Not long ago, while walking our French bulldog Ipsa along the estuarine reserve’s sandy strand on St. George Island, my wife Alice and I were startled to come upon the carcass of a recently deceased feral hog. My ever-creative Alice had me pluck the dewclaws from the poor boar’s feet for a tiny found-objects chicken sculpture she was crafting. A sweetgum burl from our yard in Apalachicola had provided the body and the dewclaws gave her clucker the perfect beak!
We wondered how the hog, thus immortalized by Alice’s art, had met his demise and landed there on the island’s north shore, pigs no longer being resident on the island. Our best guess was that some hunter up Highway 65 had wounded the critter, who then fled across 98 and into the water, drowned, and later washed up on St. George Island. Our friend and Apalach native Leon O’Neal recently spotted a huge boar along Highway 98, and John Solomon, executive director of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, told me he’d seen one on Little St. George and another north of his home in Eastpoint.
Sus scrofa (from which we get SCROFulous, meaning “corrupt” or, literally, “tubercular”) is the animal’s Latin scientific name. That word sus is connected to SOW, likely source of our Southern pig-call, “SOOie”—which I gleefully shouted out many times as a kid back in the 1950s, while helping “slop the hogs” raised by poor tenant-farmer friends we often visited in North Carolina. Another Latin word for “pig” was porcus, source of our words PORK and PORCine; the PORCupine was imaginatively named from porcus + spina, “spine pig,” and PORpoise literally means “pig-fish,” from porcus + piscis (as in the astrological sign PISCES and the word PISCivore, for someone who eats/deVOURs fish).
It’s generally supposed that the hogs were introduced into the New World by the explorer Hernando de Soto in the 16th century. They can now be found in more than 30 states and in every county in Florida, home to a half-million or so, one of the largest wild swine populations in the U.S., second only to Texas. Franklin County, according to a WFSU report, is “overloaded” with them, and there’re plenty running hog wild in our 200,000-acre Tate’s Hell State Forest, a favorite area for boar hunting. Among Bob Patterson’s “Forgotten Tales of Florida” is the legend of “the terrible Ghost Hog,” sighted “from Tate’s Hell all the way down to Steinhatchie” and said to appear and then disappear in the blink of an eye.
The critters can be dangerous, with their razor-sharp tusks and an inclination to charge man or beast at a high rate of speed when threatened. While adults average 150-200 pounds, some are much larger. A 400-pounder was trapped near a school bus stop in Palm Bay in Dec. 2018, and in 2007 a monstrous “Hogzilla” weighing 1,100 pounds was shot in Fayetteville, Georgia.
A day-to-day concern is the hogs’ penchant for rooting up crops, lawns, tree seedlings, and other vegetation, and contributing to the erosion of fields, ponds, and river banks with their wallowing. Add the fact feral pigs will kill and consume the young of other wildlife and domestic animals like chickens and goats, eat sea turtle eggs, and carry such diseases as hog cholera, tuberculosis, and anthrax, and it’s not surprising that the beasts are in these parts porci non grati!
The devastation wrought by these creatures was even worse in ancient times, at least in the world of myth. One of the most perilous of the 12 Labors of the Roman demi-god Hercules (Herakles to the Greeks) was his quest to subdue the monstrous Erymanthian boar. Hera, enraged that her philandering husband Zeus had fathered Hercules with a mortal woman, had driven the hero insane and provoked him in his madness to slay his wife and children. Once his sanity was restored, and distraught over his horrendous crime, Hercules asked Apollo’s oracle at Delphi how he might atone. The seer instructed him to do penance by serving the king of Mycenae, Eurystheus, who in turn commanded him to perform 12 increasingly difficult labors deemed impossible for any mortal.
No ordinary human, but in fact the first “super-hero” of western lore, Hercules proceeded first to strangle the powerful man-slaying Nemean lion, whose impenetrable hide he stripped from his body with its own claws and wore ever after as a cloak and token of his victory. Next he decapitated the many-headed Lernaean hydra, severing each head and cauterizing the stump before it could regenerate. He then trapped the Ceryneian hind, which could run faster than a speeding arrow, by chasing it on foot for a year until, exhausted, it collapsed.
Hercules’ fourth labor was to capture and bring back alive to Eurystheus the gigantic boar that had been ravaging crops and livestock on the farms around Mount Erymanthos in Arcadia. With help from the centaur Chiron, Hercules caught the beast in a snowstorm and carried it on his back to the Mycenaean king. Terrified at the sight, Eurystheus leapt into a huge storage jar and cowered in fear—a scene frequently depicted in Greco-Roman vase-painting—whereupon Hercules hurled the beast into the sea.
Like our Franklin County hogs, the boar Hercules finally subdued had for years been wreaking havoc on the fields of Mount Erymanthos, driving the locals to despair (and, 2,000 years later, inspiring a hunt quest in the “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” video game). Another fearsome wild pig of Greek myth was the Calydonian boar, sent by the goddess Artemis to ravage the city of Calydon because its king, Oeneus, had neglected her worship. Heroes from across the Greek world were summoned to hunt the ferocious creature, which was first wounded with an arrow shot by the swift huntress Atalanta and then finished off by the king’s son Meleager.
The ultimate solution for our local feral hog problems may prove less heroic, but will be every bit as vital for the area’s ecology. Alice, who insists every living thing on the planet has its own important role to play, hopes for a humane approach. I generally agree with her, but as the family foodie, if some of those invasive and prolific critters must indeed be dispatched to hog heaven, I’ll be hoping for an old-fashioned Apalachicola barbecue. They won’t be serving wild boar at the annual Butts & Clucks Cook-off, upcoming Jan. 23-25, but Chamber exec and BBQ chef par excellence John Solomon assures me, from extensive experience in his college days, that the porkers do make mighty fine eating. Sooie!
Rick LaFleur is retired from 40 years of teaching Latin language and literature at the University of Georgia, which during his tenure came to have the largest Latin enrollment of all of the nation’s colleges and universities; his latest book is Ubi Fera Sunt, a lively, lovingly wrought translation into classical Latin of Maurice Sendak’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Rick and his wife Alice live part of the year in Apalachicola, under the careful watch of their French bulldog Ipsa.