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""Pieter paul rubens, ercole e i leone nemeo, 02.JPG
Copy of Hercules fighting the Nemean lion
by "Peter Paul Rubens
Consort "Juventas
Parents "Jupiter and "Alcmene
Greek equivalent "Heracles
Etruscan equivalent "Hercle

Hercules is a Roman hero and god. He was the equivalent of the Greek "divine "hero "Heracles, who was the son of "Zeus (Roman equivalent "Jupiter) and the mortal "Alcmene. In "classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures.

The Romans adapted the Greek hero's "iconography and myths for their literature and art under the name Hercules. In later "Western art and literature and in "popular culture, Hercules is more commonly used than Heracles as the name of the hero. Hercules was a multifaceted figure with contradictory characteristics, which enabled later artists and writers to pick and choose how to represent him.[1] This article provides an introduction to representations of Hercules in the "later tradition.



Hercules and the "Hydra (ca. 1475) by "Antonio del Pollaiuolo; the hero wears his characteristic lionskin and wields a club
Hercules capturing the "Erymanthian Boar, by J.M. Félix Magdalena (b. 1941)
The infant Hercules ("Heracles) strangling the snakes sent by the goddess "Hera (a woman protects Iphikles on the right); detail from an Attic "red-figured "stamnos from "Vulci, "Etruria, Italy, ca. 480–470 BC

Hercules is known for his many adventures, which took him to the far reaches of the "Greco-Roman world. One cycle of these adventures became "canonical as the "Twelve Labours", but the list has variations. One traditional order of the labours is found in the "Bibliotheca as follows:[2]

  1. Slay the "Nemean Lion.
  2. Slay the nine-headed "Lernaean Hydra.
  3. Capture the "Golden Hind of Artemis.
  4. Capture the "Erymanthian Boar.
  5. Clean the "Augean stables in a single day.
  6. Slay the "Stymphalian Birds.
  7. Capture the "Cretan Bull.
  8. Steal the "Mares of Diomedes.
  9. Obtain the girdle of "Hippolyta, Queen of the "Amazons.
  10. Obtain the cattle of the monster "Geryon.
  11. Steal the apples of the "Hesperides.
  12. Capture and bring back "Cerberus.

Side adventures[edit]

Hercules had a greater number of ""deeds on the side" (parerga) that have been popular subjects for art, including:

Roman era[edit]

Baby Hercules strangling a "snake sent to kill him in his "cradle (Roman marble, 2nd century CE).

The "Latin name Hercules was borrowed through "Etruscan, where it is represented variously as "Heracle, Hercle, and other forms. Hercules was a favorite subject for "Etruscan art, and appears often on "bronze mirrors. The Etruscan form Herceler derives from the Greek Heracles via "syncope. A mild oath invoking Hercules (Hercule! or Mehercle!) was a common "interjection in "Classical Latin.[3]

Hercules had a number of "myths that were distinctly Roman. One of these is Hercules' defeat of "Cacus, who was terrorizing the countryside of Rome. The hero was associated with the "Aventine Hill through his son "Aventinus. "Mark Antony considered him a personal patron god, as did the emperor "Commodus. Hercules received various forms of "religious veneration, including as a "deity concerned with children and childbirth, in part because of myths about his precocious infancy, and in part because he fathered countless children. Roman brides wore a special belt tied with the ""knot of Hercules", which was supposed to be hard to untie.[4] The comic playwright "Plautus presents the myth of Hercules' conception as a sex comedy in his play "Amphitryon; "Seneca wrote the tragedy Hercules Furens about his bout with madness. During the "Roman Imperial era, Hercules was worshipped locally from "Hispania through "Gaul.

Germanic association[edit]

A fresco from "Herculaneum depicting "Heracles and "Achelous from "Greco-"Roman mythology, 1st century AD.

"Tacitus records a special affinity of the "Germanic peoples for Hercules. In chapter 3 of his "Germania, Tacitus states:

... they say that Hercules, too, once visited them; and when going into battle, they sang of him first of all heroes. They have also those songs of theirs, by the recital of this barditus[5] as they call it, they rouse their courage, while from the note they augur the result of the approaching conflict. For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm.

Some have taken this as Tacitus equating the Germanic "Þunraz with Hercules by way of interpretatio romana.[6]

In the Roman era "Hercules' Club amulets appear from the 2nd to 3rd century, distributed over the empire (including "Roman Britain, c.f. Cool 1986), mostly made of gold, shaped like wooden clubs. A specimen found in "Köln-Nippes bears the inscription "DEO HER[culi]", confirming the association with Hercules.

In the 5th to 7th centuries, during the "Migration Period, the amulet is theorized to have rapidly spread from the "Elbe Germanic area across Europe. These Germanic ""Donar's Clubs" were made from deer antler, bone or wood, more rarely also from bronze or precious metals.They are found exclusively in female graves, apparently worn either as a belt pendant, or as an ear pendant. The amulet type is replaced by the "Viking Age "Thor's hammer pendants in the course of the "Christianization of Scandinavia from the 8th to 9th century.

