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The Calydon Boar Hunt

The Calydon Boar Hunt Version from the Iliad

The following version of the story is interpreted from Homer’s Iliad, book IX, lines 529 – 600:

Once the Curetes were fighting the Aetolians in a fierce battle around the city of Calydon. They were slaying each other because the Aetoleans were defending Calydon and the Curetes were intent on utterly destroying it. It all started when Artemis of the golden throne decided to punish the Calydonians by sending a plague. This was because Artemis was angered that their king Oeneus had not offered to her the first fruits of the harvest of his rich orchard land. She felt singled out because he had sacrificed many cattle to the other deities and had a rich banquet where the smoke from the burning fat rose high to provide a pleasent aroma to the other deities. He seemed to her, the daughter of great Zeus, blinded in his heart by his omission even though he may have just forgot. In her anger the Archer-goddess, the child of Zeus, sent against him a fierce wild boar with white tusks that caused much damage. The boar messed up the orchard land of Oeneus. He uprooted trees and cast them upon the ground. The ground was strewn about with broken roots and branches with blossoms attached. Meleager, the son of Oeneus, gathered many huntsmen and hounds out of many cites to kill the boar. This was necessary because the boar was huge and very dangerous. He had already sent many men to be placed on a funeral pyre. Finally Meleager killed the boar and his body fell to the ground. Artemis took advantage of the dicussion that resulted about who should receive the head and shaggy hide of the boar. This turned into a shouting match between the Curetes and great-souled Aetolians. Ares favored Meleager because he was a fine fighter and so long as he was not distracted the Curetes did poorly and were kept outside the walls of the city. But a passion overwhelmed him. Meleager was angered by his dear mother Althea because she began to curse him. He was so upset that he quit the battle and went to bed with his wife Cleopatra.

Now Cleopatra was a wonderful woman and a great consolation. Cleopatra was the daughter of Marpessa of the fair ankles and of Idas. Marpessa was the child of Evenus and was so beautiful that she attracted the attention of Apollo. Idas was one of the mightiest of men on the face of the Earth. He had to face the king Phoebus Apollo with his bow in a contest for the hand of the fair-ankled maid. In earlier days Cleopatra was called Halcyone by her mother because of what had happened to her daughter. Apollo had snatched her child away and this caused Marpessa to weep mightily. The name ‘Halycyon’ recalled the sorrow of the halcyon-bird of many sorrows, the woodpecker.

The reason for Althea’s cursing was that in the course of the battle Meleager had slain two brothers of Althea. When she heard that they had died amd being grieved for her brother’s slaying she instantly beat her hands upon the all-nurturing earth. She knelt and made the folds of her bosom wet with tears. She called upon Hades and dread Persephone to bring death upon her son. The Erinys that walk in the darkenss heard her even in Erebus, that dark region through which the did must pass on their way to Hades. This caused the thoughts of the Erinys to be fixed on vengeance.

While Meleager lay with his wife the Curetes continued their assault on Calydon. There was a great deal of noise at the gates from the battering of the walls. This caused the elders of the Aetolians to beging praying. They also decided to send the best priest of the gods they had to Meleager to try to get him to return to the battle. They sent with the priest a great gift. From the most productive part of the plain of lovely Calydon Meleager would be able to choose a fair tract of fifty acres, half a vinyard and half a field for plowing if he would only return to the battle. The old horseman, Oeneus, his father also pleaded with him. He stood on the threshold of the main hall of the house underneath the high-roofed chamber and shook the jointed door as he prayed to his son. His sisters and his mother prayed to him as well. Even his truest and best companions that were dearest to him begged him to return to the battle.

Finally the Curetes began to come over the walls into the city and began setting fires and they even started battering the doors of his very house. At that point Cleopatra, the beautiful wife of Meleager began wailing and began to tell him of all the horrible woes of the things that would happen to the citizens of a city that is taken in this manner. The men would be slain; the city would be burnt down, and the children and women would be takenaway as slaves. Finally the spirit of Meleger was stirred as he listened to the evil tale that his wife had told. He prepared for battle by putting on his body his gleaming armour. As a result of his further effort he was able to save the Aetolians from their day of evil because he yielded to his own spirit. Yet, even though he did this he received none of the promised gifts.

