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AI image of a wild boar representing the Crommyonian Sow. 	Source: yod67/Adobe Stock

A Man-Eating Hog? Meet the Crommyonian Sow


The myths of ancient Greece had their fair share of unusual animals—the Chimera, the man-eating horses of Dionysus, and Pegasus, to name a few. But one that usually oinks its way under the radar is the Crommyonian sow. This giant, pesky pig liked to chow down on human flesh, and it wasn’t until the hero Theseus came along that she was stopped in her hoof-tracks.

Hog Versus Human

The sow, whom Plutarch calls Phaea, was bred by a grumpy old lady in the town of Crommyon. Pseudo-Apollodorus claims that the pig was named after her owner; both were called Phaea. Instead of reining in this hoggish monster, Phaea let her pig waddle free, gobbling up her neighbors and little kids like they were truffles. Diodorus Siculus quips that the hog “beast which excelled in both ferocity and size and was killing many human beings.” Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with the local authorities, but they didn’t approach Pig Phaea, lest they be chomped up, too.

Theseus and the Crommyonian Sow, with Phaea. (British Museum/CC BY 2.5)

Theseus and the Crommyonian Sow, with Phaea. (British Museum/CC BY 2.5)

Phaea was a worthy adversary that Plutarch says, “gave Theseus a great deal of trouble, despite being a female animal,” “a savage and formidable wild beast, by no means an enemy to be despised.” That’s understandable, given she was thought to be the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. The last-named was a half-human, half-serpent who birthed many of mythology’s great monsters. With her hundred-headed mate Typhon, Echidna produced the likes of Cerberus, three-headed guard dog of Hades; the deadly Scylla, who almost devoured Odysseus on his way home; and the Chimera.

Theseus Slaying Minotaur (1843), bronze sculpture by Antoine-Louis Barye. (Public Domain)

Theseus Slaying Minotaur (1843), bronze sculpture by Antoine-Louis Barye. (Public Domain)

Theseus Comes to the Rescue

So along came Theseus, the answer to the Greeks’ prayers. This incident came before he killed the Minotaur or even came to the throne of Athens; instead, the young hunk was on a quest to clear the countryside of thieves, criminals, and other nuisances, just like his hero, Heracles (some scholars think the pig Phaea was considered a counterpart to Heracles’s Erymanthian boar). By now, Theseus had already done away with Sinis, also known as Pitycocamptes, a rogue who asked passersby to help him bend pine trees down to the ground; then, he’d let go while the innocents were still holding on. These poor people would be flung into the air and killed. No wonder Theseus flung him off a tree to his death, a particularly apt punishment.

Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar, by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634 (Museo del Prado). (Public Domain)

Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar, by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634 (Museo del Prado). (Public Domain)

Theseus’ logical next step, after taking out a bad guy like that, was to kill another local problem: the evil pig Phaea. He deemed her a worthy opponent and “went out of his way on purpose to meet and engage her, so that he might not seem to perform all his great exploits out of mere necessity,” says Plutarch; basically, he made sure to engage bad guys—and animals—not just those that were directly in his path. Why? Theseus felt that “it was the part of a brave man to chastise villainous and wicked men when attacked by them, but to seek out and overcome the more noble wild beasts.” And he did so, offing the hog, then going on to kill some more bad guys before meeting his real dad (King Aegeus of Athens), going to Crete, and doing much more.

Theseus fighting against the Crommyonian Sow (Public Domain)

Theseus fighting against the Crommyonian Sow (Public Domain)

There is an alternate version to this story, which Plutarch also mentions. He reports that Phaea wasn’t a pig, but a cruel lady robber who was nicknamed “Sow” because “of the foulness of her life and manners,” but she still died at Theseus’ hand. In Greek, “Phaea” means “dusky,” which would be a reference to the female thief’s dirty appearance. Puns galore!

Top image: AI image of a wild boar representing the Crommyonian Sow. Source: yod67/Adobe Stock

By Carly Silver


Apollodorus. 1997.  The Library of Greek Mythology. Translated by Robin Hard. New York: Oxford University Press.

Coldstream, John N. 2003.  Geometric Greece: 900-700 B.C. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Graves, R. 1960.  The Greek Myths. Mount Kisco, NY: Moyer Bell Limited.

Herren, M. 2017  The Anatomy of Myth: The Art of Interpretation from the Presocratics to the Church Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mills, S. 1997.  Theseus, Tragedy, and the Athenian Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ogden, D.  Dragons, Serpents, and Slayers in the Classical and Early Christian Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. 1992. Essays. Translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Penguin. Edited by John S. White, Ltd. New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1966.

Siculus, D. 1939.  Library of History. Translated by C.H. Oldfeather. Volume 3. Books 4.59-8. Boston, MA: Loeb-Harvard University Press, online.


Frequently Asked Questions

In Greek Mythology the Crommyonian Sow was a wild pig that ravaged the region around the village of Crommyon between Megara and Corinth.

Theseus. The Crommyonian Sow was eventually slain by Theseus in his early adventures.

In Greek mythology, the Erymanthian boar was a mythical creature that took the form of a "shaggy and wild" "tameless" "boar" "of vast weight" "and foaming jaws"

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Carly Silver

As an assistant editor for Harlequin Books, Carly Silver knows what makes a good story; as an ancient historian and lecturer, she serves as a tour guide through antiquity. The former ancient and classical history expert for, she... Read More

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