The second animal in this series is a further prey-animal depicted in one of the Hadrianic hunting tondi incorporated into the Arch of Constantine, namely the boar. There is a figure depicted in the boar-hunt scene which may or may not be Antinous, that looks very much like a further figure in the lion-hunt scene, but–note–not the figure that is said to be the more mature and even hirsute Antinous.
Other than this monument, we have no indication with any certainty that Antinous ever hunted boar with Hadrian…and, even this monument’s connection to Antinous is conjectural. However, hunting boar was certainly an activity that would have been one of the more common high-status prey-animals for “big game” hunters in the ancient world, and so if Hadrian and Antinous did hunt as often as it is likely they did, boar would have no doubt been on the menu at some stage or other.
Apparently, boar was a favorite dish of Hadrian’s, and wild boar meat was one of the components of the tetrafarmacum, a Latin neologism based on the Greek tetrapharmakon, “fourfold drug,” which originally consisted of wax, pine resin, pitch, and animal fat–usually pork fat. However, the Latinate culinary version was a meat pie made with wild boar, pheasant, ham, and sow’s udder…not a particularly porcine-positive dish, then! According to the Historia Augusta, Hadrian’s first adopted successor Lucius Aelius Caesar invented the dish, Hadrian picked it up from him and enjoyed it, and the later emperor Alexander Severus also enjoyed it. Anthony Birley even suggests that when Hadrian was in Britain surveying where his eventual Wall would be, he perhaps hunted wild boar in the area and made offerings to Cocidius as a result. However, the evidence for both the area being boar-enriched and the god Cocidius presiding there are both post-Hadrianic, with the earliest Cocidius dedications not being attested until the late second century. Hmm!
Cassius Dio’s biography of Hadrian does mention, in one recension, that he hunted boar and once brought down a boar with a single blow. Further, an elegy for Hadrian’s horse Borysthenes, which Hadrian wrote himself, does mention that the horse was particularly heroic in boar-hunts. As this horse most likely died in the early 120s, this would have been during the period when Hadrian was in Germania and Britannia.
A number of the gods and heroes associated with Antinous are known to have been in contact with boars, or were boar-slayers, including Adonis (in some versions of his tale he was killed by the Erymanthian Boar, or Ares in the shape of a boar), Herakles (fighting and slaying the Erymanthian Boar of Arcadia being his Fourth Labor), Androklos of Ephesus (who hunted a boar in order to find the most suitable place for the foundation of his city), and Meleager (who, together with Atalanta, hunted the famous Calydonian Boar).
We celebrate the Venatio Apri, the festival of the Boar Hunt, in the Ekklesía Antínoou yearly on May 1. To many pagans, May 1 is Beltaine, which has been interpreted in various ways (usually involving fertility) by many modern pagans, but which is particularly important for Celtic Reconstructionists as an Irish and Scottish holiday. The Gaulish god Belenus, who was syncretized to Apollon, may have a shared etymology with the name of the holiday of Beltaine. Antinous was compared to Belenus in an inscription from Hadrian’s Villa for their shared youth and beauty. Boars are featured particularly prominently in a number of Insular Celtic myths, including that of Diarmaid and Gráinne in the Finn Cycle of Irish myth, and most importantly the two boar-hunts in the Welsh Arthurian tale Culhwch ac Olwen for Ysgithrwyn Pen Beidd and Twrch Trwyth, the latter of which seems to be echoed in other Arthurian sources, but certainly originally derives from an Irish source. To honor this Insular Celtic connection, both through Belenus and through Hadrian’s Wall, we have placed the date of the Boar Hunt on May 1.
A long poem on a boar-hunt with Hadrian, Antinous, and a number of other figures is featured in The Phillupic Hymns.