nodes in which much Greek myth comes together.[citation needed]


Both Homer and Hesiod and their listeners were aware of the details of this myth, but no surviving complete account exists: some papyrus fragments found at Oxyrhynchus are all that survive of Stesichorus' telling;[6] the myth repertory called Bibliotheke ("The Library") contains the gist of the tale, and before that was compiled the Roman poet Ovid told the story in some colorful detail in his Metamorphoses.[7]


The boar[edit]

The Calydonian boar, metope fragment from the Sicyonian Treasury, Delphi Archaeological Museum, Delphi, Greece.[8]

The Calydonian boar is one of several monsters in Greek mythology named for a specific locale. Sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia, it met its end in the Calydonian boar hunt, in which many of the great heroes of the age took part (an exception being Heracles, who vanquished his own Goddess-sent Erymanthian boar separately).

King Oeneus ("wine man")[9] of Calydon, an ancient city of west-central Greece north of the Gulf of Patras, held annual harvest sacrifices to the gods on the sacred hill. One year the king forgot to include Great "Artemis of the golden throne" in his offerings.[10] Insulted, Artemis, the "Lady of the Bow", loosed the biggest, most ferocious wild boar imaginable on the countryside of Calydon.

Ovid describes the boar as follows:[11]

A dreadful boar.—His burning, bloodshot eyes
seemed coals of living fire, and his rough neck
was knotted with stiff muscles, and thick-set
with bristles like sharp spikes. A seething froth
dripped on his shoulders, and his tusks
were like the spoils of Ind [India]. Discordant roars
reverberated from his hideous jaws;
and lightning—belched forth from his horrid throat—
scorched the green fields.
— Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.284–289 (Brookes More translation)

Ovid goes on to say that the boar rampaged throughout the countryside, destroying vineyards and crops, forcing people to take refuge inside their city walls.[12]

According to Strabo, the boar was said to be the offspring of the Crommyonian Sow vanquished by Theseus.[13]

The hunt[edit]

Oeneus sent messengers out to look for the best hunters in Greece, offering them the boar's pelt and tusks as a prize.[14]

Roman marble sarcophagus from Vicovaro, carved with the Calydonian Hunt (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome)
Meleager et Atalanta, after Giulio Romano

Among those who responded were some of the Argonauts, Oeneus' own son Meleager, and, remarkably for the hunt's eventual success, one woman—the huntress Atalanta, the "indomitable", who had been suckled by Artemis as a she-bear and raised as a huntress, a proxy for Artemis herself (Kerenyi; Ruck and Staples). Artemis appears to have been divided in her motives, for it was also said that she had sent the young huntress because she knew her presence would be a source of division, and so it was: many of the men, led by Kepheus and Ankaios, refused to hunt alongside a woman. It was the smitten Meleager who convinced them.[15] Nonetheless it was Atalanta who first succeeded in wounding the boar with an arrow, although Meleager finished it off, and offered the prize to Atalanta, who had drawn first blood. But the sons of Thestius, who considered it disgraceful that a woman should get the trophy where men were involved, took the skin from her, saying that it was properly theirs by right of birth, if Meleager chose not to accept it. Outraged by this,[16] Meleager slew the sons of Thestius and again gave the skin to Atalanta (Bibliotheke). Meleager's mother, sister of Meleager's slain uncles, took the fatal brand from the chest where she had kept it (see Meleager) and threw it once more on the fire; as it was consumed, Meleager died on the spot, as the Fates had foretold. Thus Artemis achieved her revenge against King Oeneus.

Woodcut for Raphael Regius's edition of Metamorphoses, Venice, c. 1518

During the hunt, Peleus accidentally killed his host, Eurytion. In the course of the hunt and its aftermath, many of the hunters turned upon one another, contesting the spoils, and so the Goddess continued to be revenged.[17] According to Homer "the goddess brought to pass much clamour and shouting concerning his head and shaggy hide, between the Curetes and the great-souled Aetolians."[18]

Meleager, one of the hunters. His javelin is broken and the boar is missing (Victoria and Albert Museum)

The boar's hide that was preserved in the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea in Laconia was reputedly that of the Calydonian Boar, "rotted by age and by now altogether without bristles" by the time Pausanias saw it in the second century CE.[19] He noted that the tusks had been taken to Rome as booty from the defeated allies of Mark Anthony by Augustus;[20] "one of the tusks of the Calydonian boar has been broken", Pausanias reports, "the remaining one is kept in the gardens of the emperor, in a sanctuary of Dionysus, and is about half a fathom long",[21] The Calydonian boar hunt was the theme of the temple's main pediment.

