The Oxford Handbook of Heracles (OXFORD HANDBOOKS SERIES) 0190650982, 9780190650988

Heracles is the quintessential ancient Greek hero. The rich and massive tradition associated with him encompasses myths

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Table of contents :
The Oxford Handbook of Heracles
List of Figures
Part I: Before the Labors
1. Birth and Childhood
2. The Madness and the Labors
Part II: The Labors (Athloi)
3. Labor I: The Nemean Lion
4. Labor II: The Lernean Hydra
5. Labor III: The Cerynean Hind
6. Labor IV: The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus)
7. Labor V: The Augean Stables
8. Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds
9. Labor VII: The Cretan Bull
10. Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)
11. Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte
12. Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus
13. Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides
14. Labor XII: Cerberus
Part III: The Side-​Deeds (Parerga)
15. Brigands and Cruel Kings
16. The Argonauts
17. Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-​Monster
18. Auge and Telephus
19. The Gigantomachy
20. Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale
21. Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis
Part IV: Genres and Media
22. Epic
23. Tragedy
24. Comedy
25. The Philosophical Tradition
26. Classical Art
Part V: Themes
27. Heracles as a Quest Hero
28. Heracles between Hera and Athena
29. Heracles Rationalized and Allegorized
30. Heracles and the Mastery of Geographical Space
31. Heracles as Ancestor
32. Heracles, Macedon, and Alexander the Great
33. The Greek Cult of Heracles
34. Heracles and Melqart
35. The Roman Cult of Hercules
36. Hercules, Caesar, and the Roman Emperors
37. The Early Christian Heracles
38. The Reception of Heracles
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T h e Ox f o r d H a n d b o o k o f


The Oxford Handbook of

HERACLES Edited by



3 Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America. © Oxford University Press 2021 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Ogden, Daniel, editor. Title: The Oxford handbook of Heracles / edited by Daniel Ogden. Other titles: Oxford handbooks. Description: New York : Oxford University Press, 2021. | Series: Oxford handbooks series | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2021001219 (print) | LCCN 2021001220 (ebook) | ISBN 9780190650988 (hardback) | ISBN 9780190651008 (epub) | ISBN 9780190650995 | ISBN 9780190651015 Subjects: LCSH: Heracles (Greek mythological character)— Handbooks, manuals, etc. Classification: LCC BL820.H5 O94 2021 (print) | LCC BL820.H5 (ebook) | DDC 398.20938/02—dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190650988.001.0001 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Printed by Sheridan Books, Inc., United States of America

In memoriam ANTON POWELL οὐκ ἔστιν προφήτης ἄτιμος


List of Figures Contributors Introduction Daniel Ogden

xi xiii xxi

PA RT I :   B E F OR E T H E L A B OR S 1. Birth and Childhood Corinne Pache 2. The Madness and the Labors Katherine Lu Hsu

3 13

PA RT I I :   T H E L A B OR S ( AT H LOI ) 3. Labor I: The Nemean Lion Jenny March


4. Labor II: The Lernean Hydra Christina Salowey


5. Labor III: The Cerynean Hind Emma Aston


6. Labor IV: The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus) Daniel Ogden


7. Labor V: The Augean Stables Fiona Mitchell


8. Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds Emma Aston


viii   Contents

9. Labor VII: The Cretan Bull Daniel Ogden


10. Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis) Daniel Ogden


11. Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte Adrienne Mayor


12. Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus P. J. Finglass


13. Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides Gina Salapata


14. Labor XII: Cerberus Pauline Hanesworth


PA RT I I I :   T H E SI DE - ​D E E D S ( PA R E R G A ) 15. Brigands and Cruel Kings Debbie Felton


16. The Argonauts Richard Hunter


17. Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-​Monster Bronwen Wickkiser


18. Auge and Telephus Emma Griffiths


19. The Gigantomachy Christina Salowey


20. Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale Kristin Heineman


21. Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis Dámaris Romero-​González


Contents  ix

PA RT I V:   G E N R E S A N D M E DIA 22. Epic Elton Barker and Joel Christensen


23. Tragedy Michael Lloyd


24. Comedy John Wilkins


25. The Philosophical Tradition Philip Bosman


26. Classical Art Amy Smith


PA RT V:   T H E M E S 27. Heracles as a Quest Hero Graham Anderson


28. Heracles between Hera and Athena Susan Deacy


29. Heracles Rationalized and Allegorized Greta Hawes


30. Heracles and the Mastery of Geographical Space Antonio Ignacio Molina Marín


31. Heracles as Ancestor Lee E. Patterson


32. Heracles, Macedon, and Alexander the Great Christian Thrue Djurslev


33. The Greek Cult of Heracles Jennifer Larson


34. Heracles and Melqart Megan Daniels


x   Contents

35. The Roman Cult of Hercules Christopher Siwicki


36. Hercules, Caesar, and the Roman Emperors Matthew P. Loar


37. The Early Christian Heracles Alexandra Eppinger


38. The Reception of Heracles Emma Stafford





3.1. Heracles fighting Geryon


3.2. Heracles traveling in the Cup of the Sun


3.3. Heracles with Deianeira and the robe


3.4. Heracles wrestles the Nemean Lion


3.5. Heracles wrestles the Nemean Lion


4.1. Heracles and the Hydra


4.2. Heracles and the Hydra


4.3. The Argive Plain with geographical features and hydrological improvements 56 5.1. The Cerynean Hind


8.1. The Stymphalian Birds


8.2. Heracles and a Stymphalian Bird


15.1. Heracles wrestling Antaeus


15.2. Heracles killing the Egyptian king Busiris and his servants


15.3. Remnants of the portico at Roquepertuse


19.1. Heracles, Zeus, and Athena battle the Giants


26.1. Heracles on the Telephus frieze from the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon


26.2. Naked Auge and drunken Heracles


26.3. Heracles at the court of King Eurytus of Oechalia


26.4. Heracles, Iphicles, and snakes in the crib


26.5. Heracles wrestling the giant Antaeus


26.6. Farnese Heracles


26.7. Heracles cleaning the Augean stables


26.8. Heracles and Iolaus battling the Lernaean Hydra


26.9. Heracles and a sea god, perhaps Triton


26.10. Heracles attacking Linus


26.11. Heracles struggling with Apollo over the Delphic Tripod


26.12. Heracles and Hebe approaching Mt. Olympus on a chariot


xii   Figures 26.13. Alexander the Great in Heracles’ lion-​scalp helmet


26.14. A handshake between a Commagene king and Heracles


26.15. The madness of Heracles


26.16. Drunken Hercules with Omphale


26.17. Heracles’ death (among satyrs) and apotheosis


29.1. Heracles wrestles with Geras (Old Age)


33.1. Heracles with a four-​pillar roofless shrine


34.1. Melqart brandishing a fenestrated axe


34.2. Melqart riding a sea monster, holding bow and quiver in his left hand; owl with crook and flail


34.3. The Master of Lions


34.4. Alexander the Great as Heracles; seated Zeus


35.1. Plan of the Forum Boarium


35.2. Denarius of Q. Pomponius Musa


35.3. Fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae


35.4. The round temple in the Forum Boarium


35.5. The via tecta running through the sanctuary of Hercules Victor at Tibur


35.6. The podium and reconstructed façade of the temple of Hercules Victor at Tibur


35.7. The remains of an ancient temple (Dionysus and Bacchus?) on the Quirinal Hill



Graham Anderson is Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Kent. His main interests have been concentrated in prose narrative literature, especially the ancient novel. Most relevant to the current volume is the treatment of “The Alexander Romance and the Pattern of Hero-​Legend” in Stoneman et al., The Alexander Romance in Persia and the East (2012). He has also written extensively on the precursors of Arthurian legend, and on the roots of fiction in popular literature and subliterature. His most recent study has been Fantasy in Greek and Roman Literature (2020). Emma Aston is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Reading. Her first monograph was on the depiction of gods in part-​animal form (Mixanthrōpoi: Animal-​ Human Hybrid Deities in Greek Religion, 2011). She is now working on the regional identity of ancient Thessaly, but myth and monsters are still important to her work (for example, the centaurs of Mount Pelion). She has an abiding interest in interactions between human and nonhuman animals in ancient Greek life and mythology, and also in the use of myths about animals and animal-​hybrids in the expression of local identity. Elton Barker is Reader in Classical Studies at The Open University. He has written widely on epic, historiography, and tragedy, including on cross-​genre representations of debate (Entering the Agon, 2009) and mapping Herodotean space (in New Worlds out of Old Texts, 2016). With Joel Christensen he has published A Beginner’s Guide to Homer (2013) and a monograph, Homer’s Thebes (2020). Since 2008 he has been developing digital methods and annotation tools for the study of historical geography: in 2019 he cofounded the Pelagios Network Association for linking online resources about places. Philip Bosman is Professor of Ancient Greek at Stellenbosch University. His research interests are mainly in Greek literature and philosophy, and the legacies of ancient Greece in Africa. He has published on the ancient conscience, Euripides, the Cynics and Cynic tradition, Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, Lucian, and Julian, and has edited a number of thematically based volumes, including Corruption and Integrity in Ancient Greece and Rome (2012), Alexander in Africa (2014), and Intellectual and Empire in Greco-​Roman Antiquity (2019). Joel Christensen is Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Brandeis University. In addition to articles on language, myth, and literature in the Homeric epics, he has

xiv   Contributors published a Beginner’s Guide to Homer (2013) and Homer’s Thebes (2019) with Elton Barker. Other recent publications include Commentary on the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice (2018; with Erik Robinson) and The Many-​Minded Man: The “Odyssey,” Psychology, and the Therapy of Epic (2020). Megan Daniels is Assistant Professor of Greek Material Culture at the University of British Columbia. Her interests focus on cultural interactions in the eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages. She is currently completing a monograph on the shared ideologies of divine kingship between the Aegean and western Asia through the figure of the Queen of Heaven. Further interests include interdisciplinary approaches to ancient migration and the intersections of religion and economy in the ancient Mediterranean. She publishes mainly on religious syncretism in the contexts of economic and political expansion in the Mediterranean, and is also currently preparing publications of pottery from sites in Greece and Tunisia. Susan Deacy is Professor of Classics at the University of Roehampton, London. She is especially interested in ancient Greek religion, myth, gender, and sexuality, particularly how these categories cohere around deities, notably Athena. She has published a number of studies of Athena including to date two books, with a third forthcoming. She is currently developing a set of Hercules-​themed activities for autistic children. Christian Thrue Djurslev is Assistant Professor of Classics and Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark. He has published on Alexander the Great, late antiquity, and imperial literature, including the monograph Alexander the Great in the Early Christian Tradition: Classical Reception and Patristic Literature (2020). Another notable publication is “Four Beasts and a Baby: The ‘Baleful Birth’ Omen of Alexander’s Death in Its Hellenistic Context” (2020). Djurslev’s current work focuses on the literary traditions of other controversial monarchs of antiquity, including Semiramis of Assyria, Tomyris of Scythia, and Cyrus of Persia. Alexandra Eppinger is Research and Teaching Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany, where she teaches courses on Roman history and epigraphy. She is the author of Hercules in der Spätantike: Die Rolle des Heros im Spannungsfeld von Heidentum und Christentum (2015). Her research interests include late antique cultural history, early imperial history, and the reception of Hercules in eighteenth-​century English political cartoons. She is currently working on a research project on atheism in the Roman Empire. Debbie Felton is Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she specializes in folklore in classical literature (especially the supernatural and monstrous). In addition to Haunted Greece and Rome (1999) and her edited volume Landscapes of Dread in Classical Antiquity (2018), she has published widely on folklore in antiquity. Her most recent work is Serial Killers of Classical Myth and History (2021). She has been editor of the journal Preternature since 2015 and associate review editor

Contributors  xv for the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts for many years. On the side, she serves as a content consultant for Bearport Press for various series of children’s books on ghost stories. P. J. Finglass is Henry Overton Wills Professor of Greek at the University of Bristol. He has published a monograph Sophocles (2019) in the series Greece and Rome New Surveys in the Classics; has edited Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (2018), Ajax (2011), and Electra (2007), Stesichorus’ Poems (2014), and Pindar’s Pythian Eleven (2007) in the series Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries; has (with Adrian Kelly) coedited The Cambridge Companion to Sappho (2021) and Stesichorus in Context (2015) and (with Lyndsay Coo) Female Characters in Fragmentary Greek Tragedy (2020); and edits the journal Classical Quarterly, all with Cambridge University Press. Emma Griffiths is Lecturer in Classics at the University of Manchester. She has published widely on Greek myth and drama, including Medea (2005), Euripides: Heracles (2006) the 2020 monograph Children in Greek Tragedy. Pauline Hanesworth is Head of Learning and Teaching at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). With her classicist hat on, she focuses on archaic and classical Greek myth and religion and their representations in modern film. She is particularly interested in how mythmaking can shape and reshape society. She translates this into her pedagogic research, where she focuses on how what, how, and why we teach—​our pedagogic mythmaking—​can be an impetus for societal change. Greta Hawes is Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History and DECRA Fellow at Australian National University. She is author of Pausanias in the World of Greek Myth (2021) and Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity (2014), editor of Myths on the Map: The Storied Landscapes of Ancient Greece (2017), and codirector of MANTO, an initiative to collect, analyze and visualize the data of Greek myth using digital methods. Kristin Heineman is Associate Teaching Professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she teaches widely in Greek and Roman History, Women’s Studies, and Religion. Her research interests include women and religion in the ancient world and the intersection between paganism, Christianity, and the occult, as seen in her recent book, The Decadence of Delphi: The Oracle in the Second Century AD and Beyond (2018). Her newest research incorporates sacred space and memory at various sanctuaries in the Greek world and the changes brought by Christianity. Katherine Lu Hsu is Assistant Professor of Classics at College of the Holy Cross. In addition to articles on literary papyri, Greek tragedy, and myth, she is author of the monograph The Violent Hero: Heracles in the Greek Imagination (2020) and a coeditor (with David Schur and Brian Sowers) of the volume The Body Unbound: Literary Approaches to the Classical Corpus (forthcoming).

xvi   Contributors Richard Hunter is Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity College. His research interests include Hellenistic poetry, ancient literary and cultural criticism and reception, and ancient drama. His most recent books include Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica IV (2015), The Measure of Homer (2018), and (with Rebecca Laemmle) Euripides, Cyclops (2020). Many of his essays are collected in On Coming After: Studies in Post-​Classical Greek Literature and Its Reception (2008). Jennifer Larson is Professor of Classics at Kent State University. Her fields of research are ancient Mediterranean religions, Greek poetry, and gender and sexuality in antiquity. Her current projects focus on perceptions of divine knowledge among the Greeks and cognitive approaches to ancient magic. She is the author of numerous articles, chapters, and books including Greek Nymphs: Myth, Cult, Lore (2005), Ancient Greek Sexualities: A Sourcebook (2012), and Understanding Greek Religion: A Cognitive Approach (2016). Michael Lloyd is Professor of Greek Language and Literature at University College Dublin. He is the author of The Agon in Euripides (1992), Euripides’ Andromache: With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (1994; second edition, 2005), a companion to Sophocles’ Electra (2005), and articles on Homer, Herodotus, and Greek tragedy. He is also the editor of Aeschylus in the Oxford Readings in Classical Studies series (2007). He has publications forthcoming on Aristophanes and Plato in the light of politeness theory, and a chapter on realism in Euripides appeared recently in the Brill Companion to Euripides. Matthew Loar is Director of Fellowships and Assistant Professor of Classics (by courtesy) at Washington and Lee University. He has (with Carolyn MacDonald and Dan-​el Padilla Peralta) coedited Rome, Empire of Plunder: The Dynamics of Cultural Appropriation (2017) and (with Sarah C. Murray and Stefano Rebeggiani) The Cultural History of Augustan Rome: Texts, Monuments, and Topography (2019). Jenny March is an author specializing in Classical myth and Greek tragedy. Her several books include the award-​winning Dictionary of Classical Mythology, The Penguin Book of Classical Myths, and the Aris and Phillips editions of Sophocles’ Electra and Oedipus Tyrannus. She was also the founder and editor for twenty years of the Classical Association’s CA News. She has taught at London, Reading, and Southampton universities, was a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University College London, and is now attached to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, as an Associate Member of the Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity. Antonio Ignacio Molina Marín is Research Fellow in the University of Alcalá de Henares. He earned his doctorate in ancient history at the University of Murcia and has been a visiting researcher in the Universities of Exeter (2014) and Santa Clara (2018). He specializes in ancient Macedonia, Alexander the Great, and ancient geography. His main publications are Geographica: Ciencia del espacio y tradición narrativa de

Contributors  xvii Homero a Cosmas Indicopleustes (2011), and Alejandro Magno (1916–​2015): Un siglo de estudios sobre Macedonia Antigua (2018). He is a member of the editorial board of Karanos: Bulletin of Ancient Macedonian Studies. Adrienne Mayor is Research Scholar in Classics and the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Stanford University. She is the author of several books, including Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (2018); The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World (2014); The First Fossil Hunters (2011); The Poison King (a biography of Mithradates VI of Pontus, 2009); and Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World, 2003). Mayor’s articles about ancient Amazons have appeared in National Geographic History Magazine, History Today, Foreign Policy, Natural History, and Encyclopedia Iranica. Fiona Mitchell is Teaching Fellow in Ancient Language and Culture at the University of Birmingham. She undertook her PhD at the University of Bristol and previously worked at the University of Wales Trinity St. David as a Lecturer in Classics. Her research focuses primarily on representations of monstrosity and bodily abnormality in ancient Greek literature and iconography. She has produced articles on monstrosity in Herodotus, Hesiod, and the Orphic theogonies, and has a forthcoming monograph titled Monsters in Greek Literature: Aberrant Bodies. As part of her ongoing project on the use of personification and abnormal bodies as representations of time in ancient cosmogonies she is the editor of Time and Chronology in Creation Narratives. Daniel Ogden is Professor of Ancient History in the University of Exeter. His publications include Greek and Roman Necromancy (2001), Aristomenes of Messene (2003), Perseus (2008), Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook (2nd ed., 2009), Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman World (2013), The Legend of Seleucus: Kingship, Narrative and Mythmaking (2017), The Werewolf in the Ancient World (2021) and, as editor, A Companion to Greek Religion (2007). Corinne Pache is Professor of Classical Studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Her work focuses on Greek archaic poetry and the modern reception of ancient epic. Her publications include Baby and Child Heroes in Ancient Greece (2004) and “A Moment’s Ornament”: The Poetics of Nympholepsy in Ancient Greece (2011). She is also the editor of the Cambridge Guide to Homer (2020). Lee E. Patterson is Professor of History at Eastern Illinois University. He is the author of Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece (2010) and a number of studies on Strabo’s use of myth, including one in The Routledge Companion to Strabo (2017). He is currently writing a book on Roman–​Armenian relations, while forthcoming items regarding Armenia will appear in Revue des Études Arméniennes and Latomus. He has also ventured into the Persian world with a chapter on politics and religion in the Sasanian

xviii   Contributors Empire in the edited volume Sasanian Persia: Between Rome and the Steppes of Eurasia (2017). Dámaris Romero-​González is Associate Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Cordoba, Spain. Her main research is on Plutarch, in particular on the relationship between dreams and character in his work. She has also worked on the Lives of the monks and saints of late antiquity, and on New Testament Greek semantics, as the director of the Greek-​Spanish New Testament Dictionary project. Her publications include articles on Plutarch, the Spanish translation of the History of the Monks of Egypt (with Israel Muñoz; 2010), and, as coeditor, Visitors from beyond the Grave: Ghosts in World Literature (2019). Gina Salapata is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Classical Studies at Massey University, New Zealand. Her main research interests lie at the intersection of Greek material culture and religion. A Classical archaeologist by training, she has published widely on iconography, terracottas, votive offerings, and hero cults, including the monograph Heroic Offerings: The Terracotta Plaques from the Spartan Sanctuary of Agamemnon and Kassandra (2014). She is currently working on Boeotian terracottas and on the cult of Adonis. Christina Salowey is Professor of Classics at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She has also served three times as the Gertrude Smith Professor at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Her current research interests are environmental history, the mythology and religion of ancient Greece, and war memorials in modern Greece. She has published on Heracles as a cult figure, archaic funerary korai, Hellenistic grave stelae for women, and the use of maths and science in the teaching of ancient art. Christopher Siwicki is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute at Rome. He has previously held fellowships at the Warburg Institute and The British School at Rome, as well as lecturing positions at John Cabot University, the University of Exeter, and the School of Architecture at the University of Lincoln. His research explores the cultural role of architecture in antiquity and he has published on Roman architecture and the topography of Rome. His monograph Architectural Restoration and Heritage in Imperial Rome (2019) addresses the treatment of historic buildings in ancient Rome. Amy Smith is Professor of Classical Archaeology and Curator of the Ure Museum at the University of Reading (​ure-​museum). She has published widely on ancient art, especially Greek vases, and is preparing a volume on the Athenian Classical red-​figure painter known as the Pan Painter. Her research considers also cult, ritual, and religious practice, including music, personifications, and weddings. Her work with museum collections considers both the present/​future, for example, the pedagogic and research value of digital visualizations, and the past, for

Contributors  xix example, collections histories and the reception of antiquity, including the legacy of J. J. Winckelmann. Emma Stafford is Professor of Greek Culture at the University of Leeds. She is author of numerous works on Greek myth, religion, and iconography, including the monographs Herakles (2012) and Worshipping Virtues (2000), and coeditor (with J. E. Herrin) of Personification in the Greek World (2005). She is coordinator of the project “Hercules: A Hero for All Ages” (https://​, and coeditor of its four volumes—​Herakles Inside and Outside the Church, The Exemplary Hercules, The Modern Hercules, and Hercules Performed—​published in Brill’s Metaforms series (2020–​2021). Bronwen Wickkiser is Associate Professor of Classics at Wabash College, Indiana. Much of her research focuses on intersections between religion and healthcare in Greco-​Roman antiquity, as examined in many articles and two books: Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-​Century Greece (2008), and The Thymele at Epidauros: Healing, Space and Musical Performance in Late-​Classical Greece (2017). She also publishes articles on the poetry and culture of Augustan Rome. Recent work extends to classical reception, including investigation of the complicated history of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and its presence in a contested landscape of memory. John Wilkins is Professor Emeritus at the University of Exeter. His research is on Greek drama, the history of food in the ancient world, the Greek sympotic writer Athenaeus of Naucratis, and Greek nutrition and medicine. His books include The Rivals of Aristophanes (2000, edited with David Harvey), The Boastful Chef: The Discourse of Food in Ancient Greek Comedy (2000), Food in the Ancient World (2006, with Shaun Hill), and A Companion to Food in the Ancient World (2016, edited with Robin Nadeau). He is currently completing the first translation into a modern language of Galen’s major work on pharmacology, Simple Medicines I–​V, for the Cambridge Galen series.

I ntrodu c tion Daniel Ogden

The Need for This Book No apology need be given for the production of a handbook on Heracles, for many the type and quintessence of the ancient Greek hero. His myth-​cycle and his ancient tradition, in all their ramifications, are expansive and rich, and require both a broad scope and diverse expertise if justice is to be done to them. Indeed, this myth-​cycle constitutes over an eighth of the totality of the literary and iconographical remains of Classical myth, if one can use the number of pages devoted to it in Gantz’s masterly 1993 review of early Greek myth as a proxy indicator: over 100 of its 750 pages are devoted to the hero. The cycle encompasses myths of all kind: quest myths; monster fights; world-​foundational myths; people-​, city-​, and dynasty-​foundational myths; aetiological myths; philosophical myths; allegorical myths; and indeed myths rationalized out of their very mythhood. It informs and is informed by every genre and variety of Classical literature. And the figure of Heracles opens windows onto numerous aspects of ancient religion, including those of cult, syncretism, Christian reception, the problem of the relationship between gods and heroes, and the intersection of religion with politics.

The Structure of the Book Readers turning to a volume boasting the title “Handbook” expect to find within it all the basic information about the subject in question, presented in an accessible

xxii   Introduction and well-​structured form. This volume aspires to meet such an expectation, and is ordered as follows. The first half of the book is devoted to the exposition of the ancient evidence, literary and iconographic, for the traditions of Heracles’ life and deeds. We begin, of course, with a chapter on Heracles’ childhood (1) before turning to the canonical set of his Twelve Labors (athloi), our review of these (one chapter each: 3–​14) being preceded by a chapter devoted to his madness (2), the most traditional of the ancient explanations for their imposition on him. The next seven chapters (15–​21) are devoted to groups of Heracles’ further, non-​Labor adventures or “side-​deeds” (parerga), some of which constitute more elaborate and engaging tales than those of the Labors proper. The second half of the book then cuts aslant this first half to offer a thematic approach to Heracles’ myth-​cycle, his cults and the uses made of him in the ancient world. We begin here with a series of chapters devoted to the contrasting ways in which he is manifest in different genres of ancient literature and in art more generally (22–​26). Then a number of his myth-​cycle’s diverse fils rouges are given dedicated treatment: Heracles’ fashioning as a folkloric quest-​hero; his role as a football between two great goddesses, the Hera that persecutes him and the Athena that protects him; and the rationalization and allegorization of the cycle’s constituent myths (27–​29). We pass on to a series of chapters devoted to the ways in which the figure of Heracles was exploited for political purposes (in the broadest sense) by various communities and individuals in the Greek world (30–​32). The three following chapters are devoted to his cult, its syncretism with that of Melqart, and its Roman manifestation (33–​35). A pair of chapters looks at the use made of Heracles more specifically in the Roman empire, by the Roman emperors themselves, and by early Christian writers, who could hardly ignore a figure so fundamental to their heritage and so important still to the pagans with whom they sought to engage (36–​ 37). Finally, we close with a chapter expressing a perspective on the vast subject of Heracles’ reception in the western tradition (38).

Existing Work on Heracles It is strange to tell that there currently exists no English-​language treatment of Heracles in his original ancient context of the scale and depth of the volume offered here. The closest we come among recent books in English is Emma Stafford’s admirable midlength monograph Herakles in the Routledge Gods and Heroes series edited by Susan Deacy (2012), a lucid and engaging read. Other recent books specifically devoted to Heracles in English barely deserve mention.1 One must look rather to two substantial 1  Alistair Blanshard’s Hercules: A Heroic Life (2005) is aimed at the mass market; it extends to a mere c. 60,000 words, is glancingly referenced and belletristic; even so it remains a strangely challenging read. The Classical Press of Wales’ variorum volume Herakles and Hercules (also 2005), edited by

Introduction  xxiii contributions on Heracles made in the context of wider works. We have already had cause to mention the fine hundred pages devoted to Heracles in Gantz’s Early Greek Myth of 1993.2 The art-​historical aspects of this work, however, were trumped by the appearance of the detailed treatment of Heracles’ iconography presided over by Sir John Boardman in the outstanding Lexicon iconographicum mythologicae classicae (LIMC) in 1988–​1990.3 The specific field of the reception of Heracles after antiquity is served rather better. Here Karl Galinsky’s still valuable 1972 book The Herakles Theme is now supplemented by a formidable series of four volumes emanating from the “Hercules: A Hero for All Ages” project run by Emma Stafford (again) in Leeds, and all (co-​)edited by her: Herakles Inside and Outside the Church (Allan et al. 2020), The Exemplary Hercules (Mainz and Stafford 2020), The Modern Hercules (Blanshard and Stafford 2020), and Hercules Performed (Stafford forthcoming). The currency of this major project is one of the reasons that the attention the present volume offers to the subject of Heracles’ reception is quite circumspect; we have largely confined ourselves to an invitation to Professor Stafford herself to share her uniquely authoritative perspective on it. The standard German reference works of a century or more ago continue to underpin—​directly and indirectly—​the philological aspects of this Handbook.4 There is no recent comprehensive treatment of Heracles in German scholarship, but note must be made of Alexandra Eppinger’s recent (2015) and important book on the more specific subject of Heracles in late antiquity (Dr. Eppinger also kindly shares her work on an aspect on this subject with us here). French scholarship did much for our hero in the last generation. One must note the impressive series of technical essay collections

Louis Rawlings and Hugh Bowden, is a short collection of papers on a quite random selection of topics; the Greek ones are perhaps stronger than the Roman. Padilla’s The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile (1998) is something of an oddity: a mere thirty of its hundred pages constitute its main text, no easy read, with another thirty devoted to dense endnotes and fifteen to (well-​selected) bibliography. Three brief art-​focused treatments appeared in the later eighties. Brommer’s 1986 book Heracles: The Twelve Labours and the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature (originating in the 2nd German ed. of 1979) comprises a main text of only sixty-​seven pages, albeit followed by some serious endnotes and illustrations, but it confines itself to the Labors only. Uhlenbrock’s 1986 exhibition catalog, Herakles: Passage of the Hero Through 1000 Years of Classical Art comprises thirty-​seven lightly referenced pages of text, distributed across a series of variorum essays. Finally, Vollkommer’s 1988 book Herakles in the Art of Classical Greece extends to 124 pages. 2 

Gantz (1993, esp. 374–​466). Boardman (1988–​1990). 4  I.e., in primis, Roscher’s Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (in which see the articles of Furtwängler [1886–​1890] on Herakles and Peter [1890] on Hercules), the Pauly-​ Wissowa Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (in which see the article of Gruppe [1918]) and above all the Preller-​Robert Griechische Mythologie (specifically Robert [1921]). Note also the monographs on Heracles of Friedländer (1907) and Schweitzer (1922). 3 

xxiv   Introduction produced on him in the 1990s in the context of a project spearheaded by Bonnet and Jourdain-​Annequin.5 The remit of introducing readers to the study of Heracles in the round is better achieved by encouraging a variety of approaches rather than by attempting to impose some sort of intellectual homogeneity. The effects of this policy will be clearest in the contrasts between those chapters ostensibly addressing similar or parallel projects: the ones expounding the mythical traditions of the Labors and the parerga. *** The single most defining characteristic of Heracles is his canon of the Twelve Labors (athloi). Before we investigate these individually and in detail, together with their parerga or “side-​deeds,” in the main body of this volume, let us survey the process by which the notion of the canon itself came about.

Near Eastern Forerunners of Heracles? Ancient Near Eastern literature and art are replete with gods and heroes fighting animals and monsters. If we want to claim that a resemblance to Heracles among these figures is anything more than coincidental, we have to set the bar high. Two of them are left particularly worthy of consideration:6 • Ninurta/​Ningirsu, in the Akkadian epics Anzu and The Return of Ninurta to Nippur (both originally second millennium BC). He is the son of the storm-​god and ruler of the gods, Enlil (cf. Zeus); he wears a lion-​skin, carries a club and a bow (cf. Heracles’ equipment); he fights eleven or twelve monsters (cf. the Labors); after defeating them he brings them back to his city as trophies (cf. the demands of Eurystheus); and the beasts in question include a seven-​headed serpent (cf. the Hydra), a wild bull (cf. the Cretan Bull), a stag (cf. the Cerynean Hind), the Anzu-​ bird (cf. the Stymphalian Birds), and a lion (cf. the Nemean Lion).7


Namely, Bonnet and Jourdain-​Annequin (1992) (particularly good on cult); Jourdain-​Annequin and Bonnet (1996) (a strong collection of articles on Heracles’ women); and Bonnet, Jourdain-​Annequin, and Pirenne-​Delforge (1998) (Heracles’ “bestiary”); cf. also Bonnet’s (1988) monograph on Heracles and Melqart. 6  After Stafford (2012, 13). 7  Anzu: text at Hruška (1975); translation at Dalley (2000, 205–​227). Return of Ninurta: text and translation at Cooper (1978).

Introduction  xxv • The Babylonian storm-​god Marduk in the Enuma Eliš, the Babylonian-​Akkadian epic of creation (also probably second millennium BC). Marduk defeats Tiamat, the serpentine principle of the Sea (cf. the non-​Labor sea-​monster of Troy?), and eleven other monsters, twelve in total (cf. the Labors).8 The recurring number of twelve here is suggestive, but more problematic than first appears for any relationship with Heracles, given that we can only be sure that Heracles acquired a canon of twelve Labors at the relatively late stage of the mid-​fifth century BC (in the metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia of c. 460 BC). If the parity of numbers here is to be considered more than just coincidental, then we must either conclude that the Near Eastern influence, in this regard at any rate, came in only at a surprisingly late stage, or that the notion of a canon of twelve Labors for Heracles, though deeply ancient and indeed of Near Eastern origin, had long constituted only one tradition among many in relation to the hero.

The Development of the Canon of the Twelve Labors, the Dodekathlos The following is a (roughly) chronological list of attestations from the archaic and classical periods of the notion that Heracles was engaged in a set of Labors of some sort (as opposed to a random series of individual feats):9 • Homer Iliad 8.362–​369, 15.639–​640, 19.95–​125, c. 700 BC. Specific mention of the Cerberus Labor only (cf. also Odyssey 11.620–​626), and general references to Heracles having to perform an unspecified number of Labors for Eurystheus, with Copreus as go-​between (cf. Chapter 6). • Hesiod Theogony 215–​216, 270–​336, 517–​531, c. 700 BC. Mention, as Labors, of: Geryon, Hydra, and Lion. Mention also of Ladon (the Serpent of the Hesperides), the Hesperides, and Atlas, possibly with a hint of a Labor context. Mention of Cerberus without a Labor context. • Pisander Heraclea FF1–​6, 9 West, later vii BC. Mentions of the Labors of the Lion, Hydra, Hind, and Birds, and mention too of Heracles’ journey over Ocean in the Cup of Helios, which implies either the Geryon or the Hesperides Labor, or indeed both. Mention also of the parerga (to be) of Antaeus and an encounter with one or more centaurs—​i.e., Pholus, Nessus or Oreios? 8 

Enuma Eliš: text at Talon (2005); translation at Dalley (2000, 228–​277). This list is based principally on the work of Robert (1921, ii: 431–​440), Boardman (1988–​1990, v.1: 5–​ 16 [“Herakles Dodekatholos”]), Gantz (1993, 381–​383), and Stafford (2012, 26–​30). 9 

xxvi   Introduction • The Chest of Cypselus at Olympia, LIMC Herakles 1697, early vi BC. Pausanias’ incomplete description of the object (5.17–​19) tells that it included scenes of the following Labors: Hesperides-​Atlas; Hydra; either Geryon or a parergon (to be) with centaurs; the Lion Labor may be implied by Pausanias’ observation that Heracles was recognizable from the way in which he was represented (i.e., inter alia, wearing the lion-​skin?). Zeus’ seduction of Heracles’ mother, Alcmene, was also represented. • Homeric Hymn 15 (to Heracles), probably vi BC. A brief reference to Heracles performing his Labors (none specified) under the direction of Eurystheus. • Bronze panels of the Temple of Athena Chalkioikos at Sparta, later vi BC. Pausanias (3.17) tells that its bronze panels were decorated with many of the Labors and the parerga. • The throne of Bathycles at Amyclae, later vi BC. Pausanias’ incomplete description of the object (3.18–​19) tells that it included scenes of the following Labors: Hydra, Mares, Cerberus, and Geryon. Atlas was featured too, but not necessarily in the context of the Hesperides Labor. It also included scenes of parerga (to be): Cycnus, Pholus, the Giant Thurius, Nessus, the Moliones, the centaur Oreios, Achelous, and also a scene of Athena escorting Heracles to Olympus. • Metopes of the Treasury of Hera at Foce del Sele, Campania, LIMC Herakles 1698, mid vi BC. Represented, among the Labors, are the Lion and the Boar. Also represented are parerga (to be): Apollo’s tripod; Cercopes, Antaeus; a Giant; Pholus and the centaurs; Nessus and Deianeira; a further lone centaur; the defense of Hera from an attack by Sileni (a scene only known in art). • Metopes of the Athenian Treasury at Delphi, LIMC Herakles 1703, early v BC. The Labors (combined with those of Theseus) featured are: Lion, Hind, Geryon, Bull/​Mares, Hesperides-​Atlas (?), and Amazons. Also represented are parerga (to be): Cycnus and a centaur.10 • An artwork of unspecified nature dedicated at Olympia by the city of Heraclea Pontica, LIMC Herakles 1704, probably late archaic. Pausanias (5.26.7) tells that it included the following Labors: Lion, Hydra, Cerberus, Boar. • Volute crater, Malibu, Getty, 77.AE.11 = LIMC Herakles 1702, early v BC. This includes one frieze with the following Labors: Hydra, Geryon, Hesperides-​Atlas Labor; and another with the Amazon Labor. • Pindar F169a l.43 Snell-​Maehler, early v BC. A possible fragmentary reference to a “twelfth” Labor. • Metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, LIMC Herakles 1705, c. 456 BC. The canon of twelve Labors as it was to become established (though not quite in the order that was to become established): 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Birds, 4. Bull,


See the discussion at Stafford (2012, 168–​169).

Introduction  xxvii 5. Hind, 6. Amazons, 7. Boar, 8. Mares, 9. Geryon, 10. Hesperides, 11. Cerberus, 12. Stables. Boardman and Gantz suggest that the positioning of the Stables-​of-​ Augeas Labor last, which is anomalous in comparison to all other lists, represents a desire on the part of the Olympian authorities to make the local Labor the capstone (it was located in Elis, like Olympia).11 • Sophocles Trachiniae 1087–​1100, c. 468–​406 BC. Five Labors are listed, interrupted by one parergon (to be): 1. Lion; 2. Hydra; [Centaurs]; 3. Boar; 4. Cerberus; 5. Hesperides-​Atlas. The progression of such Labors as are specified is roughly similar to that of the Temple of Zeus. • Metopes of the Temple of Hephaestus at Athens, LIMC Herakles 1706, c. 450 BC. Nine Labors are shown in the order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Hind, 4. Boar, 5. Mares, 6. Cerberus, 7. Amazons, 8. Geryon (across two metopes), 9. Hesperides-​Atlas. • Euripides Heracles 359–​442, c. 416 BC. Twelve deeds are described, including eight canonical Labors, one of which is bisected, mixed in with three parerga (to be): 1. Lion; [Centaurs of Pelion]; 2. Hind; 3. Mares; [Cycnus]; 4a. Hesperides; [the calming of the sea]; 4b. Atlas; 5. Amazons; 6. Hydra; 7. Geryon; 8. Cerberus. • Marble votive relief from the Heracleum at Sounion, LIMC Herakles 1708, iv BC. The incompletely preserved monument once included many scenes from the lives of Heracles and Theseus. The surviving Heracles scenes are: Hind, Boar, Mares, Geryon, Hesperides-​Atlas; and a parergon (to be) scene of Heracles with a centaur. • The Pediments, by Praxiteles, of the Temple of Heracles at Thebes, iv BC. Pausanias (9.11.16) notes that the Labors of Birds and the Stables are missing from the canonical twelve on the decoration of this temple. However, the Antaeus parergon (to be) was included. In the Hellenistic age the canon of twelve becomes well established, although the order of the Labors continues to vary as is indicated by the following examples: • Theocritus Idylls 24.82–​83, c. 270 BC. The sum of twelve Labors is given. • Apollonius Argonautica 1.1317–​1318, c. 270s BC. The sum of twelve Labors is given. • Callimachus Aetia F23.19–​20 Pfeiffer, mid iii BC. The sum of twelve Labors is given. • Euphorion F51.13 Powell/​71 Lightfoot, c. later iii BC. The sum of twelve Labors is given. • Diodorus 4.8–​27, c. 30 BC. A complete and detailed account of all twelve Labors. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Boar, 4. Hind, 5. Birds, 6. Stables, 7. Bull, 8. Mares, 9. Amazons, 10. Geryon, 11. Cerberus, 12. Hesperides-​Atlas.


Boardman (1988–​1990, v.1: 15), Gantz (1993, 382–​383).

xxviii   Introduction • Tabula Albana, IG xiv 1293 = FGrH/​BNJ 40 F1, i BC–​ii AD. All the Labors in twelve metrical lines, followed by a prose summary of the parerga. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Boar, 4. Hind, 5. Birds, 6. Stables, 7. Bull, 8. Mares, 9. Amazons, 10. Geryon, 11. Cerberus, 12. Hesperides-​Atlas. • Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5, c. AD 100. A complete and detailed account of all twelve Labors. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Hind, 4. Boar, 5. Stables, 6. Birds, 7. Bull, 8. Mares, 9. Amazons, 10. Geryon, 11. Hesperides-​Atlas, 12. Cerberus. • Hyginus Fabulae 30, ii AD. A summary list of the twelve Labors. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Boar, 4. Hind, 5. Birds, 6. Stables, 7. Bull, 8. Mares, 9. Amazons, 10. Geryon, 11. Hesperides-​Atlas, 12. Cerberus. • Ausonius 7.24, iv AD. All the Labors in twelve metrical lines. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Boar, 4. Hind, 5. Birds, 6. Amazons, 7. Stables, 8. Bull, 9. Mares, 10. Geryon, 11. Hesperides-​Atlas, 12. Cerberus. • Anonymous epigram, Greek Anthology 12.92, undated. All the Labors in fourteen metrical lines. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Boar, 4. Hind, 5. Birds, 6. Amazons, 7. Stables, 8. Bull, 9. Mares, 10. Geryon, 11. Cerberus, 12. Hesperides-​Atlas. • Hilasius epigram, Latin Anthology 1.627, undated. All the Labors in twelve metrical lines. Order: 1. Lion, 2. Hydra, 3. Boar, 4. Hind, 5. Birds, 6. Amazons, 7. Stables, 8. Bull, 9. Mares, 10. Geryon, 11. Cerberus, 12. Hesperides-​Atlas. It is generally recognized that the key pivot-​point in this tradition is construction of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. There may have been canons of twelve Labors before this (the Pindar fragment cited earlier), but it is from the point of the construction of this understandably influential temple that the identity of the twelve deeds classified as Labors begins to become fixed (even if their actual order never fully settles down). The impression one gets from the earlier part of this tradition is that the deed or parergon (to be) that came closest to making the cut as a fully fledged Labor was an encounter with a centaur or centaurs. One imagines that an original centaur proto-​Labor may have been diffracted into the three familiar parerga of Pholus, Nessus, and Oreios (and perhaps even into Heracles’ dealings with Chiron).

Chronology and Geography The following table, based on a modified version of Brommer’s, charts the earliest attestations of the individual Labors using the admittedly crude and unsatisfactory measure of centuries. Grayed-​out squares indicate first attestations in art; text entries indicate first attestations in literature.12 12 

Brommer (1986, 55–​64, esp. 56).

Introduction  xxix Labor

viii BC

vii BC

1. Lion (Nemea, Pelop.)

Hesiod Theogony 332

2. Hydra (Lerna, Pelop.)

Hesiod Theogony 313

vi BC

v BC

3. Boar (Erymanthus, Pelop.)

Hecataeus F344

4. Hind (Cerynia, Pelop.)

Pindar Olympians 3.29

5. Birds (Stymphalus, Pelop.)

Pisander F4 West

6. Stables (Elis, Pelop.)

Pindar Olympians 10.28–​29

7. Bull (Crete)

Acusilaus F29 Fowler

8. Mares (Thrace)

Euripides Alcestis 483 Pindar Nemeans 3.38

9. Amazons 10. Geryon

Hesiod Theogony 287–​290

11. Cerberus 12. Hesperides

Homer Iliad 8.367–​368 Hesiod Theogony 215, 517–​519

Interesting though such a schema is, it will be apparent from the previous discussion that it is in one important sense misleading, in that it is based on a canon of Labors that we cannot be confident existed prior to the middle of the fifth century. Nonetheless, a clear message of this distribution is that either (a) the Peloponnese was the original home and focus of Heracles’ Labors or (b) Peloponnesian Labors were favored in canonization. The only non-​Peloponnesian Labor (to be) attested in the earliest phase is the Amazon one, to which we may wish to add the Cerberus Labor, which does at least appear in Homer. Both of these are based in never-​never places, a mythical place somewhere in the East and the underworld respectively. And indeed it is possible to recover the Cerberus Labor for the Peloponnese too, given that Heracles is held to have penetrated the underworld through a cave—​subsequently attested in the role of an Oracle of the Dead—​at Tainaron, on the southern tip of the Peloponnese’s Mani peninsula.13 The locations of the later-​attested Geryon and Hesperides Labors are also never-​never lands, this time somewhere in the West. The sixth century sees an expansion of the Labors, in real-​world terms, both within and beyond the Peloponnese. Within the Peloponnese the Labors of the Boar (Erymanthus) and the Stables (Elis) are added, while beyond it are added the Labors of the Bull (Crete) and the Mares (Thrace), tokens perhaps, of a sort of panhellenization of the Labors. As Boardman


The notion is implicit in the rationalization at Hecataeus FGrH/​BNJ 1 F27, and is conveyed in more direct form at Euripides Heracles 23–​25, Seneca Hercules Furens 662–​696, and Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.12; the only dissenting voice in the tradition is Xenophon Anabasis 6.2.2, who sends Heracles down through a cave at Heraclea Pontica; traditionally, Heraclea was rather the point of Heracles’ ascent with Cerberus. See Ogden (2001, 34–​42), (2013, 110).

xxx   Introduction observes, the eventual literary order of the Labors (for all that it was never entirely stable) “seems based on the principle of placing the Peloponnesian scenes first . . . , then taking Herakles to the south, north, east, west, hell, and heaven.”14

Abbreviations BNJ Worthington 2012–​. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. IG Inscriptiones Graecae, Berlin, 1903–​. Multiple series, volumes, parts. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. RE Pauly et al. 1894–​1980.

References Allan, A. L., E. Anagnostou-​Laoutides, and E. Stafford, eds. 2020. Herakles Inside and Outside the Church: From the First Apologists to the End of the Quattrocento. Metaforms 18. Leiden: Brill. Blanshard, A. 2005. Hercules: A Heroic Life. London: Granta. Blanshard, A., and E. Stafford eds. 2020. The Modern Hercules: Images of the Hero from the Nineteenth to the Early Twenty-​First Century. Metaforms 21. Leiden: Brill. Boardman, J. 1988–​1990. “Herakles.” In LIMC iv.1: 728–​838, v.1: 1–​92. Bonnet, C. 1988. Melqart: Cultes et myths de l’Héraclès tyrien et mediterranée. Leuven-​ Namur: Peeters. Bonnet, C., and C. Jourdain-​ Annequin, eds. 1992. Héracles: D’une rive à l’autre de la Méditerranée: Bilan et perspectives. Brussels and Rome: Institut historique belge de Rome. Bonnet, C., C. Jourdan-​Annequin, and V. Pirenne-​Delforge, eds. 1998. Le Bestiaire d’Héracles: IIIe rencontre Héracléenne. Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège. Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labours of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. New Rochelle, NY: A.D. Caratzas. Translation of Herakles: Die zwölf Taten des Helden in antiker Kunst und Literatur. 2nd ed. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1979. Cooper, J. S. 1978. The Return of Ninurta to Nippur. Analecta Orientalia 52. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum. Dalley, S., trans. 2000. Myths from Mesopotamia. Rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Friedländer, P. 1907. Herakles: Sagengeschichtliche Untersuchungen. Philologische Untersuchungen 19. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung. Furtwängler, A. 1886–​1890. “Herakles.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W. H. Roscher, Band 1.2, coll. 2135–​2252. Leipzig: Teubner. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gruppe, O. 1918. “Herakles.” In RE Suppl. iii: coll. 910–​1121. Hruška, N. 1975. Der Mythenadler Anzu in Literatur und Vorstellung. Budapest: Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem. 14 

Boardman (1988–​1990, v.1, 16).

Introduction  xxxi Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Jourdain-​Annequin, C., and C. Bonnet, eds. 1996. IIe Rencontre Héracléenne: Héraclès: Les femmes et le feminine. Brussels: Brepols. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Mainz, V., and E. Stafford, eds. 2020. The Exemplary Hercules from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment and Beyond. Metaforms 20. Leiden: Brill. Ogden, D. 2001. Greek and Roman Necromancy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ogden, D. 2013. Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Padilla, M. W. 1998. The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Pauly, A., G. Wissowa, et al., eds. 1894–​ 1980. Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler. Peter, R. 1890. “Hercules.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W. H. Roscher, Band 1.2: coll. 2253–​2298. Leipzig: Teubner. Rawlings, L., and H. Bowden, eds. 2005. Herakles and Hercules. London: Classical Press of Wales. Robert, C., 1921. Die griechische Heldensage ii. Berlin: Weidmann = L. Preller, C. Robert and O. Kern 1894–​1926. Griechische Mythologie. 4th ed. Berlin: Weidmann. ii.2. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Stafford, E. (forthcoming). Hercules Performed. Metaforms. Leiden: Brill. Talon, P. 2005. The Standard Babylonian Creation Myth: Enuma Eliš. Helsinki: Neo-​Assyrian Text Corpus Project. Vollkommer, R. 1988. Herakles in the Art of Classical Greece. Oxford: OUCA.

Part I


Chapter 1

B irth a nd Childho od Corinne Pache

Even among ancient Greek heroes, Heracles stands out as a superlative figure: the strongest, the one who suffered the most, and the most celebrated in both poetry and cult. Heracles is also unique in being the only hero whose connection to the gods begins before his birth and extends beyond his death.1 The births of the greatest heroes follow a typical pattern: a god impregnates a mortal woman (or a mortal impregnates a goddess) and a child of extraordinary ability is born: Heracles, Perseus, Theseus, Achilles are all conceived in this manner. But Heracles is conspicuous as the only hēmitheos (half-​god) who already shows his heroic potential as a baby and child. Tales about the conception, birth, and childhood of Heracles were already familiar to audiences of Homeric and Hesiodic poetry. Though Homeric epic does not tell the story of Heracles’ birth, every mention of the hero comes with a reminder of his status as a mortal child of Zeus. While most mentions of Heracles concern his adult exploits, the Homeric poems emphasize the family connection between Heracles and Zeus (and Hera). In both the Iliad and the Odyssey, Heracles is portrayed as the preeminent hero of the past, against whom the heroes of the Trojan War measure themselves. For example, when he journeys to Hades, Odysseus meets Alcmene, the wife of Amphitryon who gave birth to Heracles after intercourse with Zeus (Odyssey 11.266–​268, cf. Hesiod’s Theogony, 943–​ 944). We also hear of “the strong son of Amphitryon” who attacked Hera and Hades (Iliad 5.392–​396), and again, “the strong-​hearted son of Zeus, the mortal Heracles, guilty of monstrous deeds, who killed Iphitus when he was a guest in his house” 1  See Herodotus 2.42–​44 for Heracles being worshipped both as a hero and as a god at Thasos, and Pausanias 2.10.1 on the double cult of Heracles at Sicyon. For the many manifestations of Heracles, ancient and modern, see Galinsky (1972).

