Boars and pigs

It seems like it would be appropriate at this moment, having concluded with deer and goats, and considering the dawning of the spring season….to address the subject of boars and pigs. Pigs are animals that have something of a bad rap that have become almost synonymous with poor health. I have my husband on one hand saying that people shouldn’t eat swine because it is unclean, and on the other hand there is another group counting how much fat content pork has….gods save you if you like bacon, ham or ribs! Or sausage for that matter (which seems to be a big part of much Italian and Greek cousine from what I can see). The word pig is even given as insult if you have a bit more girth about you. The pig has become synonymous with being fat, ugly, unhealthy, dirty (because obviously the fact that the animal is smart enough to protect its skin from sunburn by applying mud is just too ewwww for modern tastes), and altogether destructive to local ecology (as we understand from importations of pigs into environments where they are not native and the destructive of native habitats and wildlife in places such as Australia and in the southeastern United States where wild boars roam). In short, any noble or redeeming character the animal has once possessed has all but disappeared in this era. There have been some attempts to save the image of pigs by indication of their intelligence…often through popular children’s tales…but these have barely made a dint. Granted this is from an American perspective, and it may be that the reputation of pigs is not quite so dismal in other parts of the world, but it is in this kind of environment (at least in the USA) that people are discovering the beauty of Hellenismos….in which the pig/boar does have important significance.

Now I classify pigs and wild boars together because it seems the biggest distinction between them is that pigs are nothing more than domesticated boars (of which there are various types). Here is a good description of them from a website called Hog Stoppers:

“The difference between the wild and domestic animals is largely a matter of perception; both are usually described as Sus scrofa, and domestic pigs quite readily become feral. The characterization of populations as wild, feral or domestic and pig or boar is usually decided by where the animals are encountered and what is known of their history. In New Zealand for example, wild pigs are known as “Captain Cookers” from their supposed descent from liberations and gifts to Māori by explorer Captain James Cook in the 1770s.
The term boar is used to denote an adult male of certain species, including, confusingly, domestic pigs. In the case of wild pigs only, it is correct to say “female boar” or “infant wild boar”, since boar or wild boar refers to the species itself
.
One characteristic by which domestic breed and wild animals are differentiated is coats. Wild animals almost always have thick, short bristly coats ranging in colour from brown through grey to black. A prominent ridge of hair matching the spine is also common, giving rise to the name razorback in the southern United States. The tail is usually short and straight. Wild animals tend also to have longer legs than domestic breeds and a longer and narrower head and snout. European adult males can be up to 200 kg (sometimes up to 300 kg in certain areas, particularly Eastern Europe) and have both upper and lower tusks; females do not have tusks and are around a third smaller on average.

So apparently it doesn’t take very long to go from pig back to boar. Differences appear to more or less superficial. Likewise in myth they do same to take different roles, in which the pig is connected agricultural goddesses such as Demeter and Persephone, and the boar has links to Ares, Apollon and Artemis who harness its more aggressive features. However, despite the form of these roles, there is no difference between them. So it is appropriate to consider them more or less together.

In Hellenismos the pig is identified specifically with the cult of Demeter and Persephone. This takes into consideration that the pig is appropriately representative of the earth and its procreative nature. This may relate in some degree to the girth of the pig, but perhaps has more to do with the nature of the pig itself. Among domesticated pigs, as described above, there is a tendency to wallow in mud in order to protect their sensitive skin. Domesticated pigs, for whatever reason, have lost their tougher bristly coats, and therefore submerge themselves within the earth. Of course wild pigs are mostly nocturnal animals by habit anyway, and are, suprisingly, a borrowing species of animal.

“The animals are usually nocturnal, foraging from dusk until dawn but with resting periods during both night and day. They eat almost anything they come across, including nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small reptiles–even young deer and lambs.
Boars are the only hoofed animals known to dig burrows, a habit which can be explained by the fact that they are the only known mammals lacking brown adipose tissue. Therefore, they need to find other ways to protect themselves from the cold. For the same reason, piglets often shiver to produce heat themselves.”

