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 Goddess-sent boar separately: see Erymanthian Boar. Since the mythic event drew together many heroes —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.
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; the myth repertory called Bibliotheke ("The Library") contains the gist of the tale, and before that the Roman poet Ovid told the story in some colorful detail in his Metamorphoses.
King Oeneus ("wine man") of Calydon, an ancient city of west-central Greece north of the Gulf of Patras, held annual sacrifices to the gods. One year the king forgot to include the Great Artemis in his offerings (Iliad ix.933). Insulted, Artemis loosed the biggest, most ferocious 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 (Ovid), 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.
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. 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 Meleagros chose not to accept it. Outraged by this, Meleagros 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.
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 Alae 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, was dedicated in the Emperor's gardens, in a shrine of Dionysos". The Calydonian Hunt was the theme of the temple's main pediment.
The table lists:
|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" (Ovid).|
|Ankaios||"from Parrhasius" (Ovid), son of Lycurgus, killed by the boar|
|Asclepius||son of Apollo|
|Atalanta||called Tegeaea ("of Tegea") by Ovid, the daughter of Skoineus, from Arcadia|
|Caeneus||son of Elatus, not yet changed into a woman, Ovid noted|
|Castor and Pollux||the Dioscuri, sons of Zeus and Leda, from Lacedaemon|
|Deucalion, son of Minos|
|Dryas of Calydon||son of Ares (Hyginus notes him as "son of Iapetus")|
|Echion||son of Mercurius (Hermes)|
|Eneasimus||one of three sons of Hippocoon or Ares from Amykles in Thrace|
|Euphemus||son of Poseidon|
|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|
|Iason||Aeson’s son, from Iolkos|
|Idas||and Lynceus, sons of Aphareus, from Messene|
|Iolaus||son of Iphicles, beloved of Heracles|
|Iphicles||the twin of Heracles, who took no part, Amphitryon’s mortal son, from Thebes|
|Kepheus, from Arcadia|
|Kometes and Prothous||the sons of Thestios, Meleager's uncles|
|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 and Idas|
|Meleager||son of Ooineus|
|Mopsus||son of Ampycus|
|Nestor||"Still in his prime" Ovid says.|
|Peleus||son of Aiakos, father of Achilles from Phthia|
|Phoenix||son of Amyntor|
|Pirithous||son of Ixion, from Larissa, the friend of Theseus|
|Plexippus||brother of Toxeus, slain by Meleager|
|Prothous and Kometes||the sons of Thestios, Meleager's uncles|
|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|