4   Corinne Pache (Odyssey 21.25–​27). The circumstances of Heracles’ attack against the gods remain obscure, but some ancient commentators interpreted Hera’s wound as being acquired for pushing baby Heracles away from her breast, an episode otherwise attested only in late sources, as we will see in what follows. The first reference is thus an act of violence against the gods while the other is a shocking transgression against the divinely sanctioned institution of hospitality. Both passages insist on the double paternity of Heracles and the paradox inherent in being a mortal son of Zeus. The Odyssey similarly contrasts Heracles’ divine origin with his own mortality. The poet here uses the adjective phaos to modify “Heracles” (21.26), a word that means “light” and is often used metaphorically in poetry to describe fleeting human life. But Heracles transcends the boundary between mortal and immortal: Odysseus meets him in the Underworld, where Heracles introduces himself as the “child of Kronian Zeus” (11.620), but the poet tells that the hero himself (autos, as opposed to his image, eidōlon, 11.602) lives on among the immortals. The Iliad also remembers him as “the strong son of Amphitryon” (5.392) and “the self-​same man” (ōutos anēr) who also happens to be “the son of aegis-​bearing Zeus” (5.396, cf. 14.324, “the strong-​hearted son,” kraterophrona . . . paida). The tale of deception behind Heracles’ twofold conception is told in some detail in the Hesiodic Shield of Heracles, an archaic poem composed in the style of Hesiod telling of the fight between Heracles and his nephew Iolaus against Cycnus, the son of Ares. The poem starts just before the conception of the hero, when Alcmene and her husband, Amphitryon, go into exile to Thebes after Amphitryon kills his father-​in-​ law, Electryon, in a conflict about oxen (Shield 11–​12). While the killing of her father does not seem to affect Alcmene’s feelings for her husband, he is not allowed (or willing) to sleep with his wife until he avenges the Taphians and Teleboans for killing her brothers, and so he leaves Alcmene alone in Thebes. Alcmene is extraordinary not only in her beauty and intelligence but also in honoring her husband “as no woman ever did before then” (Shield 10), qualities that implicitly explain both Zeus’ desire for her and the need to come up with a stratagem to seduce her away from her husband. While Alcmene waits in Thebes, Zeus “weaves a plan” (mētin huphaine, 28) to produce someone to protect both gods and mortals against destruction. Both Zeus’ plan for deception and his strong desire to produce a child are unusual. Typically, Zeus satisfies his carnal desires for mortal women in more direct ways, taking whatever shape is more conducive to success and without thought of the children that might be born of such unions. Here, the poet stresses Zeus’ desire to produce a child, the cleverness of his trick (dolos, 30), and his works of wonder (theskela erga, 34), a word that recalls (and foreshadows) the wondrous works of the hero as they are depicted on his baldric in the Odyssey (theskela erga, 11.610). All of the later sources emphasize the same themes of Zeus’ deception and desire for a child. Pindar’s Isthmian 7 offers a peculiar version in which Zeus comes to Alcmene “snowing with gold” (7.5), which recalls Zeus’ encounter with Danae rather than Alcmene (Pindar connects the two episodes explicitly in Nemean 10.11), although the

Birth and Childhood  5 image is perhaps not to be taken literally since the god is also “standing” in the doorway. And here too the emphasis is on the child rather than divine intercourse with a mortal: Zeus comes with gonai, either “with the seed” or “for the birth,” a strangely abstract way of describing sex with Alcmene. This formulation echoes Nemean 10, where Zeus, taking on Amphitryon’s appearance, brings the seed (sperma, 17). In that version, the emphasis is on the kinship created between Amphitryon and Zeus through the god’s seed. Later writers who retell the story of Heracles’ conception all return to the main themes we already saw in the Shield. Diodorus Siculus specifies that Zeus had sex with Alcmene through deception (di’ apatēs, 4.9.2) and that his desire to create a child (paidopoiias charin, 4.9.3) is the primary motivation for the seduction, which, unlike his unions with other mortal women, is not motivated simply by desire for love (ouk erotikēs epithumias, 4.9.3). Zeus chooses to disguise himself as Amphitryon because of his concern for legitimacy: he wants the child to be legitimate (nominon), but the legitimacy of Alcmene’s union with Zeus rests on the shaky foundation of deception (apatē, 4.9.3). What is described as a practical reason in the Shield here becomes a more narrowly legalistic motivation. Subsequent allusions to Heracles’ conception underscore the success of the deception perpetrated on Alcmene. The geographer Pausanias describes a version of the story he saw depicted on the chest of Cypselus that includes unique elements: a man, Zeus, holds a cup in his right hand, and a necklace in his left, and Alcmene takes hold of them (5.18.3). For Pausanias, the painting depicts Zeus “in the likeness of Amphitryon” before he had intercourse with Alcmene. The scholia to Odyssey 11.266 also mention the cup and describe it as a token used by Zeus in disguise who offers it as proof that he is Amphitryon returned victorious from the war against the Teleboans. A fragment of Pherecydes tells a different version of the story in which Zeus gives Alcmene the cup as a gift in exchange for union with her (fr. 27b Fowler). The scene on the chest of Cypselus and Pherecydes’ account perhaps point to an alternative version of the story in which Alcmene was bribed with a cup or a necklace into having sex with Zeus, though a cup as either a proof of identity or bribe seems odd. Except for Pausanias and Pherecydes, the dominant version of the myth always presents Alcmene as a faithful wife thoroughly deceived by the god’s disguise. Most versions also agree as to what happens next: later the same night or next day, Amphitryon returns, and he and Alcmene conceive Heracles’ mortal twin, Iphicles (Shield 44–​50). There are numerous variants on the event of Heracles’ birth, in all of which Hera, using deception, plays a leading role. Hera’s antagonism toward Heracles starts before the hero’s birth, and is explained in part by her anger at her husband infidelity. In the Iliad, Agamemnon tells the story of the birth (19.95–​125): when Alcmene is about to give birth, Hera deceives Zeus with a trick (dolophrosunēis apatēsen, 19.97, 19.112) and makes him swear that the next mortal baby in his lineage to be born on that day would “rule over all neighbors.” Hera then ensures the premature delivery of Eurystheus (a grandson of Perseus), while preventing the Eileithyiai from helping Alcmene to give

6   Corinne Pache birth to Heracles until later.2 Hera accomplishes her goal of engineering the ascendancy of Eurystheus, and Zeus is so enraged at his blunder that he banishes Ate, the goddess of ruin or confusion, from Olympus and the divine world and into the human realm (where Agamemnon invokes her as responsible for his own mistakes). Apatē (“deception”) is thus central both to the baby’s conception and delivery: Heracles is accordingly born subservient to Eurystheus, and the hero of force, conceived through deception, is also seemingly outdone through deception in the process of his birth. Ironically, Hera’s anger also becomes the indirect source of Heracles’ glory (kleos). His subservient status to Eurystheus, combined with each challenge that the goddess sets for him, eventually contributes to his renown and the poetic etymology of his name as “the glory of Hera,” as found in Pindar (fr. 291 SM). Diodorus Siculus (4.10.1) tells that the baby’s original name was Alcides or Alcaeus, “strong one” or “defender,” until he was renamed after his Labors, or after killing the serpents in his childhood.3 Heracles’ ambivalent relationship with Hera is also stressed in the story of the goddess’ nursing of the baby hero, which—​with the possible exception of Iliad 5 discussed earlier—​is found only in later sources. In one version, the god Hermes puts the baby to Hera’s breast while she is asleep (ps.-​Eratosthenes Catasterisms 44). Diodorus records a different story in which Athena and Hera find Heracles after he has been exposed by his mother, who is terrified of Hera’s jealousy; Athena, who remains Heracles’ helper throughout his life (cf. Chapter 28), asks Hera to give her breast to this beautiful and strong baby, but Heracles sucks at the goddess’ breast with such enthusiasm that she recoils in pain. Whether she nurses the infant willingly or unawares, in both versions of the story Hera pushes the sucking infant away, either when she wakes up or when she feels pain, spilling the drops of milk that form the Milky Way (ps.-​ Eratosthenes Catasterisms 44, Diodorus Siculus 4.9.6). For these later authors, the story also explains Heracles’ divine status—​Hera’s milk makes him immortal—​and is yet another reason for the goddess’ resentment of the hero. Yet the immediate consequence of Hera’s rejection of baby Heracles is to consign him to living a mortal life (Murnaghan 1992, 246–​247). Among Greek heroes, Heracles alone engages in heroic deeds as an infant. In contrast, the great heroes Achilles and Perseus are remembered as vulnerable and thoroughly human babies, who need protection and nurture from adults. Phoenix, for example, remembers Achilles as a needy baby spitting back wine on his lap (Iliad 9.490–​491), while Danae has to protect baby Perseus against his violent grandfather. In Simonides fr. 543 Danae sings lullabies to Perseus to calm him down as they

2  In Ovid’s Metamorphoses (9.280–​323) Alcmene tells the story of how her maid, Galanthis, tricks the goddess of childbirth, Lucina, into thinking that Alcmene already gave birth (after seven days of labor) so that she relaxes her watch and Alcmene can finally give birth to Hercules. 3  West (1997, 471) revives the theory that the first part of Heracles’ name is connected to “hero” (hērōs) as well as to Hera, both of which could go back to Indo-​European root *yēr-​“year.” See also Burkert (1985, 210 and note 21).

Birth and Childhood  7 navigate the sea floating in a chest. Perseus’ endangerment and his survival can be seen as a kind of heroic trial, but the baby exhibits no sign of being exceptional.4 The very existence of Heracles’ childhood deeds stands out as exceptional among heroes who typically have unremarkable childhoods. Heracles’ outstanding strength is a given from his birth, and his first exploit takes place in the cradle, when he dispatches the monstrous serpents sent by Hera to kill him and his twin brother, Iphicles. Our earliest source, Pindar’s Nemean 1, presents the story as already an old one (archaion . . . logon, 34; cf. Paean 20), and it is also a popular motif on Attic red-​figure vases from the early fifth century BC.5 The infant is born ready for the challenge: as the serpents slither in, he lifts his head up, and experiences his first battle (machē, 43). Heracles strangles the snakes, holding one in each hand by its throat, to the utter terror of the women attending Alcmene. The word for battle, machē, strikingly evokes combat in war, an outsize trial for a newborn baby, for whom lifting his head would already be an exploit. The stories about Heracles’ childhood have thus more in common with the stories of divine infants, like Hermes’ theft of Apollo’s cows (Homeric Hymn to Hermes), or baby Dionysus’ escape from Lycurgus (Iliad 6.132–​137). The hēmitheoi (“half gods”) who are born of unions between mortal and immortal parents are often deeply ambivalent figures: they can harm their community and family as much as they can help them, something that is already implicit in the stories about Heracles’ childhood. In Nemean 1 an extended description of the different reactions of the women and the men in Amphitryon’s house follows the killing of the snakes: the women already present in the room are struck by “unbearable fear” (aplaton deos, 48) while the men run to the scene with their weapons as if themselves going into battle. Amphitryon is particularly anxious, and when he takes in the scene, he stands there struck with wonder, experiencing mixed emotions of grief and delight (55–​56). Amphitryon is surprised as he expected to see his child a victim, but his joy at finding Heracles alive and victorious over the wild beasts sent to kill him is mixed with sadness when he sees the “unusual spirit and power” of his son (eknomion lēma te kai dunamin, 56–​58). The women’s terror and Amphitryon’s mixed joy and grief show their ambivalence about Heracles’ extraordinary physical power. Their complicated reaction reminds us that the same attribute that will allow the hero to defeat monsters and adversaries will also cause him to wreak havoc on his own family and destroy his wife and children. While Pindar does not mention this particular episode in Teiresias’ prophecy of Heracles’ future deeds included in Nemean 1, the women’s and Amphitryon’s fear and sadness points to the unavoidable danger a forceful being like Heracles brings into the home. Baby Heracles saves himself and his brother by bringing the violence of war into the nursery. 4  Rosenmeyer argues that the chest episode is a “first trial, as his rites of manhood are compressed into the ritual of birth and exposure” (1991, 19). 5  See Woodford (1988, 830–​832) and Trendall (1981, 554–​556). Vases show the scene with both infants, Alcmene and Amphitryon, and Athena.

8   Corinne Pache Other versions of the story of Heracles and the snakes sometimes differ in their details but mostly stress the same elements as Pindar’s Nemean 1.6 While the story is told as a digression in Pindar, Theocritus devotes his entire Idyll 24, or Heracliscus, to the hero’s childhood and education. The story is told in a highly allusive manner, clearly inspired by Pindar’s Nemean 1 and Paean 20 among its (many) models. The poem starts with Alcmene singing a lullaby that is reminiscent of Danae’s lullaby to Perseus discussed earlier. Alcmene’s song is permeated with anxiety about death. She specifically asks the babies to sleep “the kind of sleep from which one wakes up” (egersimon hupnon, 7), and her lullaby functions as an apotropaic charm.7 Alcmene puts the twins to sleep on a bronze shield Amphitryon has stripped from an enemy. The shield makes for an incongruously martial bed and reminds the reader that Amphitryon was away at war when Heracles was conceived.8 In another variant on the tradition, Theocritus’ description of the snakes sent by Hera is detailed and terrifying: the serpents are monstrous, twisting and coiling into the nursery with their “bloodsucking bellies” and fiery eyes, and spitting poison (11–​ 20). Theocritus sets the stage with the snakes wrapping their coils around the children, and then suddenly cuts to Alcmene and Amphitryon’s reaction when they hear their babies’ screams. Alcmene is scared by her children’s cry but the next twenty lines or so focus on the practical details involved in Alcmene and Amphitryon’s getting up, getting dressed, and organizing the slaves. By the time his parents enter the nursery, Heracles has already strangled the snakes, holding one in each hand and jumping for joy at his own accomplishment. Instead of the fear and disquiet experienced by the parents in Pindar, Theocritus gives us a calm Alcmene who comforts Iphicles, while Amphitryon thinks only of his bed and going back to sleep (60–​63). The next day, Teiresias reassures Alcmene about Heracles’ deeds and recommends a magical ritual to burn the snakes’ bodies before throwing the ashes into a river. Theocritus devotes the end of his poem to Heracles’ education, to which I return later. In Theocritus’ version of the story, the world is clearly divided between good and evil: malevolent snakes vs. noble Heracles. There is no foreboding about the possible negative consequences of Heracles’ strength, only praise.

6  Authors especially disagree on Heracles’ age: the baby is newly born in Pindar Nemean 1.35–​72; unweaned in Euripides Heracles 1266–​1268; ten months old in Theocritus 24; and eight months according to Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.62. Other authors, e.g., Diodorus Siculus 4.10.1, fail to mention a specific age. In Pherecydes fr. 69 Fowler, Amphitryon sends the serpents in to differentiate between his mortal son and Zeus’. For artists’ increased interest in depicting childhood in the Hellenistic period, see Radke (2007). 7  On Alcmene’s lullaby as a reworking of Danae’s lullaby to Perseus, see Hunter (1996, 11–​13, 26–​27). For more on lullabies in ancient myth, see Pache (2004, 107–​111). 8  The shield also connects baby Heracles with the story that Ptolemy Soter was exposed by his father on a bronze shield (Aelian fr. 285 Domingo-​Forasté). And the allusion to Perseus connects Heracles to his great-​grandfather, emphasizing the kind of dynastic continuity so central to Ptolemaic ideology (Hunter 1996, 27).

Birth and Childhood  9 Roman sources similarly emphasize the episode of the snakes as happy proof of Hercules’ divine lineage, extraordinary strength, and future greatness. Plautus’ Amphitruo gives a comic version of the story as recounted by Bromia, a slave (1102–​ 1209). Bromia’s whirlwind speech brings Amphitryon up to date on what happened during his absence: his wife just gave birth, alone and without pain, to two babies, one of whom is so strong that Bromia has trouble swaddling him. Bromia goes on to tell how after the newborns are put in their crib, two huge (maximi, 1109) snakes come down through the skylight, a rather spectacular new detail, and quickly approach the crib. Bromia, terrified, tries to drag the crib away, but the serpents pursue her until baby Hercules notices them, jumps out of the cradle, and makes an attack on them, strangling one serpent in each hand. Bromia then recounts how she heard the divine voice of Jupiter explaining that the child who killed the snakes is his, while the other is Amphitryon’s. Amphitryon, glad to be connected in this way with Jupiter, asks to see Teiresias, but—​and this is the last speech in the play—​Jupiter himself appears to confirm his paternity, foretell of Heracles’ glory, and reassure Amphitryon about Alcmene’s loyalty. Plautus’ version is unique in its details, and in being told from the slave’s perspective. Other Roman sources conventionally celebrate the snake attack as the first of Hercules’ many Labors (e.g., Vergil Aeneid 8.287–​289, Martial 14.177, Hyginus Fabulae 30). The story was also popular as a subject on painting: Pliny refers to a Greek painting of Alcmene by Zeuxis (late fourth-century BC) which may have inspired Roman wall paintings at Pompeii and Herculaneum depicting the snake episode (Natural History 35.61).9 In all the different versions, we find a few invariable details: twin babies against twin serpents, and parents whose reactions go from terror to anxiety to joy. Alcmene and Amphitryon’s fear can of course be understood as a perfectly natural response to seeing their child attacked by snakes, a kind of danger that an infant should not survive. There is some overlap between the story of baby Heracles and another child hero who is attacked and killed by a snake, Opheltes at Nemea. In both myths, a baby is left alone and vulnerable: Heracles in the crib, Opheltes on the ground while his nurse goes to fetch water. There are also important differences between the stories: whereas a goddess instigates the snake attack against Heracles, Opheltes’ nurse puts him in danger by leaving him alone in the wilderness. But, in both cases, the snakes represent a kind of danger that children cannot escape. Opheltes is killed and renamed Archemorus, “the beginning of doom,” a new name that also signals his transformation into a cult hero at Nemea. The connection between the two stories and their protagonist babies is reinforced through the Nemean Games, which have twin foundation myths, one in which they are first established in honor of Opheltes/​Archemorus, and another one involving Heracles’ victory over the local lion.10



Trendall (1981, 555–​556). For more on Opheltes/​Archemorus and the Nemean Games, see Pache (2004, 95–​99).

10   Corinne Pache As we have seen previously, Heracles is atypical as a hero insofar as he accomplishes his first deed while still an infant, and he is also remarkable in being depicted as a student who brings violence into the classroom. Heracles, like other heroes, is taught by a series of expert teachers in the arts of war (chariot driving, archery, weaponry) as well as music. These elements, along with his education by the centaur Cheiron, are generic and often included in other heroes’ childhoods. The tradition that Heracles was educated by the centaur Cheiron is attested on one black-​figure vase from Vulci from around 500 BC on which Hermes carries a young Heracles to the centaur (names are inscribed next to the figures).11 Scenes of Cheiron and young Achilles were popular on vases at the beginning of the fifth century BC, so the Vulci amphora is probably connected to that tradition even though it depicts Hermes in motion, as if running away from someone, while the vases depicting Achilles tend to depict static scenes of Cheiron’s welcoming of the child. Youths go to Cheiron as a kind of finishing school for heroes, where they learn the arts of hunting, medicine, and music, as well as morals. The centaur is always depicted out of doors and symbolizes a traditional view of education before the advent of formal school education held indoors inside a schoolroom. While the evidence for Heracles as a student of Cheiron is scarce, it aligns him with other heroes—​whether of divine or mortal descent—​such as Achilles and Jason. The other story about the education of Heracles concerns the teacher Linus’ attempt to teach the hero. Here too the literary sources are sparse and late. According to Diodorus Siculus, Heracles was a student of Linus, a much-​admired teacher of poetry and singing who also taught Thamyras and Orpheus along with Heracles (who stands out in this list as the only non-​poet!). But the hero, because of his slow intellect, struggles with his lessons, and after being punished by Linus for his mental sluggishness, he goes into a rage and kills his teacher by striking him with his lyre (3.67.2).12 Theocritus’ Idyll 24, our only other literary source for Heracles’ education, glosses over this disturbing episode and depicts instead Alcmene’s careful planning of Heracles’ education with a series of teachers: Linus teaches Heracles letters, Eurytus archery, Eumolpus the phorminx (another stringed instrument), Harpalycus wrestling and boxing, Amphitryon the art of driving chariot horses in races, and Castor how to fight with a sword and lead men (105–​133). This—​expurgated?—​version, like the rest of the Idyll 24, presents Heracles as an unproblematic hero who is a good role model for the Ptolemaic kings of Theocritus’ era. But the popularity of Heracles’ attack on Linus on


Attic black-​figure neck amphora in Munich, Antikensammlungen 1615A. The only literary sources mentioning Cheiron as a teacher to Heracles are the scholia to Theocritus 13.7–​9 and a brief allusion in Plutarch, On the “E” at Delphi 387d. 12  See also Pausanias 9.29.9, who includes the detail that Heracles was still a child when he killed Linus. Achaeus’ satyr play Linus perhaps also told the story (fr. 20.26 TrGF).

Birth and Childhood  11 vases from the first half of the fifth century BC attests that the more violent version of the story was already traditional by then. Unlike the ambivalence of Heracles’ killing of the snakes, the attack on Linus is invariably depicted as brutal and horrifying. One vase shows the prelude to the attack: on one side Linus and Iphicles sit practicing the lyre; on the other, young Heracles and a slave holding a lyre approach.13 Other vases show what happens next, after Heracles turns against his teacher: the hero hurls a stool (rather than the lyre of Diodorus) at his teacher, who is either sitting on a chair or fallen to the ground, defenseless or holding a lyre as a useless defense against Heracles’ brutality. The adolescent hero attacks an adult male, but Linus is not a warrior and his musical and intellectual talents provide no defense against brute force. Some vases show other students running away in terror;14 others zoom in on Heracles and Linus alone. A cup in Paris’ Cabinet des Médailles has a bearded Linus sitting on an altar-​like stool, with an adolescent-​looking Heracles immobilizing him with his knee and hand, and the altar element emphasizing the transgressive nature of the killing. The scene is reminiscent of vases showing other brutal killings: the Maenads killing Orpheus or Orestes killing Aegisthus.15 Both the snake-​attack and the killing of Linus show Heracles’ potential for bringing violence into the realms where it is least expected. But whereas Heracles’ dispatching the snakes saves both the hero’s and his brother’s life, the killing of Linus has no redeeming features. Heracles’ anger brings violence to a place that should be safe for children (and teachers). Heracles’ attack on Linus also foreshadows his attack on his own children, one of whom he kills at the foot of an altar (Euripides Heracles 969–​974).16 The birth and childhood of Heracles occupy a unique place in Greek myth. The hero whom Zeus conceives specifically as a protector and savior for gods and men is also the most uncivilized of beings. His outsize strength, which allows him to face wild animals and other threats, is also, coupled with his lack of self-​control, what makes him dangerous to mankind. The hero of civilization is paradoxically unable to learn the civilizing arts of writing and music. Young Heracles brings war into the nursery and bloodshed into the classroom. This trend continues in adulthood with Heracles as a host who kills his guests, and a husband and father who kills his wife and children. Already as a child, Heracles is the hero who “contains his own antithesis” (Burkert 1985, 210); the greatest of the Greek heroes—​the only one who transcends his half-​ mortal status to become a god—​is also the most savage and threatening to human institutions.


LIMC Herakles 1666.

14 E.g., LIMC Herakles 1671.

15 Boardman et al. (1988, 833). 16 

On Heracles’ attack on his wife and children, see Pache (2004, 49–​65) and Chapter 2.

12   Corinne Pache

Abbreviations LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. TrGF Snell et al. 1971–​2004.

References Boardman, J., O. Palagia, and S. Woodford. 1988. “iii.b Herakles Brought to Cheiron. iii.c Herakles at School: Linos. iii.d Herakles with Wives and Children.” LIMC iv.1: 832–​838. Burkert, W. 1985. Greek Religion. Translated by J. Raffan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Fowler, R. L. 2000–​2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galinsky, C. 1972. The Herakles Theme: The Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield. Hunter, R. 1996. Theocritus and the Archaeology of Greek Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Murnaghan, S. 1992. “Maternity and Mortality in Homeric Poetry.” Classical Antiquity 11: 242–​264. Pache, C. 2004. Baby and Child Heroes in Ancient Greece. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Radke, G. 2007. Die Kindheit des Mythos: Die Erfindung der Literaturgeschichte in der Antike. Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck. Rosenmeyer, P. 1991. “Simonides’ Danae Fragment Reconsidered.” Arethusa 24: 5–​29. Snell, B., R. Kannicht, and S. Radt, eds. 1971–​2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. 5 vols. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Trendall, A. D. 1981. “Alkmene.” LIMC i.1: 552–​556. Zurich: Artemis Verlag. West, M. L. 1997. The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Woodford, S. 1988. “iii.a Herakles and the Snakes.” LIMC iv.1: 827–​832.

Chapter 2

Th e Ma dne s s an d th e L a b ors Katherine Lu Hsu

Amid the many tales of Heracles’ impressive conquests and glorious victories is a startling episode of madness and violence. While at home in Thebes, Heracles is overcome by a fit of temporary insanity; he murders his children and, in some versions, his wife Megara. For a hero best known as a strong man and protector of others, the madness and murder of his own family constitute the nadir of his life. They also form, in many ways, the pivotal episode of his career: following this nearly unspeakable act, Heracles must do penance in the form of enslavement to Eurystheus and the acceptance of the Labors, a series of acts that also cements his reputation, elevates him above other heroes, and justifies his apotheosis. The treatment of the madness episode thus gives shape and significance to the Labors. And in the relationship between the two are embedded ideas about heroism, the relationship between mortals and the gods, the nature of the human mind, and the dictates of fate. References to the death of Heracles’ children at his hands are scattered throughout his mythological tradition. They span a wide geographic and temporal range, though most of these accounts are unfortunately fragmentary. The appearance of the event in archaic poetry attests to its early circulation: it is reported that Stesichorus (fr. 287 Finglass) and Panyassis (fr. 1 PEG) depicted the deaths of the children in their poetry; in the Cypria, Nestor apparently recounted “the madness of Heracles” to Menelaus in a digression (Argumentum 27–​29, p. 40 PEG). A scholiast (BD) on Pindar’s Isthmians (4.104g) reviews the varying details from different sources, first citing several mythographers who attribute the children’s death to enemies other than Heracles. The scholiast then compares these accounts with those of Pherecydes, the fifth-​century Athenian mythographer, who reports that Heracles killed his five sons by throwing

14   Katherine Lu Hsu them into the fire (EGM fr. 14); Herodorus, who writes that Heracles went mad twice (EGM fr. 32); and Menecrates, who explains that the eight sons of Heracles were called the Alcaids, since Heracles was not yet named thus (EGM fr. 5A).1 Pindar’s poem itself offers a version that avoids Heracles’ violence altogether, describing Heracles’ eight sons as “bronze-​armed,” suggesting they died as adult warriors (Isthmians 4.104). In Thebes, this local myth was still connected with and represented by physical remains into the second century AD. According to Pausanias’ Description of Greece, a tomb purportedly of the children of Heracles and Megara could be observed; Theban legend also included the fact that “Heracles was about to kill even Amphitryon in his madness, but sleep overtook him when he was struck by a rock; they say that Athena threw at him this stone, which they call the ‘chastiser’ ” (9.11.2). This version seems to be inspired by Euripides’ Heracles, in which Athena stops Heracles’ madness as he attacks his father by knocking him unconscious with a rock. In the midst of many tributes to Heracles in Thebes, the physical remains of his madness—​the tomb and the stone—​remind their viewers not only of the kin who were his victims, but also of the unstable nature of his violence as a whole: without the intervention of Athena, his unbounded violence could have extended even further. Heracles’ madness does not appear to have been a popular subject for visual media, in striking contrast with the proliferation of his exploits on, e.g., archaic and classical Attic vases, in sculpture, and on Hellenistic coins. One prominent exception is the depiction of Heracles throwing a child onto a bonfire of furniture on a fourth-​century Paestan calyx-​crater (LIMC Herakles 1684; Madrid, Museo Arqueológico Nacional 11094). Painted by Asteas, the image also includes Megara looking on in distress from the doorway, while Mania, Iolaos, and Alcmene watch from a loggia above.2 Such a heinous crime seems to require an equally consequential reckoning. The “standard” view that emerges from antiquity posits that Heracles undertakes the famous Labors as a response to his killing of his family. The fullest explanation of the causal connection between the madness and the Labors comes to us through Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca: After the battle against the Minyans, it happened that Heracles was driven mad on account of the jealousy of Hera, and he threw his children, whom he had fathered with Megara, into a fire, and two of the sons of Iphicles. After condemning himself to exile, he was purified by Thespius, and came to Delphi to inquire of the god where he should live. The Pythia then first addressed him as Heracles; previously, he was called Alcides. She told him to dwell in Tiryns, serving Eurystheus for twelve years, and to accomplish the ten Labors imposed upon him, and thus, she said, when the Labors were completed, he would become immortal. (2.4.12)3


For all these references, see Pherecydes fr. 14 EGM. On the vase’s possible connections with tragic performance, see Taplin (2007, 143–​145). 3  All translations are the author’s own. 2 

The Madness and the Labors  15 Within this compressed account are a number of narrative dynamics worth unpacking in detail here. In the Bibliotheca, Heracles’ madness is placed in relation to his defeat of the Minyans of Orchomenos, one of the victories of his youth. This conflict establishes not only Heracles’ martial prowess but also his potential for savagery. Erginus, the king of the Minyans, had been extracting a yearly tribute from the Thebans; when Heracles encountered his heralds on their way to Thebes, he mutilated them, cutting off their ears, noses, and hands, hanging them down from their necks, and sending them back in this state to Erginus (2.4.11). Erginus marched against Thebes, but Heracles killed him and thereby freed the city from the Minyans’ domination. As a reward for the victory, Heracles won as his wife the Theban king’s daughter, Megara, with whom he fathered three sons. Heracles’ triumph establishes him as a defender of his people and a punisher of those who would threaten his home. But his brutal attack on the heralds suggests that, even under justifiable circumstances, his violence can become excessive and outrageous. Heracles’ madness is attributed to the jealousy of Hera, whose resentment toward Zeus’ bastards was well known. Although he suffers from her persecution, her jealousy nevertheless serves to confirm Zeus’ paternity and affirm his semidivine status. In his madness, Heracles kills not only his own children but also two of Iphicles’, by throwing them into a fire. In this version, Megara escapes unscathed (and is later abandoned by Heracles after he completes the Labors, 2.6.1). The act of killing his family leads to judgment and punishment. Heracles’ immediate response is to leave Thebes permanently for a life of exile, depriving him of both his family and his city. He travels first to Thespiae, where he is purified from the pollution of killing by Thespius, a guest-​friend who had asked Heracles to kill the lion of Cithaeron and had hosted him during the hunt (2.4.10). His visit to the Pythia provides guidance on how to reconstruct a new life. The Pythia’s first act is to rename him Heracles; he had formerly been called Alcidas after Amphitryon’s father Alcaeus. The new name implies a fresh start in life after the madness and murders, which thus serve as a turning point in his life.4 But “Heracles” means “the glory of Hera,” an appellation that defines him by his defeat at the hands of his enemy Hera. In some important way, it is the madness and subsequent killing of his family that make him Heracles. Furthermore, the Pythia identifies not only a new city for Heracles to live in (Tiryns, a city in the Argolid), but also a further penance: he is to be enslaved to Eurystheus for twelve years, a period in which he loses his freedom and self-​determination. Eurystheus imposes ten Labors on Heracles, life-​threatening tasks that require tremendous courage and superlative skills in combat. These are a source of great suffering for Heracles, demanding almost superhuman endurance from him. His toiling is the punishment necessary to compensate for his actions. But in the course of killing the Nemean lion, Lernaean Hydra, or Erymanthian boar, he also protects local human


Fowler (2002–​2013, ii.270).

16   Katherine Lu Hsu communities, liberates them from fear, and establishes order over disorder. Triumphs like these make him worthy of celebration and imitation. Moreover, his final Labors—​ capturing the cattle of Geryon, the apples of the Hesperides, and Cerberus from the underworld—​carry him far outside the range of mortal heroes. His return to Tiryns from beyond the boundaries of the human world lays the foundation for another outcome predicted by the Pythia: that Heracles becomes a god. Apotheosis is an unusual reward for a hero, who would typically be expected to receive cult worship, not divine worship, at death. The Labors thus seem to serve two rather different purposes—​they allow him both to atone for the crime of killing his family and to establish the grounds for his deification. The tension between these two ends are embedded here in Apollodorus’ account, demonstrating the complexity of the connection between the madness and the Labors. On the one hand, the madness and killing of his children define him as Heracles, and require that he serve an inferior king and undergo terrible trials. Through humiliation and suffering Heracles atones for his terrible, if unwitting, crime. On the other hand, his trials enable a series of glorious victories that justify his apotheosis, regardless of the dreadful reason for their imposition. The toil and rewards of the Labors thus serve as the mechanism that transforms his catastrophe into a glorious afterlife. The tradition that the Labors were imposed in recompense for Heracles’ madness and killing of his family was well known in antiquity, but it was not the only framework for understanding the significance of the Labors. In fact, the earliest literary evidence for Heracles’ Labors—​in a speech by Agamemnon in Homer’s Iliad—​makes no connection with the episode of kin-​killing at all. Agamemnon points to the burden of the Labors as a well-​known example of the power of Atē (Ruin).5 The Greek leader blames Atē for stirring up the quarrel with Achilles, comparing his own grief upon watching Hector slaughter the Greeks to Zeus anger upon seeing Heracles subjected to a lesser man (19.91–​136). In Agamemnon’s account, Heracles’ subservience to Eurystheus and the obligation of the Labors are set in motion even before he is born: Indeed at one time she [Atē] even fooled Zeus, who they say is the best of humans and gods. But clever Hera, although she is a woman, deceived even him on the day when Alcmene was about to give birth to mighty Heracles in well-​crowned Thebes. Indeed, he prayed and announced to all the gods, “Hear me, all you gods and goddesses, so I may speak as the inner heart urges me: today Eileithyia of birth pains will bring to the light a man who will rule over all his neighbors, one of the race of men who are from my blood.” Queen Hera, full of tricks, addressed him: “You will prove a liar, nor will you fulfill your promise. Come on now, O Olympian one, swear to me a mighty oath, that he who on this day falls between the feet of a woman will rule over all his neighbors, one from the race of men who are from your blood.”

5 On Atē in Homer, see Said (2013).

The Madness and the Labors  17 Zeus is easily deceived into swearing the oath, and devious Hera hastens the birth of Eurystheus while delaying Heracles’ birth, ensuring that Eurystheus will rule over Heracles. When Zeus finds out, he ejects Atē from Olympus, but his grief is not assuaged, his rage continuing whenever “he saw his dear son bearing shameful toil under the contests of Eurystheus” (19.132–​133). The Labors are thus part of Heracles’ fate, something he neither chooses nor can avoid, and no act of his own will lead to their imposition. In this earliest evidence, Heracles’ madness is absent. The Labors instead are put to use for other purposes, illustrating the enmity between Zeus and Hera on account of Zeus’ bastards; the folly of even the king of the gods and the powerful figures that rule the Olympians; the ineluctable injustice of fate, with the superior man serving the inferior; and the amorality of the world. This presentation of the Labors thus diminishes the Labors’ role in benefiting humankind, conferring glory on Heracles, and justifying his apotheosis. The Bibliotheca and the Iliad’s Agamemnon present contrasting frameworks for the Labors, that they were ordered as penance for the killing of his family or that they were fated to Heracles and unrelated to the madness. Diodorus Siculus’ account in The Library of History attempts to bring these two variants together. In this presentation from the first century BC, Heracles initially avoids the Labors, which are ordered by Zeus and commanded by the Delphic oracle. While in a state of distress over his fate, Heracles is rendered vulnerable, falling victim to the madness Hera sends and shooting his own children: When Heracles disregarded [Eurystheus], Zeus sent him away and commanded him to serve Eurystheus. But Heracles traveled to Delphi, and when he asked the god about these affairs, he received the prophecy that the gods had decreed that he complete twelve labors under Eurystheus’ command, and then when completed, he would obtain immortality. Under these circumstances, Heracles fell into an unusual despondency: for he did not judge being enslaved to an inferior man worthy of his individual excellence, but to disobey his father Zeus appeared both useless and impossible. After he fell into complete helplessness, Hera sent madness (lutta) upon him, and, troubled in his soul, he fell into madness (mania). As his suffering grew, he lost his mind and attempted to kill Iolaus, but Iolaus escaped; coming upon his children from Megara nearby, he shot them with his arrows as though enemies of his. When he was finally released from the madness (mania) and he recognized his own error, he was grieved by the magnitude of his disaster. While all grieved together and sympathized with him, he stayed for a long time within the home, avoiding gatherings or meetings of people. At last, however, the passing of time softened his suffering, and deciding to submit himself to the dangers, he presented himself to Eurystheus. (4.10.7–​4.11.2)

In this narrative, Heracles’ madness seems almost incidental in comparison to the central issue, Heracles’ avoidance and then acceptance of the Labors. He resists Zeus’ initial commands to serve Eurystheus, preferring instead to seek out the Delphic oracle, which only confirms Zeus’ order and elaborates that servitude will entail the completion of twelve Labors. The oracle also foretells his future apotheosis on

18   Katherine Lu Hsu the condition of completing the Labors. The reward of life on Olympus makes little impact, however: Heracles instead reacts with dismay at the thought of becoming subordinate to an inferior man. His inability to resist his father’s orders sends him into a troubled psychological state, giving Hera the opportunity to drive him mad and turn him against his own family. His mistake is not that he took up weapons in the first place, but that he mistook his own family as “enemies” (polemioi). But Heracles does not immediately undertake the Labors as a form of penance for the deaths of his children; he withdraws into social exclusion until his grief subsides, at which point he goes to Eurystheus and accepts the Labors. The madness and murders are thus not abstracted from the Labors: it was his anguish over them that exposed him to Hera’s attack. Nevertheless, the madness episode could be viewed as essentially unnecessary. If Heracles had obeyed Zeus and the oracle more promptly, perhaps he could have avoided the madness and killing of his children entirely. The sources reviewed thus far treat the episode of Heracles’ madness only briefly. The most extensive and direct depiction of these events comes down to us through the genre of tragedy. Perhaps this is no surprise: episodes of madness are a frequent theme in the tragedies that survive—​for example, Orestes’ visions of the Erinyes, Ajax’s deluded attack on the cattle, or Io’s frenzy.6 One reason for this, as Glenn Most argues, is that the visual and cognitive nature of tragic performance makes it conducive to the representation of delusion or hallucination.7 Conversely, a large proportion of Heracles’ exploits prove unsuitable for tragedy, which tends to avoid pitched battle and bloody duels on stage.8 This confluence of genre and mythological material makes Heracles’ madness and the murder of his family a natural choice as the subject for Euripides’ Heracles. The play is innovative in its arrangement of the madness in relation to the Labors: the madness and subsequent family-​killing fall after the completion of Heracles’ Labors. The reversal of the traditional order of events reshapes the significance of the Labors and the meaning of his madness, as will be explored further in what follows. Seneca adopts this basic plot in the Hercules Furens, but presents a hero and madness that are entirely his own. My discussion of these plays focuses on the presentation of Heracles’ madness and how it shapes the treatment of the Labors as well.9 Euripides’ Heracles opens with a rescue plot, seemingly invented for this play, that allows a debate about the contested value of the Labors to come to light. The family of Heracles is being threatened by the tyrant Lycus, an upstart who has come to power in Thebes while Heracles is absent on his final Labor, the retrieval of Cerberus from the underworld. As revealed in Amphitryon’s prologue, the Labors are of conflicting value 6 

The bibliography on madness in tragedy is vast. See, e.g., Padel (1995) and Said (2013). Most (2013). 8  See further Galinsky (1972, 40–​80) and Silk (1985). 9  On Heracles’ ambivalence in both tragedies, see Papadopoulou (2004). 7 

The Madness and the Labors  19 for the family: the peril that endangers them only arises due to Heracles’ long journeys away from home, but he undertook the Labors in order to benefit them. Amphitryon attributes the Labors not only to the traditional explanations of Hera’s hostility and necessity, but also to Heracles’ benevolence. He claims that Heracles voluntarily accepts the tasks from the Argive king Eurystheus in order to end Amphitryon’s exile from Argos, allowing Heracles’ family to return to their paternal homeland and “lightening the misfortunes” of his father (17–​18). The voluntary nature of the Labors endows Heracles with a greater sense of individual free will. The importance of the Labors to the surrounding community is also subject to scrutiny. Amphitryon describes the Labors as an effort “to clear the earth of wild beasts” (20), that is, the work of a culture hero whose civilizing efforts benefit humankind. But Lycus brashly insults the Labors, diminishing Heracles’ accomplishments. He reduces the Lernean Hydra to a mere “marsh snake” and asserts that Heracles caught the Nemean lion in a net, not with his bare hands (151–​154). Even as Amphitryon and the Chorus extol the Labors, the hero’s failure to protect his family against the tyrant reinforces his inadequacy. Heracles’ successful return from the underworld, just when the fortunes of his family look most bleak, seems to put the matter to rest. When he learns of Lycus’ threats, Heracles first draws a sharp contrast between the Labors and his family obligations, but then associates the defense of his family with the Labors. He scoffs at the importance of his earlier toils, saying in reference to the protection of his family, “Farewell, my Labors! In vain I accomplished them rather than these tasks here” (574–​576). He calls his Labors ponoi, but then later describes the protection of his family using an etymologically related verb: “what noble thing will we call it to come into battle with the Hydra or lion by the orders of Eurystheus, if I do not labor (ek-​poneō) to avert death from my children?” (τί φήσομεν καλὸν ὕδρᾳ μὲν ἐλθεῖν ἐς μάχην λέοντί τε—​ Εὐρυσθέως πομπαῖσι, τῶν δ᾿ ἐμῶν τέκνων οὐκ ἐκπονήσω θάνατον; 578–​581) The play carefully establishes Heracles’ defense of his family and defeat of Lycus as just.10 The scenes of Heracles’ return create a warm family dynamic, heightening the impending violation of that relationship. In contrast with the Heracles of Sophocles’ Trachiniae, this Heracles is characterized by tender interactions with his children, respect for Amphitryon, and acknowledgment of his wife’s distress. He prizes his children above all, characterizing this as a common human trait, “man’s affairs are all alike: both the rich and the poor love their children” (633–​635). Such paternal kindness and familial commitment clear him of any hint of wrongdoing or hidden hostility toward them. And when he ambushes and kills Lycus, his use of violence is strenuously justified by Lycus’ earlier villainy and obvious cowardice. In removing the tyrant and defending his loved ones from death, Heracles assimilates these deeds to his 10  My view runs counter to that of Wilamowitz, who in an early and influential study argued that Heracles suffers an attack of megalomania in his madness, the seeds of which can be understood from these early scenes (1895, 127–​128).

20   Katherine Lu Hsu earlier Labors, which are characterized by his largess to innocents and commitment to order. At this moment of heroic success, a surprising double epiphany occurs: Lyssa, the Greek personification of madness, and Iris arrive on Hera’s orders to inflict madness on Heracles and cause him to kill his family. But although Iris orders Lyssa to drive Heracles mad, Lyssa initially resists. She argues that he is not a proper object of her madness because of his record of benefactions: he is famous among mortals and gods (849–​850); for humankind he has “tamed the uncrossable land and the wild sea” (851–​ 852), and for the gods, he “alone upheld honors falling at the hands of unholy men” (852–​853). Lyssa is thus made to articulate the audience’s complaint: Heracles has been depicted thus far as the embodiment of positive heroic achievement, not only for Heracles as an individual but also for his family and community at large. Indeed, while he was pursuing the Labors, Zeus protected him from Hera’s persecution, and it is only now at their completion that he can be attacked (827–​829). In an action that underlines the essential caprice of the gods, Iris nevertheless overrules Lyssa. As Heracles prepares a purificatory sacrifice after his killing of Lycus, madness overtakes him.11 The report of madness here—​through the descriptions of Lyssa, Amphitryon, and the messenger—​constitutes our earliest and fullest depiction of Heracles’ insanity. Many elements of the madness have been identified as “traditional.”12 The divinely inspired fit has an external cause; it is a single episode with a clear beginning and end; and it is expressed through conventional physical and mental symptoms: the tossing of the head; rolling eyes; irregular breathing; wild movements; bestial, hunting, and musical imagery; and maniacal laughter. The messenger describes the onset of madness through an alarming series of symptoms, “But he was no longer himself, but distorted in the rolling of his eyes and casting blood-​shot glances in his eyes, his bearded cheek dripped foam” (931–​935). Within the structure of these traditional conventions, Heracles’ madness is expressed through unique elements directly tied to the Labors and his past heroic endeavors. First, Heracles establishes his mad intention to kill Eurystheus as an extension of his vengeance on Lycus and the work of the Labors. He decides to put off the sacrifice until he has killed Eurystheus so as not to create “double the labor” (πόνους διπλούς, 937) for himself. He ascribes the imminent defeat of Eurystheus to his strong hand, “Arranging these affairs well is the work of my single hand” (ἔργον μιᾶς μοι χειρός, 938), an echo of line 565, when Heracles proclaims the defense of his home and destruction of Lycus as “now the work of my hand” (νῦν γὰρ τῆς ἐμῆς ἔργον χερός). The messenger speech also presents Heracles’ delusional pursuit of Eurystheus as a parody of the Labors well known from his mythical tradition and recounted in the choral odes. The work of Laura Swift, among others, has identified the many epinician

11  12 

For the madness as it pertains to the sacrifice, see Foley (1985, 147–​175). Papadopoulou (2005, 61). See further pp. 58–​70 on the typology of Heracles’ madness here.

The Madness and the Labors  21 motifs in the messenger’s account of Heracles’ madness.13 Heracles prepares for the journey to Mycenae and, believing that he has mounted a chariot, whips the empty air (948–​949), an imitation of his taming of Diomedes’ mares as charioteer (380). His imagined itinerary recalls his earlier habits: he pauses for feasts among friends and pursues athletic competitions in the midst of his assignments.14 The messenger pays special attention to the details of Heracles’ bizarre behavior: he strips naked and wrestles against an invisible opponent (959–​960), then performs the role of herald at the conclusion of the imagined contest. For, “having commanded a hearing, he proclaimed himself the glorious victor to no one at all” (κἀκηρύσσετο—​αὐτὸς πρὸς αὑτοῦ καλλίνικος οὐδενός,—​ἀκοὴν ὑπειπών, 960–​962). Heracles here awards himself the cult epithet kallinikos, or “glorious victor,” a term attributed to him in various forms earlier in the play to glorify and praise him. His ironic appropriation of the title at the moment of his greatest defeat at the hands of Hera is both pointed and painful. As Heracles thinks he is encountering Eurytheus’ sons, he kills his own. In his mad intent, he enacts the same crime that Lycus prepared: to eliminate the threat posed by an enemy’s sons. The unsettling likeness between villain and hero reveals that Heracles is “affected by the very bia [violence] that possessed Lycus,” uncovering “what actions good and bad alike have in common—​violence.”15 In the messenger’s detailed description, Heracles’ “triumph” is enabled by the same prowess he displayed as a hunter and athletic victor. He hunts his children with bow and arrows, like birds, an analogy the messenger makes explicit (974). The Chorus, in its earlier eulogistic praise of Heracles, specifically connects his archery skills to his conquest of the Centaurs (366–​367), Cycnus (392), and Geryon (422).16 After flushing his children from their hiding places, he shoots the first in the chest; the second son approaches him in full suppliant pose, kneeling and grasping his father’s chin (986–​987). He begs for mercy and affectionately appeals to the philia (love) between fathers and children, but Heracles clubs him on the head and kills him. Heracles completes the debacle by pursuing his last son and Megara, who have taken refuge in the house and locked the doors. Heracles is undeterred, and tears apart the doors to reach them. The messenger describes Heracles’ attack, “he laid them low with a single missile” (ἑνὶ κατέστρωσεν βέλει, 1000), in diction that specifically parallels the Chorus’ praise for Heracles’ battle against the Centaurs, “he laid them low with his bloody bow” (ἔστρωσεν τόξοις φονίοις, 366). Before he can kill Amphitryon, Athena materializes to knock him into a coma with a rock.


See Swift (2010, 143–​147) on athletic imagery in the messenger speech; Papadopoulou (2005, 70). For example, see Euripides’ dramatization of Heracles as xenos (guest-​friend) in the Alcestis (especially 477–​506), and Pindar’s account of the foundation of the Olympic Games in Olympians 10. 15  Chalk (1962, 16). 16  Papadopoulou explains the inappropriateness of the use of the bow within Thebes, since “the bow belongs to the wild world of the labours” (2005, 146–​147). 14 

22   Katherine Lu Hsu Instead of the madness requiring atonement through the Labors, as in the traditional order of events in Heracles’ life, the madness here enacts a twisted imitation of the Labors. Thus the play’s presentation of the mad Heracles, as Papadopoulou (2005, 70) argues, “problematizes the image of the sane Heracles as well. The mad Heracles repeats patterns of behaviour known from his heroic past; the imposition of madness upon him does not launch him on an activity which is altogether alien to him.” Indeed when he awakes, Heracles explicitly incorporates this latest act of violence into his list of exploits, adding the destruction of the family at his own hands as his final “Labor” (ponos, 1279). This rearrangement leaves the fallen hero in a difficult position: how can the murders be expiated, when the Labors are already complete? Upon being restored to sanity and recognizing his deeds, he resolves in despair to take his own life. But through conversation with Theseus, whom he had rescued from the underworld, Heracles chooses instead to live and go into exile in Athens; once there, Theseus will purify him from pollution, an act that gives Athens significant involvement in the rehabilitation of Heracles, unsurprisingly for an Attic tragedy. But more significantly, this decision emerges from Heracles’ developing understanding of suicide as a cowardly act, for “whoever does not withstand misfortunes would not be able to withstand the weapon of a man” (1350–​1351).17 By drawing a parallel between sustaining life’s disasters and triumphing in armed combat, Heracles converts a passive endurance into a warrior’s active defiance, of the very sort he needed when confronting villains and subduing his enemies. The reversal of the order of the madness and the Labors thus enables the Labors to be threaded throughout the narrative of the play, reshaping both the madness and subsequent life that Heracles faces even as his definition of ponos itself shifts. Even after the ostensible completion of the final Labor, Heracles’ maddened violence recalls the Labors, and his decision to live with its consequences is presented as another feat of endurance and courage. Euripides’ play has been adopted and adapted repeatedly in the centuries since, most importantly for us by the Roman dramatist and philosopher Seneca in his Hercules Furens.18 Seneca’s play, written at latest by 54 CE, adopts the Euripidean order of madness after the Labors.19 Yet its presentation of the hero and his madness emphasizes Hercules’ grandiosity and dangerous ambition. The Labors remain extraordinary feats that bring peace to a disorderly world, but the hero who accomplishes them is volatile. While Euripides’ play emphasizes the continuity of heroic violence, whether directed at enemies or friends, Seneca’s play is more interested in Hercules’

17  One is reminded of Shakespeare’s union of the two ideas in Hamlet’s soliloquy, “to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Act 3, scene 1). 18  For a detailed study of the reception of the play, see Riley (2008); see especially pp. 46–​50 on the scattered and fragmentary evidence for depictions of the mad Heracles elsewhere in the Hellenistic Greek and pre-​Senecan Roman traditions. 19  Seneca parodies this tragedy in his own Apocolocyntosis; see Fitch (1987, 50–​53).

The Madness and the Labors  23 psychology, revealing how his madness grows out of an arrogance that is menacing even in his sane moments.20 Juno opens the play with bitter complaints about Jupiter’s adultery and insults to her status. For this invidious stepmother, the threat Hercules poses is acute. Now that he has overcome all of the earthly opponents she could throw in his path and even subdued Cerberus, she fears that he will go on to overthrow divine order: “heaven must fear, lest he who has conquered the lowest realms seize the highest; he will snatch away the scepter from his father!” (64–​65). To prevent this, Juno sets him against the only opponent who is his equal—​himself—​declaring, “let him now wage war against himself ” (85). The play sets aside the apparition of Lyssa and Iris and their surprising, external attack on the hero. Instead, Juno’s attack emerges internally, coming from within Hercules’ own mind. When Hercules first appears, he is triumphant over the underworld and determined to save his family from Lycus. Yet he displays none of the tender warmth of Euripides’ Heracles toward his family. He does not address his frightened children, and in his haste to kill the tyrant, he orders his wife and father to put off their embraces until after the battle (638–​639). Furthermore, Hercules’ unstable position between mortals and gods comes to the fore from the start, lending some legitimacy to Juno’s anxieties. As the son of Jupiter and a mortal woman, Hercules already holds the status of hero—​but he aspires to more. Papadopoulou (2004, 274–​276) provides a detailed reading of the way in which Hercules is treated by others and acts as though he is already on the same level as the gods. For example, he boldly declares that he could have ruled the underworld had he wanted to, and challenges Juno to assign a further task (609–​615). And after he has killed Lycus, he displays a disturbing arrogance at the sacrifice afterward, boasting, “I myself will compose prayers that are worthy of Jupiter and myself ” (926–​ 927). His claim to the same status as his father establishes a continuity between his sane thought patterns and his deluded attempts on heaven. Hercules’ sacrifice is interrupted by the onset of madness, signaled by the sudden appearance of darkness during the day (939–​940). The expression of his madness takes the form of a series of shifting hallucinations that range from the heavens to the underworld. When he has a vision of Juno blocking his ascent to Olympus, Hercules responds with a string of escalating threats. He plans his own assault on heaven, calling Saturn and the Titans as allies to himself and threatening to uproot mountains and pile them up to reach heaven (963–​973). These plans, though deluded, nevertheless emphasize his impiety, as his chosen partners are traditionally the rivals Jupiter overcame to seize the rule of Olympus. Furthermore, they also recall his role as a theomachos, a warrior who dares to attack the gods.21 The mad Hercules thus aims to pursue the very transgressions that Juno had feared. 20  My reading is much indebted to Fitch (1987); Riley (2008, 51–​91). For the view that Hercules is virtuous and innocent, see, e.g., Motto and Clark (1981); Lawall (1983). 21  For example, Dione comforts Aphrodite after Diomedes’ attack in Iliad 5.392–​404 by describing Heracles’ assault on Hera and Hades.

24   Katherine Lu Hsu When he spots his children in hiding, Hercules turns his hostility against them. He shoots the first child through the neck with an arrow, thinking that he is killing Lycus’ children—​and thus replicates the same assault that the tyrant had attempted on his own family. His second child, he claims, stands in the way of his starting a journey to overthrow Mycenae; although the child supplicates him, he dashes him into a wall. Finally, he catches hold of Megara and a third child, crowing, “I take hold of my stepmother. Follow, pay the penalty to me, and free oppressed Jupiter from the disgraceful yoke” (1018–​1019). The child dies of fear, but he kills Megara by smashing her so hard with his club that he decapitates her. In reality, he perpetuates an awful crime; in his madness, his determination to destroy a goddess with his own hands mimics a violation of divine order. Even after the madness has lifted and he is enveloped in grief, Hercules remains prone to outsized anger and threats against fellow mortals and the gods. When Theseus and Amphitryon refuse to return his weapons to the suicidal Hercules, he threatens to kill himself in ways that also endanger others: by destroying vast swaths of Greece with fire, or wrecking all of Thebes with its homes and temples, or bringing down the very vault of heaven that separates the gods from the mortal world (1284–​1294). His aggressive spirit thus endures, despite the changed circumstances, and his willingness to destroy the universe along with himself demonstrates the persistence of his self-​regard. The only thing that restrains Hercules’ violence against himself is a counter-​threat from Amphitryon, that he will also commit suicide upon Hercules’ suicide, a threat so severe that Fitch (1987, 38) describes it as “blackmail.” Amphitryon tells Hercules, “Either you live or you kill” (1308); only after he seizes a sword and aims it against himself, crying, “here, here will lie the crime of the rational Hercules” (1313), does Hercules finally relent. In accepting the choice to live, Hercules adds his extended life to the list of his Labors: “let this Labor be added to the Herculean ones as well: let me live” (1315–​1316). Thus Seneca’s play, like, Euripides’, presents the task of enduring the knowledge and consequences of his kin-​killing as another Labor to bear. But this play lacks Euripides’ engagement of Theseus’ philia, concluding without resolving Hercules’ dominating anger or oversized ego. The madness of Hercules thus proves to be only an intensification of character traits displayed before and after that central episode; here he becomes a figure that can withstand psychological analysis. The amplification of his megalomania, a trait already present in the mythological tradition, allows the play to explore the perils of unlimited power and the aspiration to godhood, and the importance of self-​restraint. The great fall of the greatest hero—​even after the completion of his Labors has ensured his future apotheosis—​reflects Stoic concerns about the dangers of the passions and unmitigated ambition. This presentation of Hercules thus serves as “a mirror of the excesses of the late Julian-​Claudian age” (Riley 2008, 90), a period of expanding empire, divinized emperors, and absolute rule. The episode of madness thus explores the extreme ambivalence of Heracles’ roles, from the protector of defenseless communities to a mortal threat to his own family, from a defender of order to an instigator of chaos. It also serves as a vehicle for

The Madness and the Labors  25 exploring the nature of Heracles’ heroism and its vulnerability to instability. Finally, the relationship between the madness and the Labors defines the value and significance of his Labors, complicating the greatness of his victories over beasts and enemies and establishing an enduring tension with his apotheosis.

Abbreviations EGM Fowler 2000–2013, vol. 1. PEG Bernabé 2012.

