Wild Boar in Greek Culture

The Caledonian Boar

The most unique and colorful symbolic depictions of the wild boar are observed within Greek mythology. The animals chosen to describe the warrior mettle are both few in number and strictly hierarchized. In Greek culture, the lion is first, then the wild boar, followed by the birds of prey 1. The hunting of the Caledonian boar was one of the most famous episodes in Greek heroic legend. The legend starts off with Oeneus, the king of Calydon, failing to pay honor to Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, wilderness, wild animals, and fertility, when harvesting the first fruits of the season. Artemis was outraged and released a savage wild boar that completely decimated Calydon and its surroundings. In retaliation for the attack, Oeneus created an elite heroic group of Greek warriors and gave orders to rid Greece of the ravenous wild boar. The boar killed several of the elite soldiers before it could even be wounded. In the end, Atalanta ended up wounding the boar and then Meleager killed the beast with his spear 2. Meleager later gave Atalanta the skin of the boar as a trophy, for drawing first blood. Atalanta dedicated the prize to Artemis, hanging it from a tree in the sacred Arkadian grove 3. The wild boar was:

"a monster sent by the gods to ravage the vineyards – which are the epitome of the "civilized" place – is experienced as the eruption of savagery into the human world, as the manifestation of a natural disorder encroaching relentlessly on the social order. Thus the boar is a heroic symbol, but also the expression of a distance, an insurmountable difference. The image of the boar combines the two planes of war and hunting, by inscribing itself in the space of savage nature" 4.

The Caledonian Boar became a symbolic monster in Greek culture, and was a popular subject in classical art 5.

Adonis and the Wild Boar

The strength, courage, and ferocity of the wild boar also made it a worthy adversary for hunters looking to gain prestige 6. Adonis, lover the goddess Aphrodite, was warned not to hunt wild animals because they posed a dangerous threat to him. Adonis was a fragile young boy trying to prove his manhood through the hunting ritual. Ignoring Aphrodite’s advice, Adonis met his death while in combat with a wild boar. In this tale, the wild boar symbolizes the loss of innocence. Others have theorized that the boar was either sent by Ares or was Ares himself, who was jealous of Adonis. Others say that it was Apollo who transformed himself into a wild boar and killed Adonis, to avenge the blinding of his son Erymathus at the hands of Aphrodite 7. These alternate conclusions depict the wild boar as a symbol of jealousy and revenge. Later, ancient Greeks would offer a sacrifice of wild domesticated pigs, which was seen as vengeance for the killing of Adonis 8.

The Erymanthian Boar

"The wild boar was heroic game in eyes of Greeks from those Hercules associations" 9. The Erymanthian Boar is the story of a wild boar that lived in Mt. Erymanthos in Northwestern Arcadia. This beast wanders out of its cave and pillages the surrounding inhabited land. Erystheus orders Herakles, more commonly known in western cultures as Hercules, to capture the boar and return it to him alive. Herakles chased the boar out of its dwelling and was able to capture it while stuck in deep snow. Herkales then carried the boar on his back while still alive 10. Herkales showed his bravery, power, and warrior spirit by capturing the Erymanthian boar and transporting the fearsome live beast back to his leader. When Erystheu receives the boar, he hides it in a bronze vase - characteristic of Erystheu’s weak and fearful character 11.

Admetus and King Pelias

In another Greek legend, Admetus goes before King Pelias and asks for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Pelias agrees, but only if Admetus comes to her in a chariot drawn by a lion and a wild boar, the two fiercest creatures in existence. Admetus thinks to himself "the bravest man in the world could not do such a thing." With some much needed help from Apollo, who had the ability to tame the wild beasts, Admetus provides the king with his request. Admetus and Alcestis, the king’s daughter, were soon married 12. This legend once again exhibits the symbolism of fear, bravery, and the warrior spirit attached to the wild boar.

Kroseus' Dream

Atys, sometimes written as Attis, was the son of Lydian king Kroesus. Kroseus had a dream where Atys was killed by an iron spear. As a result, Kroseus overly-protected Atys as a young child and prohibited him from participating in any military excursions. When the Mysians asked Kroseus to send his son to rid their land of a ravenous wild boar, Koroseus became hesitant. Atys ended up convincing his father that the dream was not a factor in this military expedition, since the omen stated death by an iron spear, not by claws for teeth. Furthermore, Kroseus realized that Atys needed an opportunity to prove his manhood. Along with Adrastus, Atys sets out on the missions to kill the wild boar. Upon seeing the boar, Adrastus hurls a spear towards the beast, but instead ends up killing Atys 13. In this context, the boar can be seen as a symbol of danger, death, and loss of innocence. Although the boar was indirectly responsible for Atys’ death, it proved to be the key link between Atys and his destiny.


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