On Hunting, by Xenophon


To cope with the wild boar the huntsman needs to have a variety of dogs, Indian, Cretan, Locrian, and Laconian,1 along with a stock of nets, javelins, boar-spears, and foot-traps.

To begin with, the hounds must be no ordinary specimens of the species named,2 in order to do battle with the beast in question.

The nets should be made of the same flaxen cord3 as those for hares above described. They should be forty-five threaded in three strands, each strand consisting of fifteen threads. The height from the upper rim4 (i.e. from top to bottom) should be ten meshes, and the depth of the nooses or pockets one elbow-length (say fifteen inches).5 The ropes running round the net should be half as thick again as the cords of the net; and at the extremities6 they should be fitted with rings, and should be inserted (in and out) under the nooses, with the end passing out through the rings. Fifteen nets will be sufficient.7

The javelins should be of all sorts,8 having blades of a good breadth and razor-sharpness, and stout shafts.

The boar-spears should in the first place have blades fifteen inches long, and in the middle of the socket two solid projecting teeth of wrought metal,9 and shafts of cornel-wood a spear-shaft’s thickness.

The foot-traps should resemble those used for deer.

These hunts should be conducted not singly,10 but in parties, since the wild boar can be captured only by the collective energy of several men, and that not easily.

I will now explain how each part of the gear is to be used in hunting.

The company being come to some place where a boar is thought to lie, the first step is to bring up the pack,11 which done, they will loose a single Laconian bitch, and keeping the rest in leash, beat about with this one hound.12 As soon as she has got on the boar’s track, let them follow in order, one after another, close on the tracking hound, who gives the lead to the whole company.13 Even to the huntsmen themselves many a mark of the creature will be plain, such as his footprints on soft portions of the ground, and in the thick undergrowth of forests broken twigs; and, where there are single trees, the scars made by his tusks.14 As she follows up the trail the hound will, as a general rule, finally arrive at some well-wooded spot; since, as a general rule, the boar lies ensconced in places of the sort, that are warm in winter and cool in summer.

As soon as she has reached his lair she will give tongue; but the boar will not get up, not he, in nine cases out of ten. The huntsman will thereupon recover the hound, and tie her up also with the rest at a good distance from the lair.15 He will then launch his toils into the wild boar’s harbourage,16 placing the nooses upon any forked branches of wood to hand. Out of the net itself he must construct a deep forward-jutting gulf or bosom, posting young shoots on this side and that within, as stays or beams,17 so that the rays of light may penetrate as freely as possible through the nooses into the bosom,18 and the interior be as fully lit up as possible when the creature makes his charge. The string round the top of the net must be attached to some stout tree, and not to any mere shrub or thorn-bush, since these light-bending branches will give way to strain on open ground.19 All about each net it will be well to stop with timber even places20 “where harbrough nis to see,” so that the hulking brute may drive a straight course21 into the toils without tacking.

As soon as the nets are fixed, the party will come back and let the hounds slip one and all; then each will snatch up his javelin22 and boar-spear, and advance. Some one man, the most practised hand, will cheer on the hounds, and the rest will follow in good order at some considerable distance from one another, so as to leave the animal a free passage; since if he falls into the thick of them as he makes off, there is a fair chance of being wounded, for he will certainly vent his fury on the first creature he falls foul of.

As soon as the hounds are near his lair, they will make their onslaught. The boar, bewildered by the uproar, will rise up and toss the first hound that ventures to attack him in front. He will then run and fall into the toils; or if not, then after him full cry.23 Even if the ground on which the toils environ him be sloping, he will recover himself promptly;24 but if level, he will at once plant himself firm as a rock, as if deliberating with himself.25 At that conjuncture the hounds will press hard upon him, while their masters had best keep a narrow eye upon the boar and let fly their javelins and a pelt of stones, being planted in a ring behind him and a good way off, until the instant when with a forward heave of his body he stretches the net tight and strains the skirting-rope. Thereupon he who is most skilful of the company and of the stoutest nerve will advance from the front and deliver a home thrust with his hunting-spear.

Should the animal for all that rain of javelins and stones refuse to stretch the skirting-rope, should he rather relax26 in that direction and make a right-about-face turn bearing down on his assailant, there is nothing for it, under these circumstances, but to seize a boar-spear, and advance; firmly clutching it with the left hand forward and with the right behind; the left is to steady it, and the right to give it impulse; and so the feet,27 the left advanced in correspondence with the left arm, and right with right. As he advances, he will make a lunge forward with the boar-spear,28 planting his legs apart not much wider than in wrestling,29 and keeping his left side turned towards his left hand; and then, with his eye fixed steadily on the beast’s eye, he will note every turn and movement of the creature’s head. As he brings down the boar-spear to the thrust, he must take good heed the animal does not knock it out of his hands by a side movement of the head;30 for if so he will follow up the impetus of that rude knock. In case of that misfortune, the huntsman must throw himself upon his face and clutch tight hold of the brushwood under him, since if the wild boar should attack him in that posture, owing to the upward curve of its tusks, it cannot get under him; whereas if caught erect, he must be wounded. What will happen then is, that the beast will try to raise him up, and failing that will stand upon and trample him.

