Constellations are a lot like movie stars. Some, like Orion, are superstars. Others, like Hercules, are character actors. And some, like Porcus the Pig, are who-dats. And just like movie stars, each constellation has a backstory. But you won’t find it on the cover of a glossy magazine at the supermarket. Just as everyone knows that Brad and Angelina are about to break up, most folks recognize that Orion was a hunter and that Hercules liked to bludgeon things with a big gnarly club. As for Porcus, whose origins also lie with the myths of the Greeks, his tale is but a footnote to ancient astronomy.
The Trojan War had wound down and the Greek gods were lazing about when Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, proposed a sweep for wild boars. The gods were enthusiastic about her suggestion—although not exactly united in their motives. Most, of course, were eager to run with the hounds; but Hera, queen of the gods, simply hoped that her philandering husband Zeus would be distracted from shapely mortals. Aphrodite, meanwhile, the goddess of beauty, went about chirping, “Oh my Gods, I have a frock the color of fallen leaves that will go so well with the hide of a boar!”
The gods were gathering the hounds and sharpening their weapons when the mischievous Zeus took his son Hephaestus aside and convinced him to fashion a mechanical boar. Being the smithy of the gods, Hephaestus possessed considerable skill, but he did have his hiccups—like the creation of Pandora, who loosed evil on the world.
The prank began well enough with the remarkably lifelike boar shaking off the storm of missiles and bowling over both hapless hounds and indignant gods. Zeus, however, concerned that his trick would be discovered, soon bade Hephaestus shut the creature down.
Ares, the god of war, cast the javelin that seemed to fell the beast and, haughty as ever, he grabbed the champion’s prize, a well-wrought spear with a blade of gold.
Contrary to the popular wisdom that has the Greek gods living off nectar and ambrosia, they did enjoy the occasional pork chop and soon had the boar roasting on a spit. At that point, Zeus encouraged Hephaestus to reanimate the boar, and off he dashed, charred and smoking into the brush.
Another round of bowling of the gods ensued before the beast was brought down by Poseidon, lord of the sea. Poseidon demanded the champion’s spear. Ares refused. Poseidon shouted that he had truly killed the boar. Ares hollered back that Poseidon had felled a carcass possessed by an evil spirit.
Zeus was delighted with the brouhaha, but just as Ares and Poseidon were coming to blows, a shriek rent the forest. Turning, the gods witnessed Aphrodite give the lascivious boar a tremendous kick and scream, “You pig!” Fun was fun, but a smoking mechanical beast making lewd remarks to the sensitive Aphrodite was just too much. Zeus blasted the luckless creature into the heavens.
A small constellation composed of no conspicuous stars, Porcus was identified by the Greeks in the 5th century B.C. Beginning in December, look for Porcus low in the southern sky where he remains until promptly disappearing on April 1.
Bill Bilverstone is a photographer and stargazer in Bozeman.