References Bernabé, A., ed. 2012. Poetae epici Graeci: Testimonia et fragmenta. Pars I. Stuttgart: De Gruyter. Chalk, H. H. O. 1962. “Arete and Bia in Euripides’ Herakles.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 82: 7–​18. Fitch, J. G., ed. 1987. Seneca’s Hercules Furens: A Critical Text with Introduction and Commentary. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Foley, H. P. 1985. Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Fowler, R. L. 2000–​2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galinsky, K. 1972. The Herakles Theme: The Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell. Lawall, G. 1983. “Virtus and Pietas in Seneca’s Hercules Furens.” In Seneca Tragicus: Ramus Essays on Senecan Drama, ed. A. J. Boyle, 6–​26. Victoria, Australia: Aureal Publications. Most, G. 2013. “The Madness of Tragedy.” In Mental Disorders in the Classical World, ed. W. V. Harris, 395–​410. Leiden: Brill. Motto, A. L., and J. R. Clark. 1981. “Maxima Virtus in Seneca’s Hercules Furens.” Classical Philology 76: 101–​117. Padel, R. 1995. Whom Gods Destroy : Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Papadopoulou, T. 2004. “Herakles and Hercules: The Hero’s Ambivalence in Euripides and Seneca.” Mnemosyne 57: 257–​283. Papadopoulou, T. 2005. Heracles and Euripidean Tragedy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Riley, K. 2008. The Reception and Performance of Euripides’ Herakles: Reasoning Madness. New York: Oxford University Press. Said, S. 2013. “From Homeric Ate to Tragic Madness.” In Mental Disorders in the Classical World, ed. W. V. Harris, 363–​393. Leiden: Brill. Silk, M. S. 1985. “Heracles and Greek Tragedy.” Greece and Rome 32: 1–​22. Swift, L. 2010. The Hidden Chorus: Echoes of Genre in Tragic Lyric. New York: Oxford University Press. Taplin, O. 2007. Pots and Plays: Interactions between Tragedy and Greek Vase-​Painting of the Fourth Century B.C. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. Wilamowitz-​Moellendorff, U. von. 1895. Euripides, Herakles. 2nd ed. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

Part II


Chapter 3

L a b or I The Nemean Lion

Jenny March

The first of the Twelve Labors that Heracles performed for Eurystheus was to slay the Nemean Lion, an enormous beast who was living in the foothills of Nemea in the northwestern corner of the Argolid, terrorizing the neighborhood and preying on men and animals alike. Sophocles calls him the “scourge of herdsmen, a creature that none might approach and none confront” (Women of Trachis 1092–​1093). The Lion’s skin was invulnerable to weapons, so the only way that Heracles could achieve his task was to choke the beast to death with his bare hands. This was not only the most popular of Heracles’ exploits to be depicted in ancient art, with many hundreds of representations surviving in vase-​paintings alone, but also the commonest of all mythological scenes in antiquity (on which, see further in what follows). It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that although there are many brief references to the killing of the Lion in literature, there are very few surviving accounts of the Labor as a whole, and only one detailed description—​as we shall see.

The Background to the Myth It is no surprise that such a lion would form for the young Heracles the first of his great challenges. “The defeat of a lion was a traditional heroic accomplishment in the Near East,” comments Martin West, pointing to the oriental provenance of the lion-​slaying theme. “Ninurta killed ‘the Lion, the terror of the gods.’ Enkidu and Gilgamesh killed

30   Jenny March lions routinely. Samson tore one asunder in his bare hands” (West 1997, 461 and n. 66, with references). And since lions were bloodthirsty and deadly beasts, a lion killing his prey was commonly seen as an appropriate simile for a warrior killing his enemies: “so the Assyrians in the Tukulti-​Ninurta epic were ‘killing like lions’ ” (246). The same is so in Homer. Diomedes, for instance, kills two sons of Priam “as a lion leaping among cattle breaks the neck of a calf or a cow as they feed in a woodland copse” (Iliad 5.161–​162). He butchers Rhesus and his Thracian comrades as they lie asleep: “He fell to killing on this side and that . . . and the earth grew red with blood. As a lion advances on unguarded flocks of goats or sheep, and leaps on them with evil in his heart, so Diomedes ranged among the Thracians until he had slain twelve men” (Iliad 10.483–​488). We cannot be sure how much direct knowledge of lions was had by Homer and his audience. In the classical period, according to Herodotus (7.125–​126), there were lions in the north of Greece who attacked the army of Xerxes and mauled the camels carrying his supplies. Aristotle supports the statement (Historia animalium 6.31.519a), as does Pliny (Historia naturalis 8.45). Pausanias (6.2.4–​5) repeats Herodotus’ story, and adds that in the fourth century BC a certain Polydamas slew a lion with his bare hands on Mount Olympus, hoping to emulate Heracles and his conquest of the Nemean Lion. Thus there is some evidence that lions were still around in the historical period, even if on the far edges of civilization. But however rare lions were in reality, it is clear that in Homer they are seen, or remembered, as the most fearsome of creatures that no one, man or beast, can withstand, and for a hero to be likened to a lion is the ultimate in praise for his courage and prowess. Here is Diomedes again (Iliad 5.135–​143): His heart before had raged to fight the Trojans, but now a tripled fury seized him, as of a lion that a country shepherd, guarding his fleecy sheep, grazed as he leapt the fence of the fold, and has not killed him, but only stirred up the lion’s strength. Then he cannot help his flock, but hurries away for shelter, and the forsaken sheep scatter in fear, and then lie strewn on one another in heaps, when the lion in fury leaps out from the deep yard: raging so did mighty Diomedes close with the Trojans.

Agamemnon kills two sons of Priam, Antiphus and Isus, while the Trojans are fleeing away, quite impotent to help (Iliad 11.113–​121): As a lion easily crunches up the innocent young of a swift deer, seizing them in his strong teeth when he comes to their lair, and takes their tender life, and the mother, even though very near, can do nothing to help, for on her too comes a dreadful trembling and swiftly she darts away through glades and thick woods, sweating in her rush to escape the mighty beast’s attack;

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  31 so could none of the Trojans keep death from these two, but were themselves fleeing in fear before the Achaeans.

The Trojans dare not confront Menelaus as he strips the armor from Euphorbus, a son of Panthous (Iliad 17.61–​69): As when a lion raised in the mountains, trusting in his might, snatches from a grazing herd a cow, the best one of all, and breaks her neck, seizing her in his powerful teeth first of all, then devours all her blood and entrails in his fury, and around him the dogs and herdsmen clamor loudly from afar, but are not willing to come against him, for pale fear holds them hard; so the heart in the breast of none of the Trojans dared to come and face glorious Menelaus.

Thus it seems natural that the conquest of a lion, that most fearsome of beasts, should be set as Heracles’ first challenging task—​and not just an ordinary lion, but one with a skin invulnerable to weapons, so that he was forced to grapple with it and strangle it with his bare hands. The eleven Labors that followed would have Heracles demonstrating many heroic qualities—​prodigious courage, prowess, endurance, even cunning; but none required from our hero quite such sheer brute strength.

The Origin of the Nemean Lion Our earliest reference to the Lion is in Hesiod (Theogony 327–​332): “the Nemean Lion, which Hera, the good wife of Zeus, nurtured and settled in the lands of Nemea, a plague to men. There he preyed upon the tribes of her own people, dominating Tretus of Nemea and Apesas;1 but the strength of mighty Heracles overcame him.” Hesiod gives only the barest details of Heracles’ defeat of the Lion because his concern here is with the creature’s genealogy: his father was Orthus, the two-​headed hound who guarded the cattle of Geryon, and his mother was either (the pronoun at 326 being ambiguous) the monstrous Echidna, who was half beautiful woman and half huge speckled snake, dwelling in a cave “deep down beneath a hollow rock, far from the immortal gods and mortal men” and living on raw flesh (297–​302); or it was the


These are two local mountains, Tretus (“Perforated”) being south-​east of Nemea, and Apesas probably the modern Fouka, the highest of the mountains to the northeast of Nemea: see West’s note (1966, ad loc.); Pausanias 2.15.3; Stephanus of Byzantium s.v. Ἀπέσας. Diodorus Siculus (4.2.3) adds that Tretus was so named “because it had a cleft at its base which stretched right through it and in which the beast was accustomed to lurk.”

32   Jenny March Chimera, who had three heads, a lion’s at the front, a serpent’s at the end of her tail, and a goat’s in the middle, growing out of her back and breathing out blasts of fire. West (1966, ad loc.) suggests that the more likely mother is the Chimera: “If the mother is Echidna, then she has abandoned her husband to lie with her son—​ unnecessary and unparalleled behavior. The only unions between mother and son in the Theogony are those of Earth with Heaven and with Pontos, who have no father. It is much more likely that Orthus mates with Chimera, whether she is his sister . . . or his niece” (it is uncertain which, because of another ambiguous pronoun at 319). Despite this slight uncertainty about the Lion’s parentage, what is certain from Hesiod’s brief account is that the beast originated from monsters, and also that Hera was involved in his creation: so great was her anger against Heracles that she even allowed the Lion to prey on her own domain of Argos2 if it would make a difficult task for her enemy—​just as in Homer’s Iliad (4.51–​67) she is willing to allow the destruction of her three favorite cities, Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae, if only Zeus will let war continue, so that her hated Trojans may be defeated and Troy destroyed. Bacchylides too (9.6–​9) makes clear Hera’s involvement: “white-​armed Hera nurtured the sheep-​killing deep-​ voiced lion, the first of Heracles’ glorious contests”; as does Callimachus (Aetia fr. 55 Harder): “the wife of Zeus, in great anger, sent him to destroy Argos, even though it was her own domain, but so that he would become a hard task for the bastard-​son of Zeus.” In later authors we find a different genealogy. Apollodorus (2.5.1) says that the Lion’s father was Typhon, the gigantic monster who was the final (and almost successful) challenger to Zeus’ overlordship of the universe. And in another tradition the Lion was descended from Selene, the Moon, as we learn from the scattered fragments of various ancient authors (Epimenides 3B2 DK; Euphorion fr. 84 Powell; Stephanus of Byzantium s.v. Ἀπέσας; Herodorus fr. 4 Fowler—​who also adds, fr. 21 Fowler, that beings born on the moon are fifteen timers bigger than those born on earth). Hyginus (Fabulae 30) accepts this version when he summarizes the whole Labor in a few words: “[Heracles] killed the invulnerable Nemean Lion, which the Moon nurtured in a cave with two openings, and he used its skin as a protective covering.” This brings us to the battle itself between hero and monster.

The Killing of the Lion Apollodorus gives a workmanlike but brief account of Heracles’ difficult task (2.5.1): Having come to Nemea and tracked the lion, Heracles first of all shot at him with an arrow, but when he realized that the beast was invulnerable, he heaved up his club and


Argos is well attested as Hera’s domain: cf. e.g. Iliad 4. 4.51–​67 referred to here, Pindar Nemeans 2.2 (“Argos, the home of Hera”), Pausanias 2.15.5, 2.22.4.

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  33 went after him. When the Lion took refuge in a cave with two mouths,3 Heracles built up one of the entrances and came in against the beast through the other, and putting his arm around his neck, he squeezed him tightly until he had choked him. Then laying the Lion on his shoulders . . . he brought him to Mycenae.

We note that Heracles’ choice of (useless) weapon in Apollodorus is the bow and arrow, while in Bacchylides (13.50–​54) it is the sword: “see the neck-​breaking hand that [Heracles] lays with all manner of skill on the flesh-​eating Lion; for the gleaming man-​subduing bronze refuses to pierce his terrible body: the sword was bent back.”4 Apollodorus’ account is brief and prosaic, and that of Diodorus Siculus (4.11.3–​4) even more so, neither giving any sense of the awesome nature of Heracles achievement here, in this first of his twelve great challenges. So if we seek a more detailed and emotive account of the Labor we must turn to poetry, and to the one and only imaginative version of the task in a poem sometimes ascribed to Theocritus (25.201–​281). Here Heracles is telling his own story (201–​271): Like a river in flood, the Lion continually ravaged those who dwelt in the lowlands, and most of all the people of Bembina,5 who lived nearby and suffered unbearably. This was the first task that Eurystheus ordered me to accomplish: he told me to kill the terrible beast. I set off, taking my pliant bow and my hollow quiver full of arrows, and in the other hand my solid club made from spreading wild olive, its bark still on, unseasoned, which I myself had found under holy Helicon and had torn out whole, together with its thick roots. When I came to the place where the lion was, I took my bow and drew the twisted string onto its tip, then at once placed on it a grief-​bringing arrow. Casting my eyes in every direction, I kept watching out for the deadly monster, hoping that I might spot him before he saw me. It was the middle of the day, and I had not yet been able to catch sight of his tracks or to hear his roar. Nor was there any man visible, either herding cattle of working his land, whom I could ask, but pale fear kept everyone indoors. But I searched the leafy mountainside without slackening my pace until I spotted him, and at once I put my courage to the test. He was making for his cave before evening came, after a meal of blood and flesh; his dusty mane and his fierce face and his chest were all spattered with gore, and he was licking his chops with his tongue. I at once hid myself in some shady bushes on a woodland path and waited for him to approach. When he came near I shot him in his left flank—​but in vain, for my sharp arrow did not penetrate his flesh at all, but fell back onto the green grass. He quickly

3  Pausanias (2.15.2) tells us that the Lion’s cave, situated about fifteen stades from Nemea, was still being shown to travelers in his time (second century AD). 4  In a poem of a similar date to that of Bacchylides—​about 480 BC—​Pindar too implies, though without clearly stating it, that the Lion’s hide was impenetrable (Isthmians 6.47–​48). 5  A village near Nemea: see Strabo C377; also Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Βέμβινα, who adds that Panyassis too spoke of the “lion of Bembina” (Davies EGF fr.1).

34   Jenny March raised his tawny head from the ground in surprise, his eyes glaring around in every direction, and he gaped wide his mouth, showing his rapacious teeth. I sent off another arrow at him from my bowstring, annoyed that the first one had left my hand in vain. I hit him in the middle of his chest, the seat of the lungs, yet even then the painful arrow did not pierce his hide, but fell harmlessly in front of his feet just as before. Quite infuriated, I was about to draw my bow for the third time, but the savage brute spotted me as he glared around, and he lashed his long tail about his hindquarters, intending to fight at once. His whole neck was swollen with rage, his tawny mane bristled with fury, and his spine was bent like a bow as he crouched, tensing his flanks and loins. As when a chariot-​maker, skilled in many tasks, warms in a fire the shoots of a wild fig, easily split, then bends them to make wheel-​rims to fit on the axle of a chariot, and as it bends, the smooth-​barked fig slips from his hands and with one bound springs far away; just so did the terrible lion make a sudden leap at me from a distance, eager to sate himself on my flesh. With one hand I held my arrows and the double cloak from my shoulders in front of me, and with the other I raised my rugged club over his temple and brought it down on his head. And there and then I broke that sturdy wild olive clean in two over the indomitable beast’s shaggy head. Before he could get to me, he fell, mid-​leap, then stood unsteadily on his feet, drooping his head, for the brain in his skull had been shaken by the blow and darkness had come over his eyes. When I realised that he had lost his wits from the harsh pain, I threw my bow and stitched quiver to the ground, and before he could recover and turn on me again, I grabbed him by the scruff of his powerful neck. Gripping him firmly, I strangled him with my strong hands, tackling him from behind to stop him scratching me with his claws. Standing on his hind paws, I pressed them hard to the ground with my heels and controlled his flanks with my thighs, until I could lift him up lifeless in my arms and lay him out. And mighty Hades took his spirit.

The description of the contest here is more plausible than in most of the artistic representations, which (as we shall see) have Heracles tackling the Lion from the front. It is as though the poet has asked just how Heracles could have achieved this huge task, and the only possible answer is by tackling the Lion from the rear, out of reach of those raking claws and fearsome teeth, while putting the creature’s back paws out of action with his own feet and clamping the powerful body between his thighs. Heracles’ prodigious strength would do the rest.

Heracles and Molorchus With the Lion dead, Heracles now had to carry his body back to Mycenae and present it to Eurystheus; but one more episode occurred before he could do so, and that is his encounter with the poor laborer Molorchus—​though in fact they had two encounters, one before the battle with the Lion and one after. There is no mention of this episode in the early sources. The earliest author known to have mentioned it is Callimachus, who

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  35 wrote of it in his Aetia, as is clear from the fragments (frr. 54–​60 Harder), and there are passing allusions to it in various Latin works (such as Virgil Georgics 3.19, Tibullus 3.7.12–​13); Apollodorus gives the story in some detail (2.5.1). On his way to hunt out the Lion, Heracles came to Cleonae and was given hospitality by a poor man, a day-​laborer named Molorchus, whose son had been killed by the beast.6 Molorchus wanted to sacrifice a ram to honor his courageous guest, but Heracles told him to wait for thirty days, and then to sacrifice either to Zeus the Savior if he had returned safely from the hunt, or to Heracles himself as a hero if he had been killed. (Gods and dead heroes were both honored in Greek cult, but with rather different rites.) It quite naturally took Heracles some time to track down the Lion; then once he had killed it he fell asleep from exhaustion, before finally setting off for Mycenae. Therefore when he called at Cleonae once again it was the last of the thirty days, and he was just in time to stop Molorchus sacrificing to him as a dead hero, which would have been seen as very inauspicious. The sacrifice was made instead to Zeus the Savior. It was said that Heracles founded the Nemean Games in Zeus’ honor before continuing on his way; and since he had worn a crown of fresh celery for the sacrifice with Molorchus, this became the prize for victors in the Games thereafter.7

The Completion of the Labor Heracles went on his way, carrying the corpse of the great Lion over his shoulders. On his arrival in Mycenae, the cowardly Eurystheus was so overcome by the sight of the immense beast, and by the thought of Heracles’ tremendous strength and prowess, that he ordered him never to enter the city again, but to display his trophies outside the city gates. He even had a great bronze jar made and set in the earth so that he could hide in it if Heracles came near. This jar also occurs in ancient art, and we see the king hiding inside it when Heracles delivers the Erymanthian Boar and Cerberus, the monstrous hound of Hades—​though, sadly, never when he delivers the Nemean Lion (on the jar, cf. Chapter 6). After this too-​close encounter with Heracles and the Lion, Eurystheus sent his commands to Heracles through an intermediary, since he was too afraid to see him in person. This intermediary was a herald, Copreus (“Dung-​man”), who had come to Mycenae after killing a man (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.1) and who, although being


This detail is added by Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 4.159–​160. Another tradition had the Games founded by Adrastus, the leader of the Seven against Thebes, in memory of the child Opheltes who was killed by a snake (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 3.6.4), so in this case (as we find in the hypothesis to Pindar’s Nemean Odes) Heracles’ involvement after his killing of the Lion is seen rather as a second foundation of the Games, which he then dedicated to Zeus. 7 

36   Jenny March a son of the great Pelops, was seen as a generally despicable character. Homer knows him as the messenger between Eurystheus and Heracles (Iliad 15.638–​640); and when recording the death of Copreus’ son Periphetes at the hands of Hector he comments that to a base father had been born a far superior son (Iliad 15.641–​643). In Euripides’ Children of Heracles, Copreus comes as Eurystheus’ envoy to the Athenians to demand that they expel the Heraclids, and here he is presented as a cruel and insolent bully. Thus it seems that he was an appropriate lackey to be in service to the despised Eurystheus, a man of whom Heracles himself said (when his shade speaks to Odysseus in the Underworld in Homer, Odyssey 11.621–​622): “I was bound in servitude to a man baser by far than myself, who imposed hard labours on me.”

The Lion-​Skin With his task for the king complete, Heracles skinned the Lion’s body8 and ever afterward wore the pelt as a trophy, with its forepaws knotted around his neck and its scalp serving as a helmet, the jaws framing his face (Fig. 3.1).9 As Euripides puts it (Heracles 359–​363): “Having cleared Zeus’ grove of the Lion, he wore its tawny skin on his back and covered his golden head with the beast’s fearsome jaws.” Once again it is the author of the “Theocritus” poem who seems to have applied reason to the situation, and to ask himself how Heracles could possibly have skinned the Lion if the hide through which he had to cut was impenetrable—​and he supplies the answer (25.272–​279): I pondered how I could strip the shaggy hide from the body of the dead beast, a very difficult task, since it could not be cut with iron or stone or any other material. Then some god made me think of cutting the Lion’s skin with its own claws. With these I quickly stripped it off and wrapped it around my body as a protection from wounds in warlike encounters.

This may be an unusual mode of dress, but not an entirely exceptional one, since animal skins are worn by heroes in Homer. Agamemnon wears a lion-​skin, the king of the beasts being an appropriate choice for the great king of Mycenae (Iliad 10.23–​ 24): “He clad himself in the tawny skin of a lion, fiery and great, a skin reaching to his feet.” Menelaus wears a leopard-​skin (Iliad 10.29–​30), as does Paris (Iliad 3.17).10 However, the skin of the Nemean Lion, worn by Heracles, had the added advantage of invulnerability. As Diodorus Siculus sums up (4.2.4): 8  Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.4.9–​10) is the only author to say that Heracles cut his lion-​skin not from the Nemean but from the Cithaeronian Lion. The usual story here is that the lion of Cithaeron was slain by Alcathous, a son of Pelops (Pausanias 1.41.3–​6). 9  Attic red-​figure cup by Euphronios, c. 510 BC. Munich, Antikensammlungen 2620. 10  Dolon (Iliad 10.334) wears a wolf-​skin, but he is far from being a hero, and this skin is perhaps meant to symbolize the nonheroic and secretive nature of his spying expedition into the Greek camp.

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  37

Figure 3.1  Heracles fighting Geryon. Attic red-​figure cup by Euphronius, c. 510 BC. Munich, Antikensammlungen 2620. Redrawn by Neil Barrett. © Jennifer March and Neil Barrett. He put the skin around himself, and since he could cover his whole body with it because of its great size, he had it as a protection against the dangers that were to follow.

But it was not always so. According to Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 12.512e–​513a), Stesichorus was the first poet to represent Heracles “in the guise of a bandit, with club, lion-​skin and bow” (fr. 281 Davies-​Finglass), in contrast to Homer and the lyric poet Xanthus.11 This seems to suggest that prior to Stesichorus Heracles was portrayed more as a battlefield warrior. In Homer, Odysseus describes the shade of the great hero as he was when they met in the Underworld (Odyssey 11.605–​12): Around him the dead cried out like frightened birds, fleeing in every direction. Like dark night he came, holding his bow uncovered, an arrow on the bowstring, glaring around him fiercely, forever about to shoot. A fearsome sword-​belt lay across his chest, a golden baldric emblazoned with wondrous works, bears and wild boars, and lions with flashing eyes, conflicts, and battles, and deaths, and slayings of men.

There is no lion-​skin (and no club). In art too the skin becomes Heracles’ costume only after about 600 BC, and his standard costume after about 550. And since one 11  Apparently Pisander too in his Heraclea gave Heracles a lion-​skin and club (Davies EGF T 1 and fr. 1). Stesichorus was active around 600 to 550 BC, and Pisander was probably of a similar date.

38   Jenny March might expect the wearing of the skin to have been habitual only after the Lion’s invulnerability became a part of the myth, then perhaps this too was a post-​Homeric addition and in early versions of the myth his skin was penetrable by bronze or iron.12 The killing of so monstrous a beast would always have been a huge challenge for any hero, but it may be that in the course of time this Labor was consciously made even more difficult by the addition of a lion-​skin impervious to weapons, so as to increase the honor due to Heracles for its accomplishment. Certainly the trophy that Heracles took from his victim, the lion-​skin, was ever afterward seen as a symbol of his great courage and prowess,13 and in art we see him wearing it proudly through all his many contests (Fig. 3.1) and his long travels (Fig. 3.2).14 One remarkable vase-​painting shows a surprisingly weedy Heracles at the end of his life, about to receive the poisoned robe from Deianeira (Fig. 3.3).15 He has

Figure 3.2  Heracles traveling in the Cup of the Sun. Attic red-​figure cup, c. 480 BC. Rome, Vatican Museum 16563. Redrawn by Neil Barrett. © Jennifer March and Neil Barrett. 12 

Early art too may give some support to this suggestion: see further in what follows. Just as Theseus always carried the bronze club that he took from Periphetes, the first of the brigands that he killed, as a mark of his prowess in his first trial of strength. 14  Attic red-​figure cup, c. 480 BC. Rome, Vatican Museum 16563. 15  Attic red-​figure pelike, c. 420 BC. London, British Museum E 370. 13 

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  39

Figure 3.3.  Heracles with Deianeira and the robe. Attic red-​figure pelike, c. 420 BC. London, British Museum E 370. Redrawn by Neil Barrett. © Jennifer March and Neil Barrett.

taken off the lion-​skin ready to put on the robe—​but he would have been better to have kept it on.

The Constellation Leo, the Lion So great was Heracles’ achievement that Zeus set the Lion in the stars as the constellation Leo, to be an everlasting memorial of his favorite son’s first great task. Eratosthenes (Catasterisms 1.12) gives a prose description of Leo: This is one of the conspicuous constellations. This sign is thought to have been honoured by Zeus because the lion is king of the four-​footed animals, but some say that it was a memorial to Heracles’ first Labor. For in his pursuit of glory, this was the only one that he killed without weapons, and instead put it in a stranglehold and throttled it. Pisander of Rhodes tells the story about him.16 And Heracles took his skin from it, since he had done a glorious deed. This is the one in Nemea that was killed by him. 16 

See n.11.

40   Jenny March Leo has three stars on his head, one on his chest, two beneath his chest, one bright one on the right foot, one in the middle of his belly, one beneath the belly, one on his haunch, one on the hind knee, a bright one on the end of his foot, two along his neck, three on the spine, one in the middle of his tail, and a bright one at the tip. Nineteen stars altogether.

In Seneca we find a powerful poetic version of Leo, where Heracles describes what he sees in the sky as his madness begins to take hold of him (Hercules Furens 43–​952): Why does a strange night reveal its black head? Why do so many stars fill the heavens in the daytime? Look, my first Labor, the Lion, gleams in a great part of the sky, burning all over with anger and preparing to bite. Soon he will seize some constellation; he stands and threatens with his great jaws, he breathes out fire and glows red, tossing the mane on his neck. With one bound he will leap across whatever weary autumn brings, or the frozen tract of chilly winter, and will attack and break the neck of the Bull of spring.

In modern times—​to strike a slightly frivolous note—​those born under the sign of Leo are thought to be fiery, bold, strong and courageous, no doubt like the Nemean Lion himself.

The Killing of the Nemean Lion in Art Heracles’ slaying of the Nemean Lion is the commonest of all mythological scenes in ancient art. There are many early representations of a man fighting a lion, but the earliest certain scenes of Heracles with the Lion occur from the last quarter of the seventh century BC on shield-​bands found at Olympia (LIMC Herakles 1776, 1799, 1830, 1846). Soon the scene appears on Laconian, Ionian, Caeretan, and Chalcidian vases and continues from the sixth century onward, but by far the greatest number occurs on Attic vases, of which around 800 examples survive. Clearly this is only a tiny fraction of those originally produced. T. B. L. Webster estimates a survival rate for painted vases of about one percent (1972, 3), John H. Oakley only about one fifth of a percent (1992, 199–​200). If we accept Webster’s more generous estimate, we may conclude that tens of thousands of Nemean Lion scenes were produced. On Oakley’s more pessimistic reckoning, this number becomes hundreds of thousands. Either way, the popularity of the scene in antiquity is clear. And of course it also occurs in media other than vase-​painting, such as gems, coins, clay and marble reliefs, and small bronzes. In most of these representations Heracles wrestles with the Lion, but in some of the earlier versions he grasps the Lion with one hand, and with the other either threatens him with a sword or actually plunges it into his body (LIMC Herakles 1787, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1834, 1846). This may suggest that there was indeed an early version of the

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  41 myth in which the Lion was vulnerable to weapons, which would tie in with the literary evidence mentioned in the previous section. One might, of course, argue that in these scenes Heracles is merely attempting to kill his victim with a sword before realizing that strangulation is the only possible method; but, as Gantz points out (1993, 384), the scenes in which the sword appears to penetrate the Lion do look very convincing. The vast majority of the vases, however, show variations on basic wrestling poses, with two main types of images, the combatants sometimes standing to fight, and sometimes (after about 530 BC) crouching to wrestle on or near the ground (Fig. 3.4).17 Heracles often has his arms around the Lion’s neck, his hands linked, both while standing (LIMC Herakles 1799, 1800, 1812) and while crouching (LIMC Herakles 1851, 1855, 1857); or he puts his left arm around the neck and with his right hand grasps the Lion’s forepaw (LIMC Herakles 1762, 1792, 1793); or again he uses both hands to drag open the Lion’s jaws (LIMC Herakles 1803, 1832, 1870). In a very few scenes he lifts the Lion ready to throw him to the ground (LIMC Herakles 1883 [= Fig. 3.5],18 1884, 1885). The Lion fights back, clawing at whatever part of Heracles he can reach: his calf (LIMC Herakles 1803, 1805, 1833); his knee (LIMC Herakles 1793); his thigh (LIMC Herakles 1792, 1812); his hands (LIMC Herakles 1851); his shoulder (LIMC Herakles 1762); and almost always when man and beast are wrestling on or near the ground, Heracles’ head (LIMC Herakles 1852, 1855, 1857, 1870). In one

Figure 3.4 Heracles wrestles the Nemean Lion. Attic red-​ figure hydria by the Cleophrades Painter, c. 500 BC. Rome, Villa Giulia 50398. Redrawn by Neil Barrett. © Jennifer March and Neil Barrett. 17  18 

Attic red-​figure hydria by the Cleophrades Painter, c. 500 BC. Rome, Villa Giulia 50398. Attic red-​figure belly-​amphora by the Andocides Painter, c. 520 BC. London, British Museum B 193.

42   Jenny March

Figure 3.5  Heracles wrestles the Nemean Lion. Attic red-​figure belly-​amphora by the Andocides Painter, c. 520 BC. London, British Museum B 193. Redrawn by Neil Barrett. © Jennifer March and Neil Barrett.

scene Heracles stoops over the half-​rearing Lion, his hands at his victim’s neck, with below them a bent sword, evidence of Heracles’ failed attempt to kill with his usual weapons (LIMC Herakles 1882). Heracles usually wrestles naked, or sometimes dressed in a tunic or short chiton, though just occasionally an artist seems to lose sight of the story and absentmindedly puts him in the lion-​skin (LIMC Herakles 1891, 1917). Trees or branches often fill the central upper space and serve to carry Heracles’ clothes and useless weapons (LIMC Herakles 1854, 1861, 1863). Heracles is usually bearded, but sometimes he is portrayed beardless so as to show his youth, this being his very first Labor (LIMC Herakles 1811, 1812, 1843, 1857, 1890). His patron Athena often stands by to watch the contest (LIMC Herakles 1803, 1829, 1857, 1861), as does his nephew Iolaus (LIMC Herakles 1800, 1832, 1866), who is his companion in many of his Labors—​though

Labor I: The Nemean Lion  43 in literature Iolaus is never there when Heracles kills the Lion, a task achieved alone, in the wilds of Nemea. Iolaus often holds the useless bow and club while Heracles is in powerful and weapon-​less action. Occasionally Hermes too looks on (LIMC Herakles 1793, 1866), as do other usually anonymous bystanders (LIMC Herakles 1787, 1793, 1831). None of these ever intervene in the combat. A very few Greek scenes portray something other than the fight itself. We see Heracles approaching the Lion’s cave (LIMC Herakles 1889, 1890, 1891; the cave also seems to be present alongside the combat scene on LIMC Herakles 1855). He carries the dead Lion on his shoulders (LIMC Herakles 1922), or drags it to an altar (LIMC Herakles 1918). He even skins the corpse, which lies on its back, its tail tied to a tree (LIMC Herakles 1916). These few exceptional scenes serve to emphasize the dominance and popularity of the fight itself. This is also the case with Roman art. In the Roman period the standing fight is by far the most popular scene, mostly in three-​dimensional media such as statues or statuettes, clay and marble reliefs, coins, and gems. Heracles has his victim in a headlock, and the lion, as before, does what he can to fight back. However Roman art also introduces a quite new scheme, that of the victorious Heracles standing over the dead Lion and holding him usually by his hind leg (LIMC Herakles 1977). Often Herakles is wreathed as a victor and he raises his club in his right hand in triumph. This is a particularly popular scene on sarcophagi, where it is depicted along with most or all of the other Labors (LIMC Herakles 1715–​1721, 1724, 1725). On a mosaic from Cartama the dead Lion is shown alone under a tree (LIMC Herakles 1742), as just one of the victims of Heracles’ many different combats. These Roman scenes of triumph after victory form an effective contrast to a touching Greek treatment of a comparable scene, dated about 460 BC. One of the metopes that decorated the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (LIMC Herakles 1919) depicts the weary aftermath of the violent contest between man and beast. Although very fragmentary, it clearly shows a young, beardless Heracles with his foot on the Lion he has just killed, in the classic pose of the big-​game hunter. He is exhausted from the difficult battle, and rests his elbow on his knee, his head on his hand. His first Labor is over, but we know—​and he knows—​that many more lie ahead of him. This portrayal in turn makes a fine contrast with the famous “Farnese Hercules” in the Museo Nazionale in Naples (LIMC Herakles 702), where the aged and weary hero, leaning on his club, rests after his long Labors. He has taken off his lion-​skin and laid it down, having now no further need of its protection.

Abbreviations DK Diels and Krantz 1951. EGF Davies 1988. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999.

44   Jenny March

References Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Davies, M., and P. J. Finglass. 2014. Stesichorus: The Poems. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Diels, H., and W. Kranz eds. 1951. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Vol. 1. 6th ed. Berlin: Weidmann. Fowler, R. L. 2000–​13. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press. Kahil, L. et al. eds. 1981–​99. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Oakley, J. H. 1992. “An Athenian Red-​Figure Workshop from the Time of the Peloponnesian War.” In Les Ateliers de potiers dans le monde grec aux époques géométrique, archaique et classique, 195–​203. Paris: Bulletin de correspondance héllenique, Supplement xxiii. Webster, T. B. L. 1972. Potter and Patron in Classical Athens. London: Methuen. West, M. L. 1966. Hesiod: Theogony. Oxford: Clarendon Press. West, M. L. 1997. The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Chapter 4

L a b or II The Lernean Hydra

Christina Salowey

τί δὴ τὸ σεμνὸν σῷ κατείργασται πόσει,/​ὕδραν ἕλειον εἰ διώλεσε κτανών . . . What grand Labor indeed has been accomplished by your husband, if he has destroyed the Hydra of the marsh, killing it? (Euripides Heracles 151–​152)

In this quote, Lycus, the king of Thebes, denigrates Heracles’ efforts against the Lernean Hydra,1 because it is not an intrinsically heroic act, like hand-​to-​hand combat against warriors. This second Labor consisted of conquering a serpentine monster living in the marshlands near Lerna in the Argolid (Gantz 1993, 384–​386; Stafford 2012, 33–​34). The creature had multiple appendages ending in snake heads, which, when cut or destroyed, regenerated themselves and multiplied. Iolaus assisted Heracles on this venture, for a pesky giant crab, perhaps sent by Hera, also attacked Heracles, nipping him about the ankles, and as the ancient adage goes, “against two, it is said, not even Heracles” (Plato Phaedo 89c).2 Crabs and snakes seem more like worthy adversaries for squeamish children, not larger-​than-​life heroes. However, this is a swamp creature writ large and emblematic of wilder environmental dangers against which Heracles is very often a champion.


This essay is a revision and considerable expansion of Salowey (1995, 105–​115). πρὸς δύο λέγεται οὐδ᾽ ὁ Ἡρακλῆς οἷός τε εἶναι. Most quotations of this proverb are referring to Heracles and the crab, for which the assistance of Iolaus was required, but variants occur (Fowler 2013, 277). 2 

46   Christina Salowey The name of the Lernean creature, Hydra, is derived from the Greek word for water, an etymology not missed by the late fourth-​century AD commentators Servius and Lactantius.3 Both scholiasts concluded that the Hydra was a symbol of the swampy terrain around Lerna; Heracles dried up the waters of the area and thus conquered the “prodigy” (monstrum). Even if the commentaries of Lactantius and Servius did not point out this interpretation, it would not be difficult to discover the refracted image of a swamp in the multiheaded form of the Hydra, the poisonous quality of her blood, and the nature of her destruction. The landscape of the Argolid, the region where this Labor is located, has wetlands, the rise and fall of which geomorphological studies have clarified and dated (Zangger 1993, 83–​86; Knauss 1996b; Crouch 2003, 110–​121). At the end of the Late Bronze Age, swampland was severely constricted in the southwest corner of the plain and large deposits of rich, alluvial soil were laid down in the northern part. The reclaimed land could have been used for agricultural and settlement purposes. If the curtailment of the swamp and reclamation of the land was accomplished by human intervention, the effort could have been celebrated in song, having metamorphosed into the destruction of an indefatigable snaky creature. The myth of the Lernean Hydra could have transmitted a memory of Mycenaean dam-​ building technology in the Argolid. Recent history provides a good parallel for such mythmaking; the draining of the Hula Swamp in Israel was a bold technological effort that heralded a new advance in agricultural improvements. Accomplished between 1951 and 1958, “the draining . . . was seen as a tremendous achievement, celebrated in writing and song.”4 In the discussion of the textual and visual sources for the Labor that follows, any elements in the myth or the art that suggest a reference to a swampy locale or its control will be identified. Additionally, the physical nature of the landscape where the Labor is located, its historical geomorphology, possible Bronze Age hydraulic emendations to the region, and scholarly interpretations and rationalizations of the mythological exploit will be outlined. Hesiod (Theogony 313–​318) informs us that the Hydra is the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. Hesiod goes on to say that the Hydra was raised by Hera because of the goddess’ hatred of Heracles, presumably a reference to the hero’s Labor against the monster. The Hydra’s brothers, Orthus, the shepherd dog to Geryon, and Cerberus, the

3  Servius on Vergil, Aeneid 6.287: “It is generally agreed that the Hydra was a place pouring forth waters that laid waste to the neighboring population. There, when one opening was closed off, many other openings burst open; Hercules upon seeing this burned out the places themselves and closed the openings for the water; for the Hydra was named from water.” Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Thebaid 1.384: “If we should seek the true story, Lerna was a swamp, which although it would be dried up frequently, once again would fill up with water. Hercules understood that the channels of earth were able to be impeded with fire and in this way after he drained it, he applied fire. And if any wave broke through, he blocked it, for the Hydra was a monster and obtained the name of its story from the Greek word for water.” 4  Azaria Alon, Israeli conservationist, quoted by Greenberg (1993, 17). Not surprisingly, the draining led to environmental problems and was partially reversed owing to conservationists’ outcries.

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   47 multiheaded hound of Hades, were also conquests of Heracles. The Chimaera is either the Hydra’s daughter or sister depending on the interpretation of the text (West 1966, 254, on l.319). The Hydra’s canine siblings may have inspired another, later conception of her appearance. A few Attic vases depict a dog-​like beast, with an enormous, grotesque female head, which Tiverios has identified as the Hydra.5 Euripides (Heracles 420, 1274) twice calls the Hydra kuōn (“dog”), but the term is often applied to monstrous beasts as well as to hounds. The overwhelming majority of sources agree on the multiheaded, serpentine shape. Although Hesiod does not indicate the appearance of the Hydra, Typhon, with his dual humanoid and serpentine forms, is an appropriate father for a snake-​like Hydra (West 1966, 251–​252, on l.306). The Hydra is often described as having numerous snake heads, but there is no unanimity as to the number (Kokkorou-​Alewras 1990, 34): three (Servius on Vergil Aeneid 6.575), nine (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.2, Servius on Vergil Aeneid 6.575, Hyginus Fabulae 30, Suda, s.v. Ὗδρα), fifteen (Simοnides, PMG fr. 569 = schol. Hesiod Theogony 313), fifty (Vergil Aeneid 6.575), one hundred (Euripides Heracles 1188, Diodorus 4.11.5, Vergil Aeneid 7.658), one thousand (Euripides Heracles 419), or just many (Anthologia Palatina 16.92.2, Vergil Aeneid 8.300,6 Quintus Smyrnaeus 6.212–​ 219). Pausanias (2.37.4) credits the multiheaded form to the Archaic poet Pisander, but the abundant literary and visual testimonia to the multiple serpent heads of the Hydra make it clear that this description was not just an invention of one poet, but a well-​ established tradition. A multitude of writhing snakes is enough to suggest a fetid marsh, but the exceptional method required to kill the Hydra provides an image that corresponds to the problems of clearing a swamp. Although Hesiod (Theogony 316) is definite that the Hydra was killed by means of “pitiless bronze,” the later mythographers (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.2, Diodorus 4.11.5), where the story is told in full, specify that a burning torch was used to sear closed the wound after decapitation. If the wound were left untreated, two heads would grow back in place of the one. This regeneration can be viewed as a mythological reflection of the result when a stream of water (such as the ones that might feed a swamp) is blocked: new and often multiple pathways for the flow will form to release the pressure. The references to this reduplication of snake heads need to be examined more closely. Euripides (Heracles 1274) provides the first literary allusion to this restorative ability, using the word palimblastē, “growing back,” to describe the Hydra, but one Early/​ Middle Corinthian vase (LIMC Herakles 1991) may provide earlier testimony. On this aryballos once in Breslau, now lost, a severed snake head floats above a horse and


On the identification of a human-​headed quadruped as the Lernean Hydra, see LIMC Herakles 2834–​2837; Haspels (1936, 143–​144), Tiverios (1978, 109–​188). For an interpretation of the figure as the Sphinx, see Vermeule (1977, 295–​301). 6  This passage, a song the Salii sing about Herculean deeds, literally says “mob of heads” (turba capitum), for the Hydra.

48   Christina Salowey chariot, as if tossed behind in the struggle. The Hydra, however, appears with nine heads, the usual number favored by Corinthian vase-​painters. Perhaps this is an attempt by the artist to illustrate the futility of the cutting action. If so, the Hydra’s ability to grow another head where one was cut may have been an early feature of the story, and was certainly commonplace by the time Euripides wrote the Heracles. Apollodorus’ version of the myth (Bibliotheca 2.5.2) adds the detail that one of the nine snake heads of the Hydra was immortal and Heracles had to bury it in order to subdue it. Roman poets, from Seneca on, tend to concentrate on the snakes’ reduplicative traits, using the adjectives fecundus and fertilis, both meaning “fruitful” or “prolific.”7 Seneca’s phrase (Agamemnon 835–​836) morte fecundum (“prolific in death”) is echoed by Martial (9.101.9). Ovid (Heroides 9.95) calls the Hydra a fertilis serpens (“fertile snake”) with a fecundo vulnere (“a fruitful wound”). The potent oxymoron in the phrase morte fecundum could express the doubling regeneration, but the juxtaposition of life and death, beneficence and harm, also expresses well the precarious balance in maintaining a water supply. If sources of water are controlled properly, crops will flourish and communities will thrive; untended fields will flood, water will flow away wasted and unavailable for use. The last element to consider about the killing of the Hydra is the use of a firebrand, also known by the late fifth century. Euripides (Heracles 421) uses the verb exepurōsen, “incinerate,” for Heracles’ action. In Euripides’ Ion (190–​194), the chorus admires the metopes of the temple of Apollo at Delphi and notes that one depicts Heracles killing the Lernean Hydra with a golden sickle,8 but Iolaus is rushing forward to offer a torch. Lactantius’ commentary (on Statius Thebaid 1.384) suggests that Heracles understood that he could block up the water courses with a conflagration. Lactantius’ gloss is an attempt to rationalize the cauterization of the decapitated snakes (Euripides Heracles 419–​424; Euripides Ion 190–​200; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.2; Diodorus 4.2.5; Statius Thebaid 2.377) with an actual hydrological control process.9 The fire also could be more simply viewed as the antithesis of water, thus an enemy capable of defeating it.10 As mentioned previously, the Hydra Labor is unique in that Heracles had a comrade to help him, Iolaus. The “two foes” against which not even Heracles can prevail refers to the fact that Hera sent a crab to nip at Heracles’ heel and distract him from the task at hand (Panyassis, EGF fr. 3; schol. Aratus Phaenomena 147; Hyginus Astronomia 2.23.7; Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 67). Iolaus was present to balance out the adversaries. 7  The Lernean Hydra is by far Seneca’s favorite Labor. He alludes to it ten times in his tragedies: Hercules Furens 241, 529, 780, 1195; Hercules Oetaeus 918, 1193, 1534, 1813; Medea 701. 8  This is the weapon most often reserved for Iolaus, but one Corinthian vase does show Heracles employing a sickle (LIMC Herakles 1995). 9  On field burning as a possible interpretation of the torch weaponry, see Châtelain (2007, 378–​380), who also finds possible depictions in vase paintings. 10  Compare Homer Iliad 21.328–​360: when the angry Xanthus river threatens to drown Achilles, Hephaestus becomes elemental fire to answer the water’s challenge; see Salowey (2017, 170–​171).

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   49 The crab is an early feature of the story; it appears on four Middle Corinthian (early sixth-​century BC) vases (LIMC Herakles 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994), and, most famously, on a poros-​stone pediment (c. 560 BC) from the Athenian Acropolis (Athens Acropolis Museum 1; Brouskari (1974, 29, figs. 15–​17); LIMC Herakles 2021). The crab reinforces the Labor’s location near the seafront; the swamp at Lerna was separated from the gulf by a narrow sandbar. Another dangerous feature of the Hydra described in the mythological narratives was the toxic nature of her bile (Euripides Heracles 422, 1188; Sophocles Trachiniae 714–​7 18; Diodorus 4.11.6; Servius on Vergil Aeneid 6.287; Hyginus Fabulae 30.3; Pausanias 2.37.4). Heracles dipped the points of his arrows into her poisonous gore, making them more effective against other foes. He used these infallible arrows against Geryon, the triple-​bodied Erytheian herdsman, his own children (Euripides Heracles 1188), the centaur Nessus (Sophocles Trachiniae 572–​577), and accidently against Chiron, another centaur (Sophocles Trachiniae 715). So just as the hero was furnished with an impenetrable shield from his successful completion of the killing and skinning of the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra provided a valuable and deadly weapon, necessary for some of the difficult tasks that lay ahead. The preparatory function of these two Labors might explain their chronological position. These same arrows, made deadly by the Hydra’s venomous blood, became indirectly responsible for Heracles’ own death and subsequent apotheosis. Nessus, as he died, advised Deianeira, whose virtue Heracles was defending, to collect the gore from his wound, full of the black gall from the Hydra (Sophocles Trachiniae 572–​577). Should she ever become unsure of Heracles’ lasting affection, she could treat the hero’s robe with this mixture, which would act as a love potion. Deianeira did this and the robe devoured Heracles in burning pain (Sophocles Trachiniae 770–​771; see Chapter 21).11 Another version of the story connects the gore of the Hydra directly with an odiferous swamp. Pausanias (5.5.10) reports that the bad smell of the Anigros River near Samikon in Elis was the result of a centaur, either Pylenor or Chiron, attempting to cleanse a wound inflicted by Heracles and leaving behind traces of the Hydra’s poison in the water. Strabo (C346–​347) also reports the centaurs’ ablutions as the source of offensive smell there, but in addition comments on the slow movement of the river and contends that its former name, Minyēios, expressed the stagnant quality of its waters.12 Another tradition links the sulfur springs with cave-​dwelling nymphs that 11 

Clenendon (2009, 246) believes that Heracles was killed by a necrotizing bacterial infection transferred from a “seawater environment.” 12  “However, since both the sluggishness of the Anigros and the backflow of the sea allow the waters to tarry rather than to flow in a stream, they say that formerly the river was called ‘Minyeion,’ but that some alter the name and make it instead ‘Minyeion’ ” (ἐπεὶ οὖν ἥ τε ὑπτιότης τοῦ Ἀνίγρου καὶ αἱ ἀνακοπαὶ τῆς θαλάττης μονὴν μᾶλλον ἢ ῥύσιν παρέχουσι τοῖς ὕδασι, Μινυήιόν φασιν εἰρῆσθαι πρότερον, παρατρέψαι δέ τινας τοὔνομα καὶ ἀντ᾽ αὐτοῦ ποιῆσαι Μινυήιον). Strabo suggests an etymology for the former name of the river derived from its desultory character, but the former name offered, Minyēion, does not work in the explanation. Commentators have emended this form to Menyēion or Mimnyēion instead for a derivation from menō, “remain.”

50   Christina Salowey have curative skills (Strabo C347; Pausanias 5.5.11), and cites the waters’ ability to cure skin diseases. The modern-​day region of the Anigros River is basically an extensive, swampy lake, fed by sulfur springs that permeate the area with their fumes.13 However, today these waters do feed a therapeutic bathing establishment (Papavassiliou 1981, 107). In antiquity, the Hydra’s blood was cited as the cause of the distinctive odor of the region, but the healing capability of the swamp must be from another tradition. Artistic representations of the Lernean Hydra Labor appear in the seventh century BC and are among the earliest extant visual narratives of Heracles’ exploits. Two Boeotian fibulae show both the hero and Iolaus attacking a snaky monster, while a crab also nips at Heracles’ ankles (LIMC Herakles 2019, 2020; Bates 1911). In the Peloponnese an ivory relief, dated to the last quarter of the seventh century, from the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta, shows a bearded man with long hair attacking snakes with a sword (LIMC Herakles 2054). The entire form of the snaky creature is not apparent because the relief is broken off on the right side, but the complete scene is reconstructed on analogy with other Peloponnesian depictions. The hero grabs one snake by the neck while two others wrap themselves around his leg, one biting him below his left knee. This parallels the depiction on a tripod leg from Olympia (LIMC Herakles 2025; Daux 1966, 817, pl. 12.1), dated to the same quarter-​century. Two late Archaic shield bands from Olympia also show the same type of scene, a man to the left attacking a group of snakes (LIMC Herakles 2052).14 Thirteen Corinthian vases,15 ranging in date from 630 to 570 BC, carry a Hydra scene iconographically similar to the ones on the ivory relief, bronze tripod leg, and shield bands. Since three of the vases (LIMC Herakles 1995, 2011, 1991) are labeled with the names Heracles and Iolaus, the identification is secure. The Corinthian depictions have many elements in common: Heracles is on the left, often accompanied by Athena, his helper Iolaus on the right, biga (two-​horse chariot) or quadriga (four-​horse chariot) on the outside, the Hydra centrally placed, usually depicted with nine serpent heads stemming from a thick scaly tail that is curled into a loop.16 A Corinthian aryballos from the Getty Museum (Fig.


Papachatzis (1979, iii.211–​213) points out that the area of the Kaiapha swamp fits Pausanias’ description. Furthermore, he considers Anigros to be parallel to the Latin niger, citing Hesychius, who defines anigron as “unclean, paltry, bad, and malodorous” (ἀνιγρόν: ἀκάθαρον, φαῦλον, κακόν, δυσῶδες). Leake (1830, i.53) notes that the ancient river was called Mavropotamo, “Black River” in Greek, appropriately enough. 14  The second shield band (Olympia Museum B1913) is referenced in LIMC Herakles 2025, and is depicted at Kunze 1950, 102 (xli.g), pl. 65. 15  The Hydra is more popular on Peloponnesian vases than the Nemean Lion, in contrast to the trend on Attic pottery. There are more than seven hundred black-​figure and red-​figure Attic representations of the Lion versus forty-​nine of the Hydra, but, on Corinthian pottery, there is only one representation of the Lion versus thirteen of the Hydra. Laconian pottery preserves one scene of the Lion and four of the Hydra (Brommer 1973; Steiner 1974 passim; Amandry and Amyx 1982; Stibbe 1972). 16  Amyx (1983, 48–​49) admits a “common repertory of certain component features in the Hydra scene” but concentrates on the iconographical variations on this set of vases to demonstrate that there is no reason to believe a monumental wall painting was the source.

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   51

Figure 4.1  Heracles and the Hydra. Corinthian Aryballos, first quarter of sixth century BC. The J. Paul Getty Museum 92.AE.4. Open Content.

4.1; Getty Museum 92.AE.4), dated to the first quarter of the sixth century BC, shows Heracles fighting the Hydra with Athena behind him. At their feet is the crab sent by Hera. Iolaus is also depicted to the right of the Hydra. All figures are labeled, Iolaus with his name and patronymic, Wiphikledas, i.e., the son of Iphicles, Heracles’ twin brother. A Corinthian lekythos in the Louvre (CA 598; LIMC Herakles 2004) shows all these elements but also includes a depiction of Iolaus’ torch. The fire source for the torch used to sear the reduplicating serpent heads is found behind Iolaus, an element that is also found between Iolaus’ legs on a Caeretan hydria (Fig. 4.2; Getty Museum 83.AE.346; LIMC Herakles 2016). The Hydra is the most represented of Heracles’ Labors on Corinthian pottery (Amandry and Amyx 1982, 110). This chronologically restricted popularity of the myth may have been prompted by some event of which the Hydra was symbolic. Some have suggested a medical event, such as fevers or pestilence connected to swampy conditions (Grmek and Gourevitch 1998, 96–​97). The scene is also found on four Laconian vases (Stibbe 1972, nos. 206a, 157, 162, 158a–​b), dated to the mid-​sixth century BC. These vessels are very fragmentary, leaving the exact character of the Hydra

52   Christina Salowey

Figure 4.2  Heracles and the Hydra. Caeretan Hydria, 520–​510 BC, attributed to the Eagle Painter. The J. Paul Getty Museum 83.AE.346. Open Content.

unclear, but a number of snake heads survive on each one. On the evidence of the Peloponnesian pottery, the Hydra was represented early on as a multibodied serpent creature joined into one thick scaly tail. The serpentine description and appearance of the Hydra, her unique restorative abilities, the peculiar difficulties in subduing her, and the odiferous nature of her gore all match the qualities of a swamp, thus linking the monstrous creature more closely with the characteristics of the place she inhabits. This place is clearly associated with the southern edge and southwestern corner of the Argive plain in the Peloponnese, where three major rivers—​the Erasinus, the Inachus, and the Xerias (a.k.a. the Charadros)—​empty into the Gulf of Argos, and the streams from the springs along the eastern edge of Mt. Pontinus form Lake Lerna. The mythologies of this area have preserved the hydrological history of the plain as well as provided etiologies for the names and locations of various natural phenomena. A summary of these stories from their ancient sources can provide context for the Hydra’s placement in a region where the flow or lack of flow of waters was noted and recorded, at least in symbolic form.

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   53 The Hydra is connected with the place-​name Lerna as early as Hesiod (Theogony 313–​318). Other literary sources associate the dwelling place of the Hydra with the springs named for one of the daughters of Danaus, Amymone, and provide testimony to locate the myth in the Argive plain. Euripides, in the Phoenissae, locates the two mythological toponyms in the region of Mycenae. Antigone notices Hippomedon and is told he dwells “in Mycenae, near the Lernean streams” (126). Later, Antigone repeats Capaneus’ boast that he will enslave the Thebans to the Mycenaean women who dwell “at the Lernean trident and the waters of Amymone dear to Poseidon” (186–​188). Not clear in this poetic passage is the meaning of “at the Lernean trident” (Λερναίᾳ . . . τριαίνᾳ), since the trident, the sea god’s usual earth-​moving tool, could refer to Poseidon’s creation of the Amymone springs which fed Lake Lerna, or the shape of the lake, roughly a triangle. These springs have their origin in the amorous encounter between Poseidon and Amymone, but they are also clearly the source of the Lernean Hydra’s marshy lair. The story goes that Danaus, after he arrives in the Argolid, sends out his fifty daughters to find water. Amymone, while trying to bring down a deer with a spear, strikes a satyr instead who wakes up and attempts to rape the huntress. Poseidon rescues her, and impregnates her with the hero, Nauplius, who provides the eponym for the city located directly across the Argive gulf. Poseidon then either reveals the abundant springs that will bear her name (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.1.5) or creates both the Lernean “spring” (fons) and the Amymonian “river” (flumen) by striking the earth with his trident (Hyginus Fabulae 169). The popularity of this story is attested by more whimsical treatments in Lucian’s Dialogues of the Sea Gods (8[6]‌) and Philostratus’ Imagines (1.8). In the latter, the description of a painting in which Poseidon, as a wave, covers over the stricken Amymone, is a much more evocative depiction than the somewhat stilted vase paintings most likely inspired by a lost satyr play of Aeschylus entitled Amymone (Simon 1981, 743–​752).17 While Pausanias (2.37.1, 4) does not report on the romance between Poseidon and the Danaid, he specifies that the Amymone River flows down from Mt. Pontinus, and the Hydra grew up under a plane tree located at the springs. Furthermore, Pausanias (2.15.5) comments that Lake Lerna is perennially wet, while the region’s three rivers, named as the Inachus, the Erasinus, and the Asterion, regularly dry up in the summer. These rivers judged the plain as sacred to Hera, thereby slighting Poseidon, who, in retribution, caused the seasonal variations. Strabo (C370–​371) also mentions both the lake and the springs in a longer excursus on the fluvial nature of the Argive plain.18 First he cites Hesiod’s comment that

17  18 

For a discussion of this episode as depicted on an Apulian pelike, see Trendall (1977). For additional commentary on this passage, see Baladié (1980, 87–​88).