From this extremity there is but one means of escape, and one alone, for the luckless prisoner. One of his fellow-huntsmen must approach with boar-spear and provoke the boar, making as though he would let fly at him; but let fly he must not, for fear of hitting the man under him. The boar, on seeing this, will leave the fallen man, and in rage and fury turn to grapple his assailant. The other will seize the instant to spring to his feet, and not forget to clutch his boar-spear as he rises to his legs again; since rescue cannot be nobly purchased save by victory.31 Let him again bring the weapon to bear in the same fashion, and make a lunge at a point within the shoulder-blade, where lies the throat;32 and planting his body firmly press with all his force.33 The boar, by dint of his might and battle rage, will still push on, and were it not that the teeth of the lance-blade hindered,34 would push his way up to the holder of the boar-spear even though the shaft run right through him.35

Nay, so tremendous is the animal’s power, that a property which no one ever would suspect belongs to him. Lay a few hairs upon the tusk of a boar just dead, and they will shrivel up instantly,36 so hot are they, these tusks. Nay, while the creature is living, under fierce excitement they will be all aglow; or else how comes it that though he fail to gore the dogs, yet at the blow the fine hairs of their coats are singed in flecks and patches?37

So much and even greater trouble may be loked for from the wild boar before capture; I speak of the male animal. If it should be a sow that falls into the toils, the huntsman should run up and prod her, taking care not to be pushed off his legs and fall, in which case he cannot escape being trampled on and bitten. Ergo, he will not voluntarily get under those feet; but if involuntarily he should come to such a pass, the same means38 of helping each the other to get up again will serve, as in the case of the male animal; and when he has regained his legs, he must ply the boar-spear vigorously till she too has died the death.

Wild pigs may be captured further in the following fashion: The nets are fixed for them at the entrances of woody glens,39 in coppices and hollows, and on screes, where there are outlets into rank meadow-lands, marshes, and clear pools.40 The appointed person mounts guard at the nets with his boar-spear, while the others work the dogs, exploring the best and likeliest spots. As soon as the quarry is found the chase commences. If then an animal falls into the net, the net-keeper will grip his boar-spear and41 advance, when he will ply it as I have described; if he escape the net, then after him full cry. In hot, sultry weather the boar may be run down by the hounds and captured. Though a monster in strength, the creature becomes short of breath and will give in from sheer exhaustion.

It is a form of sport which costs the lives of many hounds and endangers those of the huntsmen themselves. Supposing that the animal has given in from exhaustion at some moment in the chase, and they are forced to come to close quarters;42 whether he has taken to the water, or stands at bay against some craggy bank, or does not choose to come out from some thicket (since neither net nor anything else hinders him from bearing down like a tornado on whoever approaches); still, even so, advance they must, come what come may, to the attack. And now for a display of that hardihood which first induced them to indulge a passion not fit for carpet knights43 — in other words, they must ply their boar-spears and assume that poise of body44 already described, since if one must meet misfortune, let it not be for want of observing the best rules.45

Foot-traps are also set for the wild boar, similar to those for deer and in the same sort of places; the same inspections and methods of pursuit are needed, with consequent attacks and an appeal to the boar-spear in the end.

Any attempt to capture the young pigs will cost the huntsman some rough work.46 The young are not left alone, as long as they are small; and when the hounds have hit upon them or they get wind of something wrong, they will disappear like magic, vanishing into the forest. As a rule, both parents attend on their own progeny, and are not pleasant then to meddle with, being more disposed to do battle for their young than for themselves.

1 For these breeds see Pollux, v. 37: for the Laconian, Pind. “Fr.” 73; Soph. “Aj.” 8; cf. Shakesp. “Mids. N. D.” iv. 1. 119, 129 foll.

2 Or, “these hounds of the breed named must not be any ordinary specimens”; but what does Xenophon mean by ek toutou tou genous?

3 i.e. “of Phasian or Cathaginian fine flax.”

4 tou koruphaiou.

5 pugon. The distance from the elbow to the first joint of the finger = 20 daktuloi = 5 palaistai = 1 1/4 ft. + (L. & S.)

6 ep akrois. Cf. akreleniois.

