Calydonian Boar

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The Calydonian Hunt shown on a Roman frieze (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)[1]

The Calydonian or Aetolian[2] Boar (Greek: ὁ Καλυδώνιος κάπρος[3][4] or ὁ Καλυδώνιος ὗς)[5] is one of the monsters of Greek mythology that had to be overcome by heroes of the Olympian age. Sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia because its king failed to honour her in his rites to the gods, it was killed in the Calydonian Hunt, in which many male heroes took part, but also a powerful woman, Atalanta, who won its hide by first wounding it with an arrow. This outraged some of the men, with tragic results. Strabo was under the impression that the Calydonian Boar was an offspring of the Crommyonian Sow vanquished by Theseus.[6]

Importance in Greek mythology and art[edit]

The Calydonian Boar is one of the chthonic monsters in Greek mythology, each set in a specific locale. Sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia, it met its end in the Calydonian Hunt, in which all the heroes of the new age pressed to take part, with the exception of Heracles, who vanquished his own Goddess-sent Erymanthian Boar separately. Since the mythic event drew together numerous heroes[7]—among whom were many who were venerated as progenitors of their local ruling houses among tribal groups of Hellenes into Classical times—the Calydonian Boar hunt 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. Like the quest for the Golden Fleece (Argonautica) or the Trojan War that took place the following generation, the Calydonian Hunt is one of the nodes in which much Greek myth comes together.

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

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;[8] 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.[9]


Scene from myth of Calydonian Boar, Delphi, Greece
Scene from myth of Calydonian Boar, Delphi, Greece

The mythical boar's appearance is described in the legend.[10]

Its eyes glowed with bloodshot fire: its neck was stiff with bristles, and the hairs, on its hide, bristled stiffly like spear-shafts: just as a palisade stands, so the hairs stood like tall spears. Hot foam flecked the broad shoulders, from its hoarse grunting. Its tusks were the size of an Indian elephant’s: lightning came from its mouth: and the leaves were scorched, by its breath.

— Ovid's Metamorphoses, Bk VIII:260-328 (A. S. Kline's Version)


King Oeneus ("wine man") 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[11] Insulted, Artemis, the "Lady of the Bow", loosed the biggest, most ferocious wild boar imaginable on the countryside of Calydon. It rampaged throughout the countryside, destroying vineyards and crops, forcing people to take refuge inside the city walls,[12] where they began to starve.

Oeneus sent messengers out to look for the best hunters in Greece, offering them the boar's pelt and tusks as a prize.[13]

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.[14] 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 Thestios, 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,[15] Meleager slew the sons of Thestios 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 illustration for Raphael Regius's edition of Metamorphoses, Venice, ca. 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 (Kerenyi, 114): "But the goddess again made a great stir of anger and crying battle, over the head of the boar and the bristling boar's hide, between Kouretes and the high-hearted Aitolians" (Homer, Iliad, IX 543).

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. He noted that the tusks had been taken to Rome as booty from the defeated allies of Mark Anthony by Augustus; "one of the tusks of the Calydonian boar has been broken", Pausanias reports, "but the remaining one, having a circumference of about half a fathom,[16] was dedicated in the Emperor's gardens, in a shrine of Dionysos".[17] The Calydonian Hunt was the theme of the temple's main pediment.


The heroes who participated assembled from all over Hellas, according to Homer;[18] Bacchylides called them "the best of the Hellenes".[19]

The table lists:

