Calydonian Boar

Variations: Kalydonian Boar

Calydonian Boar

The tragedy of the Calydonian Boar started when King Oineus of Calydon made a sacrifice of firstfruits that left out Artemis. The vengeful goddess sent a monstrous boar to ravage Aitolia. This Calydonian boar was the size of a bull, with red eyes, a high stiff neck with bristles rising like spears, tusks as big as an elephant’s, and fire and lightning flashing from its mouth. It gored people and livestock, plundered the crops, burned the fields, and ruined the harvest.

Oineus begged all the heroes of Greece to save him from the boar. They responded. The team that was formed to hunt the boar included Oineus’ son Meleager, the twins Castor and Polydeuces, Theseus of Athens, Jason of Iolcos, Iphicles of Thebes, Eurytion of Phthia, and Atalanta of Arcadia, among many others. The presence of Atalanta, a woman and a skilled hunter, ruffled a few feathers; some of the men thought it beneath them to hunt with her. Meleager made sure to silence dissent before heading out to find the boar.

Althaia, mother of Meleager and wife of Oineus, watched her son leave without fear. Why would she be afraid for his life? Did the Moirai not foretell that he would only die once a certain log was burnt up – a log that she kept safely locked away in a chest? What could the boar possibly do to him? Her brothers, the sons of Thestios, also went with the party, but she had faith that nobody would come to harm.

It wasn’t hard to find the Calydonian boar. Its spoor was a wake of death and destruction. The sight of the hunting party drove the boar into a furious rage, and the hunters quickly became the hunted. Enaesimus tried to turn and run, but was hamstrung. Nestor narrowly escaped death by using his spear to pole-vault to safety. Hippasus’ thigh was gashed open. Peleus accidentally killed Eurytion with his javelin in the heat of battle. It was Atalanta that drew first blood with an arrow behind the boar’s ear, an action that earned Ancaios’ scorn. “A man’s weapons will always be better than a girl’s! Watch this!” Ancaios hefted his axe just in time to get disemboweled by the boar. Finally Meleager himself stabbed the boar’s flank, killing it.

In due course the boar was skinned and its magnificent hide taken, to be offered to the most valorous of the party. Meleager gave it to Atalanta without hesitation. The sons of Thestios, his uncles, were furious. “A mere woman does not deserve such a prize”, they grumbled. “If Meleager won’t take it, it is ours by right”. Tempers flared. The uncles took the skin by force, provoking Meleager to draw his sword and kill both of them.

Althaia did not take the news well. When she heard her brothers were dead, she seized Meleager’s log and tossed it into the fire in a fit of rage. Meleager was burned up from within and died in agony, envying Ancaios’ swift death at the boar’s tusks. Althaia went on to kill herself in a fit of conscience. Meleager’s sisters wept bitterly until Artemis transformed all but two of them into guineafowl.

So it goes.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Ovid, Humphries, R. trans. (1955) Metamorphoses. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Erymanthian Boar

Erymanthian Boar

The Erymanthian Boar was a monstrous boar that made its home around Mount Erymanthos in Arcadia. It ravaged the land of Psophis, killing people and livestock and tearing up crops.

Heracles was commanded to bring the Erymanthian boar alive for his fourth labor. Along the way the demigod had an unfortunate and tragic encounter with the centaurs, one which would have severe repercussions in the future. Eventually Heracles found the boar and scared it out of its thicket with a mighty shout. After a long chase, the boar was tired out and and forced it into a snowdrift, where it was easily captured and brought back to Eurystheus. In a comic scene that graces many a Grecian urn, the cowardly king hid in a large storage jar until Heracles took the boar away.

After that the boar presumably met its demise, either at the hands of Heracles or elsewhere. The tusks of the Erymanthian boar were on display at the sanctuary of Apollo in Cumae, Italy, but Pausanias believed this claim to be highly dubious.

References

Buxton, R. (2004) The Complete World of Greek Mythology. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Pausanias, Levi, P. trans. (1979) Guide to Greece, volume 2: Southern Greece. Penguin Books, London.

Smith, R. S. and Trzaskoma, S. M. (2007) Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis.

Trochus

Variations: Rota

Trochus

The Trochus, “wheel”, or Rota is a huge sea-monster known to swim close to shore in large groups. Schools (pods?) of these have been seen off Athos and Sigeum.

A trochus is fortunately timid, despite having a crest and spines of great size that show above the water. It revolves and contracts and dives deep, uncoiling and rolling and returning to the surface.