Medieval mythography[edit]

Hercules and the "Nemean lion in the 15th-century "Histoires de Troyes

After the Roman Empire became "Christianized, mythological narratives were often reinterpreted as "allegory, influenced by the philosophy of "late antiquity. In the 4th century, "Servius had described Hercules' return from the underworld as representing his ability to overcome earthly desires and vices, or the earth itself as a consumer of bodies.[7] In medieval mythography, Hercules was one of the heroes seen as a strong role model who demonstrated both valor and wisdom, while the monsters he battles were regarded as moral obstacles.[8] One "glossator noted that when "Hercules became a constellation, he showed that strength was necessary to gain entrance to Heaven.[9]

Medieval mythography was written almost entirely in Latin, and original Greek texts were little used as sources for Hercules' myths.

In 1600, the citizens of "Avignon bestowed on "Henry of Navarre (the future King "Henry IV of France) the title of the Hercule Gaulois ("Gallic Hercules"), justifying the extravagant flattery with a genealogy that traced the origin of the House of Navarre to a nephew of Hercules' son Hispalus.[10]

Renaissance mythography[edit]

King "Henry IV of France depicted as Hercules vanquishing the "Lernaean Hydra (i.e. the "Catholic League), by "Toussaint Dubreuil, circa 1600

The "Renaissance and the invention of the "printing press brought a renewed interest in and publication of Greek literature. Renaissance mythography drew more extensively on the Greek tradition of Heracles, typically under the Romanized name Hercules, or the alternate name "Alcides. In a chapter of his book Mythologiae (1567), the influential mythographer "Natale Conti collected and summarized an extensive range of myths concerning the birth, adventures, and death of the hero under his Roman name Hercules. Conti begins his lengthy chapter on Hercules with an overview description that continues the moralizing impulse of the Middle Ages:

Hercules, who subdued and destroyed monsters, bandits, and criminals, was justly famous and renowned for his great courage. His great and glorious reputation was worldwide, and so firmly entrenched that he'll always be remembered. In fact the ancients honored him with his own temples, altars, ceremonies, and priests. But it was his wisdom and great soul that earned those honors; noble blood, physical strength, and political power just aren't good enough.[11]

In art[edit]

In Roman works of art and in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art, Hercules can be identified by his attributes, the "lion skin and the gnarled "club (his favorite weapon); in "mosaic he is shown tanned bronze, a virile aspect.[12]

Roman era[edit]

Modern era[edit]

In numismatics[edit]

Hercules was among the earliest figures on ancient Roman coinage, and has been the main motif of many collector coins and medals since. One example is the "20 euro Baroque Silver coin issued on September 11, 2002. The obverse side of the coin shows the Grand Staircase in the town palace of "Prince Eugene of Savoy in "Vienna, currently the Austrian Ministry of Finance. Gods and "demi-gods hold its flights, while Hercules stands at the turn of the stairs.


Six successive ships of the British "Royal Navy, from the 18th to the 20th Century, bore the name "HMS Hercules.

In the "French Navy, there were no less that nineteen ships called "Hercule, plus three more named "Alcide which is another name of the same hero.

Hercules' name was also used for five ships of the "US Navy, four ships of the "Spanish Navy, four of the "Argentine Navy and two of the "Swedish Navy, as well as for numerous civilian sailing and steam ships - see links at "Hercules (ship).

Other cultural references[edit]

In films[edit]

A series of nineteen Italian Hercules movies were made in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The actors who played Hercules in these films were "Steve Reeves, "Gordon Scott, Kirk Morris, "Mickey Hargitay, Mark Forest, Alan Steel, "Dan Vadis, "Brad Harris, "Reg Park, "Peter Lupus (billed as "Rock Stevens) and Michael Lane. A number of English-dubbed Italian films that featured the name of Hercules in their title were not intended to be movies about Hercules.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hercules," in The Classical Tradition (Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 426.
  2. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, "Bibliotheke 2.5.1-2.5.12.
  3. ^ W. M. Lindsay, "Mehercle and Herc(v)lvs. [Mehercle and Herc(u)lus]" The Classical Quarterly 12.2 (April 1918:58).
  4. ^ "Festus 55 (edition of Lindsay); "William Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (London, 1908), p. 142; Karen K. Hersch, The Roman Wedding: Ritual and Meaning in Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 101, 110, 211.
  5. ^ or, baritus, there being scribal variants. In the 17th century, the word entered the German language as barditus and was associated with the Celtic "bards.
  6. ^ Simek, Rudolf (2007:140—142) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. "ISBN "0-85991-513-1
  7. ^ "Servius, note to "Aeneid 6.395; Jane Chance, Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433–1177 (University Press of Florida, 1994), p. 91.
  8. ^ Chance, Medieval Mythography, pp. 168, 218, 413.
  9. ^ Chance, Medieval Mythography, p. 219.
  10. ^ The official account, Labyrinthe royal... quoted in "Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods, (B.F. Sessions, tr., 1995) p. 26
  11. ^ "Natale Conti, Mythologiae Book 7, Chapter 1, as translated by John Mulryan and Steven Brown (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006), vol. 2, p. 566.
  12. ^ Hercules almost suggests "Hero". The Classical and Hellenistic convention in frescoes and mosaics, adopted by the Romans, is to show women as pale-skinned and men as tanned dark from their outdoor arena of action and exercising in the "gymnasium.(See also Reed.edu, jpg file. Reed.edu, subject).

External links[edit]

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