According to the ancient Greek poet, Homer, Lord Oeneus of the Aetolian city of Calydon made the grave mistake of forgetting to leave a harvest offering to Artemis, the goddess of animals and hunting. Apparently, every single Greek god and goddess besides Artemis was given his or her appropriate offering. Artemis, alone, was forgotten—and she was not happy about that, at all.
To have her revenge against the people of Calydon, Artemis sent a colossal boar to ravage the personal lands of Lord Oeneus. The gigantic beast used its terrible tusks to gouge the land and rip up trees from their roots. Lord Oeneus’ son, Meleager, gathered a large army of hunters and hunting dogs from the surrounding Aetolian settlements to do battle against Artemis’ boar. Though many of the huntsmen died, they managed to kill the rampaging boar and return its impressive carcass to Calydon.
Artemis, however, not to be outdone by the hunters, sowed jealousy and rivalry between the many proud hunters, causing them to argue over who would keep the magnificent boar as a hunting prize. Accounts of what happened next varied from storyteller to storyteller, but in this particular article we will follow the storyline told by Homer in the Iliad. In his version of the myth, the conflict over the boar’s remains was interrupted when a great war broke out between the Aetolian people and their foes, the Curetes, not long after the hunt.
Meleager championed the Aetolians in war, and his skillful military leadership made victory almost a certainty. There was, however, a nagging problem among the Aetolian ranks—Artemis was still flaming the fires of envy and jealousy over who would keep the boar as a prize. In a heated dispute over the giant hunting trophy, Meleager killed his uncle in a frenzied rage. After the murder, Meleager’s mother could not forgive her son for killing her brother. Quite the opposite, she prayed to the gods for her son’s death. Having killed his uncle, and with his mother wishing his death, Meleager withdrew from battle and sulked with his wife at their home in Calydon city.
Without Meleager’s leadership, however, the Aetolian forces lost their advantage. The Curetes seized their chance and counter-attacked, pushing deep into Aetolian territory. The line of battle was pushed all the way back to the city of Calydon, where Meleager was still licking his wounds.
Only when the Curetes began to siege and scale the walls of Calydon did Meleager rejoin the battle. With their champion back in the battlefield, the Aetolians were able to soundly defeat the Curetes and end the war. No longer distracted by the threat of war, the Aetolians finally decided who would obtain prizes fashioned from the giant boar that the huntsmen had recently killed. Meleager, whose stubbornness and solitude had caused the Curetes to reach all the way to the walls of Calydon, was pointedly not given a share of Artemis’ great boar as a hunting trophy.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.