The context of this story should be noticed. Phoenix is trying to concince Achilles to return to the fight. Gifts have been offered to do so. He is pointing out that by waiting too long Meleager had to fight anyway and returned giftless because he waited too long. This story says nothing about the death of Meleager. Another interesting point of this story is that Meleager’s marriage to Cleopatra may have been arranged during his voyage among the Argonauts which would cause that event to be earlier in time than the boar of Calydonia

Other versions of the Calydon Boar Hunt

The story of the boar hunt is told by Meleager in Ode 5 “For Hieron of Syracuse Single-horse victory at Olympia” 476 B. C. by Bacchylides, Epinicians line 95. He actually, mentions his brothers slain by the boar, Ancaeus, and Agelaus, and his uncles that he slew, Iphiclus and noble Aphares.

Iasos, of the line of Akas, exposed his daughter, Atalanta, because he wanted only sons. She is nursed by a bear and grows up as a huntress/virgin.

The fates gave a log to Althaia with the stipulation that her son would not die until it is consumed by fire.

One year, King Oeneus of Calydon managed to forget Artemis during the annual sacrifice to the gods. Artemis responded by failing to heed his sacrifices and bringing forth the largest, most savage, boar ever seen and unleashing it upon Calydon. The boar destroyed crops, killed men and livestock, and forced the people off the land to the protection of city walls. When planting season came the city faced starvation unless the boar’s siege could be lifted.

The Calydonian Boar

The Calydonian Boar

Oeneus sent the word out seeking the bravest to hunt the boar and promising its skin as a prize. The most heroic of the generation responded and fought the beast for six days. Many of the Argonauts came including the King’s son Meleager. some of the more famous names mentioned include Jason , Theseus , Telamon , Peleus , the Dioscuri, Laertes , Nestor, Meleager and Atalanta . Melanion, Acastos. Also, several of Meleager’s Uncles came from the neighboring Curetes.

Atlanta’s presence immediately caused problems. Many did not want to hunt with Atlanta because she was a woman. Meleager forced the rest of the hunting party to accept her. This lead to the opinion that Meleager must have been in love with Atlanta. The possibility that he respected her hunting skill is not considered. Meleager admires the hunting skill of Atalanta and is attracted to her for this reason. During the course of the hunt the heroes spend time together in a camp during which they eat, tell tories and rest. By the end of the time Atalanta and Meleager were sleeping together.

Thersites was asked to keep watch for the boar but out of fear moves to higher ground. An angry Meleager pursues him and he falls from a cliff and is permanently deformed. The boar is finally discovered and Ankaios and the bravest of Meleager’s brothers, Agelaos are killed by the boar. Ankaios is gored in the groin and falls into the arms of his brother Epochos. Then Peleus threw a javelin but, hit is friend Eurytion instead of the boar. Finally, Atlanta turned the battle when she drew first blood with one of her arrows. Amphiaraus scored next. Then Meleager closed in and finished the boar with a Javelin toss. At this point a quarrel broke out over the skin prize. Meleager tried to award the boar’s pelt to Atalanta, since he was in love with her and since she had been the first to draw blood in the hunt. However, Meleager’s uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, objected to awarding the prize to a woman. A war ensues between the Calydonians and the Pleurons. In this war Meleager killed his uncles Plexippus and Toxeus, accidently. Apollo seems to be ultimately responsible for these deaths.

Meleager’s mother, Althaea then arranges Meleager’s own death in revenge for the deaths of her brothers. She places the log in the fire and it is consumed. Meleager then falls while fighting before the walls of Pleuron. Meleager leaves a young wife alone with a baby girl Polydore. The war is settled by a truce in which Atalanta wrestles Peleus for the hide which she eventually takes.

Althaia eventually kills herself out of grief for what she had done. The sisters of Meleager mourned for him until Artemis turned them into guinea hens. Atalanta become pregnant and give birth to a boy, Parthenopaios who eventually marches with Adrastos as one of the seven against Thebes.