54   Christina Salowey the Danaans were responsible for providing water: “When Argos was waterless, the Danaans made it well-​watered” (Hesiod F76a MW).19 He then goes on to explain why Argos is called “thirsty” (polydipsion: Homer Iliad 4.17), when the plain indeed is well watered. He enumerates the following rivers: the Inachus, arising on the slopes of the Arcadian Mt. Lyrcius, rushes abundantly through the plain; similarly the Erasinus, channeled underground from Stymphalus, the site of Heracles’ Bird Labor, waters the area; and finally, the Amymone is an abundant spring near Lake Lerna, the haunt of the Hydra. Earlier in the Geography he also mentions a Lerna River with the same name as the marsh in which the Labor occurred (C368). To explain the apparent contradictions in the epic characterizations of Argos, he concludes that the plain was well-​watered, but the city was located in a dry area that eventually was made more habitable by the addition of wells created by the Danaans, the supposed original inhabitants of the city. Although there are many variants in the mythological stories that preserve names, pathways, and characteristics of the different waterways in the Argive plain, the Hydra is a dangerous and foreboding element in this watery landscape and always referenced as a constant or perennial feature. She is most firmly construed as an inhabitant of the southeastern corner of the plain, but evokes the entire hydrological environment of the Argive plain. In Euripides’ Phoenissae, the Lernean Hydra is characterized as “the pride of Argos,” (ὕδρας . . . Ἀργεῖον αὔχημ᾽, 1136–​1137), and in that play, as we have seen above, the toponym Lerna is also associated with Mycenae. Lake Lerna is more securely located (and still exists today) in the region around the modern village of Myloi, approximately 10 kilometers south of Argos and Mycenae. The area contains many of the geophysical characteristics that are mentioned in the mythical narratives. Plentiful springs20 are located in the modern village of Myloi and probably played a role in the establishment of the Early Bronze Age site nearby, which archaeologists have given the name Lerna.21 The mountain behind Myloi is still called Pontinus today. Colonel Leake described the spot: “Continuing along the foot of Mt. Pontinus, we arrive . . . at some copious sources on the road side . . . .they issue from under a rock and . . . correspond exactly in position to the Amymone of Pausanias” (Leake 1830, ii.473). However, the Lernean Hydra could also be an imaginary embodiment of the hydrogeology of the entire Argive plain.


Ἄργος ἄνυδρον ἐὸν Δανααὶ θέσαν Ἄργος ἔνυδρον. Caskey (1953, 99). These should not be confused with the Lerna Spring near the Gymnasium and Asklepieion at Corinth mentioned at Pausanias 2.4.5 (Wiseman 1967, 13–​41). 21  Caskey and Blackburn (1977). For a good map of the Argive plain with ancient toponyms on it, see Caskey (1953, 100, fig. 3). Crouch (2003, 111, fig. 4.1) includes a map of the plain that combines geological features and historic hydrological improvements derived from Knauss (1996b) and Zangger (1993). 20 

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   55 Bintliff (1981; 1977, 654) had postulated that the entire plain was swampy throughout much of its history. Finke (1988) clarifies that the whole plain was never a swamp, but the marshy areas were and still are confined to the coastline south of Tiryns and the extensive so-​called Lake Lerna southwest of Argos. Aristotle had also weighed in on the changes in the Argive Plain. In the Meteorologica (1.14) he describes the vicissitudes in the water levels, specifying that the land around Argos was marshy and unsuitable for habitation at the time of the Trojan Wars, but that, during his own lifetime, the water there was more fruitful, rather than destructive. While a direct correlation between natural or manmade changes to the paludic habitats of the Argive plain and the creation of mythologies about the eradication of a legendary swamp creature cannot be made, it is possible that the stories contain if not a specific historical kernel of truth, at least a general principle concerning the control and dangers of stagnant waters. What changes to the flow of rivers, springs, and lakes did occur or were accomplished in the region of the Hydra’s lair in the past five thousand years? Fortunately, the Argive plain has been the subject of many recent studies that chart the changes in the geomorphology and coastline of the region throughout the Holocene period, and these contribute much to our understanding of the ancient topography of the plain (Finke 1988; Knauss 1996b). Eighteen thousand years ago, the coast of the Argolic Gulf was 10 kilometers farther south (seaward) than the present-​day coastline (Fig. 4.3). The sea level gradually rose until 4500 years ago (2500 BC), when it peaked and the coastline on the east side of the gulf was located approximately one kilometer landward of its present position. At this date, the Inachus River began depositing sediments instead of further eroding the coastline, caused by shifts in the place of deposition in the sea, climate changes, or human intervention (Higgins and Higgins 1996, 46, fig. 5.4; Finke 1988). Also at that time, a large freshwater lagoon occupied the western half of the plain, separated from the sea by a beach barrier (Finke 1988, 136–​140). This lagoon, called Lake Lerna by Finke, occupied an area of triangular shape with the sites of Lerna, Magoula, and Nea Kios at its apices. Finke has been able to date the lacustrine deposits in this area and estimates that it reached its maximum size, roughly 2 by 5 kilometers, in 4660 ± 120 BC, and then decreased in size with its eastern half completely silted over by 1100 BC (116–​120, figs. 26, 27). The lake swelled again between the Hellenistic and Roman periods and persisted in this area until recently. Today any possible remnants of the ancient water landscape have been almost completely obliterated by the pumping station, which takes the abundant water from the Myloi springs to Nauplion for drinking water, and the intensive irrigation system feeding agriculture in the area (Baladié 1980, 87–​88). Angel also concluded that there were two wet phases in the Holocene, on the basis of his study of human bones from Lerna (1971a, 77–​84). The presence of porotic hyperostosis in the bones can be correlated with a form of the disease malaria, caused by

56   Christina Salowey

Figure 4.3  The Argive Plain with geographical features and hydrological improvements. Taken from D. P. Crouch. 2003. Geology and Settlement: Greco-​Roman Patterns. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 111 fig. 4.1.

protozoa of the species Plasmodium falciparum, carried by mosquitoes.22 Angel found two time periods when there was a widespread occurrence of the disease porotic hyperostosis in the bones, 7000–​2000 BC and AD 100–​400, and postulated a rise in malaria due to the population living in a predominantly marshy environment (1971b, 100). These dates support fairly well Finke’s findings that the lake was at its maximum size from the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age and again after the Hellenistic period. Although subsequent studies have disavowed the presence of falciparum malaria in the Neolithic and Mesolithic periods in the Eastern Mediterranean (de Zulueta 1987), it is still possible to connect other forms of mosquito-​transmitted pyretic diseases to the development of porotic hyperostosis, thus maintaining a link to the lake as the breeding ground for disease (Grmek 1994). If this natural decrease in the level of Lake Lerna at the end of the Late Bronze Age was accompanied by a remission of deadly fevers, perhaps the myth was created to


Other plasmodia can cause less virulent forms of malaria and are not connected with porotic hyperostosis in the bones (Crutcher and Hoffman 1996).

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   57 celebrate the natural draining of part of the swamp. This presumes that generation upon generation would notice this change in the landscape and be impressed by its beneficial effects. It seems unlikely, however, that a gradual natural phenomenon occurring over hundreds or thousands of years would provide a marked enough change to be observed within one or two generations and immortalized in legend. Even Aristotle, in his discussions of the rise and fall of waters and the sea, concludes, “But the whole vital process of the earth takes place so gradually and in periods of time which are so immense compared with the length of our life, that these changes are not observed” (Meteorologica 1.14). However, a technological improvement in the drainage of such a waterlogged area would be noted and preserved in song. Curtius first postulated such an effort as the motivation for the myth and even recognized blocks and walls in the town of Myloi as components of a Mycenaean drainage canal system (Curtius 1852, i.52). Jost Knauss, who has studied the Mycenaean drainage systems in other areas where Heraclean deeds or Labors are located, i.e., Boeotian Copais (1987), Stymphalos, and Pheneos (1990), postulates that a similar Mycenaean construction could have stabilized the water balance in the Argive plain (1996b, 146–​151). Through the examination of geological cores into the swamp floor at its height, Zangger (1993, Table 3) demonstrated a cycle of dry and wet periods before the 13th century BC. Knauss reconstructs a channel running along the slopes of Mt. Pontinus between the Erasinus spring, over the Cheimarros torrent bed and down to the Argolic Gulf (1996b, fig. 6). The channel could direct water to the lake or the sea depending on whether it was a wet year or a drought. He discovered no definite Mycenaean remains. Millennia of water diversion or reclamation constructions have erased any historic traces of Bronze Age installations. Another possible inspiration for the myth is the Mycenaean dam at Tiryns.23 The dam at Tiryns was probably constructed to prevent flooding in the lower town (Balcer 1974; Finke 1988, 112; Zangger 1994, Knauss 1996a). Finke found an alluvial deposit to the north of the citadel which indicated a shift in the stream from its Early Bronze Age position south of Tiryns. The dam diverted the stream to the south again, and alluvial deposits demonstrate its efficacy. The Tiryns dam is probably not the inspiration for the veiled reference to hydraulic efforts in the case of the Lernean Hydra, but it may be one of many such Mycenaean water control installations that, when working together, improved the drainage conditions in the entire Argive plain. Many travelers and scholars have interpreted the Labor as an allegory for the water and its management in the Argive plain, connecting various features of the Hydra to different aspects of water control. Dodwell (1819, 226–​227) thought the heads of the Hydra were the springs feeding Lake Lerna. If one spring were blocked, others would develop in the basin. Leake (1830, ii.469–​477), who traveled to Lerna in March 1806, 23  Balcer 1974 connects the dam at Tiryns with the Augean Stables. Topographical integrity is one assumption I do make in the reading of these myths. The Lernean Hydra is too close to Tiryns to ignore the possible connection.

58   Christina Salowey connects landmarks on his itinerary with those of Pausanias, identifying the location of the springs of Amymone and the marshy lake of Lerna. Concerning the latter, he quotes the local millers for the information that the lake is deep, full of eels, and thick with vegetation (1830, ii.473–​374). Although he does not specifically make the connection, the report of the many eels in the lake may have evoked for him the snake-​like Hydra. Curtius, who visited the area in the 1830s, finds the atmosphere of the place to be evocative of the myth, noting that its “creepy wilderness of malicious exhalations” could have fed the imagination of ancient mythographers.24 Curtius visited the sites of all of Heracles’ Labors in the Peloponnese and posits a water-​related inspiration for each one of the myths.25 Philippson, a geologist, connects the Labor to a road-​building project that allowed passage through the swamp down to the coast (1959, 140). Jan Schoo (1969, 16) also interprets the Labor as the construction of a roadway or bridge, connecting the burying of the immortal head of the Hydra to the use of stones in the road surface. However, this mythical detail also resonates with the Mycenaean technique of combining multiple rivulets, the mortal heads of the Hydra, into a single stream, the remaining immortal head, and directing it either down a sinkhole or toward the sea (Salowey 1995, 108). Schoo further rationalizes Iolaus’ burning of a nearby forest (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.2) as a technique used in antiquity to harden wood for use in large-​scale constructions, here a dyke to contain waters threatening to overflow their banks.26 Knauss (1996b, 150–​151) compares the Homeric description of wall-​building around the Achaean shipyard at Troy, where large wooden pikes were laid in the trench (Iliad 12.4–​6), a construction specified as later dislodged by Poseidon’s trident and swept away (Iliad 12.27–​29). In a similar manner, Knauss speculates, it is possible that all traces of a Mycenaean hydraulic installation (and the inspiration for the legendary Heraclean efforts against the Hydra) may have been obliterated. A grand, Mycenaean hydro-​engineering project, one that would have improved the lives of many people in the Argive plain, certainly would have been worthy of assignment to Heracles.

Abbreviations EGF

Davies 1988.

24  The German is worth quoting here: “Eine Oertlichkeit von so eigenthümlicher Beschaffenheit, welche sich selbst überlassen zu einem völlig unwegsamen Moraste, zu einer unheimlichen Wildniss von schädlicher Ausdünstung werden musste, gab der Phantasie der Alten reichlichen Stoff zur Mythenbildung” (Curtius 1852, ii.369); “The region had such a peculiar nature. Abandoned to itself, it must have become a completely impassable morass, a weird wilderness of toxic vapors. This provided the ancient imagination with ample material from which to fashion myths.” 25  Curtius 1852:ii, 506; cf. i, 203, 288, 473; Knauss 1996b, 134 n.14. 26  See Châtelain (2007, 374–​380) for a discussion of the symbolic meanings of the fire.

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   59 LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. PMG Page 1962.

References Amandry, P., and D. A. Amyx. 1982. “Héraklès et l’Hydre de Lerne dans la céramique Corinthienne.” Antike Kunst 25: 102–​116. Amyx, D. A. 1983. “Archaic Vase-​Painting vis-​à-​vis ‘Free’ Painting at Corinth.” In Ancient Greek Art and Iconography, ed. W. G. Moon, 37–​52. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Angel, J. L. 1971a. The People of Lerna. Princeton: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Angel, J. L. 1971b. “Ecology and Population in the Eastern Mediterranean.” World Archaeology 4: 88–​105. Baladié, R. 1980. Le Péloponnèse de Strabon. Paris: Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres. Balcer, J. M. 1974. “The Mycenaean Dam at Tiryns.” American Journal of Archaeology 78: 142–​149. Bates, W. 1911. “Two Labors of Heracles on a Geometric Fibula.” American Journal of Archaeology 15(1): 1–​17. Bintliff, J. 1977. Natural Environment and Human Settlement in Prehistoric Greece. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, Suppl. Ser. 28. Bintliff, J. 1981. “Archaeology and the Holocene Evolution of Coastal Plains in the Aegean and Circum-​Mediterranean.” In Environmental Aspects of Coasts and Islands, eds. C. Brothwell and G. Dimbleby, 11–​31. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. Brommer, F. 1973. Vasenlisten zur griechischen Heldensage. Marburg: N.G. Elwert. Brouskari, M. S. 1974. The Acropolis Museum. Athens: Commercial Bank of Greece. Caskey, J. L. 1953. “An Early Settlement at the Spring of Lerna.” Archaeology 6(2): 99–​102. Caskey, J. L., and E. T. Blackburn. 1977. Lerna in the Argolid. Princeton: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Châtelain, T. 2007. La Grèce antique et ses marais: Perception des milieux palustres chez les Ancients. PhD thesis, Université de Neuchâtel and Université de Paris IV–​Sorbonne. Clenendon, C. 2009. Hydromythology and the Ancient Greek World: An Earth Science Perspective Emphasizing Karst Hydrology. Michigan: Fineline Science Press. Crouch, Dora P. 2003. Geology and Settlement: Greco-​Roman Patterns. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Crutcher J. M., and S. L. Hoffman 1996. “Malaria.” In Medical Microbiology, 4th ed., ed. S. Baron. Galveston: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Chapter 83: https://​www.ncbi.​books/​NBK8584/​ Curtius, E. 1852. Peloponnesos: Eine historisch-​geographische Beshreibung der Halbinsel. 2 vols. Gotha: J. Perthes. Daux, G. 1966. “Chronique des fouilles et découvertes archéologiques en Grèce en 1965.” Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 90(2): 715–​1019. Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. de Zulueta, J. 1987. “Changes in the Geographical Distribution of Malaria throughout History.” Parassitologia 29: 193–​205. Dodwell, E. 1819. A Classical and Topographical Tour through Greece. London: Rodwell and Martin.

60   Christina Salowey Finke, E. A. W. [= E. Zangger] 1988. Landscape Evolution of the Argive Plain, Greece: Paleoecology, Holocene Depositional History and Coastline Changes. Dissertation, Stanford University. Fowler, R. L. 2000–2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Greenberg, J. 1993. “Israel Restoring Drained Wetland, Reversing Pioneers’ Feat.” New York Times, December 5, 1993: 17. Grmek, M. D. 1994. “La Malaria dans la Méditerranée orientale Préhistorique et antique.” Parassitologia 36: 1–​6. Grmek, M. D., and D. Gourevitch 1998. Les Maladies dans l’Art Antique. Paris: Fayard. Haspels, C. H. E. 1936. Attic Black-​Figured Lekythoi. Paris: E. de Boccard. Higgins M. D., and Higgins R. 1996. A Geological Companion to Greece and the Aegean. London: Duckworth. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts., with supplements. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Knauss, J. 1987. Die Melioration des Kopaisbeckens durch die Minyer im 2 Jt. V Chr. Wasserbau und Siedlungsbedingungen im Altertum (Kopais 2). No. 57. Munich: Technical University of Munich. Knauss, J. 1990. “Der Graben des Herakles im Becken von Pheneos und die Vertreibung der stymphalischen Vogel.” Athenische Mittielungen 105: 1–​52, figs. 1–​10, plates 1–​3. Knauss, J. 1996a. “Flussumleiting von Tiryns.” In Argolische Studien: alte Strassen; alte Wasserbauten, 17–​ 124. Wasserbau und Wasserwirtschaft, No. 77. Munich: Technical University of Munich. Knauss, J. 1996b. “Die Trockenlegung des Sumpfes von Lerna.” In Argolische Studien: alte Strassen; alte Wasserbauten, 125–​159. Wasserbau und Wasserwirtschaft, No. 77. Munich: Technical University of Munich. Kokkorou-​Alewras, G. 1990. “Herakles and the Lernean Hydra (Labour II).” In LIMC v.1, 34–​42. Kunze, E. 1950. Archaische Schildbänder: Olympische Forschungen II. Berlin: de Gruyter. Leake, W. M. 1830. Travels in the Morea. 3 vols. London: John Murray. Page, D. L. 1962. Poetae melici Graeci. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Papachatzis, N. D. 1979. Παυσανίου Ελλάδος Περιητήσις. Κριτικό Υπόμνημα και Αποκατάσταση του Κειμένου Μετάφραση και Σημειώσεις Ιστορικές, Αρχαιολογικές, Μυθολογικές. 5 vols. Athens: Εκδοτική Αθηνών. Papavassiliou, J. 1981. “Wasser und Medizin im alten Griechenland.” In Wasser im antiken Hellas (Vorträge der Tagung, Athens, 1981), 99–​134. Braunschweig: Leichtweiss-​Institut für Wasserbau der Technischen Universität Braunschweig. Philippson, A. 1959. Griechischen Landschaften. Vol. 3.1. Frankfurt-​am-​Main. Salowey, C. A. 1995. The Peloponnesian Herakles: Cult and Labors. Diss., Bryn Mawr College. Salowey, C. A. 2017. “Rivers Run through It: Environmental History in Two Heroic Riverine Battles.” In Myths on the Map: The Storied Landscapes of Ancient Greece, ed. Greta Hawes, 159–​177. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Schoo, J. H. 1969. Hercules’ Labors: Fact or Fiction? Chicago: Argonaut. Simon, E. 1981. “Amymone.” In LIMC i.1, 742–​752. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles: Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World. London: Routledge. Steiner, A. R. 1974. Herakles and the Lion in Attic Art, 575–​450 B.C. Dissertation, Bryn Mawr College. Stibbe, C. M. 1972. Lakonische Vasenmaler des Sechsten Jahrhunderts v. Chr. Amsterdam: NSI.

Labor II: The Lernean Hydra   61 Tiverios, M. 1978. ‘Μιὰ νέα παράσταση τοῦ ἄθλου τοῦ Ἠρακλῆ μὲ τὴ Λερναία ὕδρα.” Archaiologikē Ephēmeris 109–​118. Trendall, A. D. 1977. “Poseidon and Amymone on an Apulian Pelike.” In Festschrift für Frank Brommer, eds. U. Höckmann and A. Krug, 261–​287. Mainz: von Zabern. Vermeule, E. 1977. “Herakles Brings a Tribute.” In Festschrift für Frank Brommer, eds. U. Höckmann and A. Krug, 295–​230. Mainz: von Zabern. West, M. L. 1966. Hesiod: Theogony. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wiseman, J. 1967. “Excavations at Corinth, the Gymnasium Area, 1965.” Hesperia 36: 13–​41. Zangger, E. [= E. A. W Finke]. 1991. “Prehistoric Coastal Environments in Greece: The Vanished Landscapes of Dimini Bay and Lake Lerna,” Journal of Field Archaeology 18(1): 1–​15. Zangger, E. [= E. A. W Finke]. 1993. The Geoarchaeology of the Argolid. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag. Zangger, E. [= E. A. W Finke]. 1994. “Landscape Changes around Tiryns during the Bronze Age.” American Journal of Archaeology 98:189–​212.

Chapter 5

L a b or III The Cerynean Hind

Emma Aston

Introduction Heracles’ capture of the Cerynean hind is the third Labor in the tally of Apollodorus, and the fourth according to Diodorus; it is only in these relatively late sources that it is placed within a comprehensive catalog of the Labors. (For the Labors and their organization, see Introduction.) All the known archaic accounts of this Labor are conveyed with vexing brevity in a single Pindar scholion, from which we know that the story appeared in the Theseis, in the work of Pisander, and in Pherecydes.1 All we actually know from this scholion is that the myth was mentioned in these early accounts; no actual details may be extrapolated, except possibly the fact that the hind was female and had golden horns.2 Pindar3 and Euripides4 are prominent among Classical


Theseis fr. 2 West; Pisander fr. 4 EGF; Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 71. Gantz (1993, 386). This is suggested by the wording: “θήλειαν δὲ εἶπε καὶ χρυσοκέρων ἀπὸ ἱστορίας. ὁ γὰρ Θησηίδα γράψας τοιαύτην αὐτὴν καὶ Πείσανδρος ὁ Καμιρεὺς καὶ Φερεκύδης.” “[Pindar] spoke of the Hind as female and as golden-​horned following the tradition; for the author of the Theseis describes her thus, as do Pisander of Camirus and Pherecydes.” (The italics are mine.) As Brommer notes (1986, 22), the golden horns of the hind are the only aspect of the story which all surviving accounts include. 3 Pindar Olympians 3. 4 Euripides Heracles 375–​379. 2 

Labor III: The Cerynean Hind  63 authors in their contribution to the development of the myth; then there are the usual post-​Classical mythographers and chroniclers, chief among them Apollodorus and Diodorus. However, neither of these actually chooses to dwell at length on the Labor. In Diodorus’ account, the hind forms a strong pairing, in terms of style and focus, with the Stymphalian Birds (on which, see Chapter 8). For both, Diodorus emphasizes the use of skill and guile rather than force. There is a particular reason why deploying force against the hind is problematic: it is sacred to Artemis, and different authors have different ways of allowing Heracles to capture it without irreparably offending the goddess.5 Diodorus—​citing unnamed earlier sources—​mentions the use of nets and the simple expedient of pursuing it to a standstill.6 In Apollodorus’ account, pursuit availing nothing, Heracles eventually resorts to wounding the hind and then seizing it bodily; he does, as a consequence, have to contend with Artemis and Apollo in a state of wrath; however, he manages to placate them by identifying Eurystheus as responsible for the act.7 Euripides’ version is the most extreme, since he has Heracles kill the deer, and moreover do so because it has actually been attacking humans. This level of violence on both sides is unparalleled in other accounts. The literary context is vital to understanding the Euripidean version: the Chorus of the Heracles are recounting the Labors in a way that arguably emphasizes the savagery both of Heracles’ opponents and of Heracles himself, and they do so as an immediate preamble to the near-​slaughter of Heracles’ wife and children by the murderous Lycus (“Wolf ”). Heracles kills this bestial aggressor as he has killed so many beasts before, but later in the play becomes a monster himself in the deluded slaughter of his own children. In the context of such a story the manipulation of the hind tale to produce a violent deer meeting a violent death is not out of keeping with the themes and tone of the work as a whole.8 In almost no other account, or indeed visual image, is the deer explicitly presented as dangerous.9 Its capture is risky because of Artemis, not because the animal itself is any threat. This is certainly borne out in the visual depictions of the event. Indeed, artists seem, if anything, to want to emphasize the physical delicacy of the hind, and the muscular solidity of Heracles, who often kneels on its back, pressing down while he wrenches at one of its horns (see later). This is the case on one of the few sculptural depictions of the scene, one of the metopes of the Athenian treasury at Delphi (constructed c. 510–​480 BC): though the hind’s head and the hero’s hands are missing, preventing us from knowing whether he is gripping its horns, we can clearly see his 5  As Fowler remarks (2013, 277), ‘Herakles does not have the option of killing it. This is presumably the point of the Labour.’ 6  Diodorus 4.13.1. 7 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.3. 8  Papadopoulou (2005) has explored the many ways in which the play presents Heracles as profoundly transgressive and perplexing; the killing of a sacred animal, however savage, would accord with this quality. 9 Hyginus Fabulae 30, in calling it ferox, is surely following Euripides.

64   Emma Aston knee on its back, and its legs, though missing, must—​from the position of its torso—​ have been buckling under his semidivine weight. A similar composition seems to have been used in the metopes of the temple of Zeus at Olympia (c. 470–​456 BC), and on those of the Hephaesteum at Athens (c. 449–​415 BC), though in both cases the remains are fragmentary.10 Rather than a monster, the deer is something rare and precious, its value expressed in the motif of the golden horns which recall the gilded horns of sacrificial victims,11 a prize to be acquired and then presented to the gods.12 The sacrificial aspect of the animal is suggested in the scene depicted on an Attic calyx-​crater from c. 420 BC, by the Kadmos Painter.13 Here Heracles’ attack on the hind takes place beside an altar, and while it would be going too far to say that he is actually about to sacrifice it, the composition certainly evokes such a killing (surely deliberately). Whose altar is it? Several deities stand around the struggling pair. Behind Heracles stands Athena, observing and clearly there in her role of the hero’s supporter. In this she is accompanied by Iolaus, who stands behind her; this pairing—​mortal and immortal helper—​ is common in vase-​paintings of Heracles’ Labors.14 Facing Heracles across the altar is Artemis; slightly in the background, Apollo comes at a run, surely in response to the outrage being inflicted on his sister’s sacred animal. Given the positioning of the figures, we might take the altar to be Artemis’ because she is standing beside it, but a different reading is suggested by the tripod which stands in the distance, strongly evoking a Delphic mis-​en-​scène. By this interpretation, Heracles has run the hind to ground in Apollo’s sanctuary, and the sacrificial tone of the struggle is distinctly subversive since it takes place at the altar of a deity furious at the animal’s capture and rushing forward to remonstrate. The scene’s Delphic location has not gone unchallenged,15 and indeed a different, looser, reading is possible. In addition to the tripod, the scene contains a small palm tree, surely Delian rather than Delphic, and perhaps the two objects in combination merely act as accessories of Apollo (and to a lesser extent Artemis) rather than signaling a fixed location. Nonetheless, other aspects of the Labor’s depiction certainly do make oblique references to other myths concerning Apollo and Delphi. On a number of vases and other decorated objects, Heracles and Apollo actually fight over the hind,16 sometimes by holding a leg each, in a way that must inevitably evoke the myth 10  LIMC Herakles 2190 and 2191; Volkommer (1988, 6); Schefold (1992, 108–​109). As Stafford (2012, 34) notes, this composition becomes prevalent among Hellenistic sculptures in the round that depict the Labor. 11  See, e.g., Homer Odyssey 3.426. 12  Some vases show Heracles, the deer, and Athena standing quietly together; the goddess has seemingly received the deer from Heracles. See, e.g., LIMC Herakles 2201 and 2202. 13  Bologna 303; Volkommer (1988, no. 55). 14  See, e.g., Berlin F1720, an Attic black-​figure amphora of c. 540 BC, by Exekias, showing Heracles wrestling with the Nemean Lion, flanked by Iolaus and Athena (Stafford 2012, 32, fig. 1.2). 15  For a summary of views for and against the identification, see Volkommer (1988, 7). 16  For discussion of the visual depiction of this conflict over the hind, see Devereux (1966, 290–​293).

Labor III: The Cerynean Hind  65 of their struggle for possession of the Delphic tripod (for which, see Chapter 20).17 This visual analogy has the effect of enhancing the hind’s identity as a precious and sacred object, whose seizure takes Heracles into dangerously transgressive territory.

Locations of the Myth Whereas the Stymphalian Birds (Chapter 8) were highly localized in one particular site in Arcadia, in a polis that displayed the myth on its coins and incorporated it into its cults, the Labor of the Cerynean hind covers a wider geographical scope because it is a myth of pursuit. Heroic chases tend to be on a grand scale, and Heracles follows the animal all the way from the Peloponnese to the land of the Hyperboreans, via the river Ister (Danube). Attempts have been made to situate the Hyperboreans in this myth by suggesting that the hind’s antlers make it a reindeer (since only in this species does the female have such horns) and therefore to be associated with some arctic or subarctic region.18 However, locating the Hyperboreans in real space is notoriously tricky and probably misguided. It is perhaps better to see Hyperborea as contributing a significant symbolic component to the story, as a distant land of wonder and as the northern extremity of the Greek imaginaire.19 In Pindar’s Third Olympian Ode, the pursuit of the hind prefigures and matches Heracles’ acquisition of olive trees from the Hyperboreans.20 He noticed and admired the trees while pursuing the hind—​made a mental note of them, so to speak—​and then returned later to request them before carrying them south and planting them at Olympia.21 Thus Pindar aligns two myths which convey the limit of where a hero may go, northward at least.22 More can be said about the Peloponnesian end of the journey. Across ancient texts, the hind’s Peloponnesian affiliations are various and slightly confused. Cerynia was a polis in Achaea, but according to Pausanias it may have derived its name from the river Cerynites, which flowed into Achaea from Arcadia;23 it is not entirely clear from

17  Schefold (1992, 106) makes the interesting suggestion that the conflict between Heracles and Apollo, of which the fight over the deer was one manifestation, is an early phenomenon, and that “Later a justification for the dispute was invented: the deer with the golden horns supposedly belonged to Artemis, and Apollo was merely defending his sister’s interests.’ He does not, however, claim that the capture of the hind was a late development, merely the idea of its capture as the casus belli between Heracles and Apollo. 18  Robbins (1982, 300–​301 and n. 20), with discussion of earlier scholarship. The hind’s antlers puzzled the ancients too: see, e.g., Aristotle, Poetics 1460b 31–​32. 19  Heracles’ adventures as marking the limits of the Greek world: Padilla (1998, 30). 20  For discussions of the complicated chronology involved in the story, see Köhnken (1983). 21  For discussion of Heracles’ important role in the etiology of Olympia, see Stafford (2012, 159–​162). 22  This is the basis of the analogy with the honorand, Theron of Acragas: by winning the Olympic chariot-​race in 476 BC, Theron has reached the furthest extent of his own excellence (see lines 43–​45.) 23  Pausanias 7.25.5.

66   Emma Aston which site or feature the hind takes its designation. And indeed Arcadian elements are strongly represented in the story of the hind: some sources locate it at Oenoe on the border between Achaea and Arcadia, and according to Apollodorus Heracles’ pursuit of the animal takes him into Arcadia, where Apollo and Artemis angrily confront him.24 Most significantly, however, no Arcadian or Achaean community can be seen to claim the Labor as part of its local mythology, through coinage or mythography. By contrast, one element of the story bears an unambiguously Spartan stamp. This is the connection between the hind and the nymph Taÿgete. The only clear attestation of this myth is in Pindar’s Third Olympian, in which the poet states briefly that the golden horned deer pursued at such length by Heracles was the one “which once Taÿgete inscribed, having dedicated it as a sacred offering to Orthosia.”25 This seems to be a very oblique reference to the myth in which Taÿgete was saved (temporarily)26 from the sexual attentions of Zeus by Artemis, who turned her into a deer; Taÿgete dedicated the golden-​horned hind to Artemis in thanks.27 Exactly how the girl, the deer, and the dedication correspond to each other has always been a source of added confusion. The story of Taÿgete’s transformation is not in fact very well attested in ancient literature; apart from Pindar and the scholion, we only have Euripides’ Helen, lines 375–​383, in which the titular heroine bewails the trouble she has brought on home and family, and exclaims that her mother is unluckier even than Callisto, turned into an animal because of her affair with Zeus, and than “the one whom Artemis once drove from her chorus, as a deer with horns of gold, the Titan daughter of Merops, because of her loveliness.” While Forbes Irving seems to me excessively skeptical about the possibility of asserting confidently that this is Taÿgete,28 the brief reference does little to flesh out the details of the story, and makes no mention of the deer as dedication.29 Nonetheless, it is striking that once again the golden horns are singled out for mention. On the one hand, the link between the hind and Taÿgete would seem to tie this Labor in with the very heart of Spartan myth-​history, since Taÿgete was the mother of Lacedaemon and the eponym of Mount Taÿgetos, Laconia’s most prominent natural landmark.30 The fact that the Artemis involved in the story is Artemis Orthosia (sc. Orthia) further binds the hind to Spartan culture. However, the agency behind 24 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.3.

25 Pindar Olympians 3.29–​30: ἅν ποτε Ταϋγέτα—​ἀντιθεῖσ᾽ Ὀρθωσίᾳ ἔγραψεν ἱράν. 26 

Zeus carries off Taÿgete on the Amyklaian Throne: Pausanias 3.18.10. Pollitt (1990, 23–​26). For this explanation we are indebted to the scholion to Pindar Olympians 3. 28  Forbes Irving (1990, 219). 29  Note that Euripides—​and his character Helen—​are deliberately and perhaps humorously disrupting narrative logic anyway, by making Callisto animal-​formed when she mates with Zeus, rather than the victim of a subsequent metamorphosis, and similarly compressing deer-​transformation and expulsion from Artemis’ band, whereas in fact the former must have followed the latter (after all, the kallosuna that caused the trouble was that of the girl, not the deer, one supposes). 30  Pausanias 3.1.2. As Gantz remarks (1993, 216), with the story of Taÿgete as mother of Lakedaimon “we are clearly in the realm of mythological founders.” 27 

Labor III: The Cerynean Hind  67 this connection is impossible to ascertain. For one thing, it is quite possible—​perhaps even likely—​that Pindar invented the connection between Taÿgete and the Cerynean hind. He may have been influenced by the Iphigeneia myth, which was linked with the Spartan cult of Orthia.31 Why would Pindar have wanted to give the Cerynean hind strong Spartan connections by linking it with Taÿgete? The Ode would have been performed during the annual Acragan festival of the Theoxenia,32 in honor of Castor and Polydeuces, who were Spartan heroes, and this may have dictated the focus of the mythology; Shelmerdine also points to the prominence of Helen in the poem, and asserts that “the poet hopes to please Helen by alluding, both in the myth of the trees and of Artemis (Orthosia) and the hind, to aspects of her worship which were alive or remembered in a cult at Acragas.”33 Therefore, we may plausibly see Pindar as having moved the hind from its traditional Achaean/​Arcadian location and resettled it within a nexus of Spartan mythology as a way of reinforcing the overwhelmingly Spartan emphasis of the Ode, in keeping with its intended performance context and the religious priorities of Theon of Acragas.

The Breaking of the Horn In the visual depictions of the scene, it is common—​though by no means universal—​ for Heracles to be shown grasping one of the hind’s antlers, sometimes apparently as a means of restraint, sometimes breaking it off. An antler is grasped in the earliest surviving depiction, a geometric fibula;34 antler-​grasping occurs also in the metopes of the Hephaesteum at Athens and in those of the Athenian treasury at Delphi (see earlier). Attic vase-​painters are more explicit in showing the antler being snapped off (though the animal is otherwise uninjured)—​see, for example, Fig. 5.1.35 This is not a feature of the literary accounts, a fact that may weigh somewhat against Burkert’s suggestion that the myth is primarily etiological; if it were, surely authors would exploit this aspect too.36 Artists seem to have wished to inject an act of force into a story otherwise characterized rather by guile (or at most fast running); guile and speed make for a good story in words, but a poor picture.37 In addition, they may


Admittedly our evidence for that connection is relatively late: see, e.g., Pausanias 3.16.9–​11. Pavlou (2010, 313). 33  Shelmerdine (1987, 71). 34  Brommer (1986, 23, fig. 6). The fibula is Boeotian and of the eighth century BC. 35  For a comparable example, see Louvre G263: an Attic red-​figure cup in which Heracles grasps an antler in both hands to break it mid-​way down, while Apollo threatens him, bow in hand. 36  “Pourquoi la biche ne porte-​t-​elle pas de ramure? Parce qu’elle fut capturée par Héraclès et mutilée”—​Burkert (1998, 15). 37  The element of force is enhanced by the visual contrast typically created between the muscular solidity of Heracles and the delicacy of the hind, all spindly legs, fragile neck, and attenuated muzzle, 32 

68   Emma Aston

Figure 5.1 The Cerynean Hind. Attic black-​figure neck-​amphora; c. 540–​530 BC. London BM 1843,1103.80. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

well have been influenced by other Heracles myths, such as that in which the hero defeats the river-​god Achelous and breaks off his horn in an act of symbolic disempowerment.38 The difference is that there is no literary account of the hind’s antler thereafter becoming an object of magical potency in its own right, whereas Achelous’ horn is associated, albeit indirectly, with the Cornucopia.39 Where did the golden antler end up? We do not know, but the ancients may have had stories about its subsequent career. Nonetheless, the removal of the horn clearly amounts to the securing of a valuable trophy, at the same time depriving the hind of its signature feature.

Conclusion The story of Heracles’ capture of the hind stands at the intersection of a number of adjoining themes and discourses. The animal is sacred, a treasure, a sacrificial object, beloved of Artemis. Its golden horns place it alongside other animals and hybrids whose power, value, or magical significance resides chiefly in the horns, which are therefore targeted for appropriation. Its capture does not only cause the wrath of and also by the tendency for Heracles to be shown pressing down on the animal and subduing it with his greater weight. 38  For an example of this episode on a vase, Louvre G 365, a mid-​fifth-​century red-​figure column crater: Heracles grips one horn, while the other already lies on the ground, detached. 39  See, e.g., Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.5.

Labor III: The Cerynean Hind  69 Artemis, it also evokes the more pervasive theme of Heracles’ antagonism with Apollo, thereby connecting with the Delphic myth of the fight for the tripod. Finally, by linking the hind with Taÿgete Pindar gives it a cameo role in the myth-​history of Sparta. However, its showing in all these semantic categories is slight. Most significantly, the hind does not seem to have been of importance to the self-​perception and self-​presentation of any one community. It adorned no coins, that we know of; no sanctuary boasted its image in a prominent place of display. Visual artists enjoyed the aesthetic potential of its fragility; authors deployed it for various symbolic purposes, to get Heracles running as far as Hyperborea, to challenge him to achieve capture without killing, to set him at odds with the children of Leto, to explore—​in the case of Euripides—​his problematic savagery. But no one community really owned the hind, and it remains a fleeting figure, a glimpse of golden horns in the dark thickets of Greek mythology.

Abbreviations EGF Davies 1988. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​.

References Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labors of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. Translated and enlarged by Shirley J. Schwartz. New Rochelle, NY: Aristide D. Caratzas. (Orig. German publ. 1953.) Burkert, W. 1998. “Héraclès et les animaux: Perspectives préhistoriques et pressions historiques.” In Le Bestiaire d’Héraclès: IIIe Rencontre héracléenne (Kernos Supplement 7), ed. C. Bonnet, C. Jourdain-​Annequin, and V. Pirenne-​Delforge, 11–​26. Liège: Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique. Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Devereux, G. 1966. “The Exploitation of Ambiguity in Pindaros O. 3. 27.” Rheinisches Museum 109: 289–​298. Forbes Irving, P. M. C. 1990. Metamorphosis in Greek Myths. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Fowler, R. 2013. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Jacoby. F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Leiden: Brill. Köhnken, A. 1983. “Mythical Chronology and Thematic Coherence in Pindar’s Third Olympian Ode.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 87: 49–​63. Padilla, M. 1998. The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile. Lanham, MD, and Oxford: University Press of America.

70   Emma Aston Papadopoulou, T. 2005. Heracles and Euripidean Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pavlou, M. 2010. “Pindar Olympian 3: Mapping Acragas on the Periphery of the Earth.” Classical Quarterly 60: 313–​326. Pollitt, J. J. 1990. The Art of Ancient Greece: Sources and Documents. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Robbins, E. 1982. “Heracles, the Hyperboreans, and the Hind: Pindar, Ol. 3.” Phoenix 36: 295–​305. Schefold, K. 1992. Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Orig. German publ. 1978.) Shelmerdine S. C. 1987. “Pindaric Praise and the Third Olympian.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 91: 65–​81. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. Oxford and New York: Routledge. Vollkommer, R. 1988. Herakles in the Art of Classical Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology.

Chapter 6

L a b or IV The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus)

Daniel Ogden

The Labor of the Erymanthian Boar1 is sometimes given the third, sometimes the fourth position in the ancient catalogs of Heracles’ Labors.2 The tradition only bestowed a small degree of elaboration on it, for all that boar hunts flourished in the repertoires of other heroes: Meleager and a host of companions famously pursued the Calydonian Boar,3 while Theseus killed the Sow of Crommyon.4 We owe our most substantial accounts of the tale as a whole, meager though they remain, to Diodorus (c. 30 BC), and to a poem pseudonymously attributed to Claudian (probably fifth-​century AD): The third task he was given was to fetch the Erymanthian Boar alive. This lived on Mt. Lampeia in Arcadia. The task seemed to entail enormous difficulty. For the man that


Some useful catalogus of sources and discussions: Furtwängler (1890, 2199), Escher 1909, Gruppe (1918, 1044–​1048), Robert (1921, ii: 447–​448), Luce (1924), Brommer (1986, 19–​20), Felten (1990), Jost (1992, 256–​258), Gantz (1993, 389–​390), Stafford (2012, 10–​11, 36). 2  It occupies the third position at: Tabula Albana, FGrH/​BNJ 40 F1c = IG xiv 1293 (i BC–​ii AD); Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica 6.245–​248; Ausonius 7.24 (Eclogues 24); Greek Anthology 16.92; Hilasius at Anthologia Latina 627 line 8 Bücheler-​Riese (date uncertain). It occupies the fourth position at: Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.3–​4 (and therefore Pediasimus Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 10–​11); Tzetzes Chiliades 2.4 line 268. It is mentioned out of sequence at: Seneca Agamemnon 833–​834; Claudian Rape of Proserpine 2 preface 36. 3 Homer Iliad 9.529–​599, Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.8.2–​3, Ovid Metamorphoses 8.267–​546, Hyginus Fabulae 174, etc. 4  Bacchylides 18.23–​24, Apollodorus Epitome 1.1, Plutarch Theseus 9.1, Hyginus Fabulae 38. The Labor is first attested in art from c. 510 BC. Discussion at Gantz (1993, 251–​252).

72   Daniel Ogden went into battle against such a beast had to prevail over it to such a degree that he could seize a precise moment in the course of the actual battle. For if he let the beast slip whilst it was still strong, he would be at risk from its tusks. But if he attacked it with more vigor than necessary, he would kill it, with the result that the Labor would be failed. Nonetheless, he managed to maintain a proper balance in the battle and brought the boar back to Eurystheus alive. When Eurystheus saw him carrying it on his shoulders, he took fright, and hid himself in a bronze storage-​jar [pithos]. Diodorus 4.12.1–​2 From there you [Heracles] made for the Maenalian grove and Arcadia, a source of tears for its farmers, with its unproductive woods, sparse of tree. For it was here that the bloodthirsty boar, a creature of massive bulk, reigned supreme. As if its body alone were not terrifying enough, it would prostrate mountain ashes with its crescent tusks and lay waste to the fields that cried out for their farmers. Its black body was spiky with hard bristles. It had toughened up its shoulders against the rocks, and no part of its body offered an easy kill. You did not fire your arrows at it, nor did you lay hold of your oak club, knotted and weighty. There was no glory for you in an armed assault. Nor did you, in your courage, fear a sudden wound. At once you spontaneously snatched the beast up as it foamed at the mouth and you compelled it to endure the brightness of the day. Baffled by its defeat as it was, you turned it on its back and, as victor, carried it into the house of the Argive tyrant. [Claudian] Laus Herculis 103–​1175

The site of the Labor is identified variously in terms of: Psophis, a city in northwest Arcadia;6 Mt. Lampeia (as here);7 and the eponymous Erymanthus, which is variously conceived of as a mountain,8 a (swampy) river,9 or even a wood.10 Apollodorus, writing c. AD 100, gives a little more color to the method of capture: For the fourth Labor he [Eurystheus] ordered him to bring him the Erymanthian Boar alive; this beast was ravaging Psophis, launching its attacks from a mountain they call Erymanthus . . . [the lengthy excursus occurring here is discussed later]. When he had chased the boar out of its lair by shouting at it, he forced it, in its exhausted state, into a deep snowdrift, caught it in a noose and took it to Mycenae. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.3–​411 5  The text and its interpretation are problematic in several places. For edition, commentary, and discussion see Guex (2000, with 66–​69 for the dating). 6 Hecataeus FGrH/​BNJ 1 F6 = Stephanus of Byzantium Ethnica s.v. Ψωφίς (Stephanus assigns the fragment to the second book of Hecataeus’ Genealogies); Statius Thebaid 4.296–​298; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.4. For the site of the city, see Polybius 4.72 and Pausanias 8.24. For the localization of the myth, see in particular Jost (1992, 256–​257). 7  So too Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica 1.127; Diodorus 4.12.1; Pausanias 8.24.4; cf. Strabo C341. 8 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.4; Pausanias 8.24.4; Statius Thebaid 4.296–​298, with Lactantius Placidus ad loc.; Eustathius on Dionysius Periegetes 414 (a mountain of many boars, according to the last). 9  Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica 1.127; Pausanias 8.24.3–​5. 10  Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 4.298. 11  Apollodorus is followed by Polyaenus Strategemata 1.3.2 (who adds that Heracles also pelted the boar with stones to start it from its lair) and, as in all things, by Joannes Pediasimus, Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 10–​11.

Labor IV: The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus)   73 Apollodorus’ narrative of the Labor, such as it is, probably derives from the early fifth-​century BC Hecataeus, the earliest identifiable author to have mentioned it (the tenuous case of the Iliad, on which more anon, aside). This is because of the congruence of the relevant fragment of Hecataeus with Apollodorus’ opening phrase here: “There was a boar on the mountain and it did a great deal of damage to the Psophidians.”12 And Apollonius of Rhodes, writing c. 270 BC, tells us of Heracles’ transporting of the boar back to Mycenae, the details of his arrival being incompatible with those of Diodorus: We are told that mighty, stout-​hearted Heracles did not disregard the son of Aeson’s [i.e., Jason’s] ambitions either. He heard rumor that the heroes were gathering as he passed Lyrceian Argos by the road on which he was carrying, alive, the boar that used to forage in the Lampeian glen adjacently to the great Erymanthian marsh. Bound in chains as it was, he shook it down from his great shoulders at the entrance to Mycenae’s marketplace. Following his own desires and scorning the will of Eurystheus, he made his way. With him came Hylas, his good attendant, in the first flowering of his youth, to carry his arrows and mind his bow.13 Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica 1.122–​132

The scholia (ancient commentaries) to this passage note a slight variant from the writings of the c. 400 BC Herodorus: his Heracles had rather set the boar down before the gates of Mycenae.14 As can be seen here, Apollonius uses the myth as an insertion-​ point for a notable parergon, Heracles’ (abortive) journey with the Argo (for which, see Chapter 16). An unelaborated later tradition—​both simplifying the Labor and assimilating it to some of Heracles’ other animal-​Labors—​maintains rather that he simply killed the boar, presumably deliberately.15 This notion is implied already by Martial’s passing reference at the end of the first century AD to Heracles wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion on top of that of the boar.16 Subsequently, the later-​fifth-​century Dracontius would find the boar’s skin rather on the back of Heracles’ favorite, Hylas—​a detail dovetailing nicely with Apollonius’ chronology: Heracles gives the skin of the freshly slain boar to Hylas, whom he encounters on the Argonautic adventure that follows on directly from the slaying.17 The same notion is probably implied too by the claim of the

12 Hecataeus FGrH/​BNJ 1 F6; cf. the commentaries of Jacoby and Pownall ad loc. 13 

In his account of the Nemean Lion, Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.1 similarly speaks of Heracles carrying the lion back on his shoulders, before exhibiting it before the gates of Mycenae. 14 Herodorus FGrH/​BNJ 31 F24; discussion by Blakely, BNJ loc. cit. 15  Tabula Albana, FGrH/​BNJ 40 F1c = IG xiv 1293 (i BC—​ii AD); Hyginus 30.4; Ausonius 7.24 (Eclogues 24); Greek Anthology 16.92; Hilasius at Anthologia Latina 627 line 8 Bücheler-​Riese; Eustathius on Dionysius Periegetes 414. 16  Martial 9.101.6. 17 Dracontius Romulea 2.96.

74   Daniel Ogden Cumaeans, on which Pausanias looked askance, to have the boar’s tusks on display in their temple of Apollo. Ancient temples ever served as museums and cabinets of curiosities. Perhaps the objects in question were the fossil remains of some paleontological megabeast: excavations have revealed that the sanctuary of Hera in Samos at any rate was chockablock with such things.18 On the iconographic side, all the major scene-​types bearing on this Labor became established prior to the earliest literary source available to us (the Iliad, again, aside).19 The first scene to emerge is not that of Heracles battling the boar, but an interesting account of his delivery of it back to Eurystheus in Mycenae, which endures into Roman art. The schema in question is probably first attested by a miserable fragment of c. 600 BC, and then fully from c. 560 BC. In it we find Eurystheus hiding in a large pithos (storage-​jar) partly sunk into the ground. Heracles stands over it while bringing the head of the boar, which he has been carrying on his shoulder, alive and supine, down to face Eurystheus, as a prelude, presumably, to dumping it on top of him. Eurystheus raises his arms either in self-​defense or supplication. The image-​type says much for Heracles’ resentful and vengeful attitude toward Eurystheus, and above all for the cowardice of the latter, such an unworthy master for the champion. A humorous effect may also be intended.20 The jar does make some impact on the literary record: Apollodorus tells that, shocked by Heracles’ unexpected success in the first Labor, that of the Nemean Lion, Eurystheus had a bronze pithos made for himself to hide in under the ground while forbidding Heracles to enter Mycenae, commanding him rather to display the proofs of his Labors before the city gates (how could he see them, then?). He entrusted his instructions for the further Labors to Copreus, a man he had purified, and he in turn conveyed them to Heracles.21 We understand that the jar must always have been fully buried according to the ancient story: the iconographic sources represent it as (illogically) protruding from the ground only so that we can see what it is and Eurystheus inside it. In light of Apollodorus, it is possible that the Iliad already knew of the jar: it makes a passing reference to Eurystheus’ use of Copreus to convey the instructions for the Labors to Heracles—​from his place of hiding, we are perhaps to infer.22 Given that our earliest sources for the concealment otherwise, the iconographic ones, relate it specifically to the boar episode, it may just be that the Iliad already knew of this


Pausanias 8.24.5. Ancient paleonotology: cf. Mayor (2000, esp. 180–​183 [Samos], 205–​206 [Boar]). For the iconography of the episode, see above all Luce (1924, 310–​325) and Felten (1990). 20  LIMC Herakles 2113–​2138, 2149–​2163 (the c. 600 BC fragment at 2135). In dodekathlos tableaux, similarly from the mid vi BC: LIMC Herakles esp. 1698, 1705–​1706, 1708, 1714, 1716–​1718, 1721–​1726, 1728, 1734, 1736, 1741–​1744, 1761; in these (necessarily crammed) images Eurystheus and his pithos are often reduced to a tiny motif, Eurystheus accordingly offering the appearance of a child on first inspection. For all aspects of the iconography of the boar scene, see Boardman (1990) and Felten (1990). Brommer (1986, 20) denies that humor is intended. 21 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.1. 22 Homer Iliad 15.639–​640. 19 

Labor IV: The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus)   75 Labor.23 However, the jar certainly was transferable between episodes: Apollodorus leaves us to understand that it was in use for all Labors subsequent to that of the Lion, while a magnificent Caeretan vase of c. 530–​520 BC gives us Heracles delivering a massive, multicolored, serpent-​covered Cerberus to Eurystheus, the dog straining at the leash. Eurystheus again hides in a pithos, this one seemingly fully, or almost fully, above ground.24 From c. 560 BC, iconography provides us with the immediately preceding scene, Heracles simply carrying the boar, supine, on his shoulder, as he makes his way back to Mycenae, an action just occasionally noticed in the literary tradition (the ps.-​ Claudian passage quoted offers an example).25 The battle itself is then shown in a range of variants in a group of image-​types produced in the last years of the sixth century BC. In these Heracles is found wrestling the boar, attacking it from various sides with his club or a sword, or lying in ambush for it.26 On a series of vases of the same date we find Heracles taking the boar back to Eurystheus by “trundling” it, holding its back legs off the ground; Athena, ever the helpmeet of champions as they battle monsters, attends the scene; in some of these images Eurystheus is shown fleeing into his sunken pithos.27 All in all, the Boar Labor is one of the four most popularly represented feats of Heracles on sixth-​century vases (along with those of the Lion, the Amazons, and the Tripod).28 The notion of the boar’s death similarly manifests itself in the iconographic record before it does in the literary one: a quadrans coin minted in Rome in the period 217–​ 215 BC gives us Heracles wearing the boarskin;29 and a first-​century BC Carnelian intaglio lays the dead boar before a standing Heracles.30 We have seen that Apollonius used the Labor as an insertion-​point for Heracles’ adventure with the Argo. Diodorus and Apollodorus rather insert Heracles’ encounter with the centaur Pholus into the course of this Labor, and that too with some logic.31 There were two traditions as to the location of Pholoe, home of Pholus: one placed it on Mt. Pelion in 23 

So argues Gantz (1993, 390), incompletely. LIMC Herakles 2616 = Louvre E701; cf. Luce (1924, 297), Stafford (2012, 49). 25  LIMC Herakles 2108–​2112, 2141–​2148. In dodekathlos tableaux: LIMC Herakles 1730. In literature: Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica 6.245–​248 (appropriately in the context of an ecphrasis); [Claudian] Laus Herculis 114–​117. 26  LIMC Herakles 2093–​2095, 2097–​2102; cf. 2096 (iii/​ii BC), 2165 (i AD). 27  LIMC Herakles 2103–​2106. On 2107 (early v BC), Heracles drives the boar along. Athena as helpmeet of heroes: see Deacy (2008, 59–​73) and Chapter 28; a clay relief bowl of c. 170–​160 BC in the Louvre (LIMC Herakles 2112; cf. Luce 1924:297) shows Heracles carrying the supine boar, and, before this, Athena giving him a club, all beneath the legend “. . . Athena gives him the bronze [sc. club] as he travels to Arcadia for the Erymanthian boar. It is the fifth [sic] Labor.” 28  Padilla (1998, 42 n.32). 29  LIMC Herakles 2171; cf. 2172, a medallion of the emperor Commodus, in which the boar-​skin is draped adjacently to the emperor in the role of Heracles. 30  LIMC Herakles 2167; on 1746 = 2166 a standing Heracles is said to gaze upon a sleeping boar. 31  Diodorus 4.12.3–​8 and Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.4. Such a positioning for the Pholus episode may also be implied at Sophocles Trachiniae 1095–​1096 and Ovid Metamorphoses 9.191–​192; in both places 24 

76   Daniel Ogden Thessaly, but the other located it in Arcadia, just to the south of Mt. Erymanthus.32 Two full-​service narratives of the episode survive: Diodorus’ and Apollodorus’, with the latter reading as follows:33 When he was travelling through Pholoe he received hospitality from the centaur Pholus, the son of Silenus and an ash-​nymph. He served Heracles a meal of roasted meat, whilst he himself feasted on raw meat. When Heracles asked him for wine, he said he feared to open the storage-​jar [pithos], for it was the joint possession of the centaurs. Heracles urged him to be bold, and opened it. It was not long before the centaurs caught the smell of the wine and arrived at Pholus’ cave having armed themselves with rocks and fir-​trees. Heracles routed the first of them to dare to penetrate within, Anchius and Agrius, by pelting them with brands. He shot at the rest of them and chased them to Malea. From there they fled to Chiron for refuge. He had been expelled from Mt. Pelion by the Lapiths, and had taken up residence at Malea. Heracles continued to shoot the centaurs as they huddled around Chiron. One dart he let off passed through Enatus’ arm and became fixed in Chiron’s knee. Heracles was upset. He ran to him and drew the dart out, and applied a drug Chiron gave him to the wound. But the wound he had could not be healed, and Chiron withdrew to his cave. He longed to die there, but he could not do so, because he was immortal. When Prometheus volunteered to Zeus to become immortal in his place, he duly died. The remaining centaurs fled and dispersed. Some came to Mt. Malea, Eurytion came to Pholoe and Nessus came to the river Evenus. Poseidon took in the rest of them at Eleusis and concealed them in a mountain. Now Pholus drew a dart from a corpse and was amazed by it: how could this tiny thing destroy such big creatures? But it slipped from his fingers, struck his foot and killed him instantly. Upon his return to Pholoe Heracles found Pholus dead. He buried him before continuing with the boar-​hunt. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.434

Chiron’s Hydra-​venom-​induced incurable agony here anticipates that which will subsequently lead Heracles to his own suicide.35 The accidental deaths of the “good” centaurs Chiron and Pholus here look like doublets of each other. It is significant, in this regard, that Hyginus gives Chiron a pair of alternative deaths that more closely resemble that given to Pholus here: Heracles accidentally dropped one of his arrows on the centaur’s foot as he was checking them over; or else Chiron himself accidentally dropped one of

centaurs and boar are mentioned adjacently in breathless run-​throughs of Heracles’ feats. For catalogs of sources for the episode and discussions, see: Furtwängler (1886–​1890, 2193–​2194), Höfer (1897–​1909), Robert 1921:ii, 409–​502, Gruppe (1918, 1044–​1048), Schmidt 1941, Schauenburg (1971), Gantz (1993, 390–​ 392, inc. geography), Leventopoulou (1997), Padilla (1998, 24, 29, 31), Stafford (2012, 68–​70). 32  For the tradition that Pholoe was on Pelion, see Polyaenus 1.3.1, schol. Theoc. 2.149–​150, schol. Lycophron 670. 33  Briefer accounts also at Polyaenus 1.3.1, Quintus Smyrnaeus 6.307–​317, schol. Theoc. 2.149–​150, schol. Lycophron Alexandra 670. 34  Cf. Servius on Virgil Georgics 2.456, Aeneid 8.294 for a similar account of Pholus’ death and, more generally, Joannes Pediasimus Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 10–​11. 35  See Sophocles Trachiniae esp. 531–​587, 672–​7 18, 750–​793, 831–​838, 1191–​1124, and the further sources collected at Ogden (2013, 224 n.76).

