Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos

Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.

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Labour four: Capture the Erymanthian Boar

The last I wrote of Hēraklēs, our hero had successfully navigated Eurystheus' scheme of getting him killed by help of Artemis. Hēraklēs completed another labour, made Artemis happy, and saved the day. All was well in the world of Hēraklēs. At this point, Hēraklēs is aware he still has eight labours ahead of him: he completed three successfully, but the labour with the Lernaean Hydra was disqualified because he had accepted the help of his nephew and lover Iolaus. It was most certainly an unfair ruling, but nothing can be done about it: Hēraklēs must continue with his quest in hopes of cleansing himself of his crime.

The fourth labour is to capture the Erymanthian Boar, which got his name from the mountainside and swamp it roamed on. It seems Eurystheus realized that capturing something can be a lot more deadly than killing something, especially when that something is bigger and badder than any of its peers. That said, Hyginus in his Fabulae describes that the task was not to capture the boar, but to kill it, which Hēraklēs accomplished. As far as I am aware, though, he is the only one. Pausanias mentions the boar in his 'Description of Greece', saying:
 
"There is also a legend that Heracles at the command of Eurystheus hunted by the side of the Erymanthus a boar that surpassed all others in size and in strength. The people of Cumae among the Opici say that the boar's tusks dedicated in their sanctuary of Apollo are those of the Erymanthian boar, but the saying is altogether improbable." [8.24.5]

 

 All who write about the labour agree that it is a difficult one. A boar is a ferocious animal, and even modern day hunters take care when hunting boar. Diodorus explains why this labour might have been the hardest so far:
 
"This Command was thought to be exceedingly difficult, since it required of the man who fought such a beast that he possess such a superiority over it as to catch precisely the proper moment in the very heat of the encounter. For should he let it loose while it still retained its strength he would be in danger from its rushes, and should he attack it more violently than was proper, then he would have killed it and so the Labour would remain unfulfilled." [4.12.1]


This labour became even harder to complete for Hēraklēs when he met the kéntauroi (or 'centaurs') on his way to the boar. Our hero went the long way to visit Phontus, a kéntaur who dwelt in a cave on Mount Pholoe, who was the son of Seilenus and the nymph Melia. Having heard of Hēraklēs, Phontus entertained him in his cave, and provided him with food. Hēraklēs, thirsty from the savory meat dish, asked for wine, but Phontus said he only had the wine that was communal to all the kéntauroi, and he did not dare touch it. Hēraklēs convinced him to do so, regardless, and the kéntauroi came galloping to the cave. Hēraklēs fought them, and many died. Phontus, inspecting one of Hēraklēs' arrows dipped in hydra poison, which the hero had used to kill one of the kéntauros, dropped it onto his foot and he died of the poison as well. Hēraklēs, grieving for the death of Phontus, buried him near his cave. There are many accounts of this, but the most beautiful--abide lengthy--description in my opinion is from Diodorus:
 
"About this time that Heracles was performing these Labours, there was a struggle between him and the Centaurs, as they are called, the reason being as follows. Pholus the Centaur, from whom the neighbouring mountain came to be called Pholoê, and receiving Heracles with the courtesies due to a guest he opened for him a jar of wine which had been buried in the earth. This jar, the writers of myths relate, had of old been left with a certain Centaur by Dionysus, who had given him orders only to open it when Heracles should come to that place. And so, four generation after that time, when Heracles was being entertained as a guest, Pholus recalled the orders of Dionysus.


Now when the jar had been opened and the sweet odour of the wine, because of its great age and strength, came to the Centaurs dwelling near there, it came to pass that they were driven mad; consequently they rushed in a body to the dwelling of Pholus and set about plundering him of the wine in a terrifying manner.

 

At this Pholus hid himself in fear, but Heracles, to their surprise, grappled with those who were employing such violence. He had indeed to struggle with beings who were gods on their mother’s side, who possessed the swiftness of horses, who had the strength of two bodies, and enjoyed in addition the experience and wisdom of men. The Centaurs advanced upon him, some with pine trees which they had plucked up together with the roots, others with great rocks, some with burning firebrands, and still others with axes such as are used to slaughter oxen.

 

But he withstood them without sign of fear and maintained a battle which was worthy of his former exploits. The Centaurs were aided in their struggle by their mother Nephelê, who sent down a heavy rain, by which she gave no trouble to those who had four legs, but for him who was supported upon two made the footing slippery. Despite all this Heracles maintained an astonishing struggle with those who enjoyed such advantages as these, slew the larger part of them, and forced the survivors to flee.

