Sow

Crommyonian Sow

The Crommyonian Sow, sometimes known as Phaea, was an unusually large and aggressive sow who plagued the town of Crommyon. The hero Theseus killed the beast while traveling to Athens to meet his father.

Vase painting showing Theseus fighting the Crommyonian Sow

Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix (ca. 440–430 BCE) showing Theseus fighting the Crommyonian Sow

British Museum, London / Marie-Lan NguyenCC BY 2.5

Top Questions

  • Who were the Crommyonian Sow’s parents?

    According to one source, the Crommyonian Sow was the child of the monsters Typhoeus and Echidna.

  • Did the Crommyonian Sow have any other names?

    In many late sources, the Crommyonian Sow was called Phaea. One author explains that she was named after the old woman who raised her.

  • Was the Crommyonian Sow immortal?

    Though the Crommyonian Sow was very formidable, she was not immortal and was eventually slain by Theseus.

Etymology

The “Crommyonian Sow” (Greek Κρομμυωνία σῦς, translit. Krommyōnía sŷs) was so named because she lived near the town of Crommyon in the region of Corinthia.

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek
    Crommyonian SowΚρομμυωνία σῦς (Krommyōnía sŷs)
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [kroh-mi-OH-nee-uhn]/ˌkroʊ mɪˈoʊ ni ən/

Alternate Names

In some later sources, the Crommyonian Sow bore the name “Phaea” (Greek Φαιά, translit. Phaiá; also spelled Φαῖα/Phaîa[1]), meaning “gray.”[2]

Attributes

General

The Crommyonian Sow was a sow—a wild female pig—of exceptional size, strength, and ferocity.[3] The creature lived near Crommyon, a small town in the region of Corinthia on the Saronic Gulf (though it was originally part of the Megarid). This fearsome sow harassed the area, killing many people before finally being slain by Theseus.[4]

Theseus Slaying the Minotaur by Antoine-Louis Barye

Theseus Slaying the Minotaur by Antoine-Louis Barye (1843)

The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublic Domain

Iconography

The Crommyonian Sow was one of Theseus’ less important conquests, but she did occasionally appear in ancient art, especially in Athenian vase painting from the fifth century BCE. She was represented as a creature of prodigious size and usually shown in battle with Theseus. An old woman was often depicted with the sow, no doubt the owner of the terrible beast.[5]

Family

In the earliest traditions, the Crommyonian Sow was a fairly ordinary animal; but later accounts, perhaps hoping to build up her fearsomeness, seem to have embellished her pedigree. The mythographer Apollodorus, for example, reports a tradition in which the Crommyonian Sow was the child of the monsters Typhoeus and Echidna.[6] Another tradition, reported by the geographer Strabo, made the Crommyonian Sow the mother of the Calydonian Boar.[7]

Mythology

The Crommyonian Sow is best known as one of the foes Theseus faced on his journey to meet his father Aegeus, the king of Athens. These opponents (sometimes referred to as the “Six Labors of Theseus”) plagued the isthmus road—the narrow strip of land connecting the Peloponnese with the rest of mainland Greece. While traveling from his mother’s home in Troezen to his father’s kingdom in Athens, Theseus cleared the isthmus of the dangerous bandits and creatures that infested it.

The Crommyonian Sow was a monstrously strong and large creature, responsible for killing many people. In some traditions, it had been bred by an old woman named Phaea, who instilled in it a thirst for blood. In the end, Theseus fought and killed the beast.[8]

A rationalized variant of the myth of the Crommyonian Sow is recorded by Plutarch. According to this interpretation, the so-called Crommyonian Sow was not a real sow at all, but rather a female bandit from Crommyon named Phaea who had been nicknamed the “Crommyonian Sow” on account of her unfortunate hygiene.[9]

References

Notes

  1. Phonetic pronunciation: [FEE-uh]; IPA: /ˈfi ə/.

  2. Apollodorus, Epitome 1.1; Plutarch, Life of Theseus 9; Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.1.3; Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnica, s.v. “Φαῖα (Phaîa).”

  3. Hyginus, Fabulae 38, breaks tradition by describing the creature as a boar—that is, male—rather than a sow. There is also an Attic red-figure cup from ca. 520–510 BCE (British Museum, London, no. E36) that represents Theseus capturing a boar. This may hint at a variant of the myth, or it may be nothing more than artistic license.

  4. See esp. Bacchylides, Dithyramb 18.23–24; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.59.4.

  5. The name of the creature’s owner is uncertain. Apollodorus called the woman who raised the Crommyonian Sow “Phaea” (Epitome 1.1), but on one red-figure cup by Aison from ca. 420–410 BCE (Archaeological Museum, Madrid, no. L196), the woman is identified as “Crommyo.” On the Crommyonian Sow in ancient art, see Eva Simantoni-Bournia, “Krommyo,” in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (Zurich: Artemis, 1992), 6:139–42.

  6. Apollodorus, Epitome 1.1.

  7. Strabo, Geography 8.6.22.

  8. Bacchylides, Dithyramb 18.23ff; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.59.4; Apollodorus, Epitome 1.1; etc.

  9. Plutarch, Life of Theseus 9.

Primary Sources

The earliest literary reference to the Crommyonian Sow comes from a poem by Bacchylides (ca. 520–ca. 450 BCE). The myth and its context is summarized in later works by Diodorus of Sicily (before 90–after 30 BCE), Apollodorus or “Pseudo-Apollodorus” (first century BCE/first few centuries CE), and Plutarch (born before 50 CE, died after 120 CE). A few of these later sources also add that the creature was named “Phaea.”

Additional snippets of information on the Crommyonian Sow can be found in works by the geographers Strabo (ca. 63 BCE–ca. 23 CE) and Pausanias (ca. 115–ca. 180 CE), as well as in later commentaries from the scholia. For further references, see the notes.

Secondary Sources

Dowden, Kenneth. “Phaea.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 1118. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Höfer, O. “Krommyon, -o.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, edited by W. H. Roscher, vol. 1, 1450–52. Leipzig: Teubner, 1884–1890.

Junk, Tim. “Phaea.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e917390.

Radermacher, Ludwig. “Phaia.” In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, edited by Georg Wissowa and August Friedrich Pauly, vol. 19.2, 1517–18. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1938.

Simantoni-Bournia, Eva. “Krommyo.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 6, 139–42. Zurich: Artemis, 1992.

Smith, William. “Phaea.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed May 20, 2021. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DP%3Aentry+group%3D17%3Aentry%3Dphaea-bio-1.

Theoi Project. “Hus Krommyon.” Published online 2000–2017. https://www.theoi.com/Ther/HusKrommyon.html.

Citation

Kapach, Avi. “Crommyonian Sow.” Mythopedia, January 13, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/crommyonian-sow.

Kapach, Avi. “Crommyonian Sow.” Mythopedia, 13 Jan. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/crommyonian-sow. Accessed on 13 Jan. 2023.

Kapach, A. (2023, January 13). Crommyonian Sow. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/crommyonian-sow

Authors

  • Avi Kapach

    Avi Kapach is a writer, scholar, and educator who received his PhD in Classics from Brown University

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