Labor IV: The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus)   77 Heracles’ arrows on his own foot as he was trying out his bow.36 Hyginus goes on to note that it was disputed whether the Centaur constellation represented a catasterization of Chiron or of Pholus.37 Diodorus’ account is broadly congruent with Apollodorus’, but offers some further points of interest. Here, the jar of wine had been entrusted by Dionysus himself to an ancestor centaur, and then passed down through four generations with the specific instruction that it should be opened for Heracles alone, when he came to Pholoe. When the wine was then opened, the smell did not anger the other centaurs, but simply drove them mad. Diodorus transfers the firebrand weapons from the hands of Heracles to the centaurs themselves (though they also retain their uprooted trees and rocks). The centaurs were also aided in their fight by their mother, Nephele (“Cloud”), who sent down torrential rain, in which, being four-​legged, they were better able to stand their ground.38 How far back can we take this episode? In iconography Heracles is found battling centaurs already from the early seventh century,39 and a centaur or centaurs, perhaps initially of no more than generic significance, often feature in the earlier iconographic collections of Heracles’ deeds (see Introduction). On the literary side the earlier sixth-​ century BC Stesichorus already knew that Pholus had handed Heracles a bowl of wine.40 As we have seen, Apollodorus’ surrounding narrative of the Labor itself may derive from Hecataeus, and so it remains a possibility that his excursus too derives from the same author. Also in the fifth century BC, Panyassis seems to have spoken of either Heracles or Pholus drinking deeply of the wine in his Heraclea; Pindar already knew that Chiron was dead; Sophocles already knew that Heracles had wounded Chiron; and Euripides already knew that Heracles had fought the centaurs at Pholoe, as well as, in Thessaly.41 Both the literary and the iconographic traditions reinforce the association of the Pholus episode with the Labor of the Boar with a striking thematic link. Diodorus tells that the wine that Pholus and his ancestors had been keeping back for Heracles was buried in the earth in a pithos-​jar. There is a clear parallel motif with Eurystheus’ place of concealment here, and this parallel is made all the more explicit in the iconography.

36 See LIMC Cheiron 106 for a possible fifth-​century BC image of the wounded Cheiron (on a

chalcedony intaglio). 37  Theocritus 7.149–​150 too brings these two centaurs close: he makes Chiron Heracles’ host in Pholus’ cave, and has him pouring the wine for him. 38  Diodorus 4.12.3–​8; cf. 4.470.4. 39  LIMC Kentauroi et Kentaurides 235–​236, 242–​292, 365–​370. Pausanias tells us that such scenes graced two of the sixth century’s most distinguished works of art, the mid-​sixth-​century Chest of Cypselus (5.19.9 = LIMC 256) and the later-​sixth-​century Amyclae Throne (3.18.10 = LIMC 257). See Luce (1924, 299–​309) and above all Drogou et al. (1997). 40 F181 PMG = S19 Campbell = F22 Finglass. 41  Panyassis F4 Davies = F9 West = F7 Bernabé (cf. Juvenal 12.44–​45, indicating that Pholus, not just Heracles, drank deeply of the wine); Pindar Pythians 3.1–​3; Sophocles Trachinae 714–​7 15, 1095–​1096; Euripides Heracles 181–​184 (Pholoe), 364–​374 (Thessaly), 1273.

78   Daniel Ogden From c. 600 BC we find scenes of centaurs with a pithos: sometimes Pholus drinks with Heracles from it; sometimes Heracles’ battle against the centaurs rages around it. Often the pithos is shown as three-​quarters sunk in the ground in just the same fashion as Eurystheus’ one is in the Boar scenes.42

Abbreviations BNJ Worthington 2012–​. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. IG Inscriptiones Graecae, Berlin, 1903–​. Multiple series, volumes, parts. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. RE Pauly et al. 1894–​1980.

References Boardman, J. 1990. “Herakles Dodekatholos.” In LIMC v.1: 5–​16. Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labours of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. New Rochelle, NY: A.D. Caratzas. Translation of Herakles: Die zwölf Taten des Helden in antiker Kunst und Literatur. 2nd ed. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1979. Drogou, S., et. al. 1997. “Kentauroi et Kentaurides.” In LIMC viii.1: 671–​706. NB out of sequence in LIMC. Escher, J. 1909. “Erymanthischer Eber.” In RE i.6: coll. 566–​568. Felten, W. 1990. “Herakles and the Erymanthian Boar (Labour iii).” In LIMC v.1: 43–​48. Furtwängler, A. 1886–​1890. “Herakles.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed.W. H. Roscher, Band 1.2, coll. 2135–​2252. Leipzig: Teubner. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gruppe, O. 1918. “Herakles.” In RE Suppl. iii: coll. 910–​1121. Guex, S. 2000. Ps.-​Claudien: Laus Herculis: Introduction, texte, traduction et commentaire. Bern: Lang. Höfer, O. 1897–​1909. “Pholos.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W. H. Roscher, Band iii.2: coll. 2416–​2423. Leipzig: Teubner. Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Jost, M. 1992. “Héraclès en Arcadie.” In Héraclès: D’une rive à l’autre de la Méditerranée; Bilan et perspectives, ed. C. Bonnet and C. Jourdan-​Annequin, 245–​261. Brussels and Rome: Institut historique belge de Rome. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis.


LIMC Kentauroi et Kentaurides 237–​241, 244, 250, 252, 254, 262, 351–​358, 359–​364; cf. Schauenburg 1971, plates 29–​30, 32–​35.

Labor IV: The Erymanthian Boar (and Pholus)   79 Leventopoulou, M. 1997. “Kentauroi et Kentaurides: Anhang: Der Kentaur Pholos.” In LIMC viii.1: 706–​7 10. Luce, S. B. 1924. “Studies of the Exploits of Heracles on Vases: i. Heracles and the Exploits of the Erymanthian Boar.” American Journal of Archaeology 28: 296–​325. Mayor, A. 2000. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ogden, D. 2013. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Padilla, M. W. 1998. The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Pauly, A., G. Wissowa, et al., eds. 1894–​ 1980. Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler. Robert, C. 1921. Die griechische Heldensage. Vol. 2. Berlin: Weidmann = L. Preller, C. Robert and O. Kern. 1894–​1926. Griechische Mythologie. 4th ed. Berlin: Weidmann. ii.2. Schauenburg, K. 1971. “Herakles bei Pholos: Zu zwei frührotfigurigen Schalen.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Athenische Abteilung 86: 43–​54, with plates 29–​42. Schmidt, J. 1941. “Pholos.” In RE xx.1: 517–​522. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Worthington, I. ed. 2012–​. Brill’s New Jacoby. Leiden: Brill. (Online resource.)

Chapter 7

L a b or V The Augean Stables

Fiona Mitchell

Introduction The cleaning of the Augean stables appears to be the least frequently depicted of Heracles’ Labors.1 This is likely the result of the unglamorous subject matter and because, rather than providing Heracles with a chance to demonstrate his strength or bravery, the task of cleaning the stables of Augeas represents Heracles being reduced to a manual laborer, albeit one dealing with a prodigious task.2 The Labor appears in iconographic representations almost exclusively in conjunction with the other Labors;

1  For images of the Labor, see LIMC Herakles 2284–​2305; for images of the Moliones, see LIMC Aktorione 1–​13. For images of the Labor on Roman sarcophagi, see Jongste (1992, A.1 [possible], B.1, B.3, B.9, D.1, F.1–​9, F.12, J.2, K.1, K.6, N2). Literary sources: Aelian Varia Historia 1.24; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.5; 2.7.2; Callimachus Aitia fr. 77 (= schol. Homer Il. 2.629, 11.700); Diodorus Siculus 4.13.3–​4; 4.33.1–​4; Hecataeus FGrH 1 F25; Hesiod fr. 171 MW; Homer Iliad 2.628–​629, 11.698–​702; Hyginus Fabulae 14, 30, 157; Ibycus fr. 285 PMG; Pausanias 5.10.9, 5.1.11, 8.14.9, 5.2.1–​2, 3.18.15; Pindar Olympians 10; Pherecydes FGrH 3 FF79a-​b = frr. 79a-​b Fowler (= schol. Homer Iliad 11.709); Strabo C341, 354; (pseudo-​)Theocritus Idyll 25; Quintus Smyrnaeus 6.232–​236. For an overview of sources, see Fowler (2013, ii 279–​284) and Gantz (1996, 392–​93 and 424–​426). 2  While the name of the owner of the cattle appears as both Augeias (Αὐγείας) and Augeas (Αὐγέας), I will be referring to him as Augeas throughout for simplicity.

Labor V: The Augean Stables  81 in some cases it is even omitted in images showing the other Labors.3 In literary depictions, it generally appears as a background for other, more typically heroic, events in which Heracles is involved, such as the founding of the Olympic games. While the Labor has now become known as the cleaning of the Augean stables, this obscures for the modern reader the fact that the task actually concerned rather the clearing of dung from a cattle enclosure. However, the exact setting of the task is rarely significant. Ancient images of the Labor tend to ignore the broader setting and simply depict Heracles causing a breach in the walls of an otherwise invisible structure in order to allow the river Alpheus in to cleanse the area of the (equally invisible) dung. The literary accounts are generally similarly vague in their references to the setting, if it appears at all. For example, in Pausanias’ account Augeas persuades Heracles “to cleanse the land of dung.”4 The physical context of the events may suffer as a result of the association of this heroic figure with such a lowly task. Although this episode does not appear to fulfill the usual heroic requirements of a Heraclean Labor on a surface level, it continues some of the themes that appear in the other Labors. One such theme is the appearance of supernatural animals. That Heracles is needed to clear the dung of Augeas’ cattle implies in itself that the animals are in some way abnormal; if not, surely any local cowherd would do. In some of the texts, the supernatural nature of the cattle is more apparent than in others. For example, in (pseudo-​)Theocritus Idylls 25, Heracles’ reaction highlights the unusual nature of the animals: he “was filled with amazement” at Augeas’ cattle “though the spirit in his breast was unbreakable and always firmly fixed” (112–​114).5 Augeas’ family relationships provide further connections to supernatural animals. In some versions Augeas’ father is the mortal figure Eleios, who gave his name to the Eleans and their land, while in others it is Helios. Pausanias addresses the similarity: “Augeas was the son of Eleios. But those glorifying him twist the name of Eleios and they say Augeas is the son of Helios.”6 In any case, Helios would be a suitable father for a king whose wealth is in cattle, since he is also famously the owner of supernatural herds. This is seen most notably in Book 12 of the Odyssey, where Odysseus’ crew kill and consume Helios’ cattle, leading to their deaths. Augeas’ half-​siblings are also owners of abnormal livestock.7 Aeetes possesses a pair of fire-​breathing bulls which he uses in his test of Jason (Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.409–​410) and Circe converts trespassers into pigs and pens them up (Homer Odyssey 10.239–​240). Where Helios is presented as the father of Augeas, his connection to the divine is highlighted 3  For example, the Labor appears on seventeen or eighteen of the seventy Roman sarcophagi examined in Jongste (1992). 4  Pausanias 5.1.9: καθῆραι τῆς κόπρου τὴν γῆν. Translations are my own unless otherwise noted. 5  Translations of (Pseudo-​)Theocritus follow Hopkinson (2015). 6  Pausanias 5.1.9: Ἠλείου δὲ ἦν Αὐγέας· οἱ δὲ ἀποσεμνύνοντες τὰ ἐς αὐτόν, παρατρέψαντες τοῦ Ἠλείου τὸ ὄνομα, Ἡλίου φασὶν Αὐγέαν παῖδα εἶναι. 7  Circe and Aeetes are children of Helios and Perse at Homer Odyssey 10.135–​139 and Hesiod Theogony 956–​957.

82   Fiona Mitchell and there is a stronger sense of a mythological setting for this otherwise prosaic narrative, as well as an explanation for the nature of the cattle. This Labor also fits into some of the standard elements of Heracles’ exploits in its violent outcome. This occurs because Heracles’ change in role from hero to laborer leads to tensions regarding his status. In several texts Heracles requests payment from Augeas for the task. His desire for financial reward for his actions and his inability to submit to the normal expectations of one of the king’s staff means that the events inevitably lead to violent conflict. This does not occur with Augeas himself, but with the Moliones, Augeas’ nephews, and, in some versions, causes the Labor to be excluded from Heracles’ final tally. The Labor, then, often shows Heracles struggling to conform to the behavior needed to complete his tasks. As a result of his violent actions, a narrative about manual Labor is transformed into a more typically heroic mode and therefore puts Heracles in a more familiar setting.

Early References The earliest literary references to elements associated with this narrative appear in the Iliad. In Book 11, Nestor tells a story that references the events around this Labor (11.670–​761). He recalls his part in the raids that took place between Pylos and Elis, including events in which Augeas took a team of horses belonging to Nestor’s father, Neleus.8 Later, men from Elis, including the Moliones, attacked a town on the bank of the Alpheus. While defending this area, Nestor claims to have nearly killed the Moliones, and to have been prevented from doing so by their father, Poseidon. Within this story there is a brief reference to Heracles having visited Pylos at an earlier time and having killed all of Neleus’ sons bar Nestor. This section of the Iliad thus combines several of the features associated with the Labor: Augeas failing to return what is owed to another, the Moliones involved in a violent conflict, the quantity of livestock in the area, and the Alpheus river. However, Heracles’ actions are limited and no reference is made to his cleaning of the stables. This may indicate that the narrative of the Labor later emerged out of mythological components already associated with this region. The Moliones also appear in Hesiod’s Catalog of Women. In this version they have a pair of fathers, Poseidon and Actor, because their mother, Molione, was impregnated by both. Their double conception in this version seems to result in a double body.9 An opponent of Heracles with more than one body in a setting focused on cattle is


Two of the grandsons of Augeas are mentioned in the catalog of ships as leaders of particular groups (Homer Iliad 2.532, 583). 9  Scholia on the Iliad refer to Hesiod’s description of the twins as double-​bodied (Hesiod Catalog of Women frr. 18a, 18b). The original text (fr. 17a) is too damaged at the point of their physical description to prove this.

Labor V: The Augean Stables  83 reminiscent of his fight with Geryon (see Chapter 12). Gantz suggests their representation as double-​bodied might explain why they were both depicted competing against Nestor in the tale he tells in the Iliad: their inseparability is a possible explanation for why they would have been allowed to compete against a single opponent.10 Images of double-​bodied figures from geometric vases have been interpreted as depicting the Moliones,11 as for example in the case of an oinochoe in the Agora Museum.12 However, a connection between this sort of image and the literary accounts, or indeed with the narratives in Hesiod and Homer, cannot be proven in view of the lack of contextual evidence. It therefore appears that in this period elements of this narrative existed, but the Labor as a whole did not.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia The solidification of this narrative into a more familiar form and as one of the Twelve Labors took place by the late Archaic period. The first image of the Labor appears on the temple of Zeus at Olympia, built during the early fifth century, and forming part of a collection depicting the Twelve Labors. The relief representing the cleaning of the stables shows Heracles undertaking the task under the supervision of Athena (see Chapter 28).13 She stands behind him pointing her spear toward the manure, which is implied to exist beyond the left-​hand side of the metope. This image is unusual among the collection as one of only three of the metopes to include a god. The others are that depicting Heracles’ acquisition of the Apples of the Hesperides, which features Hermes, and that depicting the capture of Cerberus, which also features Athena. In each, the artist appears to be using the gods to fill the space and add to the interest of the scene. However, the presence of a divine figure, especially one associated with assisting in the completion of heroic tasks, elevates the tone of the scene, which might otherwise appear to consist simply of farm work. Athena’s battle dress—​ including, helmet, shield, and spear—​also highlights the contrast between Heracles’ current work and the sort of violent encounters he more usually undertakes. The use of Athena’s armor is particularly pointed in this metope because in the representation of Heracles taking the apples of the Hesperides Athena is only identified by her spear. Additionally, Heracles’ implement, which is perhaps a shovel (on the basis of the way he holds it), parallels Athena’s spear as he leans into his task. Her presence and his


Gantz (1996, 424). For example, Coldstream (1991, 51). See LIMC Aktorione 1–​13. 12  LIMC Aktorione 2 (Oinchoe, Museum of the Ancient Agora, P4885). Dahm argues for alternative interpretations, such as a creative representation of the chronology of the scene or the two figures framing the composition (2007, 727–​728). 13  LIMC Herakles 2302. 11 

84   Fiona Mitchell stance therefore present him in a more heroic mode than the scene might otherwise achieve. This sculpture appears in Pausanias’ description of the temple of Zeus at Olympia: “In Olympia most of the tasks of Heracles appear . . . [including Heracles] completely clearing the land of the Eleans of dung.” He also tells us that the image of the Labor appears above the doors of the temple (5.10.9). The fact that this image appears among the others, and indeed on the front of the building, indicates that in this instance the image is not one in which Heracles is presented as acting beneath his status as a hero and a son of Zeus. It is also noteworthy that in this instance the Labor is not associated by Pausanias with Augeas and his royal property, but rather with the land of Elis. The task is presented as a benefit that Heracles bestows on that area, rather than something he does for pay or as a result of his servitude. The focus on the Eleans makes sense in the context of Pausanias’ exposition of Olympia and Elis’ ownership of the site. As the hero who both founded the games and cleared the land for its inhabitants, Heracles is presented here as a civilizing force: he makes the land usable and begins a religious institution.

Pindar Pindar’s Olympians 10 was produced at a similar period to the metope on the temple of Zeus at Olympia, 476 BC.14 The poem references the events around the cleaning of the stables, particularly those that come after Heracles’ dispute with Augeas, although the Labor itself is not described. In this instance, the Labor is referenced for its connection to the founding of the Olympics (43–​46), a suitable topic for an ode dedicated to Hagesidamus for his victory in the boy’s boxing at the Olympic games. The backdrop of the competition in which the victor engages is significant. The actions of Heracles within the poem play out in a series of competitions, in which Heracles has mixed success. We can see the back and forth at lines 30–​34: “Heracles overcame them in turn on the road, because before that the overbearing Moliones had destroyed his army of Tirynthians when it was encamped in the valleys of Elis.”15 Fowler notes the way in which athletic and violent victories are enmeshed in versions of this narrative, and we can see that in this poem.16 Given Hagesidamus’ victory in boxing, the context of this ode is not one in which violence and athletic competition are particularly distinct. However, the effect of Heracles’ victories in Pindar’s poem is not simply glory, they also have an ethical association. The moral of toiling against the odds to glorious victory is 14 

See Nassen (1975: 219 n.1) for the date. Translations of Pindar are taken from Race (1997). 16  Fowler (2013, 280–​281). 15 

Labor V: The Augean Stables  85 made explicit by Pindar: “few have won without effort that joy which is a light for life above all deeds” (21–​22). Heracles thus acts as a model for Hagesidamus: both have toiled to achieve victories now commemorated in song. While the clearing of the stables is not the focus of the ode, glimmers of the Labor itself appear in the characteristics of the surrounding events. For example, we see that Heracles included in his newly created sanctuary to Olympian Zeus not only dedications to the Olympians, but also dedications to the river Alpheus: “he honored the stream of Alpheus along with the twelve ruling gods” (48–​49). Similarly, when describing the fate of Augeas, Pindar uses the imagery of water channels to illustrate his downfall: And indeed, not long afterwards, the guest-​cheating king of the Epeians saw his wealthy homeland sink into the deep trench of ruin beneath a ruthless fire and strokes of iron—​ even his own city. (34–​38)

The poem presents Augeas’ punishment as fitting his crime: his lack of payment to Heracles for the cleansing of the stables leads to his wealth and kinship being lost. Specifically, his city sinks into an ochetos (37). Race translates this word as “trench”; however, the term has a broader meaning as a channel that carries water.17 The punishment of Augeas is therefore performed in the manner in which Heracles is often shown cleaning the stables. Pindar thus uses this reference to Heracles’ actions within the Labor, unseen in this poem, to provide a sense of poetic justice. There is thus a strong moral tone to this version of the narrative. Similarly, Heracles’ attack on the Moliones and his destruction of their family is presented as a result of their behavior, which contravenes the rules of Zeus, and therefore as a retribution for their actions.18 This is apparent as Pindar contextualizes the Olympic games, which Heracles founded with its six altars by the ancient tomb of Pelops, after he killed the son of Poseidon, goodly Cteatus, and killed Eurytus, so that he might exact the wage for his menial service from mighty Augeas, who was unwilling to give it. (24–​30)

Pindar describes the founding of the altars as happening immediately after the deaths of the Moliones, which in turn is presented as punishment for Augeas’ bad behavior. Pindar thus depicts Heracles’ piety in his dedications to the gods as a continuity of his just actions of retribution. Heracles’ victory is therefore not simply

17  18 

LSJ s.v. ὀχετός. Nassen (1975, 229).

86   Fiona Mitchell a physical one; his actions represent Zeus’ will being enacted in the mortal realm through the medium of his son.19 This moral tone and the theme of unpaid debts links the narrator’s own voice and the events after Heracles’ cleaning of the stables. The narrator is presented as having left his benefactor without the ode he was owed: “for I owe him a sweet song and have forgotten O Muse, but you and Zeus’ daughter, Truth, with a correcting hand ward off from me the charge of harming a guest friend with broken promises” (3–​6). Because the narrator failed to meet his obligations, like Augeas, Hagesidamus, as the figure left without the reward he is due, mirrors Heracles.20 This provides an appropriate analogue for the victor of a violent contest.21 However, whereas Augeas does not agree to his payment, Pindar eventually settles his debt and thus is not subject to the same kind of punishment as Augeas. The parallel between Heracles and Hagesidamus is also highlighted by a reference to time. Pindar comments on the constant progression of time (55) and follows this with a reference to Heracles beginning the cycle of Olympic festivals (57–​59), which themselves mark time. By highlighting the concept of time at this point, Pindar reminds us of the contrast between the time in which Heracles existed and the time at which the author and audience exist. The victor to whom the poem is dedicated is thus placed within a sequence of victors that stretches back into the mythological past. Highlighting the ancient origins of the Olympic games demonstrates how great achievements, including those at Olympia, can last through time. Hagesidamus, like Heracles, might be remembered as part of this tradition, especially after Pindar has praised him in song. In this ode, then, Heracles is not noted for his excessive violence or the disruptive nature of his actions toward other families or governments, as is often a feature of his exploits. In contrast, he is characterized as behaving violently with good cause, and therefore enacting justice as is appropriate for the son of the king of the gods. This is emphasized by his role in founding Olympia with its associated sanctuaries that honor the gods. He thus models the value of violent conflict and its potentially civilizing effect for the young victor.

(Pseudo-​)Theocritus (Pseudo-​)Theocritus Idylls 25, which is often attributed to Theocritus, also presents a version of Heracles who is concerned with social order.22 As with Pindar, this poem 19 

Nassen (1975, 230). Burgess (1990, 275). 21  Burgess (1990, 277). 22  The authorship of the poem is not settled. Gow (1943, 94) lays out the difficulties with the manuscripts that cause this uncertainty. 20 

Labor V: The Augean Stables  87 focuses on the context of the Labor rather than the task. For a poem by Theocritus, or in his style, the lands of Augeas are unsurprisingly lush and bucolic. The site in which this Labor takes place receives an usual level of focus for a narrative about this Labor.23 In the early parts of the poem, the plowman who meets Heracles describes it with references to a “flowing river” (19), “dense plane trees” (20), “green wild olives” (21) and a shrine to Apollo (21–​22). This excessively lush description and the mention of Apollo place these events in the sort of mythologized location in which the gods are present and a son of Zeus might reasonably undertake such a task. Despite the apt setting for a figure like Heracles, a significant theme within the poem is the questioning of his heroic status. This is made apparent in the early parts of the poem by the anonymity given to Heracles. His identity is made clear to the audience only in line 63 by the reference to his lion-skin and club. His name does not appear until line 71. The plowman, whose conversation with Heracles opens the poem, is clearly unaware whom he is talking to despite recognizing his divine heritage: “You, I think, are not from a base-​born family and you do not have a humble look yourself, so imposing is your presence. Children of the gods stand out among mortals just as you do” (38–​41). In several places he is not depicted with the behavior we might expect of a hero. As Clare notes, “the hero’s reticence and indeed diffidence on the subject of his mission makes his purpose seem almost mundane.”24 Heracles’ lack of boasting also makes him seem generically out of place. Neither Heracles nor the narrator announces his arrival with typical epithets or a heroic listing of ancestors; it is only later in the poem when the nature of his conflict with the Nemean Lion is described that this more typical heroic posturing appears.25 Heracles’ unusual status in this poem is highlighted by the contrast between the Labor that he will undertake for Augeas and his more heroic act of killing the Nemean Lion. A significant part of the poem is dedicated to Heracles telling the narrative of his defeat of the lion to one of Augeas’ sons, Phyleus. There is little attempt within the poem to connect the two narratives; the cleaning of the stables simply acts as a setting in which the narrative of the lion can be told. The only correspondence between the two comes when Heracles refers to lion as like a river: “Like a river in flood, the lion continually ravaged those who lived in the lowlands” (201–​ 202). So we know Heracles will be able to complete the task of cleaning the stables by diverting the rivers, just as he was able to overpower the lion, as the two have comparable characteristics. However, the context of Augeas’ lands provides a little further correspondence. Outside Heracles’ narrative of his defeat of the lion, there is a significant focus on the social structures in which Heracles finds himself. For example, when he talks to


See Zanker (1996, 414–​416) on the role of vision in the setting of the labor in Idylls 25. Clare (2002, 76). 25  On the different tone in this section, see Clare (2002, 86). 24 

88   Fiona Mitchell the plowman, he asks to speak to Augeas or an alternative representative in the following manner: If he is in residence in town among the citizens and is taking care of his people as they administer justice, then lead on, old man, and point out one of his servants, the most senior bailiff on this estate, so that I may tell him what I have to say, and find out his answer. (45–​49)

In this section we can see that Heracles assumes that Augeas is a good king who cares for the needs of his people. Heracles is also concerned with social structures as shown by his interest in speaking with someone of the correct position in the hierarchy if he cannot speak to Augeas.26 As Clare notes, the plowman is also particularly concerned with being seen to demonstrate the right kinds of hospitality.27 These two, then, appear to provide a model for a polite and socially conscious conversation. Heracles’ concern with status and correct behaviors within this version of the narrative is in contrast to his frequent depiction as a figure who is unable to adhere to such strictures. Moreover, we know that after he completes this task, he will go on to undermine familial and social structures in his conflict with Augeas. The tension regarding Heracles’ status is further highlighted by the poem’s use of allusions to Odysseus in the Odyssey.28 Heracles’ meeting with the plowman guarding the cows in the opening lines of the poem parallels Odysseus’ meeting with Eumaeus (Homer Odyssey 14.37–​46). His admiration of Augeas’ possessions (Idylls 25.112–​114) and subsequent display of strength in his encounter with the bull, Phaethon (25.145–​ 152), are reminiscent of Odysseus’ awe of Alcinous’ palace in Phaeacia (Homer Odyssey 7.82–​83, 132–​135) and his ability to outstrip all of the Phaeacians in discus throwing (8.186–​193).29 The extended section of the poem in which Heracles narrates his past adventures (Idylls 25.193–​279) is very much in the style of Odysseus and his expansive description of his travels to the Phaeacians. The comparison of Heracles to Odysseus is a somewhat jarring one: Odysseus is famously wily, while Heracles is usually a model for the effectiveness of brute force. These parallels to Odysseus thus question the type of hero that we are presented with in the idyll. However, a link between the heroes is apparent in their interaction with the cattle of Helios. Both Hunter and Clare note the use of references to the sun to mark time changes and movement in the narrative progression of the poem.30 This can be seen through phrases like: “The sun then turned his chariot to the west, bringing in the


Hunter (1998, 117). Clare (2002, 73–​74). 28  These correspondences are addressed in detail by Clare (2002, 77, 81, 86). 29  See Zanker (1996, 417–​418) on the way in which the visual focus on Heracles’ body in the passage about his encounter with Phaethon sets him up as capable of completing the cleaning of the stables. 30  Hunter (1998, 119), Clare (2002, 78). 27 

Labor V: The Augean Stables  89 late afternoon” (85–​86). However, the use of the personified image of the sun acts as a reminder that Helios is related to Augeas, a point we see made explicitly elsewhere: Helios had granted this splendid gift to his son, that he should be richer in cattle than all other men, and he himself continually kept strong all the stock throughout their lives. (118–​121)

In addition to his main herd, Augeas has twelve white cattle “sacred to Helios” (130). Among these, one called Phaethon is noted in particular as surpassing the others: “the herdsmen all said he was like a star, because as he went among the other cattle he shone out brightly and was clear to see” (139–​141). Naming this bull Phaethon, “shining,” is appropriate for its appearance. However, it is also reminiscent of the story of another of Helios’ sons by the same name who crashed his father’s chariot (e.g., Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica 4.597–​600). In this poem, then, Heracles exists in exactly the sort of world we might expect: one populated by the children of gods and supernatural animals. The image of Heracles in the idyll is not stable. He behaves with surprising reverence toward the king, but we know he will later come into conflict with him. We see him in a familiar type of setting, but performing actions that are reminiscent of a very different type of hero. The Heracles we see in this poem is not one that is easy to grasp.

Apollodorus The account of the Labor in the Library (or Bibliotheca) of Apollodorus appears in typically bare-​bones style. While laconic, the description of the Labor in the Library shows a particular concern with the way in which the transactions around the Labor took place. In contrast to his lawful and moral depiction in Pindar and Idylls 25, Heracles in Apollodorus is a more destructive figure: his actions undermine the physical and social structures that surround King Augeas. In fact, both Heracles and Augeas are presented as lacking respect for the rules of society and institutions relating to justice. Augeas’ son, Phyleus, highlights their immorality through his consistent honesty. This sequence of ill behavior begins with a deceit by Heracles. He does not disclose to Augeas the reason for his presence: he “did not reveal the command of Eurystheus.” He also requests payment for the task, saying that he will do it “if [Augeas] would give him a tenth of his cattle” (2.5.5). This would undermine the function of the Labors since, in Apollodorus, Heracles is undertaking the Labors in accordance with the instructions of the Pythia in order to achieve immortality (2.4.12). By requesting payment he is therefore seeking two rewards for the same task. Heracles’ duplicity is mirrored by that of Augeas (2.5.5). Despite initially agreeing to Heracles’ terms, he later reneges on his promise, causing a legal dispute between the two. The fragility of the social structures

90   Fiona Mitchell is demonstrated at this point. Augeas starts the legal process, but when his argument is disproven by Phyleus, acting as a witness for Heracles, he exiles Heracles and Phyleus before voting can occur. Augeas thus damages the legitimacy of the court, a key state institution. In this way, Heracles’ actions and deceit cause a fracture between Augeas and Phyleus, which not only undermines the relationship between father and son, but also the line of succession and thus the stability of the state. Heracles’ actions toward Augeas’ kingdom are mirrored in his behavior toward the king’s property. Apollodorus presents Heracles damaging the structure of the cattle yard in order to complete the task: Heracles “divided the foundation of the courtyard” (2.5.5). He therefore undermines the structure on which Augeas bases his wealth. In this version, then, Heracles again demonstrates a capacity to destroy both family structure and broader social structures. This is comparable to the more violent destruction of his own family (for which, see Chapter 2). The frequency with which his actions lead to such consequences demonstrates the way in which Heracles is often presented as not compatible with civilized society.

Roman Iconography Although the Labor is not well represented in Latin texts, several images depicting the Labor appear in Roman art, particularly mosaics and sarcophagi reliefs. One of the best-​preserved images of this Labor is part of a mosaic from a villa in modern-​ day Valencia dating to the late second or early third century AD.31 The Twelve Labors are depicted as a border around a scene of Heracles dressed in feminine clothing and Omphale wearing the lion-​skin and holding his club. Each of the Labors is oriented so that the scene faces out from the center. As is common in Roman versions of this image, Heracles is depicted using an implement to cause a break in a wall in order to let water in to wash out the stables. In this scene on the mosaic, Heracles holds the implement with which he is breaking the wall in the way that he holds his club in the scenes in which he kills Geryon and the Hydra.32 This provides this action with the same aura of heroic activity as the other scenes. Like the metope on the temple of Olympia, this mundane scene is elevated through such allusions. Some read the image as having a more divine setting: Carracosa contends that the river Alpheus is personified in the form of a bust pouring the water out of its mouth.33 While it is possible to read some face-​like features into that part of the image, it is not clear that the bust is there. This image of the Labor cannot therefore be read as equivalent to Heracles’ encounter with the personified river deity Achelous 31 

LIMC Herakles 2284. Balil (1978, 275). Carrascosa (2018, 167). 33  Carrascosa (2018, 169). 32 

Labor V: The Augean Stables  91 (e.g., Sophocles Trachiniae 11–​14). Thus, even while the mosaic makes the image more heroic with the parallels to acts of violence, it remains an image of action taken against a wall rather than an opponent. A brass plaque from the third or fourth century AD provides an unusual example among extant representations.34 As before, the plaque represents Heracles in the process of breaking down a wall to let in the river, rather than clearing manure. Although performing the same action as in the mosaic, he has a somewhat different pose: he thrusts an implement into the wall above his head, and from this point a rivulet of water flows down the surface of the wall.35 The narrow handle of the tool he is using extends across the top of the plaque. The pose of Heracles’ body and the way in which his lion-​skin cape flutters behind him, filling out the space of the square, indicate the amount of effort that Heracles is using. As a result of the pose and the shape of the implement, Heracles looks as though he is attacking an opponent with a spear. This image, then, also adapts the scene into a more heroic endeavor by representing Heracles in a manner that is reminiscent of his more violent exploits. Like many of the texts, images of the Labor often make reference to a more violent episode in order to make the cleaning of the stables seem more heroic.

Reception The reception of this Labor in modern media tends to focus more on the cleansing of dung than many of the ancient sources. Indeed, this Labor has become a metaphor for a large and unpleasant task to undertake.36 As a result, much of the reception of it comes in the form of satirical cartoons. In general they show someone cleaning the dung as a visual metaphor for removing corruption or bad governance. The image was used more than once in Punch. The first example, a piece titled “Hercules in the Augean Stable” from 1888, shows Hercules leaning on his club while washing out a set of stables with a hose.37 Various items within the image are marked to clarify the topic: the manure is labeled with “turf abuses,” Hercules’ club with “Jockey Club” and the water coming from the hose with “inquiry.” Beneath the image there is a short poem encouraging Hercules in his attempt to clean the dung from the stables. At this time the government was undertaking an inquiry into illicit practices in horseracing.38 A second example, from 1948, shows Hercules standing up to his knees in dung with a


See Swan (2010) for a full treatment of the image. Swan (2010, 32). Swan suggests that the implement is a bidenus, a Roman agricultural tool. 36  So much so that Augean PLC serves as the name of a company specializing in hazardous waste management (http://​​ [accessed 12.04.2019]). 37  “Hercules in the Augean Stable” (Punch or the London Charivarii, February 18, 1888, p. 74). 38  “The Jockey Club on Its Trial” (Pall Mall Gazette, February 2, 1888, p. 2). 35 

92   Fiona Mitchell shovel.39 The dung is labeled “communism” and Hercules wears a sash saying “TUC.” Beneath the image is the quote, “Go on, Hercules; and do it properly,” which is implied to be said by the somewhat menacing figure watching Hercules from outside the stable. This image refers to the contemporary concern about the increasing role of the Communist Party in trade unions and the statement by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Council in October 1948 that they would be counteracting communist influences within the union. In some examples of satirical images, Heracles himself is not required, but the image of water washing away corruption is sufficient in itself. This can be seen in an 1832 cartoon titled “Cleansing the Augean Stables” by Henry Heath. It depicts waters labeled as “public determination” sweeping the politicians and bishops who opposed electoral reform into the Thames.40 The critique of the depicted figures—​including the former prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Howely—​is particularly pointed as they stand in for the manure that the water is washing away. It can be seen from these examples, then, that by the nineteenth century a reference to the Augean Stables and the image of water are in and of themselves sufficient to bring to mind the idea of cleaning away something unwanted and providing a new start.

Conclusion In many of the versions of the narrative of the cleaning of the Augean stables there is a tension over the status of Heracles. In particular, the Labor questions the extent to which Heracles is a hero, or has been reduced to a manual laborer. The small number of extant narratives or images in which Heracles is actually depicted performing the Labor, as opposed to the Labor being used as a backdrop to other events, indicates a distaste for representing it. Further, as Swan notes, the instantiations that do represent Heracles undertaking the Labor almost always show him doing so by manipulating the river Alpheus. They therefore do not require us to see Heracles actually undertaking the unpleasant physical task.41 Very often both the literary and iconographic representations elevate the Labor in some way to show Heracles doing more than shoveling manure. Images deploy heroic stances or the presence of the gods; texts focus on his piety or use the events as a background for more heroic endeavors. Thus, depictions of this Labor show a level of unease in representing Heracles in this situation. However, it is not just the physical actions of the Labor that give rise to difficulties in regard to Heracles’ status. The question of whether Heracles is completing a 39 

“Augean Stables” (Punch, November 17, 1948, p. 451). H. Heath (1832). A version of the image is held at the British Museum (1868, 0808.9440). 41  Swan (2010, 32). 40 

Labor V: The Augean Stables  93 manual Labor or a heroic one is raised by the issue of pay. If he is paid or requests payment, it negates the heroic nature of the work. There is therefore a blurring of social status for Heracles in this narrative. The complexities of his position tie into broader issues of status within the Labors as a whole. Heracles undertakes the Labors under the command of Eurystheus and, in some instances, on the instruction of the Pythia. During the course of the Labors Heracles is consistently subject to the orders of others. This Labor in particular, then, highlights the complexities of a hero, known for his great power and his status as the son of the king of the gods, who is famously depicted undertaking superhuman tasks on the orders of others.

Abbreviations FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. LSJ Liddell et al. 1968. PMG Page 1962.

References Balil, A. 1978. “El Mosaico de ‘Los Trabajos de Hércules’ hallado en Liria (Valencia).” Archivo de prehistoria levantina 15: 265–​275. Burgess, D. L. 1990. “Pindar’s Olympian 10; Praise for the Poet, Praise for the Victor.” Hermes 118: 273–​281. Carrascosa, T. P. 2018. “Más allá del mito: Una lectura social del mosaico de los Doce Trabajos de Hércules (Liria, Valencia).” Archivo Español de Arqueología 91: 163–​181. Clare, R. J. 2002. “Narrative and Identity in Theocritus: Idyll 25.” Hermathena 173/​174: 71–​89. Coldstream, J. N. 1991. “The Geometric Style: Birth of the Picture.” In Looking at Greek Vases, ed. T. Rasmussen and N. Spivey, 37–​56. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dahm, M. 2007. “Not Twins at All: The Agora Oinochoe Reinterpreted.” Hesperia 76: 717–​730. Fowler, R. L. 2013. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2. Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gantz, T. 1996. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gow, A. S. F. 1943. “ΗΡΑΚΛΗΣ ΛΕΟΝΤΟΦΟΝΟΣ (Theocr. Id. xxv).” Classical Quarterly 37: 93–​100. Hopkinson, N. 2015. Theocritus. Moschus. Bion. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Hunter, R. 1998. “Before and after Epic: Theocritus (?) Idyll 25.” In Genre in Hellenistic Poetry, ed. A. Harder, R. F. Regtuit, and G. C. Wakker, 115–​132. Groningen: Forsten. Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Jongste, P. F. B. 1992. The Twelve Labours of Hercules on Roman Sarcophagi. Rome: “Erma” di Bretschneider.

94   Fiona Mitchell Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts., with supplements. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Liddell, H. G., R. Scott, and H. S. Jones, eds. 1968. A Greek-​English Lexicon. 9th ed. with supplement. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Nassen, P. J. 1975. “A Literary Study of Pindar’s Olympian 10.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 105: 219–​240. Page, D. L. 1962. Poetae melici Graeci. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Race, W. H. 1997. Pindar: Olympian Odes. Pythian Odes. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Swan, G. M. 2010. “Hercules Cleaning the Augean Stables on a Roman Bronze Plaque.” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 69: 30–​41. Zanker, G. 1996. “Pictorial Description as a Supplement for Narrative: The Labour of Augeas’ Stables in Heracles Leontophonos.” American Journal of Philology 117: 411–​423.

Chapter 8

L a b or VI The Stymphalian Birds

Emma Aston

This Labor falls within the category of pest-​control. The birds are of an aquatic species,1 and infest the Stymphalian Lake in northeast Arcadia; they require removal either because they are inconveniently numerous and an agricultural nuisance or because they actually have murderous qualities.2 In some accounts Heracles kills the birds; in others he merely drives them away, sometimes with the aid of a highly significant bronze rattle.3 The rattle does not appear in art, but then indeed the whole episode is relatively unpopular with artists compared with the vanquishing of the Nemean Lion, for example (see Chapter 3). Firing sling-​stones at fleeing waterbirds is a far less heroic and gripping scene than one of hand-​to-​paw combat. On the temple of Zeus at Olympia Heracles does not fight the birds at all—​rather, he presents their limp carcasses

1  They are called πλωίδες ὄρνιθες Στυμφαλίδες, “swimming Stymphalian birds,” by Apollonius (Argonautica 2.1053). For some attempts to situate the birds within ornithological reality, see Anderson (1976), Bourne (1982), and Hall (1982). 2  Numerous and damaging crops: Diodorus 4.13.2. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.6 adds the detail that the birds had taken refuge on the lake to avoid predation by wolves, giving them their own air of vulnerability. That the birds were man-​eating is suggested by Pausanias 8.22.3–​6. See also Hyginus Fabulae 30.6: here Hyginus seemingly conflates the Stymphalian Birds with those which attacked the Argonauts with their sharp bronze feathers, and calls the latter “Stymphalian” as a result. 3  Heracles killing the birds, having first sent them into the air using the rattle: Pherecydes FGrH 3 F 72; Pausanias 8.2.4; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.6. Merely scaring them away: Pisander fr. 4 EGF; Diodorus 4.13.2.

96   Emma Aston

Figure 8.1  The Stymphalian Birds. Attic black-​figure amphora attributed to Group E; c. 540 BC. London BM 1843,1103.40. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

to Athena, who aided his victory.4 On the temple of Hephaestus at Athens, whose metopes included ten of the Labors, the Stymphalian birds (alongside the Augean stables) were omitted. In black-​figure vase painting they make occasional appearances. In the most famous, on an amphora from about 540 BC, the artist makes the most of the scene’s visual potential: Heracles faces a maelstrom of flapping wings and writhing necks; the ground is covered by fallen birds; red and white pigment are used to variegate the plumage of individuals in a striking counterpart to the hero’s dappled lion-​ skin (Fig. 8.1).5 Nonetheless, the motif never really caught on.6

4  The metope in question is damaged, and the bird carcasses themselves are missing; however, we know that the Labor of the birds must be depicted because of Pausanias 5.10.9, and enough of the scene survives for its missing details to be extrapolated. See Cohen (1994, 711). 5  London BM 1843, 1103.40; see Schefold (1992, 109). 6  One closely comparable example is a neck amphora attributed to the Diosphos Painter, also sixth century: Louvre F387.

Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds   97

The First Appearance of the Birds and Their Place in the Numbering of Heracles’ Labors Establishing the development of the Labors—​what sequence they first appeared in, whether they were always twelve, and so on—​is of course no easy matter, as the Introduction makes clear. It is not until Diodorus’ account, on the literary side, that we actually have an extant tally of all twelve Labors, though it is extremely likely that the figure of twelve—​having in itself a certain symbolic potency in Greek myth and religion7—​was a feature of the Heracles myth quite early.8 While the Stymphalian birds are not mentioned in Homer and Hesiod, they are not a significantly late addition to the Labors; their first surviving appearance, along with that of the Cerynean hind, is in the fragments of Pisander, whose dates are inevitably uncertain but who is perhaps to be placed in the mid-​seventh century BC.9 In the visual material, our first unambiguously identifiable depictions of the Labor are sixth-​century Attic vase paintings, though, as Gantz notes, there may have been earlier representations, but in these the man killing a bird is not wearing the lion-​skin that allows him to be identified with certainty as Heracles.10 The sequence of the Labors is of course not fixed and immutable either. In Diodorus the Stymphalian Birds are the fifth Labor, in Apollodorus the sixth. Both positions have a basic geographic plausibility, being alongside others located in the Peloponnese.

7  Rutherford (2010). This may in this case draw on Near Eastern origins, since Heracles’ Labors seem to owe some aspects (including the number twelve) to the adventures of the Sumerian-​Akkadian hero Ninurta. See Burkert (1987, 14–​17), who also, however, draws attention to the differences between the Mesopotamian and the Greek narratives. See also Stafford (2012, 23–​29). 8  One intriguing suggestion (Gantz 1993, 381; Fowler 2013, 272) is that of sculptural influence. The temple of Zeus at Olympia, constructed c. 470–​456 BC, had twelve metopes for reasons of architectural logic and design; did the twelve Labors depicted thereon become the canonical twelve because of their placement on a famous building at a site of panhellenic congregation? Or was the myth itself chosen because its twelve episodes fitted twelve metopes? Either way, the fact that the Athenian Hephaesteum (built between 449 and 415 BC) only had ten metopes did not deter the sculptor from depicting Heracles’ Labors on them—​nine of them, since Geryon has two metopes. 9 Suda s.v. Πείσανδρος = EGF fr. 5. Pisander was credited with producing a catalog of all the Labors (Theocritus Epigrams 22 = Greek Anthology 9.598), but it is not certain that at that stage they were twelve in number. 10  Gantz (1993, 394); Fowler (2013, 286, n.85) notes the existence of Late Geometric Attic vases showing both birds and rattles, which may possibly relate to the Heracles myth (LIMC Herakles 2275–​2283).

98   Emma Aston

The Birds, the Goddess Artemis and the Cult at Stymphalus One of the most interesting aspects of Heracles-​myths is their combination of the panhellenic and the local. The hero’s fame extended from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Hellespont and beyond; at the same time, individual Greek communities developed their own local traditions to forge connections with Heracles and thereby link themselves in with the wider network of mythology. This local dimension is especially visible in the case of the Stymphalian Birds, though this rests on the accident of the relevant cult’s having piqued the interest of Pausanias, the second-​century AD traveler. Accident is perhaps the wrong word: in fact the Stymphalian Birds are part of just the kind of myth-​cult cluster to which Pausanias is especially partial, and they appear in the mythologically rich eighth book in which substantial digressions into local folklore are especially prevalent.11 Moreover, other texts pick up the story and reveal other aspects, revealing a set of themes that mesh significantly with important strands in Arcadian mythology more widely. Ancient Stymphalus was first excavated by Orlandos in the 1920s, and has been the subject of systematic Canadian excavation and publication through the 1990s and 2000s.12 Pausanias’ account of the site covers the following points. First he describes the natural setting.13 The Stymphalian lake, in the chōra (hinterland) of the polis of Stymphalus, is small and seasonal, only really manifesting as a lake as such in the winter months. It is fed by a spring, and from it debouches the river Stymphalus, which thereafter goes underground via a chasm, resurfacing under another name in the Argolid. There were once, says Pausanias, man-​eating birds on the lake, which Heracles killed or, according to Pisander, merely drove away with a noisy rattle. Then, after a short digression into the birds’ possible Arabian origins, Pausanias goes on to describe a sanctuary of Artemis, surely nearby and bearing clear signs of a connection with the myth of the birds: the birds themselves carved as a decorative frieze on the temple (“near the roof ”)14 and some mysterious marble effigies of bird-​legged

11  Pausanias’ description of Arcadia in Book 8 contains a particularly high quota of local myth, seemingly drawn from local accounts (see Pretzler, 2005) but obviously chiming with the author’s own symbolic concerns. At 8.2.4–​5 the story of the werewolf Lycaon draws from him a rare expression of belief: one might believe, he says, that in Arcadia in the distant past men might turn into gods or into animals. For the unusual quality of the Arcadia material, see Baleriaux (2017, 141–​143). 12  Orlandos 1926. The Canadian team’s excavation-​reports are listed on their excellent Stymphalos Project website, http://​portal.cig-​​node/​111, which also supplies plans and images. 13  For the natural setting and its relationship with the myths, see Walsh et al. (2017). 14  For the architectural significance of these carvings, see Ling (1973), Jost (1985, 101–​102).

Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds   99 girls behind the temple, though whether freestanding—​perhaps votives—​or part of its structure (unusual caryatids?) one cannot tell. The femininity of the Stymphalian Birds is a theme which emerges periodically in their characterization, the most extreme example being the claim by Mnaseas that the Stymphalides were not birds at all, but women (with the clearly artificial parentage of Stymphalus and Ornis) who failed to offer appropriate hospitality to Heracles and were killed by him in punishment.15 So the bird-​legged girls of Stymphalus, though their bird/​human hybridism is almost unique in the mythology of the birds,16 do not wholly depart from their characterization in other sources.17 Returning to the role of the birds in the mythology of Stymphalus, they have long been recognized to be deeply embedded in the mythological fabric of the area as Pausanias describes it. This is particularly clear in his account of two incidents in which the natural and religious order of the lake was disrupted. Even in our own day the following miracle is said to have occurred. The festival of Stymphalian Artemis at Stymphalus was carelessly celebrated, and its established ritual in great part transgressed. Therefore a log fell into the mouth of the chasm into which the river descends, and so prevented the water from draining away, and (so it is said) the plain became a lake for a distance of four hundred stades. They also say that a hunter chased a deer, which fled and plunged into the marsh, followed by the hunter, who, in the excitement of the hunt, swam after the deer. So the chasm swallowed up both the deer and her pursuer. They are said to have been followed by the water of the river, so that by the next day the whole of the water was dried up that flooded the Stymphalian plain. Hereafter they put greater zeal into the festival in honour of Artemis. (Pausanias 8.22.8–​9; trans. Jones, adapted)

The neglect of Artemis’ cult triggers a mischance—​a log falling into the lake’s outflow—​which in turn causes a flood; the waters are only released when a hunter chasing a deer rushes into the blocked channel and somehow (physically, or magically through the man’s death?) dislodges the obstruction and causes the pent-​up waters to escape. It should be noted, though, that the end result is not a return to the lake’s moderate proportions but its complete disappearance. Seasonal fluctuations of the

15 Mnaseas FHG iii, p.151 fr. 8 = schol. Apollonius Argonautica 2.1054. 16 

There is one exception in the visual record: an Apulian red-​figure bell krater of 380–​360 BC, on which Heracles shoots past a seated Athena at a bird on the ground which has a human face (and a most peculiar expression), LIMC Herakles 2266. Thread-​like, waving lines extend forward out of little circles on its face: is it emitting streams of water, thus identifying itself as a daimon of the lake? Discussion—​ similarly inconclusive—​in Schauenberg (1979). 17  Hybridism, or at least rumors thereof, is a prevalent aspect of Arcadian religious iconography: see Aston (2008).