 

Of the Centaurs which were killed the most renowned were Daphnis, Argeius, Amphion, also Hippotion, Oreius, Isoples, Malanchaetes, and Thereus, Doupon, and Phrixus. As for those who escaped the peril by flight, every one of them later received a fitting punishment: Homadus, for instance, was killed in Arcadia when he was attempting to violate Alcyonê, the sister of Eurystheus. And for this feat it came to pass that Heracles was marveled at exceedingly; for though he had private grounds for hating his enemy, yet because he pitied her who was being outraged, he determined to be superior to others in humanity.


A peculiar thing also happened in the case of him who was called Pholus, the friend of Heracles. While he was burying the fallen Centaurs, since they were his kindred, and was extracting an arrow from one of them, he was wounded by the barb, and since the wound could not be healed he came to his death. Heracles gave him a magnificent funeral and buried him at the foot of the mountain, which serves better than a gravestone to preserve his glory; for Pholoê makes known the identity of the buried man by bearing his name and no inscription is needed." [4.12.3 - 4.12.8]


Apollodorus gives an extended account where the fight claims another casualty besides poor Pholus: the kéntauros Kheiron, teacher of heroes and kings:
 
"Thence they took refuge with Chiron, who, driven by the Lapiths from Mount Pelion, took up his abode at Malea. As the centaurs cowered about Chiron, Hercules shot an arrow at them, which, passing through the arm of Elatus, stuck in the knee of Chiron. Distressed at this, Hercules ran up to him, drew out the shaft, and applied a medicine which Chiron gave him. But the hurt proving incurable, Chiron retired to the cave and there he wished to die, but he could not, for he was immortal. However, Prometheus offered himself to Zeus to be immortal in his stead, and so Chiron died. The rest of the centaurs fled in different directions, and some came to Mount Malea, and Eurytion to Pholoe, and Nessus to the river Evenus. The rest of them Poseidon received at Eleusis and hid them in a mountain." [2.5.4]


Moving on, Hēraklēs finally reached the Erymanthian Boar's territory, and unlike the Golden Hind of Artemis, he did not have to chase after the boar at all. At the first challenging shout, the beast charged him, and Hēraklēs frightened him off so he could pursue and capture him more easily. In the words of Apollodorus:

"And when he had chased the boar with shouts from a certain thicket, he drove the exhausted animal into deep snow, trapped it, and brought it to Mycenae." [4.12.2]


Apollodorius Rhodius, a Hellenic epic poet and scholar of the Library of Alexandria who flourished in the third century BC writes the ending even better in his 'Argonautica':
 
"...he [Hēraklēs] carried the boar alive that fed in the thickets of Lampeia, near the vast Erymanthian swamp, the boar bound with chains he put down from his huge shoulders at the entrance to the market-place of Mycenae" [122]


Another little tidbit by Diodorus, to which the image at the top of his post relates:
 

"...when it came to the struggle he kept so careful an eye on the proper balance that he brought back the boar alive to Eurystheus; and when the king saw him carrying the boar on his shoulders, he was terrified and hid himself in a bronze vessel." [4.12.2]


This labour was quite costly to Hēraklēs, who not only singlehandedly slew most of the kéntauroi, but also killed two good men--and all over a bottle of wine, I might add. Hēraklēs still has many labours ahead of him, and his adventure is far from over. For now, though, we will let our hero recover from this ordeal.


Image property: here.

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Elani Temperance is a twenty-seven year old woman, who lives with her partner in The Netherlands. She has been Pagan for a little over twelve years and has explored Neo-Wicca, Technopaganism, Hedge Witchery and Eclectic Religious Witchcraft before progressing to Hellenismos. Although her home practice is fully Hellenic, she has an online Neo-Pagan magazine called 'Little Witch magazine' (www.littlewitchmagazine.com) in which she and several co-writers try to cover the whole gamut of Neo-Paganism. Baring the Aegis is also on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BaringTheAegis

Comments

  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 07 October 2013

    Ms. Temperance,

    Thank you for sharing the story of Herakles' 4th labor! I really appreciate that you found differing accounts from ancient authors.

    I make offerings to Herakles, and ask for the strength to do my difficult job. His shrine in my basement contains a beautiful Gil Hibben dagger named "Isis", that my wife bought for me many years ago...among other things.

    I so long to see an authentic, film version of mythic Herakles' life and death. I won't hold my breath, though. Not too many male bodybuilders/aspiring actors would want to play a character who has a gay relationship with his own nephew...even if he is supposed to be Herc.

    Your blog gives new meaning to the phrase, "The book was better than the movie."

    Please continue with the story when your busy schedule permits! It is very entertaining as well as spiritually edifying.

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