The wheel-like resemblance suggests a jellyfish or ray, but the size and behavior makes it clear that the trochus is a whale surfacing and diving.

References

Aelian, trans. Scholfield, A. F. (1959) On the Characteristics of Animals, vol. III. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tetragnathon

Variations: Tetragnathus, Tetragnathius, Solipuga Solipaga, Salpuga, Solifuga

tetragnathon

The Tetragnathon, “four-jawed”, is described by Classical authors as a sort of phalangion, or harmful spider. It is so fearsome that the people neighboring the Akridophagi (locust-eaters) were driven away by swarms of tetragnathons emerging after heavy rain.

Philoumenos describes two forms of tetragnathon. One is flattened, whitish, rough-legged, with two growths on its head at right angles that give the impression of four jaws. The other has a line that divides its mouth across the middle, producing four jaws. Pliny specifies that the most dangerous tetragnathon is the one with two white lines crossing in the middle of the head; the other is ashen-colored shading to white towards its abdomen. Either way the tetragnathon is deadly, biting when sat upon, but its venom can be cured by fresh spring water.

The tetragnathon is probably a solifuge, a spider-like arachnid with enormous chelicerae. It is nonvenomous, but its huge pincer-like mouthparts – easily interpreted as two sets of jaws – can deliver a painful bite.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Kranokolaptes

Variations: Kephalokroustes, Sklerokephalon

kranokolaptes

Nicander classified the Kranokolaptes, the “Head Striker”, as a phalangion or spider. This is all the more puzzling because the description has nothing arachnoid about it. No doubt its deadly bites were seen as reason enough to list it after wolf spiders and malmignattes.

The kranokolaptes is an insect found in Egypt, and which develops in the persea tree (perhaps Mimusops). It has the appearance of a moth, with four downy felt-textured wings that leave an ashy dust behind. Philoumenos described it as green in color, but that is apparently a misreading of Nicander. The head of the kranokolaptes is hard, heavy, and nodding; its abdomen is thick and fat. It has a deadly stinger located below its head.

A kranokolaptes will use its stinger to attack the heads and necks of humans and cause instant death. Kranokolaptes stings are deadly unless victims are treated with its antidote – a kranokolaptes drowned in oil.

It has been suggested that hawkmoths (Sphingidae), with their impressive sizes, thick abdomens, and prominent probosces, are at the root of the kranokolaptes tale. The vampire moth Calyptra thalictri is even more compelling. Having evolved from fruit-piercing moths, vampire moths use the same methods to puncture skin and drink blood – and they rock their heads back and forth as they penetrate, explaining the “nodding” aspect. The similarities end here, however, as a bite from Calyptra merely causes swelling and irritation.

References

Beavis, I. C. (1988) Insects and other Invertebrates in Classical Antiquity. Alden Press, Osney Mead, Oxford.

Kitchell, K. F. (2014) Animals in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon.

Scytale

Variations: Scytalis (Latin), Scytall, Scicalis, Sciscetalis, Seyseculus, Picalis, Situla; Caecilia (erroneously)

scytale

The Scytale (Greek) or Scitalis (Latin), probably derived from scintilla (“spark” or “glimmer”), is one of the many venomous snakes born from the blood of Medusa in the Libyan desert. It was mentioned in the catalogue of snakes that plagued Lucan and his men, but does not get more than a cursory description.

A scytale shares a lot of characteristics with amphisbaenas: earth-colored, heavy-bodied, blunt-headed and blunt-tailed. But while the amphisbaena has two heads, the scytale only looks like it has two heads. Its tail is rounded, flatter, and thicker than the rest of its body, but the scytale only slithers in one direction. More notably, a scytale has scales, markings, or spots on its back that shimmer and gleam in the colors of the rainbow. Its body generates a lot of heat.

Slow and sluggish, the scytale has no means of running down prey. Instead, it uses the gleaming, iridescent markings on its back to mesmerize onlookers, causing them to draw near and within striking range.

The intense inner heat of the scytale allows it to emerge in the winter to shed its skin, even with frost still on the ground. It shares this cold tolerance with the amphisbaena.

Scytale venom is indistinguishable from amphisbaena and viper venom, and remedies for it are the same.

References

Aldrovandi, U. (1640) Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae. Antonij Bernie, Bologna.

Cuba, J. (1539) Le iardin de santé. Philippe le Noir, Paris.

Isidore of Seville, trans. Barney, S. A.; Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; and Berghof, O. (2006) The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lucan, trans. Rowe, N. (1720) Pharsalia. T. Johnson, London.

Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Serpents. E. Cotes, London.