Thoughts about Boars and Paul Celan

Lawrence Norfolk

To anyone attacked by a wild boar the advice from ancient and modern authorities is unanimous: do not run. Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement, estimated that a horse and rider would need three-quarters of a mile to catch a boar with a 50-yard head start. In 1914, Malcolm Crawford, ‘the Bengal hog hunter’, remarked on the boar’s skill in ‘jinking’, or making sudden changes of direction, even ramming his snout into the ground at full speed and using it as a fulcrum on which to spin. Pindar in his Third Nemean Ode records an instance of a man outpacing a wild boar, but his example – Achilles – is not typical.

Around the turn of the fifth century BC, Xenophon noted that the boar is designed to attack animals taller than himself. Boars have been known to knock over camels, attack elephants and charge bullock carts and motorised trucks. In the late 1980s, two young boars attacked an F16 fighter plane attempting to land at Jacksonville International Airport in Florida, causing its destruction. Xenophon advised the spearless huntsman faced with such an adversary to ‘fall on his face and clutch the undergrowth beneath him for, if the beast attacks him in this position, he is unable to lift the man’s body owing to the upward curve of his tusks.’ Against this advice one might note the fate of the beater employed by the Nagpur Hunt in 1912, who was knocked to the ground and, despite adopting precisely the attitude prescribed above, was gored so badly that his lungs were exposed. Another unfortunate, in the following year, was gored in a similar way and with similarly fatal results, the tusks of the boar becoming so entangled in his victim’s ribcage that they could be removed only by killing the beast and cutting off his head. Xenophon also mentions the possibility of being trampled to death.

Tusks appear at nine months and grow outward from between the fourth pre-molar (or wolf-tooth) and the corner incisor in the lower jaw. They may reach a foot in length, although eight inches is more common. Xenophon warns of their heat: the angrier the boar the hotter they become. The tusks of the boar of Kalydon, displayed first in the temple of Athene at Tegea in Arcadia and later in Rome, were reported by Pausanias in the second century AD to be the size of a man’s leg, which implies the boar was the height of a giraffe. Tusks, being bone, grow brittle with age. They may snap and regenerate imperfectly. A downward curve is possible, enabling boars to attack creatures below them as well as above.

A boar may survive the loss of a leg, punctures of the lung and, according to the records of the Ahmedabad Tent Club for 1888, a fall down a 50-foot well. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986 resulted in several herds of radioactive boars in eastern Germany. They are effectively inedible. Amputations and spearings appear not to trouble the boar overmuch. Tusk-breakage and irradiation may even strengthen him. A tenth-century diegetical commentary on the 96th Aetion of Callimachus relates the tale of the hunter who, having caught and decapitated his boar, hung the head in a tree and lay down to rest in its shade. The head fell down and killed him while he slept. The boar is formidable even when dead.

Allied to his armament is the boar’s bulk. Sus scrofa, as Linnaeus dubbed him, favours all terrain south of the 57th parallel. Wild boars are possible in Romania, France and Germany, for instance, but not in Estonia or Finland. The more northerly boars tend to be larger than their southern cousins; a Czech boar will outweigh a Spanish one. All favour deciduous forests, where they grow up to two metres long and 200 kg in weight. The size of the boar and his environment are intimately connected. An early 20th-century huntsman advises: ‘Do not confuse cover with food. The latter comes first every time … In a sugarcane country as long as the cane is up all the pig will be in it; there may be beautiful jungles in the vicinity, but they will not hold pig.’ Baden-Powell records a wild boar killed by a Mr J. M’Leod which measured 44 inches to the shoulder and probably weighed more than 450 lbs. Rowland Ward’s ‘Siberian Boar’ measured more than 42 inches to the shoulder. The largest boar killed by the Nagpur Hunt (the first spear was Captain R.D. Burlton of the second Madras Lancers) was 38 inches high and weighed 358 lbs. These are impressive statistics.

Behind the boar’s bulk lies his appetite; he grows according to the food supply, and Sus scrofa is a glutton. The history of his domestication proceeds from this fact. Boars fattened by the Romans reached weights of up to 1000 lbs. Such leviathans were the means to ever more conspicuous feats of consumption, a tradition which achieved its apotheosis in the serving of wild boar à la Troyenne at a banquet given by Servilius Rullus for Marcus Tullius Cicero after the latter’s victory over Catiline in 63 BC.

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