The Erymanthian Boar & the Tragedy of the Centaurs

Heracles’ next task was comparatively easy: to capture another rampaging creature, a huge ferocious boar which lived on Mount Erymanthus in northwest Arcadia. Heracles simply pursued it into a snowdrift, where it became stuck fast. Then, in time-honoured fashion, he shouldered the snorting beast and carried it back to Tiryns.

Watched by Athene (right), Heracles presents the Erymanthian Boar to a terrified Eurystheus, who cowers in his bronze amphora. (Sixth-century BC Athenian vase painting.) However, this success was tinged with tragedy. On his way to Erymanthus, Heracles was entertained by a Centaur, Pholus. Years earlier Dionysus, foretelling this very meeting, had given Pholus a wineskin, to be opened only when Heracles came visiting. But the honeyed bouquet attracted other Centaurs from far and near.

The Erymanthian Boar & the Tragedy of the Centaurs Photo Gallery

Maddened by its scent and desperate to taste it, they armed themselves with trees and boulders and rushed on Pholus’ cave. Heracles had no choice but to retaliate. He unleashed a volley of poisoned arrows. Soon many of the Centaurs lay twitching in torment. Many more took to their hooves and galloped off to safety. Among those struck was wise old Cheiron. Immortal as he was, the arrows’ toxins condemned him to eternal pain. At last, knowing he could not escape his fate, he persuaded Zeus to let him change places with Prometheus, the Titan whose punishment for giving fire to men was to have his liver pecked out every morning by an eagle, only for it to grow again before the next sunrise. Even Pholus did not survive the massacre. Intrigued by the arrows’ effect, he was examining one closely when he dropped it. It grazed his leg, and immediately he collapsed, dead, to the ground.

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