Represented in an alert position, almost as if stopped in its tracks, this wild boar appears to be facing an opponent, either another wild animal or, more likely, a hunter, such as Meleager. Its front legs are stretched out and the proper right legs are positioned ahead of the left ones. Perhaps the most striking feature is the ridge of long upright bristles running along the animal’s spine, with a gap at the center of the back. The pointed ears sit high on the head, the front of the snout is turned up, and the tail is curled up above the prominent scrotum. Although eyes and tusks are preserved, the now pitted surface means that it cannot be determined with certainty if the animal’s skin was once marked by stippling or hatching to indicate fur—or even a wound from a spear.
Wild boars are quite common in Greek vase painting of the late Archaic and early Classical periods, typically in hunting scenes that may reflect aristocratic pursuits of the time in general terms, or may explicitly show a mythological event, such as the hunt of the Calydonian boar involving Atalante and Meleager. In these scenes, the boar is often depicted in a pose similar to this statuette. In a number of vase images of the later sixth and fifth centuries, the boars are shown with the interrupted or at least uneven ridge of bristles on the back, which is a natural feature enhanced by stylization. Compare the band cup Harvard Art Museums 1925.30.131.
Because of the animal’s strength and fierce defense, killing a wild boar proved the hunter’s prowess, and a brave warrior could be likened to a boar, just as images of boar hunting could serve as the visual equivalents of scenes of warfare. In ancient Macedonia, young men did not acquire full adult status until after their first successful boar hunt. Representations of boars and their heads or foreparts were employed as shield devices and other decoration on armor. The heroic connotations and heraldic qualities of the beast made it suitable as an image on coins, for example on Harvard Art Museums 1972.173, a silver didrachm from Methymna on Lesbos. A number of Greek bronzes represent boars, although free-standing statuettes are quite rare. A late Archaic or early Classical example at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (10.162), once was attached to the shoulder of a large vessel. This statuette is more likely to have been freestanding, perhaps as part of a hunting group dedicated at a sanctuary.