Thursday, August 13, 2020

Wild boars in ancient art

 The wild boar features prominently in the cultures of Indo-European people, many of which saw the animal as embodying warrior virtues. Cultures throughout Europe and Asia Minor saw the killing of a boar as proof of one's valor and strength. Neolithic hunter gatherers depicted reliefs of ferocious wild boars on their temple pillars at Göbekli Tepe some 11,600 years ago. Virtually all heroes in Greek mythology fight or kill a boar at one point. The demigod Herakles' third labor involves the capture of the Erymanthian Boar, Theseus slays the wild sow Phaea, and a disguised Odysseus is recognised by his handmaiden Eurycleia by the scars inflicted on him by a boar during a hunt in his youth. To the mythical Hyperboreans, the boar represented spiritual authority. Several Greek myths use the boar as a symbol of darkness, death and winter. One example is the story of the youthful Adonis, who is killed by a boar and is permitted by Zeus to depart from Hades only during the spring and summer period. This theme also occurs in Irish and Egyptian mythology, where the animal is explicitly linked to the month of October, therefore autumn. This association likely arose from aspects of the boar's actual nature. Its dark colour was linked to the night, while its solitary habits, proclivity to consume crops and nocturnal nature were associated with evil. The foundation myth of Ephesus has the city being built over the site where Prince Androklos of Athens killed a boar. Boars were frequently depicted on Greek funerary monuments alongside lions, representing gallant losers who have finally met their match, as opposed to victorious hunters as lions are. The theme of the doomed, yet valorous boar warrior also occurred in Hittite culture, where it was traditional to sacrifice a boar alongside a dog and a prisoner of war after a military defeat.

The boar as a warrior also appears in Scandinavian, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon culture, with its image having been frequently engraved on helmets, shields and swords. According to Tacitus, the Baltic Aesti featured boars on their helmets and may have also worn boar masks. The boar and pig were held in particularly high esteem by the Celts, who considered them to be their most important sacred animal. Some Celtic deities linked to boars include Moccus and Veteris. It has also been suggested that some early myths surrounding the Welsh hero Culhwch involved the character being the son of a boar god.

Here is a selection of ancient art I have photographed depicting wild boars:

Amulet depicting a boar between two lion heads Italic 500-400 BCE Amber Getty Villa, Pacific Palisades, California

Closeup of Plate depicting a boar hunt Persia (Iran) Sasanian Period 4th century CE Silver and Gilt Smithsonian Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C.

Boar Corinthian-style Etruscan helmet incised with images of boars Bronze 5th century BCE at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas

Boar attacked by two dogs from the peristyle garden of the House of the Citharist Pompeii 1st century CE

Boar fresco in the House of the Ceii in Pompeii 1st century CE

Mosaic depicting a boar confronting a hunting dog from 5th-6th century CE Carthage at the British Museum

Boar in a Roman mosaic of Orpheus Taming the Animals 204 CE at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas

Closeup of Sarcophagus depicting the Calydonian hunt, representing the hero Meleager and the goddess Artemis. Proconnesian marble, Roman, (2nd century CE?) at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.


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