7 Reading ikanai, vid. Lenz ad loc. and ii. 4.

8 Al. “of various material.” See Pollux, v. 20 ap. Schneid.

9 Wrought of copper (or bronze).

10 Lit. “There should be a band of huntsmen”; or, “It will take the united energies of several to capture this game.” See Hom. “Il.” ix. 543, of the Calydonian boar:

ton d’ uios Oineos apekteinen Meleagros, polleon ek polion theretoras andras ageiras kai kunas . ou men gar k’ edame pauroisi brotoisin tossos een, pollous de pures epebes’ alegeines.

“But him slew Meleagros the son of Oineus, having gathered together from many cities huntsmen and hounds; for not of few men could the boar be slain, so mighty was he; and many an one brought he to the grievous pyre” (W. Leaf).

11 kunegesion, “a hunting establishment, huntsmen and hounds, a pack of hounds,” L. & S. cf. Herod. i. 36; Pollux. v. 17. In Aristot. “H. A.” viii. 5. 2, of wolves in a pack; v. monopeirai. upagein —“stealthily?”

12 Or, “go on a voyage of discovery.”

13 Reading te ikhneuouse, or if vulg. ikhneusei, transl. “set her to follow the trail, at the head of the whole train.”

14 Schneid. cf. Aristot. “H. A.” vi. 18; Plin. viii. 52; Virg. “Georg.” iii. 255, “ipse ruit, dentesque Sabellicus exacuit sus”; Hom. “Il.” xi. 416, xiii. 475; Hes. “Shield,” 389; Eur. “Phoen.” 1389; Ovid, “Met.” viii. 369.

15 Lit. “accordingly recover the dog, and tie her up also with the rest,” etc.

16 ormous. Lit. “moorings,” i.e. “favourite haunts.” Cf. dusorma below. Al. “stelle die Fallnetze auf die Wechsel,” Lenz.

17 anteridas. See a note in the “Class. Rev.” X. i. p. 7, by G. S. Sale: “It can only mean long sticks used as stretchers or spreaders to hold up the net between and beyond the props.” Cf. Thuc. vii. 36, 2.

18 Or, “within the bay of network.”

19 sunekhontai en tois psilois ai e. “Denn diese werden an unbestandenen Orten durch die Leine niedergezogen,” Lenz; sunelkontai conj. Schn.; sunerkhontai al., “concurrunt,” vid. Sturz.

20 ta dusorma, met. from “bad harbourage.” Cf. Arsch. “Pers.” 448; “Ag.” 194. Cf. Lat. “importunus,” also of “rough ground.”

21 Or, “make his rush.”

22 Lit. “then they will take their javelins and boar-spears and advance.”

23 Or, “a pretty chase must follow.”

24 Or, “if within the prison of the net the ground be sloping, it will not take long to make him spring up; he will be up again on his legs in no time.”

25 Or, “being concerned about himself.”

26 epanieis. See Sturz, s.v.

27 Lit. “forwards the left foot will follow the left arm and the right foot the other.”

28 “Statum venatoris aprum venabulo excipientis pinxit Philostratus,” “Imag.” i. 28, Schn.

29 Or, “he will step forward and take one stride not much longer than that of a wrestler, and thrust forward his boar-spear.”

30 Cf. Hes. “Shield,” 387; Hom. “Il.” xii. 148: “Then forth rushed the twain, and fought in front of the gates like wild boars that in the mountains abide the assailing crew of men and dogs, and charging on either flank they crush the wood around them, cutting it at the root, and the clatter of their tusks waxes loud, till one smite them and take their life away” (A. Lang).

31 “Safety can only be won with honour by some master-stroke of victory.”

32 sphage. Aristot. “H. A.” i. 14. 2. “Straight at the jugular.”

33 Or, “throwing his whole weight on the thrust, press home with all his force.”

34 Or, “but for the intervention of the two projecting teeth of the lance-blade.” See the account of the passage of arms between Col. Pollock and a boar in his “Incidents of Foreign Sport and Travel.” There the man was mounted, but alone.

35 Lit. “force his heavy bulk along the shaft right up to the holder of the boar-spear.”

36 euthus, i.e. “for a few seconds after death.”

37 The belief is still current, I am told, in parts of India.

38 dianastaseis, “the same methods of mutual recovery.”

39 Al. “at the passages from woodland lakes into oak-coppices.”

40 udata, “waters,” lakes, pools, rivers, etc.

41 Or, “and proceed to tackle him.”

42 Reading prosienai [ta probolia]. [The last two words are probably a gloss, and should be omitted, since prosienai (from prosiemi) ta probolia = “ply,” or “apply their boar-spears,” is hardly Greek.] See Schneid. “Add. et Corr.” and L. Dind. ad loc.

43 ekponein, “to exercise this passion to the full.”

44 Lit. “assume their boar-spears and that forward attitude of body.”

45 Lit. “it will not be at any rate from behaving correctly.”

46 Lit. “the piglings will resent it (sc. to aliskesthai) strongly”; al. “the adult (sub. to therion) will stand anything rather.”


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:22