100   Emma Aston waters were and are a reality of the location, but this drastic shift from one extreme to another obviously expresses the goddess’ ability, if not suitably placated, to inflict environmental extremes; her worship is obviously required to ensure that the waters’ rising and falling happens in accordance with predictable and regular patterns. The birds, then, may be seen as part of a local discourse concerning the potential dangers of the natural environment; the fact that they damaged crops, according to the tradition reported by Diodorus (see earlier), ties in with the fact that unexpected fluctuations of the lake waters would have had significant consequences for farming on the Stymphalian plain.18 This sequence of events is depicted as recent (“in my own time”),19 but historians have long recognized that it accords with some important and long-​standing strands in Arcadian mythology, in particular the relationship between the neglect of cult and the upset of the natural order and man’s place in it. As Borgeaud as argued, the Stymphalus myths should be read in conjunction with those regarding Demeter Melaena and her cult at Phigalia on the other side of Arcadia: there Demeter was worshipped in a sacred cave, and famine and the threat of cannibalism afflicted the Phigalians when they discontinued her worship.20 In both cults the deity’s chief role is to keep dangerous natural forces in check, and the threat of their breaking out is ever-​present should the traditional rites not be properly conducted. The fact that Artemis’ Stymphalian temple contained the images of the birds signals that they, as embodiments of the potentially harmful lake-​waters, were under her control. That the polis of Stymphalus was actively interested in the cultivation and display of this myth is clearly shown in its coinage, which in the fourth century BC tended to feature various combinations of Artemis, Heracles, and a Stymphalian Bird. The most common type had Heracles on the obverse and the bird on the reverse (Fig. 8.2), but a head of Artemis appears on the obverse sometimes too, with a Heraclean reverse.21 The date of the coins is significant: the polis was refounded in the fourth century at a time of heightened ethnic consciousness in Arcadia.22 In 370 the Arcadian League had been formed, its chief preoccupation countering Spartan power in the region, and this political process had a religious counterpart: the development of cults and myths that emphasized shared Arcadian identity. At the same time, individual poleis within the

18  Salowey (1995, 136–​142) has discussed the presence of Mycenaean water-​regulation structures at Stymphalus and the relationship between these, indicative of the site’s long-​standing hydrological challenges, and the myth of the birds. For another example of Heracles as controller of waters in Arcadia, see Pausanias 8.14.2–​3. 19  ἐφ᾽ ἡμῶν. 20  Borgeaud (1988, 17–​19); Aston (2011, 238). 21  See, for example, BMC Peloponnesus 199, 6; pl. XXXVII.4. 22  This is clearly signaled not only by coinage but also by the dating of the buildings excavated at the site. Stymphalus itself had an earlier existence, however, being mentioned indeed in Homer (Iliad 2.608).

Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds   101

Figure 8.2  Heracles (obverse) and a Stymphalian Bird (reverse). Drawing of AR obol of Stymphalus, Arcadia; c. 350 BC. Private coll. © Rosemary Aston.

League articulated their own unique mythological identity, and it is as part of such a process that Stymphalus’ energetic cultivation and advertisement of the Stymphalian Birds, Heracles, and Artemis should be seen. This dynamic meshing of the Heracles mythology with a local religious climate is fascinating. However, in one way the local and panhellenic traditions diverge: in the latter the most influential goddess is not Artemis but Athena. The involvement of Athena is the next important aspect of the story to consider.

Athena and the Bronze Krotala/​P latagē In art, Heracles is most often shown attacking the birds with slingshot or bow and arrows; on the Stymphalian coins described previously, the club and bow of Heracles sometimes appear on the reverse (with a head of Artemis on the obverse), surely referring to this attack. Literary sources, however, introduce another element: the rattle or castanets (for which the Greek term is either krotala or platagē)23 which Heracles is said to have used to scare the birds away from lake, or else to put them to flight so

23  Pisander (fr. 4 EGF) is reported as using the word krotala, but the other two early sources for this detail of the myth, Hellanicus (FGrH 4 F104a and b) and Pherecydes (FGrH 3 F 72), use instead platagē. Later sources tend to prefer krotala.

102   Emma Aston that he could then kill them on the wing. In vase-​paintings such instruments tend to be found in the hands of female entertainers in sympotic contexts, a use far removed from that of Heracles;24 there is some evidence for a ritual usage as well, but normally in connection with Dionysiac cult.25 A more meaningful parallel may occur in the battle of the Cranes and the Pygmies, with the latter using krotala to ward off the attacking birds; however, our source for this is a scholion on Homer,26 and while the scholiast cites Hecataeus for some aspects of the story, it is by no means certain that the use of krotala is among them; therefore, the antiquity of that element is entirely doubtful, and we may in fact assume that detail was borrowed from the story of Heracles at Stymphalus, rather than constituting a genuine independent parallel. In general, it is hard not to imagine some kind of magical or ritual significance lurking behind Heracles’ use of the krotala/​platagē, but such a theory does require caution. Perhaps various types of noisy rattle or clapper were actually used by farmers to scare birds from their crops: this we do not know. What we do know is that in some versions the bronze instrument is given to Heracles by the goddess Athena herself. This is significant whatever the cult usage of the object, for it immediately recalls the myth in which Athena gives a golden bit to Bellerophon so that he can tame and control the winged horse Pegasus.27 As Detienne (1971) has argued, Athena represents not the power of nature but rather man’s ability to govern that power; the unbridled horse is nature in the wild, whereas the bridled horse is nature controlled. While a bit carries a range of symbolic associations which rattles do not, and vice versa, there are some important similarities. Both are the product of technē (craft),28 specifically metallurgy; in fact, the krotala are sometimes described as the product of the arch-​technitēs (arch-​craftsman) Hephaestus.29

24  See, e.g., the dancer playing two sets of krotala on the tondo of an Attic red-​figure kylix of c. 510–​ 500 BC, attributed to the Euergides Painter: London BM 1920, 0613.1. 25  For example a specific reference to bronze krotala as Dionysiac paraphernalia, see Euripides Cyclops 205. 26  Schol. Homer Iliad 3.6 = Hecataeus FGrH 1 F328a. 27  See esp. Pindar Olympians. 13.60–​86. 28  See, for example, the emphasis placed on technē in Diodorus 4.13.2: Diodorus says that Heracles accomplished the Labor easily τέχνῃ καὶ ἐπινοίᾳ (“with technē and invention,” and then almost immediately says that the great number of the birds rendered brute force useless: φιλοτέχνου δ᾽ ἐπινοίας ἡ πρᾶξις προσεδεῖτο (“the deed required craftiness and invention”). Heracles and mētis: Padilla (1998, 31–​32). 29  The krotala as made by Hephaestus: see, for example, Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.6. Detienne (1971, 175) argues that the bit given to Bellerophon is not “one of those masterpieces that Hephaistos imbues with his demiurgic power, but a technical object which permits the domination of an animal of unpredictable reaction.” However, I am not wholly convinced by his assertion of a major semantic difference between Hephaestus (magical craftsmanship) and Athena (technical control). In the Heracles story at least, Hephaestus and Athena are hand-​in-​glove in supplying Heracles with the tool to defeat the birds.

Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds   103 In a sense, the use of the device is part of the character of Heracles as culture-​hero,30 in which discourse Padilla also places his association with drainage and irrigation, highly relevant to the Stymphalian context.31 There is some evidence for a cult of Athena at Stymphalus from the fourth century BC: an inscription bearing the epiclesis (in the genitive) ΠΟΛΙΑΔΟΣ.32 This can only be Athena Polias; there is no sound attestation of any other deity having this cult title. Influence from the Athenian cult of Athena is quite likely; nonetheless, various connections between the Stymphalian sanctuary and the area’s particular myths and religious preoccupations have been posited. For example, Hagerman links the significant number of projectile weapons deposited as votives in the acropolis sanctuary of Stymphalus with Heracles’ use of bow, arrows, and slings against the Stymphalian Birds.33 Schaus suggests that the rocky outcrop in the metope at Olympia showing Heracles handing Athena the dead Stymphalian Birds was intended to represent the acropolis of Stymphalus, reinforcing the connections between the goddess, the cult site, and the myth.34 The latter argument gains plausibility from the well-​ attested presence of Stymphalians, and people with strong Stymphalian connections, at Olympia. A key example is Hagesias, a Syracusan who had also been accorded Stymphalian citizenship. Pindar’s Sixth Olympian celebrates Hagesias’ victory in the mule-​car race of c. 468 BC, a few years before the Temple of Zeus was built. The Ode, which would have been performed both at Stymphalus and at Syracuse,35 emphasizes the meshing of the victor’s dual identity, Syracusan and Stymphalian, and includes elements of Stymphalian mythology (though not the story of the birds).36 Such connections between Olympia and Stymphalus certainly make it feasible that the representation on the temple of Heracles handing the dead birds to Athena might have reflected not only a well-​known story from the canon of Heraclean mythology but also an awareness of Athena’s role in Stymphalus, as poliadic (i.e., polis) deity as well as the hero’s helper. There is, however, an alternative possibility: that when Stymphalus was refounded in the fourth century, the cult of Athena was introduced for the first time, perhaps 30 

Schefold (1992, 109): “The curious, old-​fashioned story of the hero as pest-​control officer is derived, like that of the hind, from that of the hero as bringer of culture and civilisation.” 31  Padilla (1998, 23). 32  The inscription was found near the temple on the acropolis of Stymphalus excavated by Orlandos in the 1920s. See Schaus (2014, 13). The great majority of finds from the site are fourth-​century BC or later, although some earlier votives (including a late Archaic kore: see Sturgeon 2014, 36–​55) do indicate cult on the site at an earlier time—​however, it is impossible to identify the recipients of the earlier worship. 33  Hagerman (2014, 98). 34  Schaus (2007, 170–​171). 35  This is suggested on lines 97–​100, which mention the victory procession traveling from Stymphalus to Syracuse. 36  For example, Metopa (Metope), another name for the river Stymphalus, is mentioned—​as a local nymph—​at line 84.

104   Emma Aston partly in response to her role in myth. That mythic role may not have been Arcadian in origin; perhaps it was developed by non-​Arcadian mythographers because the goddess and her technē seemed suitable allies for a hero tackling savage wildlife (on the model of Athena, Bellerophon and the golden bit), while inside Stymphalus itself it was traditionally Artemis who helped to keep the natural environment in check, as long as humans worshipped her correctly.

Conclusion Waterbirds, as has been said, do not really lend themselves to scenes of heroic combat, however sharp their beaks; from a purely narrative perspective they are not the ideal foe for such as Heracles. It is likely that they originally had an independent existence in the local myths and religion of Stymphalus, representing the unreliable water of the lake (given to fluctuations that threatened agriculture with drought or with inundation) and connected with the local Artemis whose worship was designed to ensure that such dangerous natural forces were kept in check. However, Heracles entered the story at a very early stage, taking on the role of the birds’ ultimate vanquisher, hand-​in-​glove with Athena, who supplies the technē (craft) required for their removal, the bronze rattle. When the town of Stymphalus was refounded in the fourth century the myth may well have underpinned the choice of Athena as chief deity on the acropolis, though it is plain from Pausanias’ account of the site that Artemis did not fade into unimportance—​indeed, special anxiety attended the possibility of neglect of her worship. Heracles may have defeated the Stymphalian Birds, but only Artemis could ensure the continued suppression of the dangerous natural forces they represented.

Abbreviations BMC Peloponnesus Gardner 1887. EGF Davies 1988. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​.

References Aston, E. M. M. 2008. “Hybrid Statues in Ancient Greece: Animal, Human, God.” In Mensch und Tier in der Antike: Grenzziehung und Grenzüberschreitung, ed. A. Alexandridis, M. Wild, and L. Winkler-​Horaçek, 481–​502. Wiesbaden: Reichert, Verlag.

Labor VI: The Stymphalian Birds   105 Anderson, J. K. 1976. “Stymphalian and Other Birds.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 96: 146. Aston, E. M. M. 2011. Mixanthrôpoi: Animal/​human Hybrid Deities in Greek Religion. Kernos Suppl. 25. Liège: Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique. Baleriaux, J. 2017. “Pausanias’ Arcadia between Conservatism and Innovation.” In Myths on the Map: The Storied Landscapes of Ancient Greece, ed. G. Hawes, 141–​158. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Borgeaud, P. 1988. The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece. Translated by K. Atlass and J. Redfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bourne, W. R. P. 1982. “The Stymphalian Birds.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 102: 234–​235. Burkert, W. 1987. “Oriental and Greek Mythology: The Meeting of Parallels.” In Interpretations of Greek Mythology, ed. J. Bremmer, 10–​40. London: Croom Helm. Cohen, B. 1994. “From Bowman to Clubman: Herakles and Olympia.” Art Bulletin 76: 695–​7 15. Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Detienne, M. 1971. “Athena and the Mastery of the Horse.” History of Religions 11: 161–​184, Fowler, R. 2013. Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gardner, P. 1887. Catalogue of the Greek Coins in the British Museum: Peloponnesus (Excluding Corinth). London: British Museum. Hagerman, C. 2014. “Weapons: Catapult Bolts, Arrowheads, Javelin and Spear Heads, and Sling Bullets.” In Stymphalos: The Acropolis Sanctuary, vol. 1, ed. G. P. Schaus, 79–​102. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Hall, J. J. 1982. “Ancient Knowledge of the Birds Now Known at Lake Stymphalus.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 102: 235–​236. Jacoby. F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker Leiden: Brill. Jost, M. 1985. Cultes et sanctuaires d’Arcadie. Paris: J. Vrin. Ling, R. 1973. “Pausanias and the Stymphalian Birds.” Classical Quarterly 23: 152–​157. Orlandos, A. 1926. “Ἀνασκαφαὶ ἐν Στυμφάλῳ.” Praktika 131–​136. Padilla, M. W. 1998. The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile. Lanham, NY: University Press of America. Pretzler, M. 2005. “Pausanias and Oral Tradition.” Classical Quarterly 55: 235–​249 Rutherford, I. 2010. “Canonizing the Pantheon: The Dodekatheon in Greek Religion and its Origins.” In The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations, ed. J. N. Bremmer and A. Erskine, 43–​54. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Salowey, C. A. 1995. The Peloponnesian Herakles: Cult and Labors. Unpublished PhD thesis. Bryn Mawr College. Schauenberg, K. 1979. “Herakles und Vogelmonstrum auf einem Krater in Kiel.” Mededelingen van het Nederlands Historisch Instituut te Rome 41: 21–​28, with plates 9–​13. Schaus, G. P. 2007. “Connections between Olympia and Stymphalus.” In Onwards to the Olympics: Historical Perspectives on the Olympic Games, ed. G. P. Schaus and S. R. Wenn, 167–​178. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press. Schaus, G. P. 2014. “The Sanctuary: Site Description.” In Stymphalos: The Acropolis Sanctuary, vol. 1, ed. G.P. Schaus, 12–​35. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Schefold, K. 1992. Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Orig. German publ. 1978.) Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. Oxford and New York: Routledge.

106   Emma Aston Sturgeon, M. 2014. “Sculpture from the Acropolis Sanctuary.” In Stymphalos: The Acropolis Sanctuary, vol. 1, ed. G.P. Schaus, 36–​55. Toronto: University of Toronto. Walsh, K., A. G. Brown, B. Gourley, and R. Scaife. 2017. “Archaeology, Hydrogeology and Geomythology in the Stymphalos Valley.” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 15: 446–​458.

Chapter 9

L a b or VII The Cretan Bull

Daniel Ogden

The Labor of the Cretan Bull,1 canonically the seventh,2 in itself receives little elaboration in the literary record. It is telling that we have to wait for the Laus Herculis, pseudonymously attributed to Claudian and probably composed in the fifth century AD, for our most elaborate account of the beast and the deed, and the only one worth quoting: Swift fame spread the report of Hercules’ victory quickly across the whole world, and Crete, vanquished by a gory blight, asked the god for help. A bull, born in the heart of the moon-​star, had taken control of Jupiter’s Dictaean fields. From its mouth there came a thunderbolt and its breath blazed with raging flames. It was no longer the flame from the sky that burned up the earth, but the monster’s exhalations. The star of Sirius could now withdraw. And so too the sun, overcome with icy cold: it could bury its splendor and shut it away from the world, concealing its golden light; it could grow

1  Some useful catalogs of sources and discussions: Furtwängler (1886–​1890, 2201), Gruppe (1918, 1051–​1053), Robert (1921, ii: 456–​458), Brommer (1986, 31–​33), Vollkommer (1988, 8–​11), Todisco (1990), Gantz (1993, 394–​395), Stafford (2012, 39). 2  Diodorus 4.13.4; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.7 (and therefore Pediasimus Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 18–​19); Hyginus Fabulae 30.8; Tabula Albana FGrH/​BNJ 40 F1c = IG xiv 1293 (i BC–​ii AD); Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica 6.236–​240; Tzetzes Chiliades 2.4 lines 293–​298. It is made the eighth Labor at Greek Anthology 16.92.8 (Anon.) and Ausonius 7.24.8 (= Eclogues 24.8); both of these interesting little poems devote a single hexameter to each of the Labors; the anonymous one concludes with an unconventional thirteenth Labor conveyed in two extra lines, and that too a terrible one: sleeping with fifty girls on one night. A similar exercise is undertaken in a Dodecasticha de Hercule ascribed to (the undated) Hilasius in the Latin Anthology, 627 Bücheler-​Riese.

108   Daniel Ogden sluggish and cool in its fiery disk. Crete had its own heat. The woods, the lakes, the meadows, and the sacred spring all perished, and fierce flame burned up the mountains. The fire reduced Ida to ashes as the gods looked on, and the monster overwhelmed with its great fire the cradle that was so dear to the Thunderer, if it is right to say such a thing. Swift fame had at last brought great Hercules to the Dictaean shore. He engaged with the bull as it delivered its terrible threats, and as it vomited forth its flames in wild fashion he grabbed it by the horn. Constricting its frame with his strong arms, he shut the bull’s breath and its fiery exhalations inside its body. [Claudian] Laus Herculis 118–​1373

The incomplete poem finishes abruptly at this point. Earlier in the tradition Pausanias had told that the bull was marauding more specifically the lands adjacent to the river Tethris.4 Apollodorus had told that when Heracles came to Crete to take on the bull, he asked Minos for help, but was refused and told to capture it on his own (Minos seemingly taking the stance usually associated with Eurystheus here, as in the case of the Hydra Labor).5 Diodorus had told that, after capturing it, Heracles had transported the bull back to the Peloponnese by riding it across the sea.6 The interesting detail of the bull’s fire-​breathing appears less frequently in the preceding tradition than one might have hoped, but it is mentioned at a relatively late stage by Quintus Smyrnaeus and the expanded Servius commentary.7 As a fire-​ breather the bull is aligned other monsters faced by Heracles in the Labors: the fire-​ breathing Mares of Diomede8 and the fiery-​venomed Hydra.9 Beyond the Heracles cycle it is aligned with creatures faced by other quest-​heroes: most notably the fire-​breathing bulls that Jason had to yoke in the task imposed on him by Aeetes of Colchis;10 and, more generally, the Lycian Chimaera that Bellerophon had to destroy, this also being a marauder.11

The Bull’s Back-​Story The enrichment of the Labor in the literary tradition was devoted mainly to the back-​ story and the after-​story of the bull itself, and its identification with other great bulls of 3  For edition, commentary, and discussion, see Guex (2000, with 66–​69 for the dating). As ever with this poem, some readings and interpretations remain uncertain. Claudian proper makes passing reference to the Labor at De raptu Proserpinae 2 preface 3–​4. 4  Pausanias 1.27.9. 5 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.7. 6  Diodorus 4.13.4; cf. Pausanias 1.27.10. 7  Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica 6.236–​240; Servius (Auctus) on Virgil Aeneid 8.294–​295. 8  Lucretius 5.30–​31; cf. Euripides Alcestis 492–​494. 9  Evidence collected at Ogden (2013, 26–​33). 10 Apollonius Argonautica 3.228–​234, 407–​421, 492–​501, 1026–​1062, 1278–​1407. 11 Homer Iliad 6.81–​82 = Hesiod Theogony 323–​324, etc.; cf. Ogden (2013, 221).

Labor VII: The Cretan Bull  109 myth. As to the back-​story, already, in our earliest literary reference to the Labor, the earlier fifth-​century BC Acusilaus told that the bull was the one that carried Europa to Zeus. Acusilaus must have handled the Labors in the context of his account of the exploits of the House of Inachus.12 In the more familiar versions of the Europa myth, the bull in question was rather Zeus himself in metamorphosis, which is of course incompatible with Acusilaus’ claim.13 However, Crete was, appropriately, Europa’s destination, whatever the identity of her conveyer. Her journey there is described in delightful terms by Moschus’ Europa. It was there that she bore Minos to Zeus (this was known already to the Iliad).14 Diodorus also dissociates Europa’s bull from Zeus himself. Unlike Acusilaus, he does not then proceed to identify the bull with Heracles’ Cretan bull, although he does, as we have noted, have Heracles ride on the Cretan bull’s back across the sea à la Europa.15 The identification of the Cretan bull with Europa’s bull makes little impact on the remainder of the ancient tradition, though the possibility of it is also noted (at long last) by Tzetzes.16 On the iconographic side, it has been contended, most precariously, that the veiled woman watching Heracles attack the Cretan bull with his club on a late fifth-​century BC Attic calyx crater is to be identified as Europa.17 Diodorus rather relates Heracles’ bull to the Pasiphae story. According to this, it was Minos’ custom ever to sacrifice to Poseidon the most beautiful bull among his herds. But when one emerged of surpassing beauty, he could not bear to kill it, and so sacrificed another in its place. In revenge, Poseidon caused Minos’ wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the bull. Minos’ court inventor Daedalus made Pasiphae a dummy cow in which she could conceal herself and so enjoy sex with the creature. By this means was sired the part-​bull, part-​human Minotaur.18 Apollodorus gives different details: Minos had rather promised to sacrifice to Poseidon whatever emerged from the sea; when Poseidon sent him the bull from his waves, again Minos declined to sacrifice it because of its beauty, whereupon Poseidon turned it savage.19 Lactantius Placidus substitutes Zeus for Poseidon in this variant, and explains that the bull’s beauty consisted in the fact that it was extraordinarily white.20

12 Acusliaus FGrH/​BNJ 2 F29 (= Fowler); see Toye at BNJ ad loc. and Fowler (2000–​2013, ii: 286–​287,

with 623–​624 for Acusilaus’ date). 13  Hesiod F140 MW, Bacchylides F10, Apollodorus Bibliotheca 3.1.1. 14 Homer Iliad 14.321–​322; Hesiod F140 MW, etc. 15  Diodorus 4.60.2 cf. 4.13.4, 5.78.1. Europa’s bull may have been at least in part dissociated from Zeus already in Aeschylus F99 TrGF and Euripides FF820a-​b TrGF: see Fowler (2000–​2013, ii: 286) for the complications here. 16 Tzetzes Chiliades 2.4 lines 293–​298. 17  LIMC Herakles 2310, with Todisco ad loc. 18  Diodorus 4.13.4 (cf. 4.77 for the Pasiphae episode). 19 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.7; so too Pediasimus Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 18–​19. Pausanias’ words at 1.27.9 are also compatible with this variant. 20  Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 5.431–​432.

110   Daniel Ogden

The Bull’s After-​Story As to the after-​story, Virgil claims, in a brief and surprising passing reference, that Heracles actually slew the bull: “You [Heracles] slew the Cretan monster and the great lion under the Nemean crag.”21 The expanded version of the ancient Servius commentary attempts to get Virgil out of his hole by claiming, unpersuasively, that the “Cretan monster” is itself also a reference to the Nemean lion, which is accordingly treated in hendiadys.22 Virgil was not completely alone in holding this: the same notion is conveyed in an even swifter passing reference in an epigram ascribed to one Philip in the Greek Anthology.23 But according to the dominant tradition, found, for example, in Diodorus, Apollodorus, and Hyginus, the bull was left to roam free after being presented to Eurystheus, whereupon it made its way to Attica (via Sparta, Arcadia, and the Isthmus) and became the marauding Marathonian bull that served in turn as a Labor for Theseus, who duly subdued it and brought it to the Acropolis, where he sacrificed it to Athena, or else brought it to his father Aegeus, who sacrificed it to Apollo. Pausanias adds that upon arriving in Marathon the bull had killed Androgeos, the son of Minos, and that his father held the Athenians to account for the death. This was the reason he imposed on Athens the tribute of seven girls and seven boys, which of course culminated in Theseus’ killing of the Minotaur.24 Notoriously, it is impossible to determine whether Heracles or Theseus acquired his bull Labor first, though most scholars suspect the priority of Heracles. Either way, the assimilation of the two heroes, to the extent that they actually come to share an antagonist, is striking.25 The odd notion that the bull was left to roam free was unpacked in a number of ways.26 Apollodorus simply and surprisingly says that Heracles himself let the bull go.27 The expanded Servius commentary offers a helpful explanation: Heracles left it in Attica after Eurystheus had finished with it because he was overcome by its beauty,

21 Virgil Aeneid 8.294–​295. 22 

Servius (Auctus) on Virgil Aeneid 8.294–​295. Greek Anthology 16.93.1–​2. 24  Diodorus 4.59.6; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.7 (so too Pediasimus Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 18–​19); Hyginus Fabulae 30.8, 38.7; Pausanias 1.27.10. Cf. Ovid Metamorphoses 7.433–​434, a vestigial reference to the Marathonian bull as “Cretan.” Schol. Aratus Phaenomena 167 contrives to have Europa’s bull graduate to become the Marathonian bull without passing through any intervening phase as the Cretan bull. 25  See Todisco (1990, 66), Gantz (1993, 395), Fowler (2000–​2013, ii: 286-​287), Stafford (2012, 139, 167–​170). 26  This motif sat better with the Mares of Diomede, which Heracles had rendered tame in capturing: Diodorus 4.15.3–​4 (implicit), Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.8, Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 12.156, Second Vatican Mythographer 174. 27 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.7. 23 

Labor VII: The Cretan Bull  111 its vomiting-​forth of flames notwithstanding (and so he presumably could not bring himself to kill it any more than Minos could).28 Another tradition, represented in the twelfth-​century AD Tzetzes, told, more gratifyingly, that the feckless Eurystheus was rather responsible for its release.29 The most sophisticated account is offered by the fourth-​century AD Lactantius Placidus, who tells that Eurystheus dedicated the (living) bull to Hera, but that she spurned the gift, saluting, as it did, the glory of her hated Heracles, and so she herself drove it off into Attica.30

The Bull in Ancient Art The iconographic tradition for the Labor offers some fine portraits of the bull (there is never any attempt to represent its fire), but little else of interest.31 Two Protocorinthian aryballos vases, one of c. 670 BC and one of around the mid-​seventh century BC, depict, inter alia, a man confronting a bull, but there is no strong reason to believe that either of these represents Heracles.32 The iconographic story proper accordingly begins in c. 550–​540 BC (prior, therefore to the commencement of the extant literary tradition—​Acusilaus), with a Laconian cup in which Heracles restrains or wrestles the bull as it attempts to run (a Siren, curiously, attends the scene).33 Two other broad scene-​types commence in the late sixth century or early fifth century BC: Heracles attacking the bull with a weapon, be it a sword, a stone, or, most commonly, his club;34 and Heracles compelling the bull to kneel before him (sometimes he has it tied).35 From this point too, Athena, ever the helpmeet of heroes as they grapple with monsters in Greek iconography, frequently attends, as does Hermes, on occasion.36 In


Servius (Auctus) on Virgil Aeneid 8.294–​295.

29 Tzetzes Chiliades 2.4 lines 293–​298. 30 

Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 5.431–​432; the text is repeated at First Vatican Mythographer 1.47 and paraphrased at Second Vatican Mythographer 120. 31  For discussion, see Vollkommer (1988, 8–​11), Todisco (1990), and, for the (often murky) representation of the bull Labor in Dodekathlos tableaux, Boardman (1990). With cruder independent images of man and bull it can uncertain whether we are looking at (1) Heracles v. the Cretan bull, (2) Heracles v. Achelous in bull form; (3) Heracles with the cattle of Geryon; (4) Theseus and the Marathonian bull; (5) Jason and the bulls of Aeetes; or (6) none of the above. 32  LIMC Herakles 2353–​2354. 33  LIMC Herakles 2317 = Pipili (1987, fig. 6); Todisco (1990, 66). Further broad examples of the scene type, which endures to the end of the century, at 2318–​2325; similar scenes are revived in the Roman period: 2384–​2402, 2404. Quintus Smyrnaeus (Posthomerica 6.236–​240) describes Heracles as grabbing the bull by the horns, his arms straining. 34  LIMC Herakles 2306–​2316, 2365–​2373. 35  LIMC Herakles 2326–​2339, 2340–​2347. 36 E.g., LIMC Herakles 2306, 2309–​2311, 2319, 2322–​2324, 2346–​2348, 2351–​2352.

112   Daniel Ogden Roman art, two further principal scene-​types emerge in the first century BC: Heracles carries the bull over his shoulder,37 and Heracles kneels on the prone bull’s back.38

Abbreviations BNJ Worthington 2012–​. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. TrGF Snell et al. 1971–​2004.

References Boardman, J. 1990. “Herakles Dodekatholos.” In LIMC v.1: 5–​16. Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labours of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. New Rochelle, NY: A.D. Caratzas. Translation of Herakles: Die zwölf Taten des Helden in antiker Kunst und Literatur. 2nd ed. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1979. Fowler, R. L. 2000–​2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Furtwängler, A. 1886–​1890. “Herakles.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W. H. Roscher, Band 1.2, coll. 2135–​2252. Leipzig: Teubner. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins. Gruppe, O. 1918. “Herakles.” In RE Suppl. iii: colls. 910–​1121. Guex, S. 2000. Ps.-​Claudien: Laus Herculis. Introduction, texte, traduction et commentaire. Bern: Lang. Jacoby, F., et al., eds/​. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Ogden, D. 2013. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pipili, M. 1987. Laconian Iconography of the Sixth Century BC. Oxford: OUCA. Robert, C., 1921. Die griechische Heldensage. Vol. 2. Berlin: Weidmann = L. Preller, C. Robert and O. Kern. 1894–​1926. Griechische Mythologie. 4th ed. Berlin: Weidmann. ii.2. Snell, B., R. Kannicht, and S. Radt, eds. 1971–​2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. 5 vols. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Todisco, L. 1990. “Herakles and the Cretan Bull (Labour vii).” In LIMC v.1: 59–​67. Toye, D. L. 2009. “2. Akousilaos” BNJ. Vollkommer, R. 1988. Herakles in the Art of Classical Greece. Oxford: OUCA. Worthington, I., ed. 2012–​. Brill’s New Jacoby. Leiden: Brill. (Online resource.) 37  38 

LIMC Herakles 2357–​2363. LIMC Herakles 2374–​2377.

Chapter 10

L a b or VIII The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)

Daniel Ogden

The capture of the man-​eating mares of the wicked Thracian king Diomede canonically constitutes Heracles’ eighth Labor.1 Diomede, son of Ares2 and king of the Thracian Cicones or Bistones, would feed visitors to his kingdom to his man-​eating mares.3 In this regard he resembles one of the many pestilential brigands that Heracles encounters and cleanses in the course of his parerga (see Chapter 15). Euripides’ Heracles salutes the theme in bemoaning that he is ever destined to battle with the

1  For catalogs of sources for the episode and discussions, see: Sybel (1884–​1886), Furtwängler (1886–​ 1890, 2202, 2225–​2226, 2234), Gruppe (1918, 1053–​1055), Robert (1921:i, 458–​462), Brommer (1986, 34–​ 36), Boardman (1990b), Gantz (1993, 395–​397), Bader (1998, 151–​156), Fowler (2000–​2013, ii: 287–​288), Stafford (2012, 40–​41). The Labor is identified as eighth at Tabula Albana FGrH/​BNJ 40 F1c = IG xiv 1293 (i BC–​ii AD); Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.8 (after which Pediasimus, Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 20–​21); Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica 6.246–​248; Tzetzes Chiliades 2.4 lines 299–​308. It is ninth at Ausonius 7.24.9 (= Eclogues 24.9), Greek Anthology 16.92.9 (Anon.), and Latin Anthology 627.9 Bücheler-​Riese (Hilasius). 2  For Diomede as the son of Ares, see Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.8, Hyginus Fabulae 159. 3  The key point that Diomede fed strangers to his mares takes some time to emerge explicitly in the literary tradition (it manifests itself earlier in the iconographic one: see what follows), but see Heraclitus Paradoxographus 31 (iv BC?), Palaephatus 7 (where it is explained that the fallacious tale of the “man-​ eating” horses originated in the notion that Diomede had squandered his entire estate in rearing them, so that they metaphorically “devoured” him in financial terms), Pomponius Mela 2.29, Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 17–​21, Dio Chrysostom 8.31, schol. Lucian Jupiter Tragoedus 21, [Scymnus] 664–​670, Nonnus Dionysiaca 25.250.

114   Daniel Ogden sons of Ares: before Diomede he has had to contend with both Lycaon and Cycnus.4 More specifically, Ovid and a scholiast to Pindar tell that, like Antaeus, Diomede roofed his house with the skulls of his victims (presumably torn, uncracked, from his horses’ mouths).5 The complex literary tradition may be resolved into three broad narrative-​types, as laid out in what follows, in chronological order of attestation. The first two are perhaps more contradictory in emphasis than in detail as such.

Version 1 Heracles (acting alone) throws one of Diomede’s grooms to the horses to distract them so that he can bridle them; Diomede rushes to retaliate (and is presumably killed).

This chain of events seems to be implied by a fragmentary ode of the earlier-​fifth-​ century BC Pindar, in which we hear of, in sequence: Diomede’s horses; the king of the Cicones; the Bistonian lake; the striking son of Ares; dying bravely in defense of seized possessions; the seizing of a man and the throwing of him into stone mangers; horses; the resounding noise of white bones being cracked; a bronze chain; the horses’ feeding-​place; the whipping (with the chain?) of three mares—​one carrying a leg in its teeth, another a forearm, a third a neck; the shouting of bitter news; a tyrant; movement from a bed.6 Pindar is unlikely to have spoken of the horses’ killing of Heracles’ beloved, Abderus (discussed in the next section), because he elsewhere celebrates Abderus as the founder of Abdera in his own right and as the son of Poseidon and the nymph Thronia.7 The Pindaric version is ostensibly saluted in a brief reference to the Labor by Seneca, where it is made clear that the victim is the horses’ chariot-​driver (auriga): He fetched the group of Thracian horses that the tyrant had fed, not on the grass that grows beside the river Strymon or on that that grows on the banks of the river Hebrus; the dread man had fed the savage creatures with the gore of strangers and the last blood to color their cruel jaws was that of their chariot-​driver. Seneca Agamemnon 842–​8478

4 Euripides Heracles 500–​504.

5 Ovid Heroides 9.91–​92 (cf. 69–​70); schol. Pindar Isthmians 4.92b. 6 

Pindar F169a Snell-​Mähler.


Cf. Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 17–​21, 1789–​1791, Troades 1108–​1109.

7 Pindar Paeans 2.1–​3 (F52b Snell-​Mähler; D2 Rutherford).

Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)   115

Version 2 Heracles and his men overpower Diomede’s grooms to make off with the horses. When Diomede and his Bistones pursue them, Heracles leaves the horses in the care of his beloved, Abderus, so as to join battle. He kills Diomede and repels the rest. But in the meantime Abderus loses control of the horses and they drag him to death; Heracles founds Abdera beside his tomb.

Such is Apollodorus’ version of events (c. AD 100), which need not be quoted further.9 His account coincides well with a fragment of the later-​fifth-​century BC Hellanicus, such as it is, and it is probable, accordingly, that Hellanicus is the source of this narrative in its entirety: Abdera. There are two cities of this name. One of them is in Thrace, and this one derives its name from Abderus the son of Hermes, who was the beloved of Heracles. He was torn apart by mares of Diomedes, as Hellanicus and others tell. Hellanicus FGrH /​ BNJ 4 F105 (= Fowler)10

Like Hellanicus, Apollodorus too describes Abderus as the son of Hermes (he is further described as hailing from Opus in Locris). He also tells that, after they had been delivered to him, Eurystheus released the mares, whereupon they made their way to Mt. Olympus, where they were eaten by wild beasts. We assume that Heracles has been able to tame the horses at some point between the death of Abderus and Eurystheus’ release of them.11 How did Heracles kill Diomede in this case, if not feeding him to the horses (as in version 3)? According to Dio Chrysostom, he shattered him with his club like an old jar.12 Philostratus gives us an elaborate ecphrasis of a painting supposedly at Neapolis (Naples). The scene portrayed—​a compressed narrative as is often the case in ancient iconography and ekphrasis alike—​may be supposed to evoke something akin to the 9 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.8; this text is closely followed by Joannes Pediasimus, Tractatus de duodecim Herculis laboribus 20–​21 and Tzetzes Chiliades 2.4 lines 299–​308. 10 The terminus post quem for the motif of the foundation of Abdera is c. 640 BC, the historical date of the city’s foundation (by refugees from Teos): Herodotus 1.168; cf. Gantz (1993, 396); for the site cf. Isaac (1986, 77–​78)—​a Phoenician emporium in origin? There was an alternative tradition, recorded at Pomponius Mela 2.29, that the city of Abdera was named rather for a sister of Diomede (while Diomede himself had a local tower named for him). In a typical piece of mischief Ptolemy Chennus, as summarized at Photius Bibliotheca cod. 190 §5, has Abderus killed rather by Theseus when he came to Athens to report the death of Heracles. 11  Heracles’ actual taming of the horses is noted at Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 12.156 and Second Vatican Mythographer 174; it is implicit at Diodorus 4.15.3–​4. Aulus Gellius 3.9 knew a tradition in accordance with which the horses had been released rather in the region of Argos, and that their descendants had continued to live on there. At the end of the Republic a fine specimen had brought the curse of a violent death on each of its chain of owners, Seius, Dolabella, Cassius, and Antony, and had given rise to a proverb applicable to the unfortunate, “The fellow has the Seian horse.” 12  Dio Chrysostom 8.31.

116   Daniel Ogden Hellanican-​Apollodoran version, although in a minor variation Philostratus has Abderus devoured by the horses as opposed to dragged to death:13 The Burial of Abderus. Let us not consider the mares of Diomede a Labor for Heracles, boy, since he has already taken them and bashed them with his club—​one of them is just lying there, another gasps, another, you could say, is trying to leap up, and another again is falling down. Their manes are in disarray, they are unkempt from top to bottom, and they are just completely wild. Their mangers are full of human limbs and bones, which Diomede has used to feed them with. The rearer of the horses himself presents a wilder appearance even than his horses do. He has fallen beside them. But this is the Labor that must seem more difficult, since Eros imposed it upon Heracles on top of many others, and his toil was no small thing. For Heracles is carrying away Abderus, half eaten, after dragging him away from the horses. They had made a meal from his tender body. He was younger still than Iphitus—​this can be conjectured from the remaining fragments. They are beautiful still as they lie on the lion-skin. Tears over them, embraces, lamentations, a face sad with grief—​these are things for a lover other than Heracles. Let the stone standing over the tomb do honor to another. Heracles does not do the common thing; rather, he founds a city for Abderus, which we call after him, and he will establish games for Abderus. He will be celebrated with boxing, pancratium, wrestling, and competitions of all sorts, except for those with horses. Philostratus Imagines 2.25

Abderus appears as Heracles’ adjutant in the Diomede Labor in a slightly different way in Hyginus: “Diomede the king of Thrace and his four horses, which used to feed on human flesh, together with the servant Abderus, Heracles killed.”14 The Latin is phrased in a slightly ambiguous way, as this translation seeks to indicate. It is just conceivable that Hyginus means to tell us that Abderus was a victim of Diomede, deliberately fed by him to the horses together with all the other human flesh he gave them (and as we have seen there was indeed a tradition that Abderus was eaten by the horses after they had been taken from Diomede). But we should almost certainly read Hyginus to mean rather that Heracles killed Diomede and his horses with the help of his (Heracles’) servant Abderus. It is surprising to be told that Heracles killed the horses as opposed to taking them back to Eurystheus, but the notion is also found in Ovid, and in any case the later summary sources have a general tendency to reduce Heracles’ engagement with his monstrous beasts to simple acts of slaughter, as is the case with both the Boar and the Bull (see Chapters 6 and 9).15 Hyginus also does us the courtesy of naming the horses: Podargos, Lampon, Xanthos, Dinos (Swiftfoot, Flash, Bay, Whirl—​appropriately enough, though oddly the names are masculine).16 13 

This same minor variant also at schol. Clement of Alexandria Protrepticus p. 315.

14 Hyginus Fabulae 30.9; cf. the similarly ambiguous translation of Grant (1960).

15 Ovid Metamorphoses 9.194–​196; Hyginus Fabulae 30; so too Latin Anthology 627.9 Bücheler-​Riese (Hilasius). 16  At Homer Iliad 16.149–​150 Achilles’ immortal (and talking) pair also includes a Xanthos, and his mother is the Harpy Podarge.

Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)   117 Four horses make a chariot team, and so Diomede’s horses had been described by Euripides, while Seneca had referred, as we have seen, to their charioteer.17

Version 3 More simply, Heracles (acting alone) throws Diomede himself to the horses to distract them while he bridles them.

This is Diodorus’ (c. 30 BC) account of this version, and the earliest one worthy of direct quotation: After this Heracles took on the Labor of fetching the mares of the Thracian Diomede. They had bronze mangers because of their wildness, and they were bound with iron chains because of their strength. For their food they did not take the plant that grew from the ground, but they hacked apart the limbs of strangers, and so got their food from the misfortune of the luckless. In order to render them manageable Heracles fed them their master Diomede. He sated the creatures’ hunger with the flesh of the one that had taught them to violate their natures, and made them docile. He took the mares back to Eurystheus, and Eurystheus dedicated them to Hera. It happened that their descendants endured until the reign of Alexander of Macedon. Diodorus 4.15.3–​4

The brief references to the Labor by Ovid, Pomponius Mela, Quintus Smyrnaeus, and Lactantius Placidus ostensibly salute this version.18 Eurystheus’ consecration of the horses to Hera is a motif subsequently attached to the Cretan Bull, although in that case Hera scorns the dedication as promoting the glory of her hated Heracles.19 So much for the three principal versions of this Labor.

More on the Horses A few more points may be made about the horses themselves. First, Pliny and Aelian offer quasi-​naturalistic explanations of the savage nature of the horses: for Pliny they were turned that way by pasturing on the plants native to the region of Abdera, for

17 Euripides Heracles 380–​388; cf. Alcestis 481–​504 (attention also to gory mangers in both plays); Seneca Agamemnon 842–​847. 18 Ovid Metamorphoses 9.194–​196; Pomponius Mela 2.29; Quintus Smyrnaeus 6.246–​248; Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 6.346–​348, 12.156; so too Second Vatican Mythographer 174. 19  Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 5.431–​432; cf. First Vatican Mythographer 1.47 and Second Vatican Mythographer 120.

118   Daniel Ogden Aelian by drinking from the river Cossinitus.20 Second, and also in relation to their nature, an ostensibly late, but perhaps rather earlier, element in the tradition is the notion that Diomede’s horses also breathed fire, this being found in a passing reference of Lucretius.21 Now, long before this, in the conversation between Heracles and the chorus in Euripides’ Alcestis, Heracles had contended that he would find it easy to bridle the horses, just so long as they did not breathe fire. The chorus reassures him that they do not.22 Lucretius may simply be making witty play with the Euripidean denial. Or it may be that Lucretius is working in a more conventional way with a pre-​ Euripidean tradition to which Euripides is himself making witty allusion, while rejecting it.23 Third, there were alternative traditions of the horses’ ultimate fate. We have noted already the tradition in accordance with which Heracles (eventually) killed them. Lactantius Placidus, however, tells that Heracles gave them to his son Chromis to keep.24 But the most interesting fate for the horses is that recounted in a fragment of the fourth-​century BC Asclepiades of Tragilus: Potnia [a.k.a. Potniae] is a city of Boeotia. As Asclepiades says in the first book of his Tragoidoumena, this was where Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus and Merope, kept the mares that he had been accustomed to feeding with human flesh. Because of this, they were all the keener to rush at the enemy, and all the more dangerous when they did so. But when their food fell short, they devoured Glaucus himself, at the funeral games for Pelias. Now some say that these were the mares of Diomede, which Heracles had taken to Eurystheus, that Sisyphus snatched them from him, and that he gave them to his own son. Asclepiades of Tragilus FGrH /​ BNJ 12 F1 = [Probus] on Virgil Georgics 3.267

Clearly, as with Heracles’ Cretan Bull and Theseus’ Marathonian bull (see Chapter 9), two originally distinct but similar (sets of) monsters have been concatenated here. From Euripides we learn that Polynices bore Glaucus’ mares on his shield as a blazon, and that Orestes referred to the Furies chasing him metaphorically as “Potnian mares.” From other sources we learn that these horses were driven mad (1) when they ate a certain local plant; (2) when they drank from a sacred spring; (3) by Aphrodite, after Glaucus scorned her rites; or (4) by Aphrodite, to punish Glaucus for denying the horses sex, in order to make them run faster.25 Pausanias seems to indicate that in 20 Pliny Natural History 25.94 (cf. 4.42); Aelian Nature of Animals 15.25. 21 

Lucretius 5.30–​31.

22 Euripides Alcestis 492–​494. 23 

It is to be regretted that the standard commentaries on the Alcestis, including that of Parker (2007, 158) can find no space to discuss this point, potentially of considerable interest for Euripides’ art. 24  Lactantius Placidus on Statius Thebaid 6.346–​348; cf. on 12.156; so too Second Vatican Mythographer 174. 25 Euripides Phoenissae 1124 and Orestes 318, both with scholl.; Servius on Virgil Georgics 3.268; cf. also Hyginus Fabulae 250. For discussion, see Gruppe (1918, 1054), Robert (1921, ii: 1975–​1976), Gantz (1993, 175), Fowler (2000–​2013, ii: 288), Asirvatham at BNJ loc. cit.

Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)   119 death Glaucus became a horse-​terrifying demon, a “Taraxippos.”26 I see no particular reason to follow Robert’s view that the Glaucus myth was antecedent to the Heracles Labor, with the latter being calqued on the former; certainly the order of attestation is not on Robert’s side.27

The Iconography The iconographic tradition has only one substantial motif to add to the literary tradition.28 On two vases at any rate, and first on an Attic black-​figure lekythos of the early fifth century BC, the horses are winged.29 Illustrations of the Diomede Labor emerge in extant art in the later sixth century BC. The range of scene-​types, whether independent or in Dodekathlos context, is not great, or particularly interesting: Heracles stands beside one or more horses with his club, sometimes attacking one of them with it; sometimes the horses rear.30 In the Imperial period there is sometimes an effort to depict a chariot-​team of four.31 The most striking of these images are perhaps the very earliest of all, that on an Attic black-​ figure cup by Psiax and that on an Attic red-​figure cup by Oltos, both of the late sixth century BC: on the first a human head and arm project from the mouth of a stylishly drawn horse, clearly a stallion, by the way; on the second a human arm hangs from the horse’s mouth, while a man in a himation may represent Diomede running to the scene (sc. of his groom’s demise?).32 Diomede himself appears only rarely in extant Greek iconography. What would have been his first appearance would seem to be chimerical. Pausanias’ summary of the Heraclean scenes on the late-​sixth-​century BC Amyclae throne speaks of Heracles “punishing [timōroumenos] Diomede the Thracian and Nessus at the river Evenus.” But Boardman plausibly holds, for reasons of the throne’s early date, that its image of this Labor cannot have included the figure of Diomede, and that Pausanias must accordingly


Pausanias 6.20.19. Robert (1921, i: 460–​461). He sees the Labor as cobbled together from the tradition of the man-​ eating mares of Glaucus, the immortal horses Heracles expected to receive from Laomedon (for which, see Chapter 17) and the Iliad’s Diomede, whose own horses rate a mention (5.318–​323), and who, more particularly, kills the Thracian Rhesus and steals his magnificent horses (10.426–​579, esp. 434–​437, 559). If any point gives us pause here, it will be the last. 28  For the episode’s iconography see Boardman (1990a, 1990b). 29  LIMC Herakles 2416, 2424. 30  LIMC Herakles 1703–​1759 (many of these Dodekathlos examples are obscure), 2414–​2426, 2431. 31  LIMC Herakles 2436–​2441. 32  LIMC Herakles 2414–​2415; but Boardman 1990b:70 doubts the identification in the second case. Cf. Padilla 1998:9. 27 

120   Daniel Ogden have misidentified another figure as the king.33 Beyond that and the Oltos cup just mentioned, pre-​Imperial iconography offers us only two frustrating fragments of third-​or second-​century BC clay relief bowls, a mold for such bowls, and a marble Dodekathlos frieze from Delphi of the second or first century BC. On one of the bowl fragments the legends “Heracles” and “Diomede” can be deciphered, but the accompanying scene cannot be reconstructed, while on another we just have the legend “Diomede” written over the head of a man wearing a Thracian cap.34 The mold shows a man face-​down on the ground beneath Heracles and the horses.35 In the frieze Heracles is confronted by a rearing horse as he strikes down a figure kneeling in supplication before him.36 But in the Imperial period Diomede becomes a more popular subject, with Heracles shown holding the kneeling king by the hair as he prepares to strike a blow.37

A Rite of Passage? The task of bridling or taming (super-​)wild horses may be seen as a refraction of rite of passage to manhood, when we compare the mythical and legendary traditions of other performers of multiple magnificent feats: Perseus, Bellerophon, and, latterly, Alexander the Great. The association is perhaps strongest in the case of Perseus, although it depends on a confusingly reported tale in a fragment of (the mid-​fifth-​ century BC) Pherecydes of Athens and in Apollodorus. According to these, as Perseus comes to manhood on Seriphos, the island’s wicked tyrant Polydectes conceives a desire for his mother, Danae, and needs to remove him, so that he can have his way with her. Accordingly, he invites him to a contribution-​feast to raise a bride-​price for his marriage to Hippodameia (“Horse-​taming”). The standard contribution is a horse, but in Perseus’ case Polydectes rather demands, surprisingly, “the head of the Gorgon” instead, thinking to send him on a mission that will destroy him.38 In origin, this task may not have been so far removed from horse-​subjection as may at first appear, when we bear in mind that Medusa appears in the striking form of a centaur, as Perseus decapitates her, in one of her earliest extant images (c. 675–​650 BC);39 that she was lover of Poseidon, patron of horses; and that upon decapitation she gave birth 33  Pausanias 3.18.12= LIMC Herakles 2428. Boardman (1990b, 70); he further notes that at 5.10.9 Pausanias finds Diomede on one of the metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (actually on one of those in pride of place, above the door), while there is no sign of him on the surviving object! 34  LIMC Herakles 2429. 35  LIMC Herakles 2425d. 36  LIMC Herakles 2427. It is possible that in the images of the ii–​i BC intaglios gathered at LIMC Abderos 1–​4 the man laid out in the manger for the horses to eat is to be construed as Diomede; cf. Boardman (1981 and 1990b, 71). 37  LIMC Herakles 2435, 2442–​2450. 38 Pherecydes FGrH/​BNJ 3 F11 = Fowler; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.4.2. Cf. Ogden (2008, 26–​27). 39  LIMC Perseus 117.

Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)   121 to the greatest horse of them all, Pegasus, through her severed neck.40 Bellerophon, with the help of Athena, was able to bridle the flying horse Pegasus before embarking on the three great Labors with which he is credited in the Iliad.41 And similarly Alexander the Great is on the cusp of manhood when he tames his superwild horse Bucephalas, another man-​eating horse, indeed, according to the Alexander Romance, and one that Diodorus (as quoted earlier) implies actually to have been descended from Diomede’s mares. The Alexander tradition parlays this achievement into demonstrating not merely that Alexander is now fit for the things of manhood, but actually for rulership.42 Bader sees the Diomede Labor as actually reflecting an Indo-​European rite of male initiation by horse-​taming; she makes the case more by assertion than argument.43 Of course, Heracles was keen to acquire (supernatural) horses by other methods too, as in the Hesione parergon.44

The Rescue of Alcestis For all the present fame of Euripides’ 438 BC play Alcestis, her (folkloric) story is otherwise poorly served by the extant literary tradition. Euripides is the only author to tell the story at length and to integrate it into the timeline of Heracles’ adventures; in so doing he makes it a parergon to the Diomede Labor.45 For this reason we give it brief consideration here. Apollo has granted Admetus the boon that, when the time comes for him to die, he may prevail on someone else to die in his place. When the time does come, he is unable to persuade his elderly parents to take his place, but his loyal wife Alcestis agrees to do so. Heracles, en route for Thrace and in search of hospitality, arrives at Admetus’ palace in Thessalian Pherae on the very day of her death. Admetus initially conceals the identity of the woman he is about to send out for burial from his guest-​friend, for the sake of offering hospitality, but when Heracles, now deep in his cups, belatedly learns from a servant that she is Alcestis herself, he sets an ambush

40 Hesiod Theogony 270–​294; Ovid Metamorphoses 4.772–​803, 6.119–​120; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.4.2. 41  Bridling of Pegasus: Pindar Olympians 13.63–​66 and 84–​90; cf. Isthmians 7.44–​47; but according to Pausanias 2.4.1 Athena bridled Pegasus on Bellerophon’s behalf. His Labors: Homer Iliad 6.152–​195. 42 Plutarch Alexander 6; Alexander Romance (A) 1.13, 15, 17. At Alexander Romance (ε) 46.4 and (γ) 3.32–​34 Bucephalas actually devours Alexander’s assassin. 43  Bader 1998:151–​156. 44 Hellanicus FGrH/​BNJ 4 F26 (= Fowler); Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.9, etc.; see Ogden (2013, 118–​ 123) and Chapter 17. 45 Euripides Alcestis 481–​504, 1020–​1022. For catalogs of sources for the episode and discussions, see Engelmann (1884–​1885), Escher and Wentzel (1894), Gantz (1993, 396–​397), Parker (2007, xv–​xix), Stafford (2012, 87–​88, 120). For the (fascinating) folkloric context to the Alcestis story, see Megas (1933), Parker (2007, xi–​xv). More general discussion of the tragedy in Dale (1954), Conacher (1988), Luschnig (1995, 1–​85), Parker (2007).