The hunters[edit]

The hunters of the Caledonian boar
From the François Vase, c. 570 BCE

According to the Iliad, the heroes who participated in the hunt assembled from all over Greece.[22] Bacchylides has Meleager describe himself and the rest of the hunters as "the best of the Hellenes".[23]

The table lists:[24]

Hero Paus. Hyg. Ovid Apd. Notes
Acastus Ovid: "swift of dart"[29]
Admetus Son of Pheres, from Pherae.
Alcon (son of Hippocoon) One of three sons of Hippocoon from Amyclae, according to Hyginus.
Alcon (son of Ares) Son of Ares from Thrace.
Amphiaraus Son of Oicles, from Argos; "As yet unruined by his wicked wife", i.e. Eriphyle.[30]
Ancaeus Son of Lycurgus, from Arcadia, killed by the boar. In Ovid's account he wielded a two-headed axe (bipennifer) but he was undone by his boastfulness which gave the boar time enough to charge him: Ancaeus was speared on the boar's tusks at the upper part of the groin and guts burst forth from the gashes it had made.[31]
Asclepius Son of Apollo.
Atalanta Daughter of Schoeneus, from Arcadia.
Caeneus Son of Elatus; Ovid notes that Caeneus was "first a woman then a man".[32]
Castor Brother of Polydeuces; the Dioscuri, sons of Zeus and Leda, from Lacedaemon.
Cepheus Son of Lycurgus, brother of Ancaeus.[5]
Cometes Son of Thestius, Meleager's uncle.
Cteatus One of the two sons of Actor, brother of Eurytus.[33]
Deucalion Son of Minos.
Dryas of Calydon Son of Ares (Hyginus notes him as "son of Iapetus").
Echion One of the Argonauts, son of Hermes) and Antianeira, brother of Erytusson; Ovid says "first to hurl his spear".[34]
Enaesimus One of three sons of Hippocoon from Amyclae, according to Hyginus.
Euphemus Son of Poseidon.
Eurypylus One of the sons of Thestius, according to Apollodorus.[35]
Eurytion Accidentally run through with the javelin of Peleus.
Eurytus (son of Hermes)
Eurytus (son of Actor) One of the two sons of Actor, brother of Cteatus.[33]
Evippus One of the sons of Thestius, according to Apollodorus.[35]
Hippalmus Along with Pelagon, attacked by the Boar, their bodies taken up by their comrades.[36][37]
Hippasus Son of Eurytus of Oechalia.
Hippothous Son of Kerkyon, son of Agamedes, son of Stymphalos.
Idas Son of Aphareus, from Messene; brother of Lynceus.
Iolaus Son of Iphicles, nephew of Heracles.
Iphicles Amphitryon’s mortal son from Thebes, the twin of Heracles (who took no part).[5]
Iphiclus One of the sons of Thestius, according to Apollodorus.[35]
Ischepolis Son of Alcathous (not mentioned by Pausanias as having been seen on the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea).[26]
Jason Aeson’s son, from Iolkos.
Laertes Son of Arcesius, Odysseus' father.
Lelex Of Naryx in Locria.
Leucippus One of three sons of Hippocoon from Amyclae, according to Hyginus.
Lynceus Son of Aphareus, from Messene; brother of Idas.
Meleager Son of Oeneus.
Mopsus Son of Ampycus.
Pelagon Along with Hippalmus, attacked by the Boar, their bodies taken up by their comrades.[38]
Peleus Son of Aiakos, father of Achilles from Phthia.
Phoenix Son of Amyntor, tutor and companion of Achilles.
Phyleus From Elis.
Pirithous Son of Ixion, from Larissa, the friend of Theseus.
Plexippus One of the sons of Thestius, according to both Ovid and Apollodorus.[35]
Telamon Son of Aeacus.
Theseus Faced another dangerous creature, the dusky wild Crommyonian Sow, on a separate occasion, which according to Strabo,[13] was said to be the mother of the Calydonian boar.
Toxeus One of the sons of Thestius, according to Ovid.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ex-collection the textiles merchant Sir Francis Cook, assembled in Victorian times at Doughty House, in Richmond, south-west London.
  2. ^ Hard, p. 415, calls it "the greatest adventure in Aetolian legend".
