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The Erymanthian Boar and Heracles in Greek Mythology

Updated on August 18, 2016

The wild boar has historically been regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous animals; and even today, all around the world, wild boars kill hundreds of people. The dangerous nature of the wild boar was well represented in Greek mythology, for it was a boar that killed Adonis, Theseus would have to deal with the boar of Crommyon, a gathering of heroes had to hunt the Calydonian Boar, and Heracles had to deal with a fourth, the Erymanthian Boar.

Heracles and Erymanthian Boar

Heracles and the Erymantian boar. Statuette of 60 by 52 and 29 cm. Work of J. M. Félix Magdalena - Photo by Jomafemag - Released into PD
Heracles and the Erymantian boar. Statuette of 60 by 52 and 29 cm. Work of J. M. Félix Magdalena - Photo by Jomafemag - Released into PD | Source

The Erymanthian Boar

There was a good reason why Heracles had to deal with the Erymanthian Boar, for it was a deadly beast that was ravaging Arcadia.

The Erymanthian Boar was said to live in the Erymanthos mountain range, and was to be found either upon Mount Lampeia or Mount Erymanthos. From these mountains, the gigantic boar would descend into the populated areas of Erymanthos, a city which would later become known as Psophis.

Ancient writers do not tell of how the Erymanthian Boar came to reside in the Erymanthos mountain range, nor do they tell of its parentage, although there was speculation that it was related to the boar of Calydon.

Hunters who had gone against the Erymanthian Boar had been killed, and so King Eurystheus decided to give the job of capturing the Erymanthian Boar to Heracles, believing that the Labour would prove deadly. Of course, Heracles had already survived encounters with the Nemean Lion, the Lernaean Hydra and the Ceryneian Hind.

The Fourth Labour of Heracles

The story of the Fourth Labour of Heracles is told by a number of different writers, and in the longest versions the task starts with Heracles visiting the centaurs of Mount Pelion. Generally speaking, the centaurs were barbaric creatures, but amongst their number were at least two wise ones, and Heracles would first visit Chiron to seek advice on hunting and capturing the Erymanthian Boar.

Heracles would listen to the words of Chiron, before departing to the cave of another centaur, Pholus, an old friend of the Greek hero. Heracles and Pholus would share food and drink, but the opening of an amphora of wine, attracted all of the other centaurs, and a fight broke out between Heracles and the barbaric centaurs.

Heracles would kill many centaurs with his poisoned arrows, and even Pholus was accidentally killed, when he pricked himself whilst examining one of the poisoned arrows. Chiron would also be poisoned in a similar manner.

Heracles and the Boar of Erymanthus

Hercules and the Boar of Erymanthus - Antonio Tempesta- PD-art-100
Hercules and the Boar of Erymanthus - Antonio Tempesta- PD-art-100 | Source

Heracles Continues His Quest

Upset at the death of his friends, Heracles nevertheless continued with his Labour. The gigantic Erymanthian Boar was not a difficult creature to find, but capturing the beast would prove more of a task. The advice of Chiron though proved invaluable.

Heracles would drive the Erymanthian Boar upwards on the slopes of Mount Erymanthos, and into areas where the snow lay in deep banks. The boar would struggle to make its way through the snow, quickly wearing itself out. This allowed Heracles to close in, and soon the Erymanthian Boar was caught within the hero’s strongest net.

Heracles Returns with the Erymanthian Boar

Heracles would carry the boar back to Tiryns and the court of King Eurystheus. When the king spied the Erymanthian, the terror which the king had displayed after the Labour of the Nemean Lion returned, and the king, with the lack of dignity expected of a king, hid himself away within a bronze pithos jar.

From his hiding place, King Eurystheus ordered Heracles to dispose of the boar, but rather than kill the Erymanthian Boar, Heracles released it back into the wild.

The Erymanthian Boar would leave the Peloponnese, and swam out into the Mediterranean before landing on the western coastline of Italy. The Erymanthian Boar though did not ravage the Italian countryside, as it had done in Arcadia, and instead led a relatively peaceful life.

Greek and Roman mythology would later tell of how the tusks of the Erymanthian Boar could be found in the Temple of Apollo at Cumae.


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