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The Boar's Head Carol

The Boar's Head is Part of a Yuletide Tradition About Boars

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Atalanta

Atalanta

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There are many versions of the Boar's Head Carol, including one with a Latin line about serving the boar with mustard. In antiquity the fierce boar was feared and respected. With its ferocious nature the boar was associated with death, just as the winter solstice was associated with the death of light. In northern climates, where the land was frozen in winter, hunters needed to kill to feed their families. Even if dangerous, a boar was a large enough animal to provide a feast for quite a few. Its head, suitably dressed up, was fit for a king or queen or god.

Famous Boars

Adonis
Adonis, who died in Aphrodite's loving arms, was killed by a boar that might have been sent by a jealous Ares.

Calydonian Boar Hunt
Atalanta was accorded honor for being the first to hit the Calydonian Boar.

Hercules
The 4th Labor of Hercules was the capture of the Erymanthian Boar.

Norse Mythology
The Norse fertility brother and sister god and goddess Freyr and Freya each rode a boar. Freya's was Hildisvin and Freyr's boar Gullenbursti was made by the dwarves.

A boar was sacrificed to Freyr at the Winter Solstice. Amid trumpets blaring and minstrels singing, the boar's head with an apple in its mouth, was carried in on a gold or silver platter.
Here is a familiar version (from a publication by Thomas Wright in 1841) of the Boar's Head Carol that was first published in 1521, with translation of the Latin.

The boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bay and rosemary
I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio.
(However many are at the feast)

Chorus:
||: Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes domino. :||
(I bring the boar's head,
giving praises to the Lord)

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedecked with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico
(serve with song).

[A tastier version of this line:
Servitur cum sinapio.
(It is served with mustard)]

Chorus

Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of bliss
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio
(in the Queen's hall).

Chorus

First stanza repeats.


Source: "The 'Boar's Head Carol' and Folk Tradition" James E. Spears Folklore, Vol. 85, No. 3. (Autumn, 1974), pp. 194-198.

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