122   Daniel Ogden by her tomb and wrestles with Thanatos, Death personified, for her soul as he comes to collect it and to drink the blood of the funeral sacrifices. Heracles then escorts the rescued Alcestis back to Admetus, initially concealing her identity under a veil before revealing, after some dissimulation, that it is she, to the king’s joy.46 The defeat of Death by wrestling also has manifest affinities with some of Heracles’ brigand exploits (see Chapter 15, again). For a sensitive reading of Euripides’ play in tragic and so-​called prosatyric context, see Chapter 24 in this volume. Heracles had probably rescued Alcestis by wrestling Death or Hades already in Phyrnichus’ early fifth-​century BC tragedy Alcestis, given that a fragment seems to speak of the grinding-​down of a “fearless, bruised-​limbed body.”47 The one hint of a rationalized take on Heracles’ rescue of Alcestis is found in Plutarch, who claims that Heracles was able to save her from death by virtue of his skills as a doctor.48 However, as we look across the remainder of the literary tradition for Alcestis, such as it is, we note that Heracles is by no means integral to it. Plato indicates that “the gods” sent her soul back from Hades of their own accord, in appreciation of her noble deed; Apollodorus gives this gesture to Persephone; and Hyginus gives it to the Parcae.49 The return of Alcestis is reasonably well represented, by contrast, in the iconographic record, though again Heracles is by no means a universal feature of these scenes, and the great majority of the relevant monuments are Roman. Where Heracles does appear, he typically carries his club. Alcestis appears first, and with Heracles, on an Attic black-​figure neck-​amphora of c. 540 BC, fully a century before Euripides, therefore: Heracles is followed here by the veiled Alcestis and attended by Hermes. She is then found on a late sixth-​century BC Etruscan bronze on which Heracles and Hermes pursue a winged and bearded demon carrying her off in his arms.50

Abbreviations BNJ Worthington 2012–​. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. RE Pauly et al. 1894–​1980.

46 Euripides Alcestis, passim. This was not Alcestis’ only great act of familial piety: Diodorus 4.52.2 tells that she was the only one of the Peliades to refrain from joining in the slaughter of their father Pelias. 47  Phrynichus i Alcestis F2 TrGF. Servius on Virgil Aeneid 4.694 (cf. Macrobius Saturnalia 5.19.4) states that Phrynicus brought “Orcus” onstage to cut a lock of Alcestis’ hair with a sword, this presumably representing his garnering of her soul. However, Servius’ claim that Euripides did the same is dubious: there is no indication of it in the text. 48 Plutarch Moralia 761e–​762a = Amatorius 17. 49 Plato Symposium 179b–​e; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.9.15 (although he does also cite the alternative version with Heracles); Hyginus Fabulae 251. 50  LIMC Alkestis 17–​48, 58 (the neck-​amphora; but Gantz [1993, 397] remains skeptical about the identification of the scene), 59 (the Etruscan bronze). Discussion at Schmidt (1981); cf. Wood (1978).

Labor VIII: The Mares of Diomede (and Alcestis)   123

References Bader, F. 1998. “Héraclès et le cheval.” In Le Bestiaire d’Héraclès: IIIe rencontre Héracléenne, ed. C. Bonnet, C. Jourdan-​Annequin, and V. Pirenne-​Delforge, 151–​172. Kernos Suppl. 7. Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège. Boardman, J. 1981. “Abderos.” In LIMC i.1, 1–​2. Boardman, J. 1990a. “Herakles Dodekatholos.” In LIMC v.1: 5–​16. Boardman, J. 1990b. “I. Herakles and the Horses of Diomedes (Labour viii).” In LIMC v.1: 67–​7 1. Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labours of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. New Rochelle, NY: A.D. Caratzas. Translation of Herakles: Die zwölf Taten des Helden in antiker Kunst und Literatur. 2nd ed. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1979. Conacher, D. J. 1988. Euripides: Alcestis. Warminster: Aris and Phillips. Dale, A. M. 1954. Euripides: Alcestis. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Engelmann, R. 1884–​1886. “Alkestis.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W. H. Roscher, Band i.1: coll. 233–​235. Leipzig: Teubner. Escher, J., and G. Wentzel. 1894. “Alkestis.” In RE i.2: colls. 513–​514. Fowler, R. L. 2000–​2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Furtwängler, A. 1886–​1890. “Herakles.” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W. H. Roscher, Band 1.2, coll. 2135–​2252. Leipzig: Teubner. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Grant, M., trans. 1960. The Myths of Hyginus. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press. Gruppe, O. 1918. “Herakles.” In RE Suppl. iii: colls. 910–​1121. Isaac, B. 1986. The Greek Settlements in Thrace until the Macedonian Conquest. Leiden: Brill. Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Luschnig, C. A. E. 1995. The Gorgon’s Severed Head: Studies of Alcestis, Electra, and Phoenissae. Leiden: Brill. Megas, G. 1933. “Die Sage von Alkestis.” Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 30: 1–​33. Ogden, D. 2008. Perseus. London: Routledge. Ogden, D. 2013. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Padilla, M. W. 1998. The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Parker, L. P. E. 2007. Euripides: Alcestis. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pauly, A., G. Wissowa, et al., eds. 1894–​ 1980. Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler. Robert, C., 1921. Die griechische Heldensage. Vol. 2. Berlin: Weidmann = L. Preller, C. Robert, and O. Kern. 1894–​1926. Griechische Mythologie. 4th ed. Berlin: Weidmann. ii.2. Schmidt, M. 1981. “Alkestis.” In LIMC i.1: 533–​544. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Sybel, L. 1884–​1886. “Diomedes (1).” In Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, ed. W.H. Roscher, Band i.1, coll. 1022–​1023. Leipzig: Teubner. Wood, S. 1978. “Alcestis on Roman Sarcophagi.” AJA 82: 499–​510. Worthington, I., ed. 2012–​. Brill’s New Jacoby. Leiden: Brill. (Online resource.)

Chapter 11

L a b or IX The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte

Adrienne Mayor

Heracles’ ninth Labor was to obtain the girdle (war belt) of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. The original purpose of this mission was to defeat the powerful foreign female warriors, known as Amazons, in battle. Winning the war belt worn by the Amazons’ champion would be the proof of Heracles’ victory over the war-​loving women. Notably, in the fullest and most familiar mythic account of the Labor, Heracles’ great combat with the Amazons was set in motion by two females, a princess and a goddess. It was to fulfill the desire of his daughter, Princess Admete, that King Eurystheus of Tiryns commanded Heracles to bring back the war belt. And it was the goddess Hera, Heracles’ divine nemesis, who was responsible for the violent outcome of Heracles’ campaign in the heart of Amazon territory. In Greek myths, the Amazons were imagined as powerful adversaries. The women’s courage and battle prowess were said to match those of most mighty Greek heroes. Therefore, Heracles’ task—​to win the armor of the best Amazon fighter—​was filled with danger. As Homer and other poets declare, the fierce warrior women led by Hippolyte were antianeirai, females who gloried in war and scorned men, and they were the “equals of men” in valor and combat skills. Literary sources for the story of Hippolyte’s war belt include, from the earlier period, Homer (Iliad 3.188–​189, 6.186) and Pindar (Nemeans 3.38–​39 and fr. 172 Snell-​Maehler); the fullest accounts are by Apollodorus (Library 2.5.9) and Diodorus of Sicily (2.46.4; 4.16); Heracles’ feat also appears in Euripides (Heracles 408–​417), Apollonius of Rhodes (Argonautica 2.777 and 2.966–​969), Lycophron (Alexandra 1327–​1331, with scholia), Pausanias (5.10.9), Hyginus (Fabulae 30), Quintus Smyrnaeus (Fall of Troy 6.240–​245), and

Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte  125 Tzetzes Chiliades (2.311–​324).The encounter of Heracles and Hippolyte and the Amazons was an extremely popular subject in Greek vase paintings and sculpture beginning in the sixth and fifth centuries BC; the popularity of the subject continued into Hellenistic times and beyond. Surviving Greek and Latin texts and artistic representations indicate that there were countless oral variations of the myth of Hippolyte’s Belt in antiquity. It is impossible to trace all the twists and turns in the conflicting traditions that explored this earliest “what-​if ” scenario, a story that imagined how a band of Greeks led by Heracles encountered fearsome foreign Amazons for the first time and defeated them. But the kernel of the tale was consistent: ultimately Heracles overcame and killed the Amazon queen and stole her belt, an act that set the stage for the mythic Amazonomachy in Athens (Mayor 2014, ­chapter 17). The myth of the ninth Labor begins in Tiryns, one of the three greatest Bronze Age citadels of the Argolid (in southeastern Greece along with Mycenae and Argos). King Eurystheus orders Heracles to bring back Hippolyte’s golden girdle to please his daughter, Admete. The princess longs to possess this glittering trophy worn by the great queen of the Amazons. The beautiful “girdle” was part of Hippolyte’s armor (as in “to gird for battle”). This zoster (the Homeric term for war belt) was a marvelous prize awarded by Ares, the god of war, to the best Amazon warrior. Ancient Greek audiences would have imagined the belt as a richly ornamented piece of armor made of leather with metal plates and worn over Hippolyte’s clothing (Homer Iliad 4.132–​139; Gantz 1993, 398). In the fifth century BC Herodotus (4.10–​13) included war belts in his catalogs of the golden treasures of Scythia, whose nomadic mounted archers’ lifestyle and equipment influenced Greek images of mythical Amazons. Modern archaeologists have recovered golden plaques, buckles, and leather fighting belts reinforced with gold and bronze, from burials of real Eurasian horsewomen-​archers who lived and fought in the time of Herodotus and earlier (Mayor 2014, ­chapter 4). The ancient Greeks came in contact with these steppe tribes around the Black Sea by the seventh century BC. The genuine Scythian armored and gold-​ornamented belts among the grave goods in steppe warriors’ tombs allow us to surmise how the Greeks might have visualized Hippolyte’s zoster and they help to explain the high value and symbolic meaning of the prize that Heracles was seeking for Princess Admete in this Labor. Not only was Hippolyte’s golden belt described as being of fine craftsmanship and costly value, but in ancient folk belief an article of clothing or equipment was thought to transfer the owner’s personal qualities magically to the wearer. The fabled war belt and other accouterments possessed by the Best of the Amazons would be powerful trophies of Heracles’ triumph over the female warrior society. And it seems that Princess Admete yearned to possess this symbol of Amazon power. Heracles and his companions set off for the homeland of the Amazons, which lay far beyond the Aegean, beyond the Hellespont and the plain of Troy, at the edges of the known Greek world. Hippolyte and her band of Amazons dwelled along the banks

126   Adrienne Mayor of the Thermodon River in Pontus on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea (now northeastern Turkey). Who accompanied Heracles on this expedition? In the fifth century BC the historian Hellanicus (fr. 106 Fowler) claimed that all of the Argonauts joined Heracles in his quest for Hippolyte’s belt; Pindar mentions that Peleus was along; other sources include Telamon, Alcaeus, Sthenelus, and Theseus in the adventure. An inscribed Early Corinthian alabastron (seventh-​century BC), now lost, depicted Heracles fighting alongside his friend Iolaus and a third unnamed warrior against three Amazons. Other names of Heracles’ companions are inscribed on black-​figure vases illustrating the battle with Amazons: they include Telamon, Timiades, Deiptes, Corax, Lycus, Euphorbus, Mnesarchus, Iolaus, and Empylus. Heracles and his Greek companions set sail in one, three, or nine ships, depending on the version (Justin 2.4; Orosius 1.15 mentions nine ships; Herodotus 4.105 says there were three ships). The ships followed the route taken by Jason and the Argonauts, described in ancient oral epic traditions that some scholars believe may predate Homer. In the version of the myth recounted by Apollonius of Rhodes in the Argonautica, the Argonauts had glimpsed the Amazons arming themselves, as their ship Argo sailed along the southern shore of the Black Sea, but they did not stop or engage with the women. So the myth of the ninth Labor makes Heracles’ men the first Greeks to drop anchor at the Amazons’ stronghold, Themiscrya in Pontus. Heracles and his men made camp on the beach near their ships. In the account of Apollodorus (second-century AD), Queen Hippolyte (her name means “Lets Loose the Horses”) rode into their encampment with a contingent of Amazons. She greeted the strangers in a friendly manner and welcomed them with gifts. Then Hippolyte inquired about the reason for Heracles’ expedition. Heracles explained how a feud between the eternally squabbling divine couple, Zeus and Hera, had compelled him to carry out a series of impossible, perilous tasks for King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Heracles told Hippolyte that he had been commanded to present the Amazon queen’s Belt of Ares to the Princess Admete. It seems surprising that their encounter should begin so amiably. In this account by Apollodorus, Heracles and Hippolyte conversed easily and began diplomatic negotiations. The two great champions, male and female, regarded themselves as equals. Each possessed strength and confidence, and both commanded impressive forces. Unexpectedly, Hippolyte offered to make a gift of her war belt to Heracles, which would remove any need for conflict. Most ancient artists portrayed the scenes of Heracles and Hippolyte with especially savage violence, but several vase paintings depict the nonviolent alternative account of the Amazons’ hospitality to the Greek strangers. Their decision is evidence that the peaceful encounter must have been a well-​known part of the story. Perhaps Apollodorus conflated two different traditions (Gantz 1993, 399–​400). Some vase illustrations of the initial, peaceful meeting even suggest a courting scene between the youthful Heracles and the beautiful Amazon

Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte  127 queen (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2461; the couple is shown surrounded by the Greeks and the Amazons in relaxed conversation). In some scenes, Hippolyte even presents her belt to Heracles. Interestingly, according to a later writer, the first-​century AD Dio of Prusa (8.32), Hippolyte seduced Heracles, although no classical source with that plot line survives. But a romantic courtship and placid resolution would not be in keeping with the requirements of Heracles’ arduous and perilous Labors, risking and overcoming great dangers. So in the main myth that has come down to us, Hippolyte and Heracles barely had time to become friends, much less lovers. In this narrative, the goddess Hera intervened, moving the action forward in a way to place Heracles in grave danger. As Heracles’ relentless arch-​enemy, Hera turned what began as a pleasant discussion into a raging, bloody battle between Heracles’ Greeks and the Amazons. According to the myth, Hera disguised herself as an Amazon and descended from the heavens to Themiscyra, while Heracles and Hippolyte were conversing. Pretending to be one of Hippolyte’s own guards, the goddess dashed among the Amazons, shouting that the Greek “invaders” were abducting their queen. This was a hostile act of war. Grabbing their weapons, the women leaped on their horses and stormed to the beach to rescue Hippolyte. Caught off-​guard by the charging Amazons, Heracles reacted impulsively to what appeared to be Hippolyte’s treachery. He assumed that she must have promised to give him her belt to distract him, until her Amazons could arrive to slaughter the Greeks. Before Hippolyte could stop her sisters from attacking, Heracles stabbed her to death. In some versions he clubbed her. As the queen of the Amazons lay dying at his feet, Heracles stripped the precious belt from her lifeless body and seized her battle-​axe. Then Heracles and his men departed for their ships with the spoils of the expedition. Other versions of the myth savor a hard-​won Greek victory after a long-​drawn-​out battle against the female warriors. Some sources tell of a duel between Heracles and Hippolyte. In this variant, the two champions are so well matched that the outcome of their fight to the death is filled with suspense. But at last Heracles manages to gain the upper hand and kills Hippolyte. He snatches up her trophy belt and rushes to join the vigorous fighting that has broken out on the shore between the Amazons and Greeks. Another variation of the story comes from the Christian-​era historian Orosius (1.15) in the fifth century AD. Orosius related that the Amazons of Pontus were ruled by queen Orithyia, but she was away at war, leaving her sisters Hippolyte, Antiope, and Melanippe with only a small force to defend Pontus. Orosius’ version imagines that the Greek hero Heracles was so fearful of facing fearsome Amazons in combat that he prepared a surprise attack. “After estimating his forces, Heracles decided to surround the Amazons suddenly when they had no suspicion of attack,” wrote Orosius. The Greeks ambushed the women when they were “unarmed and indolent in the care-​free

128   Adrienne Mayor existence of peaceful times.” It this work, titled History against the Pagans, Orosius intends to malign the heroism of the greatest hero of Greek myth—​which, oddly, requires Orosius to paint the warlike Amazons as peace-​loving and passive. In the classical era mythographers relished recounting the bloody details as Heracles, Theseus, Telamon, Sthenelus, Timiades, and their Greek companions contended with Hippolyte’s ferocious Amazon warriors, whose names were also well known to ancient audiences. As noted, this grand battle of the sexes was a favorite subject for vase painters, many of whom inscribed the names of the male and female combatants in their scenes. An exciting blow-​by-​blow account of the battle was given by the historian Diodorus of Sicily, writing in about 50 BC. We know that Diodorus consulted many earlier historians, whose works only survive in fragments. Two examples of Diodorus’ sources are Ctesias, who settled in Persia in the late fifth century BC, and Megasthenes, who was born in Asia Minor in about 350 BC. Notably, Diodorus says that Heracles requested, or demanded, that Hippolyte (or the Amazons) give over her belt—​drawing on yet another tradition. She (they) refused and furious hand-​to-​hand fighting ensued, vividly described by Diodorus (4.16.1–​4). Heracles single-​handedly dispatched a dozen Amazons, as one by one Hippolyte’s best warriors challenged him to duels and were slain. Diodorus notes that, according to myth, Heracles’ signature lion-​skin cape and hood (fashioned from the dread Nemean Lion killed in the hero’s first Labor: see Chapter 3) made him invincible. The first Amazon to fight Heracles was Aella (“Whirlwind”), named for her speed and agility. Next Philippis (“Loves Horses”) rushed forth: she was valiant but inexperienced. Behind her came Prothoe (“First in Might”), renowned as a victor in seven single combats. All three of these Amazons fought with valor but were mortally wounded by Heracles, as was Eriboea, despite her ferocious attack. Next, three glowering huntress-​warriors, Celaeno, Eurybia, and Phoebe, advanced shoulder-​ to-​shoulder. But their spears broke against the magical lion-​skin cape and Heracles ran them through with his sword. Yet another bold trio of Amazons jumped into the fray, but all three lost their lives: Asteria, Marpe, and Deianeira (“Man-​Destroyer,” see later for another woman with this name). Next Heracles fought and killed the virgin-​warriors Alcippe and Tecmessa. Whirling around to face his final opponent, Heracles dueled with Hippolyte’s sister and general, Melanippe, the “Black Mare.” Melanippe was also defeated, but only after a tremendous struggle. According to Diodorus, at the point of Heracles’ sword, Melanippe offered her own beautiful fighting belt as ransom for her life, and he set her free (see also Apollonius Argonautica 2.966–​969). This detail is belied, however, by the portrayal of Amazon fighters in vase paintings. In the hundreds of images that survive of Amazons facing death in battle, only one or two of the women gesture for mercy. Other tales vary Diodorus’ account, claiming that Hippolyte was still alive at this point and that she gave Heracles her belt in order to save Melanippe. These versions seem to imply that Heracles obtained the Belt of Ares without killing Hippolyte. Finally, we have a

Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte  129 fragmentary source saying that Telamon killed Melanippe in the fray (schol. Pindar Nemeans 3.64; Gantz 1993, 398). Meanwhile, in the main myth, the Greeks and Amazons continued locked in brutal combat with many casualties on both sides. This situation underscores the idea that the Amazons and the Greeks were evenly matched. But keep in mind the myths tell us the glorious Greek side of the story, so naturally the tide ultimately turned in the Greeks’ favor. The surviving Amazons retreated as Heracles slashed and clubbed them in pursuit. In some versions of the myth, in which Theseus was present, the founding hero of Athens defeated Antiope in a duel. In these versions, the senior commander of the campaign, Heracles, granted Theseus permission to keep the young Amazon for himself. (Theseus’ abduction of Antiope is what set in motion the mythic battle for Athens, when the Amazons invaded Attica to rescue their sister. It should also be noted that Antiope is sometimes conflated with Hippolyte in some ancient texts and inscriptions on vase paintings.) Interestingly, Herodotus (4.110–​ 117) spoke of the Greek mission as genuine Athenian history, as an event that occurred in the misty past. In his mythohistorical account, casualties were high but some of Antiope’s sister warriors were taken alive. Herodotus commented that the Greeks captured as many Amazon prisoners as they killed in the battle. At any rate, after decimating the Amazons of Pontus, Heracles and the Greeks boarded their ships and sailed away with their plunder: the Amazon queen’s belt, her battle-​axe, and many Amazons besides Antiope, Theseus’ captive bride. Heracles’ exciting battle with the Amazons was one of the most popular themes from mythology in early Greek art (second only to his struggle with the Nemean Lion). This conflict burst into the artistic repertoire of Attic black-​figure vase painters in the mid-​sixth century BC, but oral stories of the Heraclean Amazonomachy were already circulating much earlier. Dietrich von Bothmer (1957, 6–​69, 131–​143) describes more than three hundred extant vase paintings featuring Heracles versus Amazons. Heracles, bearded, always wears his lion-​skin cape and wields his club or a sword (and, rarely, a spear); he sometimes carries a shield. Many scenes portray him alone, in single combat with an Amazon or battling several Amazons; the Amazons are usually on foot, but some vases show the women on horseback. Other vases depict Heracles aided in the fighting by one or more companions dressed as hoplites, armed with shields and swords. Many vase painters, as mentioned, labeled individual Amazons and Greeks by name, providing more clues about alternative traditions. For example, in some scenes painted on pots, Andromache (“Man-​Fighter”) is the name of the Amazon queen clad in the Belt of Ares, instead of Hippolyte, whose name ultimately came to be attached to the most well-​known version of Heracles’ ninth Labor. To add to the confusion, some ancient writers and vase painters call the Amazon leader Antiope or Melanippe. The profusion of the names of individual Amazons in Diodorus’ account

130   Adrienne Mayor (discussed earlier) and in many vase inscriptions is evidence of how wildly popular the stories about Heracles’ Amazonomachy must have been in antiquity. Indeed, more than two hundred names of individual Amazons have survived from antiquity, proof of their fame and the pleasure people took in their adventures; the number of names also suggests how many narratives about Amazons have been lost (Mayor 2014, Appendix). As mentioned, in many literary accounts, the encounter between Heracles and Hippolyte began amicably, then turned brutal through a misunderstanding deliberately orchestrated by the goddess Hera. Some versions even hinted at a love affair between equals before the battle erupted. Most of the surviving artistic representations are shockingly violent, however, showing Heracles looming over Hippolyte and slaying her with his club or viciously driving home his sword. And yet at least eight red-​figure vases of the late fifth century BC, from South Italy, present alternate, peaceful scenarios in keeping with the scenario limned by Apollodorus, discussed earlier. These artists illustrate a peaceful encounter between Hippolyte and a relaxed, young, beardless Heracles, with Amazon guards at ease and the Amazon queen’s horse calmly grazing nearby. Some idyllic scenes depict the pair with classic courtship iconography. Three of the vases show the Amazon queen presenting her belt as a kind of love gift to a seated Heracles, who leans casually on his club in the typical stance of a young lover (Bothmer 1957, 79; Gantz 1993, 399). One theory is that the scenes were influenced by a lost comedy, Heracles’ Quest for the Zoster, by Epicharmus (fifth-​century BC, fr. 76 K-​A; Gantz 1993, 398–​399). It seems worth considering, however, that these dramatically different versions of their encounter—​ friendly versus hostile—​might have reflected peaceable and bellicose early encounters between historical Greek colonists and Scythians around the Black Sea coast in the sixth and fifth centuries BC. The more common image of Heracles brutally overpowering Hippolyte in artworks is evident in many monumental sculptures. The famous relief on the metope from Hera’s Temple E (about 450 BC) at Selinus, Sicily, for example, shows him grabbing her head and stomping on her foot, about to deliver a fatal sword blow, as she tries to defend herself with her axe. In fragmentary reliefs depicting ten Labors of Heracles from the Athenian Temple of Hephaestus (fifth-​century BC), the Ninth Labor is represented by Heracles standing over a kneeling Hippolyte. Another spectacular series of relief sculptures of the Amazonomachy decorated the Temple of Bassae in the Peloponnese. Many celebrated statues of Amazons clashing with Heracles, now lost, were described by ancient Greek and Roman authors. Miraculously, a few fragments of these ancient statues have survived and can be identified by modern archaeologists. For example, in about AD 170, the traveling historian Pausanias wrote about viewing the famed ancient sculptures of Heracles’ Twelve Labors at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, southern Greece. He remarked that one sculpture showed Heracles stripping the Belt of Ares from the fallen Hippolyte (5.10.9). Pieces of those marbles were excavated at Olympia by French archaeologists

Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte  131 in 1829; they are now in the Louvre, Paris. In Pausanias’ time, the sumptuous gold and ivory statue of Zeus by the great sculptor Phidias in the fifth century BC still dominated the interior of the temple. Pausanias examined the colorful paintings and reliefs on the great throne of Zeus: one panel depicted the ninth Labor of Heracles. It showed twenty-​nine Greeks led by Heracles and Theseus in hand-​to-​hand combat with twenty-​nine Amazons. The specific number of combatants may have come from a lost oral or literary tradition. At Olympia, Pausanias (5.25.11) also marveled at an archaic statue of Heracles reaching out to grab the belt of an Amazon on horseback. The statue group was sculpted by Aristocles the Elder of Cydonia in the sixth century BC. Archaeologists discovered the pedestal of the statue group in the temple ruins in 1876. The earliest recognizable image of an Amazon in Greek art appears on a small painted terracotta shield made in about 700 BC. Heinrich Schliemann excavated pieces of this shattered object in 1884–​1885 from the imposing ruins of the citadel at Tiryns, the city ruled by the mythic King Eurystheus who ordered Heracles to accomplish the Twelve Labors. More painted fragments of the shield came to light in 1926. The puzzle was finally pieced together about ten years later, in the 1930s. The crude geometric-​style painting features five warriors. The two central combatants are male and female. The bearded Greek warrior with a sword holds the plumed helmet of the woman warrior brandishing a spear. On a smaller scale, a pair of male and female warriors face off beside a dying male warrior face down on the ground with a spear in his back. The women are identifiable by breasts and long skirts (a convention for distinguishing women from men before white skin was used by black-​figure vase painters to denote women). In keeping with the belief that Amazons were the equals of men, this archaic Amazonomachy from Tiryns shows the two Amazons holding their own, even winning. The only mortally wounded figure is the Greek warrior. The story behind the artifact is unknown. Heracles was victorious in the myth of Hippolyte, of course, but the early traditions may have described the fierce Amazons killing some of his men. Later vase paintings do depict Amazons slaying Greek warriors. Notably, in the Argonautica, Apollonius’ epic poem drawing on Bronze Age oral traditions about Jason and the Argonauts’ expedition in the Black Sea, the Argonauts meet the ghost of Sthenelus, a Greek warrior who had been killed by an Amazon during Heracles’ campaign against Hippolyte and her women (2.911–​929; Mayor 2014, 165). So there were tales of Greeks slain by Amazons. Tiryns, where this artifact came to light, was the mythic home of Heracles, and of King Eurystheus and Princess Admete who demanded Hippolyte’s belt. Might this oldest picture of Amazons, from Tiryns, illustrate the myth of Heracles’ expedition against the Amazons? The pair of fighters on the votive shield has been identified by some scholars as Heracles and Hippolyte (Bothmer 1957, 1–​2). The clay shield was found among other dedications to Hera at Tiryns, which was the center of Hera’s ancient cult in the Argolid. As we recall, Hera was the goddess who opposed Heracles. Moreover, Princess Admete was a priestess of Hera. One later version of the Hippolyte

132   Adrienne Mayor myth even claims that Princess Admete actually sailed to Themiscyra with Heracles, in order to make certain that he obtained the prized war belt. This raises an intriguing question. Might there have existed a story in which it was Admete, the priestess of Hera, rather than the goddess herself, who disguised herself as an Amazon and goaded Hippolyte’s women into attacking Heracles? According to the mythographers, after his victory over the Amazons of Pontus, Heracles returned to Tiryns and presented Hippolyte’s belt to King Eurystheus and Princess Admete, who dedicated it to Hera, in her temple in the Argolid. This detail neatly brings together the two females who set in motion Heracles’ ninth Labor. The Temple of Hera near Tiryns was first built in about 700 BC, around the same time that the votive shield, described previously, was made in Tiryns. Among the temple’s treasures were magnificent items identified as belonging to Hippolyte. The Athenian playwright Euripides stated that in his day (about 420 BC) people could still admire Hippolyte’s golden zoster and her gold-​spangled cape, dedicated by Heracles in the Heraion near Tiryns (Euripides Heracles 408). Euripides (Ion 1144–​1145) also mentions another beautifully embroidered garment, part of the spoils from Heracles’ expedition against the Amazons, that was dedicated at Delphi. It seems that several shrines and temples displayed armor and clothing said to have been taken from Hippolyte by the hero Heracles. One might speculate that the objects displayed in the fifth century BC could have been artifacts obtained from steppe tribes around the Black Sea, displayed as belonging to an Amazon warrior queen. The second oldest known image of an Amazon, with helmet, spear, and a leopard-​ skin, appears on a small pottery fragment from the same time period as the votive shield from Tiryns. This artifact was found in the other great Temple of Hera, on the island of Samos. The association with Hera suggests the Amazon on the painted fragment could represent the queen who fought Heracles. The mythical Amazonomachy narratives and related art works about Heracles and his fellow Greeks struggling to defeat the Amazons and winning Hippolyte’s belt express the belief that truly noble victories could only be attained by pitting true equals in combat. The many artistic depictions of suspenseful conflicts between well-​matched Greek warriors and the foreign female fighters reinforced the idea that Amazon heroines were worthy adversaries for Greek heroes. That notion is strongly supported by the fact that one of Heracles’ celebrated Twelve Labors required his victory over a powerful warrior woman from an exotic land. Hippolyte was admired in the Middle Ages as a noble warrior queen, and she appears in medieval writings and art about powerful female rulers and warriors of antiquity. Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (c. 1400) included a vignette about Hippolyte and Heracles (1.18). An artistic example is the formidable portrait of Hippolyte in medieval costume, as one of the women in the “Nine Worthy Women” fresco painted in 1418–​1430 by Giacomo Jaquerio (1375–​1453), at Castello della Manta, Saluzzo, Italy. A sixteenth-​century fresco of Heracles battling the Amazons, by Luca Cambiaso, can be seen in the Palazzo della Prefettura, Genoa.

Labor IX: The Girdle of the Amazon Hippolyte  133 A scene of Hippolyte and two other Amazon queens preparing to fight Heracles and Theseus appears on a Franco-​Flemish tapestry of the late fifteenth century, now in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Several European operas featuring Heracles and Hippolyte were composed in 1680–​1800. The classical Greek myth did not end with the death of Hippolyte at the hands of Heracles, of course. The myth raises a host of questions, inspiring other mythic episodes. A fascinating sequel myth recounts that after his ninth Labor, Heracles presented an additional trophy of his triumph over Hippolyte—​her battle-​axe—​to yet another powerful queen in Asia Minor. Preserved by Plutarch (Greek Questions 45 = Moralia 302a), this legend relates that when Heracles took Hippolyte’s golden belt, he also carried away her battle-​axe. He later gave that battle-​axe to Queen Omphale, ruler of Lydia. To atone for a murder, Heracles was required to serve as Omphale’s slave for a year (see Chapter 20). Omphale was not an Amazon, but she forcibly appropriated Heracles’ lion-​skin cape and his club and forced him to wear women’s clothing while carrying out domestic tasks. Hippolyte’s axe, says Plutarch, was handed down from Omphale to the historical kings of Lydia, until King Candaules (d. 718 BC) carelessly gave it away. Hippolyte’s precious axe, stolen by Heracles, ultimately ended up, it was said, in the Temple of Zeus at Labraunda in Caria (now Turkey). The name of Heracles’ second wife raises intriguing questions. Is it only random fate that her name was Deianeira, the same name as one of the Amazons slain by Heracles (see Chapter 21)? Heracles’ wife Deianeira was described by Apollodorus (Library 1.8.1) as a woman “who drove a chariot and practiced the art of war.” Not only is this the definition of an Amazon, but the Greek name Deianeira means “Destroyer of Men.” Indeed, it was Heracles’ wife Deianeira who would ultimately, albeit inadvertently, cause the agonizing death of the great Greek hero. Ironically after slaying so many warlike women in his ninth Labor, Heracles marries a warlike woman with an Amazon name and she kills him in the end. No evidence survives to help explain the mysterious coincidence of such a fitting, destructive name for these two warlike women, one Greek and one an Amazon, associated with Heracles. But the irony does highlight the rich and evocative layers of meaning and allusion embedded in Classical myths.

Abbreviations K-​A Kassel and Austin 1983–​. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999.

References Bothmer, D. von. 1957. Amazons in Greek Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fowler, R. L. 2000–​2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

134   Adrienne Mayor Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Kassel, R., and C. Austin, eds. 1983–​. Poetae comici Graeci. 8 vols. Berlin: de Gruyter. Mayor, A. 2014. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Snell, B., and H Maehler, eds. 1984–​1989. Pindari carmina cum fragmentis. Leipzig: Teubner.

Chapter 12

L a b or X The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus

P. J. Finglass

Geryon makes his first appearance in the eighth century BC, in Hesiod’s Theogony (287–​294): Chrysaor fathered three-​headed Geryon, after having intercourse with Callirhoe, daughter of famous Oceanus. He it was whom mighty Heracles slew over his twisted-​ footed oxen, in sea-​girt Erytheia, on that day when he drove the broad-​backed oxen to holy Tiryns, crossing the stream of Oceanus, after killing Orthus and the herdsman Eurytion, in a dark steading beyond famous Oceanus.

Already the basic elements of the tale are all in place.1 Geryon is the child of a mortal father and immortal mother: Chrysaor, son of Poseidon and Medusa, and brother of Pegasus (Hesiod Theogony 274–​286), and Callirhoe, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys (Theogony 337–​363). The offspring of such unions were usually mortal, and so it proves for Geryon, whose family tree sheds light on his attributes in other ways too: as a three-​ headed monster he is a suitable grandson of the monstrous Gorgon Medusa, and as a dweller in a distant land he is a fitting grandson of Oceanus, who separates him from the lands inhabited by men. Even the dog belonging to his herdsman Eurytion,


For a survey of the Geryon legend, on which the present chapter draws, see Davies and Finglass (2014, 230–​238).

136   P. J. Finglass Orthus (brother of Cerberus), is a relative: as the child of Echidna (by Typhon), sister of Medusa, Orthus is Geryon’s first cousin once removed. Thus on his father’s side Geryon is closely associated with the brood of monsters said in Hesiod’s Theogony to be the descendants of Ceto (“Sea Monster”) and Phorcys (a name for the Old Man of the Sea). Geryon is not given any personality, nor would we expect him to have one: he exists to be defeated and robbed by Heracles, who brings his cattle back to Tiryns, presumably because this Labor was imposed by Eurystheus, king of that land. The tale as we have it will have been in circulation well before Hesiod, whose brief account seems too detailed to be entirely his own invention. Its origins are lost in time. Possible Indo-​European parallels have been mooted,2 as have similarities with near-​ eastern poetry.3 Geryon may originally have been a death demon, with his defeat by Heracles representing the conquest of death.4 But however interesting in themselves, such speculations are not important for appreciating the myth as it survives in ancient Greek literature and art. Another, shorter account can also be found in the Theogony, in a section probably not by Hesiod but from somewhat later in the archaic period (979–​983); this largely repeats the version given earlier, adding the information that Chrysaor was “stout of heart” and Geryon “mightiest of all mortals.” The myth then recurs in the epic poem Heracleia by Pisander of Rhodes, perhaps written in the seventh century; unfortunately, we know nothing about how Pisander handled the tale, except that his treatment featured the bowl of the Sun (fr. 5 GEF). This was the conveyance used by Heracles to arrive at Geryon’s island; according to Pisander, Heracles acquired it through the intervention of Oceanus. The bowl is mentioned by Mimnermus, perhaps a contemporary of Pisander, who goes into more detail (fr. 2 IEG): forged from gold by Hephaestus, it ferried the sleeping Sun back from the land of the Hesperides to the land of the Ethiopians (that is, from west to east). It also appears in the Titanomachy (Eumelus fr. 10 IEG), and is paralleled in Egyptian mythology.5 Heracles’ use of the bowl emphasizes the greatness of his achievement. His travels bring him so far from the known world that he has to take this distinctive conveyance, voyaging as far as the very sunset; and he is strong enough to acquire a means of transport that properly belongs to a god. The loss of Pisander’s narrative is particularly grievous, since it may have been the earliest full account of Heracles’ expedition in Greek literature; all kinds of details first found in later sources could have had their origin, or first literary expression, in this poem. We do have the evidence of archaic art, though, some of which may be contemporary with Pisander; Geryon’s story is particularly prominent in this medium. As early as the mid-​seventh century, a Protocorinthian pyxis from Phalerum (LIMC 2 

See Davies and Finglass (2014, 230 n. 1). Gangutia Elícegui (1998). 4  See Davies (1988). 5  See Davies and Finglass (2014, 236 with n. 30). 3 

Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus  137 Geryoneus 11) shows a three-​legged, four-​bodied Geryon menaced by Heracles, who is drawing his bow; the animals, perhaps cattle, that stand behind Geryon are presumably what Heracles has come to take. A relief on a horse’s pectoral, from the Heraeum on Samos and dating to the last quarter of the seventh century (§8), depicts Heracles clothed in a lion-​skin, holding one of Geryon’s heads and cutting it with a sword; of Geryon’s two other heads, one has already been pierced by an arrow, and arrows have also felled Eurytion and the dog Orthus, who is given two heads.6 This is the earliest surviving instance of a scene type popular in the next century; it implies a narrative whereby Heracles first shoots one of Geryon’s heads before closing to dispatch the others. An ivory relief from the same period and place (§8) portrays the monstrous Geryon on his own, with multiple limbs and weapons; so do statues from this period and from the first half of the sixth century, in bronze and terracotta (§§2, 5, and Lohmann [2007, 581 with fig. 10]). The clash between Heracles and Geryon becomes extremely popular on vases from about 550 (LIMC Geryoneus 74–​78, 81–​84); the scene type found on the Samian pectoral as it were provides a model for their encounter. Athena stands behind Heracles on many vases (i.e., on the left, from the viewer’s perspective), as he faces right to battle the monster; one vase depicts Iolaus too. Some representations have a female figure standing behind Geryon, clearly on his side in the conflict—​this must be his mother, Callirhoe. The presence of these divine supporters magnifies the significance of the encounter, as well as perhaps generating pathos for Geryon’s fate: even the monster has a mother. Two amphorae from Chalcis (LIMC Geryon 15, 16) show a winged Geryon, with only one pair of legs. Stesichorus’ Geryoneis is the most famous literary treatment of the Geryon myth.7 We do not know exactly when it was composed; some time between 610 and 540 BC is likely.8 Nor do we know if a particular commission or festival was the cause of its composition. Even if it was, Stesichorus is likely to have had the work performed in different venues; it would have been a colossal waste of labor for such a work to have


According to De Angelis (2016, 258 n. 206), “the earliest artistic depiction of the Himeran poet Stesichorus’ Geryoneis is on a bronze plaque of the last third of the seventh century from Samos.” The chronology makes such a link unlikely, since (as we shall see) the earliest possible date for Stesichorus’ poem is scarcely before the latest date for the pectoral. Moreover, assuming without argument that a piece of visual art must have its origin in a literary text shows a rather naïve, indeed old-​fashioned, approach to the relationship between literature and the visual arts (see further a couple of paragraphs hence). 7  The fragments are collected in Finglass (2014b), numbered frr. 5–​83 F. For an overall account of Stesichorus’ poem see Davies and Finglass (2014, 240–​251), with a commentary on the individual fragments at 251–​298. Lazzeri (2008) is a detailed book-​length study of the poem. Budelmann (2018) offers a text and helpful commentary on key parts of the work. Some of the fragments are edited with introduction and commentary by Curtis (2011), although a combination of hyperskepticism and problematic editorial technique makes this pioneering book less useful than it might have been; see my review, Finglass (2012). 8  For Stesichorus’ date see Finglass (2014a, 1–​6).

138   P. J. Finglass seen but a single performance. The coincidence of the composition of Stesichorus’ Geryoneis in the (long) first half of the sixth century BC with the growing interest in the Geryon myth on vases from c. 550 BC has sometimes been explained as showing the influence of Stesichorus on the visual arts. Equally, however, Stesichorus’ poem and the vase paintings could be cognate manifestations to an interest in the myth during the period. Even if Stesichorus’ poem did stimulate the tastes of vase painters and their markets, that would not necessitate a composition date close to the middle of the sixth century BC; his poem may have taken years to have had such an impact. Since Stesichorus’ poetry did not survive antiquity, our evidence for the poem rests on two other types of evidence: quotations and paraphrases of the work made by authors, such as Strabo and Athenaeus, whose works have endured down to the present, and an ancient manuscript of the poem from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, P.Oxy. 2617, dating to the early first century AD. The publication by Edgar Lobel in 1967 of that manuscript, incomplete and fragmentary though it was, marked a watershed in Stesichorean studies. The papyrus gave insights into a work of considerable narrative and emotional complexity, allowing us for the first time to appreciate in depth the poet’s skill and to observe his extraordinary handling of this Heraclean Labor. A good deal of the plot of Stesichorus’ treatment can be recovered from these fragments. Heracles obtains the Sun’s golden bowl thanks to the intervention of Nereus (fr. 7 Finglass; not Oceanus, as in Pisander, but still a sea deity) and uses it to cross to Erytheia (fr. 8). He probably kills Geryon’s herdsman (frr. 9–​10); Geryon, who has six hands, six feet, and wings (fr. 5; compare the Chalcidian amphorae mentioned previously), learns of Heracles’ advance by means of a third party (fr. 12–​13), probably Menoetes, the herdsman of Hades. Athena assists Heracles (fr. 18), who attacks Geryon, hitting one of his heads with an arrow, before closing to strike the next in hand-​to-​hand combat (frr. 19–​20). So far, so (relatively) familiar; but Stesichorus’ poem is in fact full of surprises. For one thing, it is set in a particular place; where Hesiod had placed Geryon merely in the distant west beyond the Ocean, Stesichorus locates him near to a definite place, Tartessus, a city at the mouth of the river Baetis (today’s Guadalquivir), known to the Greeks since the time of Colaeus of Samos (c. 638 BC; see Herodotus 4.152), and where the Phocaeans had established a trading relationship (see Herodotus 1.163; cf. Davies and Finglass 2014, 259). The impulse to locate mythical events in real places was natural enough in the context of the Greeks’ growing familiarity with the entire Mediterranean world; what had seemed distant and indistinct to earlier generations was now made precise and definite. In particular, it is not surprising to see a poet himself from the Greek west (born probably in Metaurus, today’s Gioia Tauro, in south Italy, and most associated with Himera on the north coast of Sicily) taking such an approach to the myth.9


For Stesichorus’ western origins see Finglass (2014a, 6–​18), 2014c.

Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus  139 Frustratingly, we do not know whether Stesichorus’ western connections led him to incorporate in addition Heracles’ travels in Italy and Sicily on his return to Greece. Such adventures, found in Hecataeus, Hellanicus, Apollodorus, and Diodorus (see later discussion), could easily have originated with, or been popularized by, Stesichorus; but our quotation fragments and the papyrus are silent on this point. The one possible hint lies in the information that the poem referred to “Pallantium” (fr. 21), which could be a reference to the town in Latium where Heracles met Evander in Virgil Aeneid 8 on his way back from killing Geryon. But there was also a Pallantium in Arcadia, and that may have been the town mentioned by Stesichorus, especially since his poem seems to have contained an episode set in that region. That episode is Heracles’ encounter with the centaur Pholus, which Athenaeus testifies to being an episode in the Geryoneis. Later accounts of this meeting (cf. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.4, Diodorus Siculus 4.12), at Pholoe in Arcadia, record that the opening by Pholus of a particularly fragrant jar of wine attracts the attention of other, boisterous centaurs, whom Heracles has to ward off with fire and arrows; the conflict results in the unintentional deaths of Chiron and of Pholus himself, whom Heracles buries before continuing on his journey. The inclusion of the story in Stesichorus’ Geryoneis may indicate that Heracles’ return home was a major part of the poem, which would be consistent with the inclusion of Heracles’ travels through Italy and/​or Sicily too. On the other hand, the Pholus episode is more usually associated with a different Labor altogether, Heracles’ hunt for the Erymanthian Boar, and Stesichorus may have included it in a narrative referring to events that took place before the time of Heracles’ expedition against Geryon (cf. Chapter 6). However Stesichorus handled Heracles’ journey home, his treatment of his encounter with Geryon must have stood at the heart of his poem; fortunately, we are much better informed as to how that was treated. So in a lengthy speech Geryon anticipates the coming conflict (fr. 15.1–​27): he addressed him in reply the offspring of mighty Chrysaor and immortal Callirhoe Do not try to frighten . . . by [mentioning . . .] death For if . . . I [will be] immortal and ageless . . . on Olympus better . . . contemptible but if, my friend, . . . to reach old age and to live among creatures of a day, apart from the blessed gods it is now much more noble for me . . . what is fated . . . and insults . . . and for all my race . . . in the future, the son of Chrysaor May that not be the will of the blessed gods concerning my cattle . . .

Evidently Geryon has just been discouraged by a friend from facing Heracles; yet that discouragement fails to hold him back. Although gaps in the papyrus mean that the precise sequence of thought in Geryon’s speech is not clear, his reply calls to mind the speech of Sarpedon in the Iliad, where he tells his friend Glaucus that, if they

140   P. J. Finglass would be immortal on fleeing from the present battle, he would not encourage him to stand and fight; but since death is perpetually a risk for a man, he should persevere and fight bravely in the front line (12.322–​328). Associating Geryon with the heroic sentiments uttered by a brave warrior produces a remarkable twist on the Homeric passage, which elevates and humanizes the monster that Heracles must face. After his friend fails to persuade Geryon, his mother makes an attempt, as follows (fr. 17.2–​10): I, unhappy woman, miserable in the child I bore, miserable in my sufferings I supplicate [ . . . ], Geryon if ever I held out my breast to you . . . ... robe . . .

This evokes another Homeric passage, this time from Iliad 22: the moment when Hecuba begs her son Hector not to fight Achilles, but to come within the walls of Troy (79–​89). The connection is so close—​a mother makes the culminating appeal to her son before he goes into a battle with a mightier adversary, and exposes her breast to remind him of the debt that he owes her for his nurture as a baby—​that we can call this a specific literary allusion, not merely the reuse of a typical scene. There is a further nod to the Iliad in Callirhoe’s self-​description as “miserable in the child I bore”: a striking Greek compound that recalls, in formation and meaning, how Achilles’ mother Thetis calls herself “unhappy in giving birth to the best of men” (Il. 18.54). In a few words, then, Stesichorus evokes not one but two tragic mothers of Homer’s Iliad, by implication associating Geryon himself with the mighty doomed warriors who were those mothers’ sons, and thus making him a true figure of sympathy whose fall will cause great grief. The narrative of that fall, or at least its beginning, is told in the longest fragment of the poem to survive (fr. 19.7–​47): it was much more advantageous . . . to make war covertly . . . mighty . . . to one side . . . devised bitter destruction for him he held his shield in front of . . . From his head . . . horse-​plumed helmet . . . on the ground . . . ... the end that is frightful death having . . . around its head, stained with . . . blood and gall with the agonies of the man-​destroying, speckle-​necked Hydra. In silence it stealthily thrust its way into his forehead. It split through the flesh and bones by a god’s dispensation.

Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus  141 The arrow went right through to the very top of the head and befouled with crimson blood his breastplate and gory limbs. Then Geryon leaned his neck to the side, like a poppy, which, defiling its­ tender form, immediately casting away its leaves . . .

As in the images discussed earlier, Heracles strikes Geryon’s first head with an arrow, before presumably closing to finish off the second and third. Not enough of the text survives for us to know how sympathetically Heracles is treated; but the emphasis on him making covert war against Geryon suggests a not entirely heroic portrayal, since the monster presumably had no chance to avoid the arrow, and archers were not always regarded as fighters of the first rank. Geryon’s presentation is certainly sympathetic; the emotive poppy simile that describes the destruction of his first head is adapted from an image applied by Homer to the death of the warrior Gorgythion (Iliad 8.306–​8). Again, the language and style of Homeric epic gives dignity and pathos to a most surprising recipient of such attributes; the poetic genius of Stesichorus has turned a conventional narrative about the killing of an ogre into a profound and moving tale of suffering, heroism, and loss. Later in the sixth century BC the lyric poet Ibycus of Rhegium (like Stesichorus, a westerner) makes reference to the story (frr. S176.17–​18, S223a PMGF), but there is no indication that he gave it a full narrative treatment. The fifth-​century BC epic poet Panyassis included the story in his monumental Heracleia (fr. 12 GEF), although the only surviving detail is that the Sun’s bowl was transferred to Heracles via Nereus; Pindar mentions the Labor too (fr. 169a.6–​8 S-​M). Geryon is occasionally touched on in tragedy,10 but does not seem to have formed the subject of such a play until the third-​century Nicomachus of Alexandria (TrGF 127 F 3). In one sense this is not surprising, since the clash between Heracles and an unsuspecting three-​headed monster in the distant west does not seem the stuff from which tragedies are made. On the other hand, Stesichorus did have quite an influence on tragedy,11 and his poem provided a potential model for how Geryon could have been portrayed as a sympathetic victim. Perhaps this was a leap too far for the classical tragedians, who preferred to present human beings as the objects of compassion. After Stesichorus, the Labor seems to have been more prominent in prose than in poetry. In Hecataeus’ Genealogies (fr. 26 EGM), Geryon is found not on Erytheia in the far west, but rather in the land around Ambracia and Amphilochia in northern Greece; this detail may come from a tradition that the cattle of this region were descended from Geryon’s animals. Hecataeus’ Periegesis (FGrHist 1 F 76–​77) puts Geryon back in his traditional location. In this text, Heracles on the way back from killing Geryon stops in western Sicily and despatches Solous, eponymous ruler of 10 Aeschylus Agamemnon 870, Heraclidae fr. 74 TrGF, Aristophanes Acharmians 1082, Euripides Heracles 419–​424. 11  See Swift (2015), Finglass (2018).

142   P. J. Finglass Soloeis; he has his cattle stolen, but is told by a girl called Motya, another figure who gives her name to a city (today called Mozia), how to recover them. Both Soloeis and Motya were cities in the Phoenician-​dominated part of Sicily, where Heracles was associated in cult with the Phoenician deity Melqart.12 Both were close to Stesichorus’ Himera, with Soloeis less than twenty miles from the poet’s home town. As noted earlier, we cannot be sure that Stesichorus treated Heracles’ return through Italy and/​or Sicily; but if he did, it is tempting to think that it was he who invented or popularized these aspects of the story. Hellanicus too (frr. 110–​111 EGM) gives an account of Heracles’ return, describing his search for a heifer that escaped from the herd and swam to Sicily while he was in Italy. In Herodotus (4.8–​10) Heracles returns via Scythia, where he becomes the father of the Scythian people after encountering a creature half-​woman, half-​snake. Pherecydes (fr. 18ab EGM) mentions that Heracles acquired the Sun’s golden bowl and traveled across Oceanus to Erytheia; this detail will come from a more detailed account of the Labor. So Heracles’ return from the Labor features prominently in Hecataeus and Herodotus, and perhaps in the others too; like the Trojan War itself, not to speak of other heroic tales, the journey home after the completion of a mighty deed continues to offer perils and excitement. The story of Heracles’ return continues to be told by later historians, such as the Hellenistic historian Timaeus (FGrHist 566 F 90) and the first Roman historian, Fabius Pictor (FRHist 1 T 7). It also appears several times in Lycophron’s Alexandra, a poem much concerned with the return of heroes (see Hornblower 2015, 134 on line 47). This emphasis on Heracles’ nostos (“return”) exceeds anything found for any other of his Labors, even his capture of the Apples of the Hesperides and of Cerberus from the Underworld, both of which involved lengthy, difficult journeys. Geryon’s popularity in the art and literature of the sixth century BC does not carry through to the fifth; he all but disappears as a subject for vase painters. But a remarkable recent discovery in a tumulus in Tatarlı in Turkey, thirty kilometers northeast of Dinar, on the road from Kelainai to Gordion, reminds us of how even a single discovery can change our perspective.13 A wooden tomb dated to the mid-​fifth century BC contains beams decorated with military, banquet, and funeral scenes, which offer in addition an image of Heracles in combat with Geryon; to the right of the pair, Geryon’s dog Orthus lies dead, and to the left stand Geryon’s cattle, with wings. The monster also appears (as Cerun) in a later wall-​painting, dating to the early fourth or third century BC, alongside Hades and Persephone from the Tomba dell’Orco in Tarquinia (LIMC Geryoneus 25; see Bremmer 2014, 236). We may wonder how many other tombs, now lost, across the Mediterranean were guarded by an image of this monster. Aside from tomb art, artistic depictions of the Labor in this period focus on Heracles’ 12 

See De Angelis (2016, 46–​8, 148 n. 74), Malkin (2011, 119–​141). See Summerer (2008), Summerer et al. (2010, 242–​243); images at Summerer (2011, 38 §3, 47 §11). I am grateful to Robert Parker for drawing my attention to this find. 13 

Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus  143 journey. He is depicted in the Sun’s bowl on three vases dating between 510 and 480 (LIMC Herakles 2550–​2552); other vases show him confronting the Sun to acquire the bowl (§2548, from c. 500–​475, and §2549, from c. 550–​475), or greeting the god with the same aim apparently in mind (§2545, from 510–​500, and §2546, from c. 550–​475). For a complete and detailed version of the myth we must turn to Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca (2.5.10) and to Diodorus Siculus (4.17.1–​4.25.1); the latter’s account is taken at least in part from Timaeus (Diodorus 4.22.6 is indeed the source of Timaeus FGrHist 566 F 90, mentioned earlier). Apollodorus’ narration reads as follows:14 For his tenth labour he was ordered to fetch the cattle of Geryon from Erytheia. Now Erytheia was an island lying near Ocean, which today is called Gadeira. It was inhabited by Geryon, son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe, daughter of Ocean. He had the body of three men grown together and joined in one at the waist, but parted in three from the flanks and thighs. He owned red cattle, of which Eurytion was the herdsman and Orthus, the two-​headed dog, offspring of Echidna and Typhon, was the watchdog. Journeying through Europe to fetch Geryon’s cattle, Heracles destroyed many wild beasts and set foot in Libya, and proceeding to Tartessus he erected as tokens of his journey two pillars over against each other at the boundaries of Europe and Libya. But being heated by the Sun on his journey, he bent his bow at the god, who in admiration of his courage, gave him a golden cup in which he crossed Ocean. And having reached Erytheia he lodged on Mount Abas. But the dog noticed and rushed at him; he struck it with his club, and, when the herdsman Eurytion came to the help of the dog, killed him too. Menoetes, who was there pasturing the cattle of Hades, reported to Geryon what had occurred, and he, encountering Heracles beside the river Anthemus as he was driving away the cattle, joined battle with him and was shot dead. Heracles embarked the cattle into the cup and, after sailing across to Tartessus, gave the cup back to the Sun. After passing through Abderia he came to Ligustina, where Ialebion and Dercynus, the sons of Poseidon, attempted to rob him of the cattle, but he killed them and went on his way through Tyrrhenia. But at Rhegium a bull broke away and hastily plunging into the sea swam across to Sicily, and having passed through the neighbouring country since called Italy after it, for the Tyrrhenians call a bull italos, came to the plain of Eryx, who ruled over the Elymi. Now Eryx was a son of Poseidon, and he mingled the bull with his own herds. Entrusting the cattle to Hephaestus, Heracles hurried off in search of the bull. He found it in the herds of Eryx, and when the king refused to surrender it unless Heracles should beat him in a wrestling bout, Heracles beat him three times, killed him in the wrestling, and taking the bull drove it with the rest of the herd to the Ionian Sea. But when he came to the creeks of the sea, Hera sent a gadfly against the cattle, and they dispersed among the foothills of Thrace. Heracles went in pursuit, and having caught some, drove them to the Hellespont; but the remainder were henceforth wild. Having with difficulty collected the cows, Heracles blamed the river Strymon, and whereas it had been navigable before, he made it unnavigable by filling it with rocks; and he conveyed the cattle and gave them to Eurystheus, who sacrificed them to Hera.


