Calydonian hunt

Calydonian Boar

The Calydonian Boar 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 honor 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.

The Importance of this Hunt in Greek Mythology and Art

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.

The Story of the Hunt

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 Hunters

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

The table lists:

  • Those seen by Pausanias on the Temple of Athena at Tegea
  • Those listed by Latin mythographer Hyginus (Fabulae 30); they include Deucalion, whose connection is unlikely.
  • Those noted in Ovid's list

Hero Tegea Hyginus Ovid Notes
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
or Actorides
Mopsus son of Ampycus
Nestor "Still in his prime" Ovid says.
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 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



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