This presents us with an image of a borrowing animal which is sensitive to the elements/environment, takes some refuge within the earth, that takes all things with into itself without distinction, that is a female-community social animal (living in female groups called sounders, during which males only enter for breeding season after which they leave), and produces multiple offspring (like many other animals connected with fertility such as rabbits, dogs, etc).

Therefore, one level we have an animal of which the female members represent and are closely linked to earth and agricultural goddesses (agriculture also being the seeds of civilization and community). If the soul is also considered one symbolic level to be feminine (via the mythic representation of Psykhe) it may infer something in regards the initiation process in which the individual offers a sacrifice of a piglet  in order to enter into the mysteries. I would hazzard to suggest that this piglet is representative of the human soul. I have talked before about associations that can be made with young animals and the immature youthful identity of the human soul in which humanity can be referred to in association with young animals (which nursed and cared for by the gods) and the adult animals are generally directly associated with the gods. So the initiates make a symbolic sacrifice of themself, a kind of mock death which they perform right beside the temple of Artemis Prothyrea (of the portal) as a symbol of passing the first gate of Eleusis before they can enter deeper within sacred citadel which possesses a second smaller gate into the Telesterion where the initiation rites were carried out.

It should not surprise us to see Artemis associated at all with the area in which the piglets were sacrificed. Though we more often see boars directly associated with her in myth, she is a femme-centric deity through which we can appreciate her association not only with lionesses (an animal which she can be seen holding in images characterized as Potnia Theron type images that seemed to have remained fairly common representations of her in the Peloponnese) but also with wild pigs that also connect her with her earthly domain. Thus the dangerous wild male boar becomes a natural tool of destruction rendered by her. We can see three cases which are connected with Artemis.

One of which I will mention first because it is the most indirect association, and that is the boar which slew Adonis. Now there are two distinct versions that we see here, and they are dinstinguished by the male god participating. One one version, that is perhaps the most commonly recognized, it was Ares who either took the form, or sent, the boar spurred by his own jealousy of Aphrodite’s lover. In the other version, which is elluded to in Euripedes’ play Hippolytus (and by that reference we can assume that it was a pretty well known version) was that Apollon sent/took the form of the boar to slay Aphrodite’s lover on the part of his twin Artemis, as well for his own reasons which are stated more explicitly below. For at the end of the play we see Artemis address Hippolytus that in return for Aphrodite’s offense she too will slay the one whom Aphrodite loves. Of course in the end it turns out that both Hippolytus and Adonis become deified from this exchange, but it does pose an interesting medium in which again we are presented with an image of the boar symbolizing death and a kind of blessed rebirth. This is not to say of course that the two versions of the myth are incompatible either…it could be Ares and Apollon both got in on it and featured a duel representation of the destructive component of the myth as they are referred together also in war (which I have spoken of at length before in regards to Apollon’s association with war and his relationship with Ares). This earthly end/destruction that rises to a new birth can also be viewed in the context in which I was informed that it is common for offerings of pig to be given to Apollon Noumenios, who is honored at the Noumenia as the new month manifests. Similarly we can see offerings of pig to Apollon (and Zeus..probably in his Cthonic character) in autumnal festivals of Demeter such as the Proerosia.

The boar naturally then has become a subject of specific heroic feats. Perhaps one of the better known examples wold be the Erymanthian Boar (which may very well have been the same boar which slew Adonis, since the version of the tale in which Apollon sent the boar it is said to for his part to have been for the purpose because Aphrodite blinded his son Erymanthius…from whom logically the boar would have taken the name as it would from the place in which the boar roamed. It hardly seems as coincidence in any case, and the mountain itself may be associated with the myth of Apollon’s son who was blinded for seeing Aphrodite bathing…a common punishment for mortal men who transgress in this manner). It is perhaps then on the sacred mountain of Artemis, Erymanthos, in which these whole drama is contrived that appropriately sets up the setting for the fourth labor of Herakles (following up from the labor in which the hero has persued her hind that may further establish a link between Artemis and the hero). From the myth of this labor we learn that the mountain is the home of the centaur Chiron, whom Herakles is visiting and ends up poisoning with one of his arrows (which leads in later as a reason why Chiron agreed to give up his immortality…and so end the pain of the poison arrow… in exchange for Prometheus’ freedom whether that be figuratively by giving Herakles his strength or making a more literal bargain with Zeus that aids Herakles’ when he frees the Titan). So we see this grounds to be a focal point as a kind doorway between death and life, which is quite appropriate given the nature of Artemis. And likewise appropriate to whatever links it has with Ares and Apollon who are also connected to death and destruction. For whatever reason Eurystheus wanted it, and Herakles captured it by driving it into the snow via the advice of Chiron, but the king was so terrified of it when it was brought to him that by his wish Herakles disposed of it. In Cumae there was displayed a set of boars tusks in the temple of Apollon that were said to have been from this animal, on the belief that Herakles threw it into the sea and the boar swam to Italy where it later died and was there perserved.

