Calydonian Boar Hunt

Sarcophagus Depicting the Calydonian Boar Hunt.
Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

The Calydonian Boar Hunt is a story from Greek mythology chronologically following the voyage the Argonaut heroes took to capture the Golden Fleece for Jason. A group of heroic hunters chased after a boar sent by the irate goddess Artemis to ravage the Calydonian countryside. This is the most famous of the Greek hunts in art and literature.

Representations of the Calydonian Boar Hunt

The earliest literary representation of the Calydonian boar hunt comes from Book IX (9.529-99) of the Iliad. This version doesn't mention Atalanta.

The boar hunt is clearly shown in artwork, architecture, and sarcophagi. Artistic depictions run from the 6th century B.C. through the Roman period.

Principal Characters in the Calydonian Boar Hunt

  • Meleager: Hunt organizer and killer of the boar
  • Oineus (Oeneus): King of Calydon, in Aetolia, who failed to sacrifice to Artemis (hubris)
  • Calydonian Boar: the fierce animal who ravaged the countryside as Artemis sent him to do.
  • Artemis: virgin goddess of the hunt who sent the boar and may have trained Atalanta.
  • Atalanta: Female, Amazon-type, a devotee of Artemis, who draws first blood.
  • Althaea (Althaia): daughter of Thestius, wife of Oineus and mother of Meleager who causes her son's death when he kills her brothers.
  • Uncles: Meleager kills at least one of his uncles and is then killed himself.

Apollodorus 1.8 on Heroes of the Calydonian Boar Hunt

  • Meleager, son of Oeneus, from Calydon
  • Dryas, son of Ares, from Calydon
  • Idas and Lynceus, sons of Aphareus, from Messene
  • Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus and Leda, from Lacedaemon
  • Theseus, son of Aegeus, from Athens
  • Admetus, son of Pheres, from Pherae
  • Ancaeus and Cepheus, sons of Lycurgus, from Arcadia
  • Jason, son of Aeson, from Iolcus
  • Iphicles, son of Amphitryon, from Thebes
  • Pirithous, son of Ixion, from Larissa
  • Peleus, son of Aeacus, from Phthia
  • Telamon, son of Aeacus, from Salamis
  • Eurytion, son of Actor, from Phthia
  • Atalanta, daughter of Schoeneus, from Arcadia
  • Amphiaraus, son of Oicles, from Argos
  • Sons of Thestius.

Basic Story of the Calydonian Boar Hunt

King Oineus neglects to sacrifice annual first fruits to Artemis (only). To punish his hubris she sends a boar to ravage Calydon. Oineus' son Meleager organizes a band of heroes to hunt the boar. Included in the band are his uncles and, in some versions, Atalanta. When the boar is killed, Meleager and his uncles fight over the trophy. Meleager wants it to go to Atalanta for drawing first blood. Meleager kills his uncle(s). Either a fight ensues between Meleager's father's people and his mother's, or his mother knowingly and deliberately burns a firebrand that magically ends Meleager's life.

Homer and Meleager

In the ninth book of the Iliad, Phoenix tries to persuade Achilles to fight. In the process, he tells the story of Meleager in a version sans Atalanta.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus is recognized by an odd scar caused by a boar tusk. In Judith M. Barringer ties the two hunts together. She says they are both rites of passage with maternal uncles serving as witnesses. Odysseus, of course, survives his hunt, but Meleager isn't so fortunate, although he survives the boar.

Death of Meleager

Although Atalanta draws first blood, Meleager kills the boar. The hide, head, and tusks should be his, but he is enamored of Atalanta and offers her the prize on the controversial claim of first blood. A hunt is a heroic event reserved for the aristocrats. It was hard enough to get them to participate in Atalanta's company, let alone give her the principle honor, and so the uncles grow angry. Even if Meleager doesn't want the prize, it is his family's to have. His uncles will take it. Meleager, the young leader of the group, has made up his mind. He slays an uncle or two.

Back at the palace, Althaea hears of the death of her brother(s) at the hands of her son. In revenge, she takes out a brand the Moirae (fates) had told her would mark the death of Meleager when it was burned completely. She sticks the wood in the hearth fire until it is consumed. Her son Meleager dies simultaneously. That's one version, but there is another that is easier to stomach.

Apollodorus on Version 2 of the Death of Meleager

But some say that Meleager did not die in that way, but that when the sons of Thestius claimed the skin on the ground that Iphiclus had been the first to hit the boar, war broke out between the Curetes and the Calydonians; and when Meleager had sallied out134 and slain some of the sons of Thestius, Althaea cursed him, and he in a rage remained at home; however, when the enemy approached the walls, and the citizens supplicated him to come to the rescue, he yielded reluctantly to his wife and sallied forth, and having killed the rest of the sons of Thestius, he himself fell fighting.
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Gill, N.S. "Calydonian Boar Hunt." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Calydonian Boar Hunt. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Calydonian Boar Hunt." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).