|Heroic Sow Teaches Young to Wallow|
The flu I suffered in transit to Germany made me delirious. My paracetamol-fuelled dreams featured rampaging wild boars, leading to a bout of feverish e-research in a Cologne hotel.
|The Legion that Beat Up Boudicca|
The sus scrofa is everywhere once you emerge from the Eurotunnel: they snort in forests and glisten in pate and pub signage; they ooze on butchers’ counters. Boars have recently been reintroduced onto UK farms after being extinct in the UK for centuries, and escapees are pioneering wild communities in several counties. But these freedom-fighting bristly porcines now face culling because they outrageously propose to do the things all pigs do (and did for millennia in Britain before the Middle Ages)—root around, turn ground into mud, and defend their piglets from predators.
|Daddy, where's my milk?|
It is true that Brits have historical reason to fear the boar. The Roman legion that put down Boudicca’s revolt, the XXth, used the boar as its emblem. As a classical scholar I have been signally neglectful of my intellectual responsibilities in not stressing the importance of boars.
We must dispel the falsehood that boars make good fathers, propounded in the books about the Gruffalo and his child, whose tusked physiognomies are clearly modelled on the sus scrofa. It is the mothers who are impressive. They are almost unique in the mammalian world because communities of females UNRELATED BY BLOOD but who RESPECT each other come together to build communities.
|Theseus attacks Unarmed Single Mother|
We must rewrite the record to acknowledge that most legendary boars were actually heroic females. The fierce, rampaging ones are usually nursing mothers, which means that the Erymanthian boar slaughtered by Heracles probably left little babies to expire without their milk. So did the Calydonian swine, target of the most famous mythical hunting expedition of all, adding a fresh feminist focus to a tale which already featured the prowess of the athletic heroine Atalanta. But the Calydonian she-boar was herself part of a glorious dynasty, as the daughter of no less a sow than the Crommyonian Sow killed by Theseus.
The only Greek mythical boar likely to have been male was the one into which the thuggish war-god Ares turned himself when he decided to kill Adonis, who had stolen his girlfriend Aphrodite. This interests me because my first husband was called Ares.
|Ares (left) attacks Love-Rival Adonis|
And just in case you do ever encounter a bristly sow in a Deep Dark Wood, there is a defensive weapon far more effective than a hunting rifle. It is a copy of Aristotle’s Logic. A student at Queen’s College, Oxford, was long ago attacked by a boar in a forest east of the town. He rammed the book he happened to be reading—the Logic—into the boar’s gaping jaws, crying ‘Graecum Est’ (to be translated as something like ‘This is the Greek response to you!’).
|Weapon against Boars and Bores|
This could work on self-important, aggressive (or boring) humans as well as boars, and indeed suggests a new way of stopping people whose papers go on too long at conferences. Remind me to put a copy in my handbag before the next conference session I chair.