Boucher seems to have portrayed this obscure subject from the Iliad in three oil sketches now in the Musée Bargoin, Clermont-Ferrand, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (see François Boucher 1703-1777, exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986, p. 107, fig. 81). The drawing as well as the paintings have been paired in the past with a composition mistakenly identified as The Birth of Meleager, but which is in fact The Birth of Pyrrhus (Laing, op. cit., p. 45). The style of the red chalk drawing of the Birth of Pyrrhus is quite different from that of the Death of Meleager although it probably dates from the same period, in the mid-1720s before Boucher went to Rome. The present drawing is closer in style to those he made for Father Gabriel Daniel's Histoire de France.
Meleager was the son of King Oeneus of Aetolia and Althaea, daughter of the king of Pleuron. At his birth one of the Fates predicted Meleager would live only as long as a log on the family hearth remained unconsumed by fire. As a precaution, Althaea removed the log and hid it. Years later, in the Calydonian Boar Hunt, Meleager killed two of his uncles, causing Althaea, in her rage and distress, to throw the log into the fire. As a result, Meleager died in agony.
This episode from the Iliad was rarely depicted in art, although in the generation before Boucher's two French artists, Michel Lasne and Charles Le Brun, depicted it in a pair of engravings and tapestry cartoons, respectively.