The Calydonian boar hunt is one of the great heroic adventures in Greek legend. It occurred in the generation prior to that of the Trojan War, and stands along side the other great heroic adventure of that generation, the voyage of the Argonauts, which preceded it. The purpose of the hunt was to kill the Calydonian boar (also called the Aetolian boar), which had been sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia, because its king Oeneus had failed to honour her in his rites to the gods. The hunters, led by the hero Meleager, included many of the foremost heroes of Greece. In most accounts, it also included a great heroine, Atalanta, who won its hide by first wounding it with an arrow. This outraged some of the men, with tragic results.
Since the Calydonian boar hunt drew together numerous heroes--among whom were many who were venerated as progenitors of their local ruling houses among tribal groups of Hellenes into Classical times--it 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 boar 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 was compiled the Roman poet Ovid told the story in some colorful detail in his Metamorphoses.
The Calydonian boar is one of several monsters in Greek mythology named for a specific locale. Sent by Artemis to ravage the region of Calydon in Aetolia, it met its end in the Calydonian boar hunt, in which many of the great heroes of the age took part (an exception being Heracles, who vanquished his own Goddess-sent Erymanthian boar separately).
King Oeneus ("wine man") of Calydon, an ancient city of west-central Greece north of the Gulf of Patras, held annual harvest sacrifices to the gods on the sacred hill. One year the king forgot to include Great "Artemis of the golden throne" in his offerings. Insulted, Artemis, the "Lady of the Bow", loosed the biggest, most ferocious wild boar imaginable on the countryside of Calydon.
Ovid, goes on to say that the boar rampaged throughout the countryside, destroying vineyards and crops, forcing people to take refuge inside their city walls.
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 Thestius, 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 Meleager chose not to accept it. Outraged by this, Meleager slew the sons of Thestius 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. According to Homer "the goddess brought to pass much clamour and shouting concerning his head and shaggy hide, between the Curetes and the great-souled Aetolians."
The boar's hide that was preserved in the Temple of Athena Alea 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, "the remaining one is kept in the gardens of the emperor, in a sanctuary of Dionysus, and is about half a fathom long", The Calydonian boar hunt was the theme of the temple's main pediment.
According to the Iliad, the heroes who participated in the hunt assembled from all over Greece. Bacchylides has Meleager describe himself and the rest of the hunters as "the best of the Hellenes".
The table lists:
|Acastus||?||Ovid: "swift of dart"|
|Admetus||?||?||?||Son of Pheres, from Pherae.|
|Alcon (son of Hippocoon)||?||One of three sons of Hippocoon from Amyclae, according to Hyginus.|
|Alcon (son of Ares)||?||Son of Ares from Thrace.|
|Amphiaraus||?||?||?||Son of Oicles, from Argos; "As yet unruined by his wicked wife", i.e. Eriphyle.|
|Ancaeus||?||?||?||?||Son of Lycurgus, from Arcadia, killed by the boar. In Ovid's account he wielded a two-headed axe (bipennifer) but he was undone by his boastfulness which gave the boar time enough to charge him: Ancaeus was speared on the boar's tusks at the upper part of the groin and guts burst forth from the gashes it had made.|
|Asclepius||?||Son of Apollo.|
|Atalanta||?||?||?||?||Daughter of Schoeneus, from Arcadia.|
|Caeneus||?||?||Son of Elatus; Ovid notes that Caeneus was "first a woman then a man".|
|Castor||?||?||?||?||Brother of Polydeuces; the Dioscuri, sons of Zeus and Leda, from Lacedaemon.|
|Cepheus||?||Son of Lycurgus, brother of Ancaeus.|
|Cometes||?||Son of Thestius, Meleager's uncle.|
|Cteatus||?||One of the two sons of Actor, brother of Eurytus.|
|Deucalion||?||Son of Minos.|
|Dryas of Calydon||?||?||?||Son of Ares (Hyginus notes him as "son of Iapetus").|
|Echion||?||?||One of the Argonauts, son of Hermes) and Antianeira, brother of Erytusson; Ovid says "first to hurl his spear".|
|Enaesimus||?||One of three sons of Hippocoon from Amyclae, according to Hyginus.|
|Euphemus||?||Son of Poseidon.|
|Eurypylus||?||One of the sons of Thestius, according to Apollodorus.|
|Eurytion||?||?||Accidentally run through with the javelin of Peleus.|
|Eurytus (son of Hermes)||?|
|Eurytus (son of Actor)||?||One of the two sons of Actor, brother of Cteatus.|
|Evippus||?||One of the sons of Thestius, according to Apollodorus.|
|Hippalmus||?||Along with Pelagon, attacked by the Boar, their bodies taken up by their comrades.|
|Hippasus||?||?||Son of Eurytus of Oechalia.|
|Hippothous||?||?||?||Son of Kerkyon, son of Agamedes, son of Stymphalos.|
|Idas||?||?||?||Son of Aphareus, from Messene; brother of Lynceus.|
|Iolaus||?||?||?||Son of Iphicles, nephew of Heracles.|
|Iphicles||?||Amphitryon's mortal son from Thebes, the twin of Heracles (who took no part).|
|Iphiclus||?||One of the sons of Thestius, according to Apollodorus.|
|Ischepolis||?||Son of Alcathous (not mentioned by Pausanias as having been seen on the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea).|
|Jason||?||?||?||Aeson's son, from Iolkos.|
|Laertes||?||?||Son of Arcesius, Odysseus' father.|
|Lelex||?||Of Naryx in Locria.|
|Leucippus||?||?||One of three sons of Hippocoon from Amyclae, according to Hyginus.|
|Lynceus||?||?||?||Son of Aphareus, from Messene; brother of Idas.|
|Meleager||?||?||?||?||Son of Oeneus.|
|Mopsus||?||?||Son of Ampycus.|
|Pelagon||?||Along with Hippalmus, attacked by the Boar, their bodies taken up by their comrades.|
|Peleus||?||?||?||?||Son of Aiakos, father of Achilles from Phthia.|
|Phoenix||?||?||Son of Amyntor, tutor and companion of Achilles.|
|Pirithous||?||?||?||Son of Ixion, from Larissa, the friend of Theseus.|
|Plexippus||?||?||?||One of the sons of Thestius, according to both Ovid and Apollodorus.|
|Telamon||?||?||?||?||Son of Aeacus.|
|Theseus||?||?||?||?||Faced another dangerous creature, the dusky wild Crommyonian Sow, on a separate occasion, which according to Strabo, was said to be the mother of the Calydonian boar.|
|Toxeus||?||One of the sons of Thestius, according to Ovid.|