  • Those seen by Pausanias on the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea.
  • Those listed by Latin mythographer Hyginus (Fabulae 173); they include Deucalion, whose connection is unlikely.
  • Those noted in Ovid's list from the 8th Book of his Metamorphoses.
  • Those who appear in Book I of the Bibliotheca ('Library') of Pseudo-Apollodorus.
Hero Pausanias Hyginus Ovid Notes
Acastus "a splendid javelin-thrower"[12]:306
Admetus the son of Pheres, from Pherae
Alcon one of three sons of Hippocoon or Ares from Amykles in Thrace
Amphiaraus the son of Oicles, from Argos; "As yet unruined by his wicked wife", i.e. Eriphyle[12]
Ancaeus "from Parrhasia",[12] son of Lycurgus, killed by the boar. In Ovid's account Ancaeus wielded a two-headed axe 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.
Asclepius son of Apollo
Atalanta called Tegeaea ("of Tegea"),[12] the daughter of Skoineus, from Arcadia
Caeneus son of Elatus; Ovid notes that Caeneus was "now no longer a woman"[12]:305
Castor brother of Polydeuces; the Dioscuri, sons of Zeus and Leda, from Lacedaemon
Cepheus son of Lycurgus, brother of Ancaeus[20]
Cteatus brother of Eurytus, son of Actor
Deucalion son of Minos
Dryas of Calydon son of Ares (Hyginus notes him as "son of Iapetus")
Echion one of the Argonauts, son of Mercurius (Hermes) and Antianeira (daughter of Menoetius), brother of Erytusson; Ovid says "the first spear ... was launched from Echion's shoulder."[12]:345
Enaesimus one of three sons of Hippocoon or Ares from Amykles in Thrace
Euphemus son of Poseidon
Eurypylus son of Thestius, insulted Atalanta and was killed by Meleager[20]
Eurytion accidentally run through with the javelin of Peleus
Eurytus son of Mercurius (Hermes)
Hippasus son of Eurytus
Hippothous the son of Kerkyon, son of Agamedes, son of Stymphalos
Hyleus killed by the boar
Jason Aeson’s son, from Iolkos
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)[20]
Kometes son of Thestios, Meleager's uncle
Laertes son of Arcesius, Odysseus' father
Lelex of Naryx in Locria
Leucippus one of three sons of Hippocoon or Ares from Amykles in Thrace
Lynceus son of Aphareus, from Messene; brother of Idas
Meleager son of Oeneus
the Moliones or Actorides
Mopsus son of Ampycus
Nestor "still in his prime"[12]
Peleus son of Aiakos, father of Achilles from Phthia
Phoenix son of Amyntor
Phyleus from Elis
Pirithous son of Ixion, from Larissa, the friend of Theseus
Plexippus brother of Toxeus, slain by Meleager
Prothous son of Thestios, Meleager's uncle
Telamon son of Aeacus
Theseus of Athens faced another dangerous chthonic creature, the dusky wild Crommyonian Sow, on a separate occasion. Strabo (Geography 8.6.22) reckoned she was the mother of the Calydonian Boar, but there are no hints within the myths to link the two and suggest Strabo might have been right.
Toxeus brother of Plexippus, slain by Meleager


  1. ^ Ex-collection the textiles merchant Sir Francis Cook, assembled in Victorian times at Doughty House, in Richmond, south-west London.
  2. ^ Schwab, G (1974). "The seven against Thebes: The attack upon Thebes". Gods and heroes: myths and epics of Ancient Greece. New York: Random. p. 261.
  3. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, 2. 133. 6; 3. 106. 6; 3. 163. 6.
  4. ^ Strabo, Geography, VIII 6. 22. 26; X 2. 21. 36; X 2. 22. 18; X 3. 1. 8; X 3. 6. 27.
  5. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, III 18, 15, 3; VIII 45, 6, 3; VIII 46, 1, 2; VIII 47, 2, 2.
  6. ^ Strabo, Geography VIII 6.22.
  7. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1. 8. 2.
  8. ^ Strabo, referring to events of the Hunt, does remark "as the poet says" (Geography 10.3.6).
  9. ^ Xenophon, Cynegetica x provides some details of boar-hunting in reality; other classical sources related to boar hunting are assembled in J. Aymard, Essai sur les chasses romaines (Paris 1951) pp 297-329.
  10. ^ "Metamorphoses (Kline) 8, the Ovid Collection, Univ. of Virginia E-Text Center". Retrieved 2020-01-21.
  11. ^ Iliad IX 933; 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.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII
  13. ^ The pelt remained a trophy at the temple of Tegea, which was enriched with prominent reliefs of the Calydonian 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
  14. ^ Euripides, fragment 520, noted by Kerenyi p. 119 and note 673.
  15. ^ "He had honoured a stranger woman above them and set kinship aside", Diodorus Siculus noted.
  16. ^ A Greek fathom—orgyia—was the equivalent of six podes each of 29.6 centimeters; the circumference of the relic at its base was about 89 centimeters; a tusk that was over 29 centimeters through could only have been a mammoth tusk or that of one of the recently-extinct European Straight-tusked Elephants. Adrienne Mayor, in The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology In Greek and Roman Times, has suggested that fossils like tusks of Deinotherium found in Greece helped generate myths of archaic giant beings.
  17. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece VIII 47.2.
  18. ^ Homer, Iliad IX 544.
  19. ^ Bacchylides, Epinikia 5.111.
  20. ^ a b c The Library of Apollodorus, 1.7.10 & 1.8.2. Retrieved 14 April 2016


  • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca I, VIII, 2–3;
  • Homer, Iliad, ix
  • Kerenyi, Karl, 1959. The Heroes of the Greeks pp114ff, et passim
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses VIII, 267–525.
  • Ruck, Carl A.P., and Danny Staples, 1994. The World of Classical Myth p 196
  • Swinburne, Algernon Charles. "Atalanta in Calydon"