What Was the Erymanthian Boar?
Put simply, the Erymanthian Boar was a massive feral pig. More specifically, the texts describe this creature as a shaggy, wild boar of immense weight with dangerous tusks attached to jaws that foamed with rage. While an enterprising individual might see the opportunity to use such a beast in an army or even ruin a town, any attempts that people made to try and control or domesticate it failed with terrible results.
What does Erymanthian Mean?
This adjective comes from the boar’s primary territory of Mount Erymanthos, a site that was sacred to the Greek goddess Artemis. The boar’s domain is described as the glens of Lampeia next to the vast marsh of Erymanthus. It would rampage throughout the fields of cypress that grew along this mountainous area and terrorize the area known as Psophis, an ancient Greek city near Arcady that is located in an area close to the modern city of Psofida, Greece. The farmland of this region was never able to produce any crops due to the boar’s rampaging.
In Which Stories Does the Erymanthian Boar Make an Appearance in Greek Mythology?
This creature is only involved in one chapter of a greater story. Said chapter has it serving a part of the Twelve Labors of Heracles.
Heracles was stricken with a bout of temporary insanity by the goddess Hera, a divine being who was forever spiteful of Heracles’ existence because he was born of one of Zeus’ many moments of infidelity and later biting her breast when she decided to nurse him. It was during this loss of reason that Heracles killed his first wife Megara and their children; while the exact number of kids they had varies with the version being told, varying between three, five and even eight children, one consistent characteristic about their offspring is that all of them were boys. When Heracles finally regained his sanity, he was so appalled by his murders that he prayed to Apollo for a means of atonement.
The resounding answer to Heracles’ prayers was to serve his cousin King Eurystheus of Tiryns and Mycenae for a period of twelve years. It was during this period of time that Heracles was tasked with performing his legendary Twelve Labors; 12 acts of impossible heroism, that shaped him into the iconic hero most recognize his name for.
Setting the Stage
Heracles’ fourth labor was to capture the Erymanthian boar and bring it to the court of King Eurystheus. Given the background information on this beast, you might wonder why the king would choose it as a challenge for Heracles and the short answer is because it seemed impossible to accomplish. Heracles decided to do some research into the beast and consulted his centaur friend Pholus for advice. The two decided to kick back during a lunch and imbibe from an amphora of wine that was strong enough to attract Pholus’ other centaur friends.
In some versions of the story, the centaurs are angered that the amphora was opened without Pholus asking for permission from the camp as it belonged to all of them. In other versions, the centaurs arrive so that they do not feel left out. Violence then ensues, either because everyone became severely intoxicated over straight Grecian wine or because Heracles took umbrage at the notion of being denied a drink. Regardless of how tensions intensify, Heracles decides to use his bow and arrows, whose arrowheads were coated in the fatally-poisonous blood of the Lernaean Hydra from his previous labor, causing the drunken centaurs to flee in various directions over the span of 20 miles.
As Heracles continued to give drunken chase to the many centaurs, killing several of them in the process, Pholus remained curious about the fatality of the arrows and examined one of the arrow-shot corpse of one his friends. Some accounts say that Pholus died from the arrow after he lost his grip and the arrow pierced his foot; another version, more relevant to the boar’s story, tells that Heracles also shot the immortal centaur and mentor Chiron.
Regardless of the specifics, Heracles eventually headed back to the initial camp and discovered Pholus’ dead body. After paying his respects and remembering why he was even in the area to begin with, Heracles sought advice from the wise Chiron only to discover that Chiron has also been stricken by an envenomed arrow. While Chiron could not die from the arrow, its poison did wrack his body with such constant pain that he pleaded to the gods to remove his immortality and allow him relief from such agony.
Getting Back on Track with Capturing the Boar
Chiron was granted release from the arrow’s poison by swapping places with Prometheus, the Titan who gave fire to mankind. Instead of being ravaged by the hydra’s venom within his body, an eagle would devour Chiron’s regrowing liver on a daily basis as he was chained to a mountaintop until Heracles was able to climb that mountain and slay the eagle with one of his arrows. In order to give thanks for getting rid of the eagle, Chiron explained how to successfully go about catching the boar to Heracles. This strategy involved maneuvering the beast onto thick snowy terrain, making it much harder for the boar to charge and thus easier to handle.
Heracles headed toward the boar’s territory and used his prodigious lungs to yell often and loud enough to get the beast’s attention. After spooking the beast into hiding within a thicket within the forest, Heracles further drove it toward a field of deep winter snow, as Chiron suggested, by jabbing the boar with his sharp spear. As King Eurystheus had requested that the beast be brought in alive, Heracles managed to trap the wounded boar and, after striking it unconscious with his club, proceeded to tie it up with either mighty chains or a net, depending on the version of the story. Once the boar was sufficiently immobilized, Heracles used his divine strength to heft the beast up and over his left shoulder. Heracles then headed for the entrance to Mycenae, carrying the beast across his body the whole time and causing blood from the boar’s spear wound to stain his back in the process.
King Eurystheus was so scared of the sight of Heracles triumphantly bearing the beast over his shoulder that he hid within a massive jar and told Heracles to dispatch the brutish porcine beast.
What Happened to the Boar?
While nothing spells out the boar’s fate after Heracles’ presentation of the beast, it can be assumed that the creature was slain and likely carved up for its meat, hide and bones. It was said that the boar’s tusks were preserved within Apollo’s sanctuary in Cumae but this was entirely speculation.
Heracles would court several other women in his time and one of these dalliances, with a Thespian princess named Eubote, would result in 50 daughters and 50 sons. One of the sons from this coupling, named either Eurypylus or Eurypylos, is mentioned as the bearer of a shield depicting the fearsome boar’s face. Apparently the illustration was so good that it seemed like the real thing and likely honored his father’s heroic deeds.
Much like the other creatures that comprise Heracles’ Twelve Labors, the boar may have once been considered a constellation.
Did the Erymanthian Boar Have Any Family Members?
While it remains unclear, the Calydonian boar (from Calydon), also known as the Aetolian boar, might have been a relative. Both boars were legendary beasts that were connected to Artemis, the Greek goddess of wilderness and the hunt, and Artemis was known to deploy ferocious boars to areas that had displeased her in some way.
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