  3. ^ Hard, p. 416, describes the boar-hunt as being "almost as famous" as the voyage of the Argonauts.
  4. ^ Rose, p. 66.
  5. ^ a b c d Apollodorus, 1.8.2.
  6. ^ Strabo, Geography 10.3.6, referring to events of the hunt, does remark "as the poet says".
  7. ^ Xenophon, Cynegetica x provides some details of boar-hunting in reality; for other classical sources related to boar hunting see Aymard, pp. 297–329.
  8. ^ The University of Michigan Library, Collection: "Art Images for College Teaching", ID GAS170, title: "Treasury of Sikyon, Delphi: the Calydonian Boar, fragment of a metope".
  9. ^ Hard, p. 413; Kerényi, p. 115.
  10. ^ Homer, Iliad 9.533ff.; the poet's concern is with Meleager's role in the battle begun over the boar's carcass, which embroiled Meleager and the Curetes, who were attacking his city of Calydon, rather than with the hunt itself, which he swiftly summarizes in a handful of lines.
  11. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.284–289.
  12. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.290–299.
  13. ^ a b Strabo, Geography 8.6.22.
  14. ^ The pelt remained a trophy at the temple of Tegea, which was enriched with prominent reliefs of the Calydonian boar hunt, in which the Boar took the central place in the composition. The temple, however, was dedicated not to Artemis, but to that other Virgin Goddess, Athena Alea.
  15. ^ Euripides, fragment 520, noted by Kerényi, p. 119, with note 673.
  16. ^ According to Diodorus Siculus, 4.34.4, "He had honoured a stranger woman above them and set kinship aside".
  17. ^ Kerényi, p. 115.
  18. ^ Homer, Iliad 9.547–549.
  19. ^ Pausanias, 8.47.2.
  20. ^ Pausanias, 8.46.1.
  21. ^ Pausanias, 8.46.5. According to Mayor, pp. 142–143, such a tusk, almost a meter in length, would most likely have been a prehistoric elephant tusk.
  22. ^ Homer, Iliad 9.543–544.
  23. ^ Bacchylides, 5.111.
  24. ^ For alphabetical lists of the hunters given by Pausanias, Hyginus, Ovid, and Apollodorus, see Parada, s.v. CALYDONIAN HUNTERS.
  25. ^ Pausanias, 8.45.6–7.
  26. ^ a b Pausanias, 1.42.6.
  27. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 173.
  28. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.299—317, 360.
  29. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.306.
  30. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.316–317.
  31. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.391—402.
  32. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.305.
  33. ^ a b Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.308, says only that Actor's two sons (Actoridaeque pares) took part in the hunt, without naming them, elsewhere they are Eurytus and Cteatus, see Apollodorus, 2.7.2 with Frazer's note 2.
  34. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.345.
  35. ^ a b c d e According to both Ovid and Apollodorus, the sons of Thestius took part in the hunt, scorned Atalanta, demanded the boar's skin, and were killed by Meleager (Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.432–444; Apollodorus, 1.8.2–3). In Ovid's account of the hunt, the sons were Plexippus and Toxeus; Apollodorus, in his account does, not say who the sons were, but elsewhere (1.7.10) he says the sons were Plixippus, Eurypylus, Evippus, and Iphiclus.
  36. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.360–361 (Miller translation revised by Goold); Parada, s.vv. CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, Hippalmus 1.
  37. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.360 (Latin ed. Hugo Magnus)
  38. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.360–361 (Miller translation revised by Goold); Parada, s.vv. CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, Pelagon 3.


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