Therefore if we take the labors of Herakles as a totality of parts in his deification (rather like the “toys” of Zagreus that Clement of Alexandria spoke of from the last post) we can see an important idea of each labor myth, as far as I see it anyway. So whereas he chased down the horned hind that I spoke of before, he is now confronting an animal directly associated with the seemingly very strong and near unbreakable cycle of death and rebirth of which he gains mastery of. Sounds like an important component in any case of being deified if we consider that his labors are the processes of his deification as per the instructions of Apollon that only once he has committed these labors would he be a god, all of which incurs as the result of his madness-inspired sacrifice of the self symbolized by the death of his two sons from the influence of Hera. It is interesting that Artemis figures in some manner in several of these labors, which insinuates her role in propelling foreward her “prey.” She is closely connected with the Amazons in myth from whom Herakles takes the girdle (which has its own symbolism), there is the hind of which we already spoke, and the boar.

But the most well known boar connection with Artemis is the myth of the Calydonian Boar (which was sent by Artemis in anger for being forgotten during the harvest sacrifices)..but Apollon again is not far away as we are told that Meleager’s spear was later dedicated to Apollon’s temple. This presents us another interrelated image of the boar in association with the relationship between Apollon and Artemis. What is remarkable about this tell, however, is that brings together an entire cast of heroes (a cast which we see much of in the tale of the Argonautika in pursuit of the golden fleece…and like the quest for the fleece ends up being minus Herakles which sets apart the journey of the son of Zeus from that of the other Heroes). The implications seem to be similar in the arrangement of the myth of the Calydonian Boar and the Erymanthian Boar in which we have a dangerous creature, a bringer of destruction, of which each hero is participating for the distinction of wishing to kill the animal. In myth it is the spear of Atalanta who delivers the fatal wound to the animal, which is finished off by the spear of Meleager. In recognition of this fact Meleager awards the remains of the boar to her, which causes a huge uprising that ultimately ends in Meleager’s death in that the firebrand (the fragile symbol of human life) that had been in safe keeping of his mother is snuffed out in retaliation for the consequential death of her brothers (which insidentally also led to her and Meleager’s wife to hang themselves). And yet the spear of the hero was perserved in the temple of Apollon which speaks of certain greatness of the hero. Therefore we see a richness in death symbolism here directly related to the hunt of the boar. That the hide of the boar was believed to have preserved in the temple of Athena seems to attribute not the boar to her, but rather the process in which the hero (who is usually attended by her) has become victorious over that which the boar represents. Or so it seems.

In any case, whether we have the pigs of Demeter and Persephone, or the boars associated with Artemis, Apollon and Ares, we have an animal that is deeply connected with the mortal state and its connection directly with the earth. The earth brings us into being, in an environment against which we have little protection, and in which offers certain death to us in our mortal forms of flesh and blood, but is also receives us kindly and by the mysteries of nature we progress and are reborn….with the hope that eventually we will take the boar by the tusks and be reborn into a greater blessed state.

3 thoughts on “Boars and pigs

  1. I believe some forms of miasma also required the sacrifice of a pig(let) to Apóllōn Apotrópaios, the ultimate purifier from Miasma. It required going to a temple where the priests had the necessary knowledge of this katharmos (purification).

  2. Pingback: Apollon the swine-herd, boars and Adonis | Beloved in Light

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