Translation from Davies and Finglass (2014, 234–​235).

144   P. J. Finglass Apollodorus’ account includes many details familiar from earlier fragmentary accounts; what it contains that is new will also be taken from earlier sources, although we have no means of knowing which details come from where. Among this new material, the reference to Heracles’ adventures at Eryx is the first surviving reference in the context of this myth to yet another Phoenician settlement from the west of Sicily (today’s Erice), alongside Soloeis and Motya; although Heracles’ association with Eryx is attested as early as Herodotus (5.42–​48), who gives an account of events from the late sixth century in “a foundation myth asserting Greek rights over western Sicily as against Phoenician” (Hornblower [2013, 155], on Herodotus 5.43). Diodorus’ version is longer; indeed, it forms his most detailed account of any of Heracles’ Labors, and describes how Heracles began his journey at Crete, where he musters an army capable of taking on the forces which Geryon’s father Chrysaor and his three sons are said to have at their disposal. Heracles then travels through Libya (where he defeats Antaeus) and Egypt (where he defeats king Busiris and founds the city of Hecatompylon), killing monsters and wrongdoers as he goes. Eventually he crosses over to Iberia near Gadeira, setting up great pillars on either side of the strait; there he confronts the forces of Chrysaor’s sons, killing each in single combat, and then on his return passes through Iberia, Gaul (where he founds Alesia), Italy (where he is welcomed to Rome by Pinarius and Cacius, defeats the Giants on the Phlegraean Field—​a detail explicitly stated to come from Timaeus—​and dispels crickets from the area around Locris), Sicily (where he establishes springs at Himera and Segesta, defeats Eryx, and travels round the island), Italy again, Epirus, and back to the Peloponnese. Diodorus refers to a cult of Geryon established at Agyrrhium in Sicily, which he says was active in his own day; a native of that town, he was in a position to know. This reference apart, Geryon is written out of his own Labor, since Chrysaor is given three (nameless) normal sons, not one three-​bodied son. Indeed, the whole episode plays down the magical elements of the story. So Heracles makes his way to Iberia with an army and a fleet as if he were a Roman general, not via the bowl of the Sun; he is in fact explicitly associated with Julius Caesar during the mention of Alesia, the town that Caesar successfully besieged in 52 BC. Such a reference reminds us that although Diodorus’ account has a debt to Timaeus, some of it will be his own creation, whereas other parts may have different sources altogether. The reference to the founding of Alesia is more than just a chronological marker. According to Parthenius (Erotica Pathemata 30), writing at roughly the same time as Diodorus, Heracles on his way back with Geryon’s cattle is forced by Celtine, daughter of king Bretannus, to have intercourse with her (she hides his cattle and will give them back only on this condition), thereby fathering the race of the Celts. Stesichorus had begun the association of Heracles’ mythical travels with precise places known to the Greeks of his day; so too as other places and peoples in the west became known to the Greeks and Romans, and themselves became familiar with Greco-​Roman mythology, they were incorporated within the world of myth to situate them within what

Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus  145 remained a powerful framework for understanding the world.15 If settlements in the east could claim an association with Alexander, in the west Heracles was the obvious choice. For instance, in addition to the foundations already mentioned, Pompeii was thought to be named after the procession (pompa) of Heracles as he led Geryon’s cattle through the town;16 and Saguntum in Spain was said to have been founded by Heracles on his return as well (Silius Italicus Punica 1.271–​287). Hannibal’s great march from Spain into Italy may have been seen by contemporaries as a reprise of Heracles’ journey, given Hannibal’s association with the hero; both set out for Italy from Gades.17 Rome itself became a stopping-​point in Heracles’ journey, and the Ara Maxima dedicated to Heracles in the Forum Boarium (“cattle market”) was thought to have been founded during Heracles’ journey back with Geryon’s cattle. This tradition is frequently mentioned in Augustan literature,18 but will be much older: elements of the story could be as early as the sixth century, when the apotheosis of Heracles was depicted on a Roman temple near the Forum Boarium.19 Even Geryon himself achieved a surprising mobility.20 Already we have seen how Hecataeus placed him in two different locations in two different works. So too does Philostratus, who sets his tomb in Gades in his Life of Apollonius (5.5; see, further, Fear 2005, 327 with n. 51), but at Olympia in his Heroicus (8.17); Lucian places it at Thebes (31.14), Pausanias in Lydia (1.35.7). The presence of an oracle of Geryon at Patavium (modern Padua; Suetonius Tiberius 14.3) may be a trace of such a tradition, too. This was a myth of which diverse communities across the Mediterranean wanted to have a part. There are occasional references to Geryon in Latin poetry, although no full-​ scale treatments. Lucretius refers to “the three-​chested might of threefold Geryon” (5.28 tripectora tergemini vis Geryonai) when denigrating the Labors of Heracles; Virgil places him among the monsters at the entrance to the Underworld, the last-​ mentioned, and unnamed, “form of the threebodied ghost” (Aen. 6.289 forma tricorporis umbrae). In Horace he features as “Geryon, huge three times over” (Odes 2.14.7–​8 ter amplum | Geryonen), alongside Tityon, as one of the monsters held fast by Hades, whom Postumus, the addressee of the ode, is urged not to try to placate by sacrifice. More striking than these rather conventional formulations is the reference to Geryon at Pompeii, scratched into the wall of a corridor running to the entrance of the large theater; it is one of two graffiti written by the same trio, which refer “to sexual and civic activities shared among companions” (Keegan 2011, 183), using language normally used for advertising public events. One inscription reads “On the 21st 15  16  17  18  19  20 

See, in general, Knapp (1986). For references and further bibliography, see Lawrence (2007, 169). Briquel (2003); cf. Miles (2011, 265). Livy 1.7.3–​15, Virgil Aeneid 8.184–​305, Propertius 4.9, Ovid Fasti 1.465–​586. See Wiseman (1995, 39–​42), Hopkins (2016, 66–​84). See Rusten (2004, 152 with n. 20).

146   P. J. Finglass December, Epapra, Acutus, and Auctus brought a woman called Tyche to this place, paying five asses each, when Marcus Messalla and Lucius Lentulus were consuls [3 BC], a total of fifteen asses” (CIL 4.2450 a(nte) d(iem) XI K(alendas) Decembr(es) | Epapra Acutus Auctus ad locum duxserunt | mulierem Tychen pretium | in singulos a(sses) V f(uit) M(arco) Messalla L(ucio) Lentulo co(n)s(ulibus) | a(sses) XV); then another “On the 21st December, the three-​bodied Geryons put aside six coins each of copper” (CIL 4.2440 a(nte) d(iem) XI K(alendas) Dec(embres) Geryones | trimembres aerus [= aeris, genitive] senos | comperendinarunt), the point seemingly being that the three men paid communally for a prostitute and then saved a sum of money for a later collective exploit. The reference to Geryon signals that the trio’s partnership is so close that they in effect function as a single unit with three bodies; the functioning in question doubtless involves matters not just financial but sexual too, with the three men simultaneously taking on the prostitute just as the three-​bodied Geryon once faced down Heracles. The intended humor lies in the incongruity: the monstrous figure of myth and epic poetry is brought down to earth by the unlikely comparison. Stesichorus was unique in seeing the potential in Geryon for a full poetic treatment. Nevertheless, Heracles’ exploit remained a source of fascination throughout classical antiquity; in particular, his return from the distant west with Geryon’s cattle, founding cities and fathering children as he went, which allowed the Greeks and Romans to incorporate peoples, from Scythians to Gauls, within the ambit of their mythology. What originally was a journey beyond the known world became a means of conceptually mapping that world as it was discovered; and that cartographic impulse had its beginning and inspiration in Stesichorus.

Abbreviations CIL iv Zangemeister 1871. FGrHist Jacoby et al. 1923–​. FRHist Cornell et al. 2013. GEF West 2003. IEG West 1989–​1992. PMGF Davies 1991–​. TrGF Snell, Kannicht, and Radt 1971–​2004.

References Bremmer, J. N. 2014. Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World. Münchner Vorlesungen zu Antiken Welten 1. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter. Briquel, D. 2003. “Hannibal sur les pas d’Héraklès: Le voyage mythologique et son utilisation dans l’histoire.” In Voyageurs et antiquité classique, ed. H. Duchêne, 51–​60. Dijon: Editions Universitaires de Dijon.

Labor X: The Cattle of Geryon and the Return from Tartessus  147 Brize, P. 1988. “Geryoneus.” Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae 4.1: 186–​190. Budelmann, F. 2018. Greek Lyric: A Selection. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cornell, T. J., et al., eds. 2013. The Fragments of the Roman Historians. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Curtis, P. 2011. Stesichoros’s Geryoneis. Mnemosyne Supplement 333. Leiden and Boston: Brill. Davies, M. 1988. “Stesichorus’ Geryoneis and its Folk-​Tale Origins.” Classical Quarterly NS 38: 277–​290. Davies, M., ed. 1991–​ . Poetarum Melicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. 1+ vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Davies, M., and P. J. Finglass. 2014. Stesichorus: The Poems. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. De Angelis, F. 2016. Archaic and Classical Greek Sicily: A Social and Economic History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Fear, A. 2005. “A Journey to the End of the World.” In Pilgrimage in Graeco-​Roman and Early Christian Antiquity: Seeing the Gods, ed. J. Elsner and I. Rutherford, 319–​331. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Finglass, P. J. 2012. review of Curtis 2013, Classical Review NS 62: 354–​357. Finglass, P. J. 2014a. “Introduction.” In Davies and Finglass 2014: 1–​91. Finglass, P. J. 2014b. “Text and Critical Apparatus.” In Davies and Finglass 2014: 93–​204. Finglass, P. J. 2014c. “Stesichorus and the West.” In Hespería: Tradizioni, rotte, paesaggi, ed. L. Breglia and A. Moleti, 29–​34.Tekmeria 16. Paestum: Pandemos. Finglass, P. J. 2018. “Stesichorus and Greek Tragedy.” In Paths of Song: The Lyric Dimension of Greek Tragedy, ed. R. Andújar, T. Coward, and T. A. Hadjimichael, 19–​37. Trends in Classics supplement 58. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter. Gangutia Elícegui, E. 1998. “Gerioneidas: Desarrollo literario griego en contacto con el Próximo Oriente.” Emerita 66: 231–​256. Hopkins, J. N. 2016. The Genesis of Roman Architecture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Hornblower, S. 2013. Herodotus: Histories Book V. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hornblower, S. 2015. Lykophron: Alexandra. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Leiden: Brill. Keegan, P. 2011. “Blogging Rome: Graffiti as Speech-​Act and Cultural Discourse.” In Ancient Graffiti in Context, ed. J. A. Baird and C. Taylor, 165–​190. New York and Abingdon: Routledge. Knapp, R. C. 1986. “La Via Heraclea en el Occidente: Mito, arqueología, propaganda, historia.” Emerita 54: 103–​122. Lawrence, R. 2007. Roman Pompeii: Space and Society. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. Lazzeri, M. 2008. Studi sulla Gerioneide di Stesicoro. Università degli studi di Salerno Quaderni del Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Antichità 35. Naples: Arte tipografica. Lobel, E. 1967. “2617. Stesichorus, Γηρυονηΐϲ?, and Other Pieces?” The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 32: 1–​29. Malkin, I. 2011. A Small Greek World: Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Miles, R. 2011. “Hannibal and Propaganda.” In A Companion to the Punic Wars, ed. D. Hoyos, 260–​279. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Rusten, J. 2004. “Living in the Past: Allusive Narratives and Elusive Authorities in the World of the Heroikos.” In Philostratus’s Heroikos: Religion and Cultural Identity in the Third Century C.E., ed. E. B. Aitken and J. K. B. Maclean, 143–​158. Writings from the Greco-​Roman World 6. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

148   P. J. Finglass Snell, B., R. Kannicht, and S. Radt, eds. 1971–​2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. 5 vols. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Summerer, L. 2008. “Imaging a Tomb Chamber: The Iconographic Program of the Tatarlı Wall Paintings.” In Ancient Greece and Ancient Iran: Cross-​Cultural Encounters; 1st International Conference, Athens, 11–​13 November 2006, ed. S. M. R. Darbandi and A. Zournatzi, 265–​ 299. Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO, Cultural Center of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Summerer, L. 2011. “Die Persische Armee in Kelainai.” In Kelainai–​Apameia Kibotos: Développement urbain dans le contexte anatolien; Actes du colloque international Munich, 2–​4 avril 2009, ed. L. Summerer, A. Ivantchik, and A. von Kienlin, 33–​54. Kelainai 1. Bordeaux: Ausonius. Summerer, L., A. von Kienlin, and Y. K. K. S. Yayıncılık. 2010. Tatarli: Renklerin Dönüşü. Istanbul: T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, Yapı Kredi Yayınları. West, M. L., ed. 1989–​1992. Iambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati. 2nd ed., 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (1st ed., 1971–​1972.) West, M. L., ed. 2003. Greek Epic Fragments from the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries BC. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Wiseman, T. P. 1995. Remus: A Roman Myth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Zangemeister, C., ed. 1871. Corpus inscriptionum Latinarum: Inscriptiones parietariae Pompeianae, Herculanenses, Stabianae. Berlin: Reimer.

Chapter 13

L a b or XI The Apples of the Hesperides

Gina Salapata

One of the last Labors Heracles had to perform was to obtain the Golden Apples from the Garden of the Hesperides.1 According to Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.11), it was one of two additional Labors Heracles had to accomplish because he had received assistance or payment when dealing with the Hydra and the Augean Stables. As with Geryon,2 Heracles had to travel beyond the borders of the physical world, prefiguring his attainment of immortality. This is one of the most complex and fascinating myths. Because it is well attested in both literary and visual sources, we can follow its evolution and transformations through the centuries.3 There is no certain literary version of the Labor from the Archaic period, though it may have been introduced by Pisander of Rhodes (late seventh/​early sixth century BC) in his Heracleia (fr. 1 Davies). Hesiod (Theogony 214–​216, 274–​275, 333–​336) mentions the Hesperides and the guardian serpent but not Heracles. However, as we will see later, the visual record provides a firm starting point at about mid-​sixth century. The Labor was certainly narrated in detail by the mid-​fifth century BC in Pherecydes 1  The position of this Labor in the sequence varies between the twelfth (Diodorus 4.26.2, followed by Sophocles Trachiniae 1091–​1100) and eleventh (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.11; Euripides Heracles 359–​ 435), alternating with Cerberus; see Introduction. 2  On the relationship between the Labors of Geryon and the Hesperides, see Jourdain-​Annequin 1989. 3  For sources and discussions, see Brommer (1942; 1986, 49–​54); Vollkommer (1988); Schauenburg (1989); Jourdain-​Annequin (1989); Schefold (1992, 163–​166); Gantz (1993, 410–​413); Grabow (1998, 123–​ 127); Gilis and Verbanck-​Piérard (1998); Stafford (2012); Però 2014. See also LIMC iii.1, 2–​16 s.v. Atlas, LIMC v.1, 100–​111 s.v. Herakles, LIMC v.1, 394–​406 s.v. Hesperides, LIMC vi.1, 176–​218 s.v. Ladon.

150   Gina Salapata (frr. 16–​17 Fowler), the authority given by the ancient commentator on Apollonius of Rhodes Argonautica 1396, and it was alluded to in the contemporary Panyassis’ Heracleia (fr. 11 PEG). First, let us briefly consider the basic elements of the story, because they are not associated with Heracles from the beginning.

The Garden of the Apples Ancient sources do not agree on the exact location of the garden, although all situate it beyond the limits of the known world. Like Geryon’s Erytheia, it is usually placed in the far west, beyond the Oceanus River, where the sun sets, and near Atlas, who was condemned by Zeus to support the sky forever (e.g., Hesiod, Theogony 215–​216; Pherecydes fr. 16 Fowler).4 In that part of the world there was also supposed to be the Elysion. Other (later) versions place it somewhere in North Africa (Apollonius Argonautica 4.1398–​1399, Diodorus 4.26) sometimes specified as Libya (Varro De re rustica 2.1.6), Cyrenaica, or the land of the Ethiopians (Virgil Aeneid 4.480–​482). Unusually, Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.11; probably based on Pherecydes) places it in the land of the Hyperboreans in the farthest north.5 This garden, often referred to as the garden of the gods (Pherecydes frr. 16–​17 Fowler),6 is thus located in a liminal zone where the cosmic levels merge: where the Ocean marks the end of the world, earth and sky meet, and night and day draw near and greet one another (Hesiod Theogony 744–​751).7 Located in the far west, where Helios begins his nightly journey back to the east, it is also a place where the celestial and terrestrial realms meet the infernal realm, and it is thus tinged with chthonic associations.8 The garden may have been assimilated in popular belief (Euripides Hippolytus 742–​751) with the Elysion and the Isles of the Blessed, based on shared characteristics like location at the end of the earth and utopian happiness; however, it was reserved for the gods and normally inaccessible to mortals.9 In this primordial garden of the gods, a pagan Garden of Eden, grew divine fruits. Golden apples were produced by either a single tree or a grove created from the apple-​bearing branches Gaia had presented as a wedding gift to Zeus and Hera,


Stesichorus fr. S8 Davies places it on the island of the gods: see Chapter 10. Unless the far north and far west were considered contiguous, joined through Oceanus. 6  “Garden of the Hesperides” first in Diodorus 4.26.5. Its sacred character is brought out in Apollonius Argonautica 4.1396 and Virgil Aeneid 484–​486 who calls it a templum: Jourdain-​Annequin (1989, 543). 7  Lazongas (2012). 8  Bonnet (1992). 9  Ribichini (1992, 135); Però (2014, 154). Euripides Hippolytus 748–​751: place of hierogamia. 5 

Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides  151 according to Pherecydes (fr. 16c Fowler, Athenaeus 3.83c). The apple was rich in mythological significance; it was a symbol of fruitfulness, life force, love, and beauty, and therefore was an appropriate gift at a wedding. “Golden” stresses the preciousness of these apples but also their incorruptible nature that assigns them to the divine sphere.10 Therefore, even though no sources specify that the golden apples of the Hesperides conferred immortality or youth, their divine associations and location in the paradise-​like garden of the gods may have foreshadowed Heracles’ immortality.11 A variant tradition reported by Diodorus (4.26–​27) rationalized the apples into sheep (the Greek word mēla signifies both) called golden for their beauty or because of their peculiar gold-​colored wool.12

The Hesperides The Hesperides, first mentioned in Hesiod (Theogony 213–​216) but not in relation to Heracles, have this paradisiacal garden as their abode, “where they guard the golden apples and the trees that bear the fruit.” The parentage of these maidens, known for their sweet voices and singing, varies: they are daughters of Nyx (Night) and Erebus (Darkness), of Atlas, of Phorcys and Ceto, of Zeus and Themis, or of Hesperos, the Evening Star.13 Their number also varies considerably (from three to seven), as do their names, among which are “speaking names” like Aegle (dazzling light) and Erytheia/​Erytheis (red), referring to luminosity and sunset hues.

The Guardian Serpent Hera did not trust the Hesperides, who used to pluck apples, so she placed a never-​ sleeping drakōn in the garden to guard the fruit (Pherecydes fr. 16c Fowler). Known as Ladon in two later sources,14 this great serpent appears first in Hesiod (Theogony 333–​ 336) as the offspring of Phorcys and Ceto, guarding the golden apples “within his great coils in his lair in the dark earth” (an odd statement which, nevertheless, symbolizes


Jourdain-​Annequin (1992, 285). “Golden” is frequently used by Homer when referring to possessions of the gods. 11  Jourdain-​Annequin (1992, 283–​286); Stafford 2005, 78, 89; contra: Però 2014. 12  See, however, more recently, Bär (2019) who argues, based on two literary allusions, that the sheep tradition was widely known and not just an intellectual game. 13  References in McPhee (1992, 395). 14 Apollonius Argonautica 4.1396; Probus on Virgil Georgics 1.205, 244. See Ogden (2013a, 153).

152   Gina Salapata his bond with the earth).15 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.113 reports he is immortal and produces all sorts of voices from his one hundred heads. This formidable serpent guarding a divine treasure in a sacred garden is similar in many ways to the Colchis drakōn who guarded the Golden Fleece on a tree. However, in Diodorus’ rationalizing account (4.26.2–​4), the serpent was a valorous shepherd called Drakon.

Completion of the Labor There are two main versions of how Heracles managed to obtain the apples, equally well attested in literary sources and apparently running parallel to each other: he either picked them himself after slaying the guarding serpent; or he was helped by Atlas, who fetched them for him.16 First, though, Heracles had to find the garden: not easy, considering it was inaccessible to all but immortals. Before he reached it, he traveled widely.17 On his way he was involved in a series of adventures, including the seizing of Nereus to elicit directions, the wrestling match with Antaeus, and the killing of Busiris (for the latter two, see Chapter 15).18 Eventually he reached Caucasus, where he killed the eagle that each day fed on Prometheus’ liver. Freed from his torment, the Titan showed his gratitude by advising Heracles to enlist his brother Atlas to help get the apples. According to Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.11), who closely follows Pherecydes’ account (fr. 16–​17 Fowler), Heracles tricked Atlas:19 Now Prometheus had told Hercules not to go himself after the apples but to send Atlas, first relieving him of the burden of the sphere; so when he was come to Atlas in the land of the Hyperboreans, he took the advice and relieved Atlas. But when Atlas had received three apples from the Hesperides, he came to Hercules, and not wishing to support the sphere put a pad on his head.20 When Atlas heard that, he laid the apples down on the ground and took the sphere from Hercules. And so Hercules picked up the apples and departed. (trans. J. G. Frazer)

In this version, Heracles does not have to go to the garden himself or face the formidable guardian snake. Atlas, as the father of the Hesperides, was able to obtain the apples for him.21 Still, the hero had to accomplish a great feat—​bear the burden of heavens. Atlas, a huge weight—​literally!—​off his shoulders, was not keen to reassume his endless task. But in this duel of wits, Heracles emerged victorious because Atlas fell for the cushion trick,22 and was obliged to keep holding up the sky.23 At the end of his account, Apollodorus refers to the alternative version in which Heracles “plucked the apples himself after killing the guardian snake,” which assumes that Ladon was not immortal. Even though we are not given details of the confrontation, this version is again well attested in literature and had already appeared in Panyassis’ fifth-​century epic, where it was specified that Heracles killed it with his club. This version is also followed at Sophocles Trachiniae 1091–​1100, Euripides Heracles 394–​400, and Diodorus 4.26.2–​4.24 While the first variant calls attention to Heracles’ superhuman strength along with his cunning (mētis), this alternative version emphasizes his courage and bravery because he achieved his goal on his own. However, it is important to note that the serpent was not Heracles’ main goal and adversary. Unlike, for example, the Hydra, who terrorized Lerna, Ladon was simply an obstacle Heracles had to overcome to obtain the apples.25 Ladon was actually an inoffensive and beneficial serpent, guardian of a sacred place and treasure, so, in killing him, Heracles compromised his traditional image of slayer of dragons and noble protector of society; instead, he transgressed the relationship between mortal and divine sphere. Is this perhaps the reason why ancient authors hesitated to elaborate on the slaughter or found recourse to the alternative version with Atlas?26 The culmination of this paradox is the third-​century BC account at Apollonius Argonautica 4.1396–​1407, where the author condemns Heracles’ behavior and presents

20  Even though this section is missing in the manuscript, the content of the gap is clear from the scholia to Apollonius Argonautica 4.1396. 21  The trick fits the “mechanics of the story”: Hansen (2002, 200). 22  It was the wise Prometheus, in fact, who had advised him accordingly. In a fragment of a (possibly) Sophoclean satyr play, Heracles first puts moral pressure on Atlas to lure him back to his original task: Turner (1976). 23  In the rationalizing version reported by Diodorus 4.27, Atlas assisted Heracles as a reward for rescuing his daughters, the Hesperides/​Atlantides, from pirates. 24  See Ogden (2013a, 33–​34); Rodríguez Pérez (2015). 25  An allegorical interpretation of the fight against Ladon and the seizure of the apples is found in Herodotus of Heraclea fr. 14 Fowler (400 BC?): Ogden (2013a, 189–​190). 26  Gilis and Verbanck-​Piérard (1998, 50–​51).

154   Gina Salapata the killing in a negative light. The Argonauts encountered the Hesperides in Libya the day after Heracles left: They did not wander in vain, but came to a sacred plain, where, until just the day before, Ladon, the serpent of the land, guarded the solid gold apples in the realm of Atlas, while round about bustled nymphs, the Hesperides, singing a lovely song. But by this time it had been shot by Heracles and had fallen by the trunk of the apple tree, and only the tip of its tail was still twitching, while from its head down its dark spine it lay lifeless. Because the arrows had left the bitter venom of the Lernean Hydra in its blood, flies were withering on the festering wounds. Nearby, the Hesperides were holding their silver-​white hands on their golden heads and lamenting shrilly. (trans. W. H. Race)27

The Hesperid Aegle strongly berates Heracles as a brute who left grief and misery behind (1433–​1449): a most shameless man, whoever he was who robbed our guardian serpent of his life and took the solid gold apples of the goddesses and went off, while horrible grief remains for us. For a man came yesterday, utterly destructive in his violence and bodily strength, and his eyes glared from under his fearsome brow, a man with no pity! Around his body he wore the raw, untanned skin of an enormous lion, and he carried a stout branch of olive and a bow, with which he shot arrows and killed this beast. At all events, he too came here, like anyone traversing this land on foot, with a savage thirst, and rushed throughout this area in search of water, which indeed he was not likely to see anywhere. But here near lake Triton is a certain rock, which—​by his own devising or else through a god’s prompting—​he kicked at the base with his foot, and the water gushed out in a flood. Leaning both of his hands and chest on the ground, he drank a huge quantity from the cleft rock, until, stooped forward like a grazing animal, he satisfied his enormous belly. (trans. W. H. Race)

Eventually, the fight was translated to the stars, with the never-​sleeping serpent becoming the never-​setting constellation Draco, and Heracles, on one knee fighting it with his club, turning into “The Kneeler.”28 The end of the Labor is given again by Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.11: And having brought the apples he gave them to Eurystheus. But he, on receiving them, bestowed them on Hercules, from whom Athena got them and conveyed them back again; for it was not lawful that they should be laid down anywhere. (trans. J.G. Frazer)

Even though the king wanted the golden apples, he could not keep them because no mortal was allowed to possess the sacred fruit. That is why, in Apollodorus’ version, the apples finally return to their rightful place, the divine garden of the Hesperides. 27 

On the motif of the dragon’s poisonous breath and stench, see Ogden (2013b, 59; 2013a, 230).

28 Aratus Phaenomena 46; Hyginus De Astronomia 2.3 and 2.6.1, based on earlier references of

Panyassis and Pseudo-​Eratosthenes Catasterismi 3–​4.

Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides  155

The Visual Record The Labor is confirmed in visual sources by the mid-​sixth century BC, earlier than in literature. As in the texts, the two variant traditions coexist from the beginning through later Roman times and show similar elements as in literature; for example, Heracles assumes the burden of heavens while Atlas brings him the apples, or the hero attacks a large snake coiled around a tree. But the iconographic tradition is even more interesting than the literature because it shows further variants on these two versions. The Labor was depicted earlier in monumental art than in vase painting, but these works no longer exist and are now known only through literary sources. Earliest appears to be the wooden Chest of Cypselus decorated with inlaid figures in gold and ivory, offered by the Cypselids of Corinth at Olympia (Pausanias 5.18.4; LIMC Atlas 5) and dated to the late seventh or early sixth century BC.29 Here Heracles threatens Atlas with his sword to force him to release the apples he holds, as the inscription reported by Pausanias said: “This is Atlas holding heaven, but he will let go the apples.” No surviving literary or artistic work preserves this variant where Atlas, a bit smarter it seems, has to be threatened rather than tricked into giving up the apples. A wooden group made for the Epidamnian treasury at Olympia by the Laconian artist Theocles around 550–​530 BC (Pausanias 5.17.2; 6.19.8; 6.19.12; LIMC Atlas 6/​ LIMC Hesperides 64) already showed the serpent coiled around his tree, along with Heracles, the heaven-​bearing Atlas, and five Hesperides who in Pausanias’ time were kept in the Heraeum. The presence of both Atlas and the serpent is puzzling. Was this the version of the killing of the snake by Heracles, with Atlas perhaps acting only as a geographical reference for the garden? Or, was Heracles about to ask Atlas for assistance, with the snake on the tree representing the garden and indicating the reason?30 The earliest (c. 550 BC) surviving depictions of the Atlas version portray the interaction between Heracles and the Titan very similarly. Two identical Peloponnesian shield bands (LIMC Atlas 3–​4/​LIMC Herakles 2682) and an Attic cup signed by the potter Nearchos (LIMC Atlas 2/​LIMC Herakles 2676) depict Atlas supporting the heavens while Heracles departs with the apples, presumably a moment after that shown on the Chest.31 An Attic lekythos (c. 490–​480; LIMC Herakles 2677/​Atlas 7) depicts the role reversal between Heracles and Atlas, with the hero holding the sky, shown as a beam with 29 

For a possible mid-​seventh-​century BC depiction of Heracles about to collect the apples, see LIMC Herakles 2690. 30  Pausanias 3.18.10 mentions, unfortunately very briefly, that he saw Atlas depicted on the contemporary Amyclean throne, probably in the characteristic action of holding up the sky; however, we don’t know if he was part of a scene with the Labor. 31  The inscription mēlapherēs on the cup confirms Heracles was carrying the apples in his missing hand.

156   Gina Salapata stars and lunar crescent, and Atlas approaching from the right holding the apples. This is the moment before the trick, depicted also on the metope from the temple of Zeus at Olympia (c. 470–​460 BC; LIMC Herakles 2683). In the center, Heracles, helped by a cushion, carries the heavens, with Athena offering a helping hand. He focuses on the three apples brought by the approaching Atlas. The cushion, not used in the end, hints at the trick to come. Pausanias, in reporting that Heracles “is about to receive the burden of Atlas” (5.10.9), mistakenly transposes their identities because there are no distinctive attributes of either Heracles or Atlas; and because artworks with this motif typically depicted Atlas bearing the heavens, a viewer would naturally assume the bearer was Atlas, not Heracles. On a Campanian amphora (c. 450 BC; LIMC Herakles 2685) Heracles again holds up the dome of heavens, this time with great effort, while Atlas approaches the tree, which bears a two-​headed Ladon; a Hesperid on the other side extends one hand to one snake head, seemingly appeasing it. Panaenus painted a panel (c. 430) inside the temple of Zeus at Olympia, and according to Pausanias (5.11.5–​6; LIMC Atlas 10/​LIMC Hesperides 65), this panel followed the standard type of “Atlas holding heaven and earth and next to him Heracles ready to take the load on himself ”; another panel nearby had two Hesperides carrying apples. The moment when Atlas is about to pass the sky, shown as a beam, on to Heracles is also captured on a fourth-​century BC bronze mirror (LIMC Atlas 11). Some fourth-​ century South Italian vases show more extensive narratives that incorporate the garden into a scene where Heracles is asking for help from Atlas, either while he is supporting the dome of heavens (LIMC Atlas 12) or while enthroned as a king (LIMC Hesperides 56–​58).32 Finally, an Apulian crater of c. 380 BC (LIMC Atlas 14/​Herakles 2687), probably inspired by a satyr play, depicts an angry Heracles holding up the heavens while satyrs take advantage of his immobility to steal his weapons. Although it appeared at about the same time as the Atlas story, the alternative version where Heracles visits the garden in person and confronts Ladon had a longer life in art but still a shorter one than it did in literature.33 Roughly contemporary with the earliest surviving representations of the Atlas version of the mid-​sixth century BC is a Tyrrhenian amphora showing Heracles battling the serpent,34 here multiheaded.35 (Ladon is usually portrayed with a single head, but is sometimes shown with multiple heads,36 probably emphasizing his vigilance.) The presence of Atlas, assisted by 32  Schauenburg (1989). Perhaps this reflects the tradition that he was king of an empire in Atlantis (Plato Critias 114a; Timaeus 24e–​25a) or a wise king of Arcadia (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 3.10.1). 33  Brommer (1942, 116). On this version in general, see Rodríguez Pérez (2015), who argues that depictions of Heracles fighting a snake (LIMC Herakles 2824–​2829) may refer to the Hesperides Labor even if no tree is present. 34  Cf. a lekythos (530–​520 BC) where Heracles threatens the snake, which is coiling around the tree, with his huge club. 35  Padgett (2014, 37–​38, fig. 3). Cf. a lekythos (530–​520 BC) where Heracles threatens the snake, which is coiling around the tree, with his huge club. 36  Two heads: LIMC Herakles 2692, 2714; LIMC Ladon i 12, 15. Three heads: LIMC Herakles 1702, 2680; Ladon i 13, 16; cf. LIMC Atlas 17 (Etruscan scarab). Multiple heads: the Tyrrhenian amphora

Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides  157 two Hesperides in holding up the heavens, presumably functioned as a geographical indicator, or it may have been added to distinguish this Labor from that of the multiheaded Hydra, with which it might be confused (though that creature is not normally coiled on a tree). An exceptional fragmentary crater of c. 500 BC (LIMC Herakles 1702 and 2680/​ Atlas 8) depicts these two Labors side by side.37 Here, Heracles is about to pluck an apple while shielding himself from a threatening three-​headed serpent coiled around the tree. This serpent is clearly Ladon, differentiated through the visual proximity of the Hydra. Nearby, Atlas stands with arms akimbo, like a cosmic pillar supporting the sky. Heracles is not necessarily going to kill Ladon here, nor does he do so on a contemporary lekythos (LIMC Herakles 2692), where he escapes with the apples, leaving the two-​headed serpent still alive. On a slightly earlier (c. 525 BC) lekythos (LIMC Herakles 2716) he collects apples from the serpent-​entwined tree into his basket, taking care not to be seen. In a parody of the Labor on a mid-​fifth century jug, perhaps inspired by a satyr play, a Silen mimics the heroic Heracles as he threatens the snake with a club; he aims to retrieve not apples but the wine jugs hanging from the tree that will satisfy his craving for wine.38 Further variants of the story are represented in art. Some are more unusual than others. Heracles’ mere presence in the garden is shown on a coin of Cyrene of c. 500 BC (LIMC Hesperides 24), where he faces a Hesperid and a serpent-​entwined tree. Negotiation with a Hesperid may be intended on an amphora (LIMC Hesperides 29) from c. 400 BC. On this amphora, Heracles, leaning on his club, draws the attention of a Hesperid who sits in front of the tree and appears to be leaning on one of Ladon’s coils (though this may have been the vase painter’s mistake). On a variant found only in the iconographic tradition, Heracles appears to get the apples by force, as suggested from the agitated reaction of the Hesperides. On a hydria of c. 470 BC (LIMC Hesperides 7) a Hesperid runs after an apple-​carrying Heracles, protesting or pleading with him to stop, while he lifts the club over his head as if ready to attack.39 Another Hesperid turns to look at Heracles, while a third one looks at the apple tree around which Ladon is wound. As shown by its open mouth, the serpent is very much alive, and we are left with the impression that Heracles deceived the Hesperides to pick the apples and then absconded with them. In an unusual variant of the Labor, c. 480, Athena brings Heracles the apples while he sits relaxed by a tree (LIMC Herakles 2681/​LIMC Hesperides 72a). The scene is witnessed by several seated river personifications and possibly Atlas and the Hesperides. mentioned and a skyphos (Padgett 2014, 37 fig. 2—​nine heads); an amphora by Euphronius (Padgett 2014, 36 fig. 1—​seven heads). For Ladon’s heads, see Ogden (2013a, 37, n. 67). 37 

Padgett (2014, 38, fig. 4). Stafford (2012, 111–​112). 39  Cf. an amphora (LIMC Herakles 2730) where he is presumably being chased. 38 

158   Gina Salapata This is a reversal of the motif of Heracles presenting the apples to Athena that shows the end point of the Labor, as shown on one of the metopes from the Hephaesteum in the Athenian Agora (LIMC Herakles 1706).40 The link between the acquisition of the apples and Heracles’ attainment of immortality is reflected on a stamnos (c. 480 BC) depicting his introduction to Olympus by Athena, behind whom is a tree with a coiled snake (LIMC Herakles 2875/​LIMC Atlas 24). Heracles appears to be presenting an apple to Zeus, presumably as proof that the completion of this Labor entitles him to immortality.41 A remarkable scene on a crater, recently sold in the art market and dated to the end of the fifth century,42 shows the starting point of the Labor, with Heracles arriving at the garden of the Hesperides and Athena striding behind him. He approaches from the left, rowing to the shore in the golden bowl of Helios while three fish jump out of the water. Heracles is looking toward Atlas, who holds the vault of the heavens with stars and crescent moon. There are two trees, one with Ladon coiled around it and a Hesperid sitting beneath it. Hermes closes off the scene on the right. The Labor enjoyed great popularity during the late fifth and fourth centuries BC on Attic and especially South Italian vases, but was totally transformed to emphasize the happy outcome. Instead of actively acquiring the apples, Heracles is now regularly depicted in repose in the garden with the Hesperides picking or offering him the apples (LIMC Herakles 2700–​2715).43 Rather than carrying the heavens on his shoulders in place of Atlas, fighting the ferocious serpent, or departing with the apples, the hero here is relaxed, resting peacefully among beautiful maidens in an idyllic garden setting resembling Elysium. The introduction of this new portrayal is attributed to one of the four “Three-​ Figure Reliefs,” conventionally dated c. 420 BC and known from Roman copies, where two Hesperides are bringing the apples to the seated Heracles (LIMC Herakles 2707). Recently, however, Böhm (2017) argued that these extant versions are not copies of Classical originals—​in which case these would be just copying preexisting monuments—​but instead are Neo-​Attic creations of the late Hellenistic or Roman period. An Attic hydria by the Meidias Painter, dated c. 410 BC (LIMC Herakles 2717), exemplifies the new iconography of the hero’s repose.44 A youthful Heracles sits on a rock covered with his lion-​skin, leaning on his club. Near him are three Hesperides, one leaning on her sister as she collects the apples from the snake-​guarded tree. The


Brommer (1986, n. 77) for various interpretations. Kosmopoulou (1998); Woodford (1966, 192). 42  https://​​lotfinder/​Lot/​an-​attic-​red-​figured-​bell-​krater-​attributed-​to-​the-​ 6009381-​details.aspx 43  On the eschatological meaning of scenes of fruit gathering in general, see Kosmopoulou (1998). 44  On this hydria, see Camponetti (2007). 41 

Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides  159 Hesperid closest to Heracles holds an apple and lifts the corner of her veil while looking at him in a shy but flirtatious, even seductive, manner. The serene, elegant, and graceful figures create an atmosphere far removed from the toil involved in the traditional myth. It is an idyllic, erotic scene set in a luxuriant paradisiacal garden. Scenes on fourth-​century vases, especially Apulian, intensify this feminine, erotic, and nuptial ambiance in a romanticized perception of the myth. The Hesperides relax, adorn themselves, or pick apples from the tree, while in other scenes they present Heracles with the apples (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2719, 2726). Sometimes one or more Eros figures hover nearby, occasionally even picking apples, conferring an erotic overtone to the scene (LIMC Hesperides 30–​32). In these depictions, Heracles, always the focus of the Hesperides’ attention, sits or stands relaxed next to the snake, which presents no threat: the formidable drākon has been transformed into a tame and harmless creature in peaceful coexistence with Heracles rather than in confrontation. In one example (LIMC Herakles 2703) it even rests its head on his shoulder. Heracles shows no signs of being eager to depart with the apples. The garden now appears to be his end-​goal, while the tree and snake are simply a legacy from the old myth.45 A new motif is introduced in the South Italian scenes, where one of the Hesperides touches or feeds the serpent, most frequently from a bowl, while another, or Heracles himself, picks apples (Hesperides: LIMC Herakles 2726; Heracles: LIMC Hesperides 36, 38, 62). It is usually assumed that the purpose of these actions was either to distract Ladon or, as the witch Medea had done with the Colchis dragon, drug him to sleep. Several scholars have even postulated a version where a Hesperid, enamored with Heracles, supposedly drugged Ladon but was heartbroken when Heracles departed with the apples.46 A case for deception may indeed be made on the basis of depictions such as that on the hydria c. 470 BC discussed earlier and a later reference in Seneca Hercules Furens 530–​532: “Let [Heracles] deceive the sisters and bring back the apples, when the draco set to guard the valuable apples has given his ever-​wakeful eyes to sleep.”47 However, there is no suggestion of a love story or a sad separation, so it is unlikely such a version ever existed.48 As for the supposed drugging, some cross-​fertilization between scenes of Medea and the Colchis dragon and depictions of the Hesperides with Ladon is indeed likely, since both serpents were depicted as coiling in a tree next to the golden treasure they guarded.49 The motif of a Hesperid offering a bowl to Ladon, appearing at


Woodford (1966, 194). E.g., Brommer (1942, 492–​493); McPhee (1990, 305); Ogden (2013a, 39). 47  Ogden (2013a, 39). 48  Harrison (1964, 77–​78); Woodford (1966, 192–​193). 49  On similarities with Medea and the Colchis dragon episode, see Ogden (2013a, 61–​63). 46 

160   Gina Salapata about 380–​360 BC, was very likely inspired by that of Medea drugging the Colchis dragon.50 However, iconographic similarity does not necessarily mean the narrative content is also similar. More likely, the offering of a bowl to Ladon refers simply to his being tended by the Hesperides, with the friendly relationship being implied in the Hesperides’ lament for Ladon’s death in Apollonius, as we saw earlier. The Hesperides are represented in this way even when Heracles is absent from the scene (LIMC Hesperides 2, 4; LIMC Ladon i 8–​9) and they sometimes give Ladon food rather than a drink (LIMC Hesperides 3).51 The new visual creation of Heracles’ blissful repose in a garden of delights has been interpreted as either foreshadowing his deification or already representing his blissful existence in the hereafter, with the garden identified with Elysium.52 Either way, it is an alternative version of his immortalization, surpassing in popularity the scenes of his introduction to Olympus guided by Athena.53 In this new vision, Heracles resides in an Elysium-​like garden surrounded by beautiful women and sometimes by the retinue of Dionysus and Aphrodite, representing the pleasures of a blessed afterlife; he is often under the gaze of Eros, who on one occasion is wreathing him, symbolizing his achievement of deification. He is portrayed as youthful and appears as a groom, prefiguring his marriage with Hebe, and thus appropriately given the apples, like Hera on her wedding. Whether as a preview or realization of his deification, such compositions represent a new vision of eternal bliss in an idyllic garden rather than among the gods on Olympus;54 the portrayals reflect the way the garden of the Hesperides was presented as a place of happiness and immortality in Euripides Hippolytus 742–​751, produced in 428 BC. To the apple-​bearing shore of the melodious Hesperides would I go my way, there where the lord of the sea forbids sailors further passage in the deep-​blue mere, fixing the sacred boundary of the skies, the pillar held up by Atlas. There divine springs flow by the place where Zeus lay, and holy Earth with her rich gifts makes the gods’ prosperity wax great. (trans. D. Kovacs)

The new iconography on the vases should be seen in the context of later fifth-​ century BC literature. Authors attached a moral motivation to the hero’s Labors by showing him as struggling to attain virtue, and they emphasized the significance of attaining immortality as a reward for Heracles’ services (Euripides Heracles 394–​399);


Ogden (2013a, 62–​63). Pace Ogden (2013b, 60); Ogden (2013a, 39–​40, 365). In Virgil Aeneid 4.484–​486 there is no clear reference to feeding the snake soporific poppy: Ahl (2007, 352). 52  Woodford (1966, 192–​194). 53  Schefold (1992, 134). 54  Harrison (1964, 79); Woodford (1966, 192–​193). 51 

Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides  161 philosophical ideas at that time presented the hero as an ethical model, achieving ultimate virtue and happiness after his Labors (see, generally, Chapter 25).55 Moreover, the evolution from a narrative to a more symbolic representation of the myth was based on a changed conception of the afterlife. This reflected the growing influence of mystery cults and a general preoccupation with the hereafter, a conception in which the existence of paradise for exceptional ordinary mortals acquired greater importance. The journey to, and blissful repose in, the garden of the Hesperides acquired symbolic significance, with Heracles a model for the potential of mortals to achieve a happy afterlife. Heracles’ reward after his success in a series of difficult tasks was seen as accessible to all worthy, virtuous mortals—​indeed, scenes of the hero at repose in the garden of the Hesperides represent a more accessible paradise than if he were among the gods on Olympus. The traditional myth has thus been transformed as it can now be understood also at a metaphysical level.56 Statuary types from the classical period showing Heracles alone holding the apples and referring to his ultimate achievement, the attainment of immortality, can be understood along these lines. These types were reproduced and adapted during Hellenistic and Roman times, with the apples now becoming one of his standard attributes.57 The type of the “Weary Heracles,” created by Lysippus around 330 BC (LIMC Herakles 682–​726), made a lasting impression and was extensively copied for centuries in various scales and media. Portraying him as heavily muscled but aged and tired, resting on his club and holding the apples behind his back, the statue stresses his human, vulnerable side and the toil he had endured, reflecting a trend for a deeper meaning behind Heracles’ Labors. The Labor of the apples of the Hesperides took place at the borders of the world (in both the geographical and cosmic senses), an area that separates gods and mortals.58 Whether Heracles obtained the apples of the Hesperides on his own or with help from Atlas or the Hesperides, the completion of this Labor had far-​reaching implications for his ultimate destiny because it secured him immortality. By journeying to the liminal place which is the garden of the gods, inaccessible to mortals, Heracles superseded the limits imposed on normal men: he trespassed the sacred boundary between mortals and gods59 and brought to mortals a message of hope for attaining a blessed afterlife.


Metzger (1951); Vollkommer (1988). Harrison (1964, 79); Woodford (1966, 192–​193); Vollkommer (1988, 92); Camponetti (2007, 31–​32); Lazongas (2012). 57  LIMC iv (1988) s.v. Herakles 795–​796 (O. Palagia). 58  Ribichini (1992, 135); Però (2014, 154). 59  See Però (2014, esp. 159), who argues against Jourdain-​Annequin’s (1989, 389–​405) border between life and death (because this belonged to the Cerberus Labor). 56 

162   Gina Salapata

Abbreviations ATU Uther 2004. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. LIMC Kahil et al.1981–​1999. PEG Bernabé 1987–​2007.

References Ahl, F. 2007. Virgil, Aeneid. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bär, S. 2019. “Herakles und die Schafe der Hesperiden.” Prometheus 45: 108–​116. Bernabé, A., ed. 1987–​2007. Poetarum epicorum Graecorum testimonia et fragmenta. 2 vols. Leizpig: Teubner. Böhm, S. 2017. “Die Dreifigurenreliefs und ihre klassischen Originale: Das Peliadenrelief als Beispiel für die Suche nach einem Phantom.” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 132: 187–​223. Bonnet, C. 1992. “Héraclès en Orient: Interprétations et syncrétismes.” In Bonnet and Jourdain-​ Annequin 1992: 165–​198. Bonnet, C., and C. Jourdain-​Annequin, eds. 1992. Héraclès: D’une rive à l’autre de la Méditerranée; Bilan et perspectives. Actes de la Table Ronde de Rome, Academia Belgica-​École française de Rome, 15–​16 septembre 1989 à l’occasion du Cinquantenaire de l’Academia Belgica, en Hommage à Franz Cumont, son premier Président. Brussels/​Rome: Institut Historique Belge de Rome. Brommer, F. 1942. “Herakles und die Hesperiden auf Vasenbildern.” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 57: 105–​123. Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labours of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. New Rochelle, NY: A.D. Caratzas. Camponetti, G. 2007. “L’hydria londinese di Meidias: Mito e attualità storica ad Atene durante la guerra del Peloponneso.” In Il Vasaio e le sue storie: Giornata di studi sulla ceramic a attica in onore di Mario Torelli per i suoi settanta anni, ed. S. Angiolillo and M. Giuman, 17–​46. Cagliari: Edizioni AV. Frazer, J. G., trans. 1921. Apollodorus: The Library. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gilis, E., and A. Verbanck-​Piérard. 1998. “Héraclès, pourfendeur de dragons.” In Le Bestiaire d’Héraclès: IIIe Rencontre héracléenne. Actes du Colloque organisé à l’Université de Liège et aux Facultés Universitaires Notre-​Dame de la Paix Namur, du 14 au 16 novembre 1996 (Kernos Suppl. 7), ed. C. Bonnet, C. Jourdain-​Annequin, and V. Pirenne-​Delforge, 37–​60. Liège: Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique. Grabow, E. 1998. Schlangenbilder in der griechischen schwartzfigurigen Vasenkunst. Münster: Scriptorium. Hansen, W. F. 2002. Ariadne’s Thread: A Guide to International Tales Found in Classical Literature. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Labor XI: The Apples of the Hesperides  163 Harrison, E. 1964. “Hesperides and Heroes: A Note on the Three-​Figure Reliefs.” Hesperia 33: 76–​82. Jacoby. F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker Leiden: Brill. Jourdain-​Annequin, C. 1989. Heraclès aux portes du soir: Mythe et histoire. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. Jourdain-​Annequin, C. 1992. “Héraclès en Occident.” In Bonnet and Jourdain-​Annequin 1992: 263–​290. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich: Artemis. Kosmopoulou, A. 1998. “A Funerary Base from Kallithea: New Light on Fifth-​Century Eschatology.” American Journal of Archaeology 102: 531–​545. Kovacs, D., trans. 1995. Euripides. Vol. 2. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lazongas, E. 2012. “Gates and Pillars of Heaven: The Architectural Structure of Cosmos in Greek, Egyptian and Near Eastern Tradition and Art.” In Athanasia: The Earthly, the Celestial and the Underworld in the Mediterranean from the Late Bronze and the Early Iron Age, ed. N. C. Stampolidis, A. Kanta, and A. Giannikouri, 269–​282. Herakleion: University of Crete. McPhee, I. 1992. “Ladon i.” In LIMC v.6.1: 176–​180. Metzger, H. 1951. Les Représentations dans la céramique attique du IVe siècle. Paris: E. de Boccard. Ogden, D. 2013a. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ogden, D. 2013b. Dragons, Serpents, and Slayers in the Classical and Early Christian Worlds: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Padgett, J. M. 2014. “The Serpent in the Garden: Herakles, Ladon, and the Hydra.” In Approaching the Ancient Artifact: Representation, Narrative, and Function. A Festschrift in Honor of H. Alan Shapiro, ed. A. Avramidou and D. Demetriou, 36–​39. Berlin/​Boston: De Gruyter. Però, A. 2014. “Eracle e i pomi d’oro delle Esperidi.” In Aurum: Funzioni e simbologie dell’oro nelle culture del Mediterraneo,” ed. M. Tortorelli Ghidini, 153–​162. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. Race, W. H., trans. 2008. Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Ribichini, S. 1992. “Hercule à Lixus et le jardin des Hespérides.” In Lixus: Actes du colloque organisé par l’Institut des sciences de l’archéologie et du patrimoine de Rabat avec le concours de l’École française de Rome, Larache, 8–​11 novembre 1989, 13–​36. Rome: École française de Rome. Rodríguez Pérez, D. 2015. “Guardian Snakes and Combat Myths: An Iconographic Approach.” In ΦϒТА ΚΑΙ ΖΩΙΑ: Pflanzen und Tiere auf griechischen Vasen; Akten des internationalen Symposiums an der Universität Graz, 26.–​28. September 2013, ed. C. Lang-​Auinger and E. Trinkl, 147–​154. Wien: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Schauenburg, K. 1989. “Herakles bei Atlas.” Archäologischen Anzeiger 23–​32. Schefold, K. 1992. Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stafford, E. 2005. “Vice or Virtue? Herakles and the Art of Allegory.” In Herakles and Hercules: Exploring a Graeco-​Roman Divinity, ed. L. Rawlings, 71–​96. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales. Stafford, E.2012. Herakles. London: Routledge.

164   Gina Salapata Turner, E. G. 1976. “Papyrus Bodmer XXVIII: A Satyr-​Play on the Confrontation of Heracles and Atlas.” Museum Helveticum 33: 1–​23. Uther, H.-​J. 2004. The Types of International Folktales. A Classification and Bibliography. 3 vols. FFC 284–​286. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica. Vollkommer, R. 1988. Herakles in the Art of Classical Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Committee for Archaeology. Woodford, S. 1966. Exemplum Virtutis: A Study of Heracles in Athens in the Second Half of the Fifth century B.C. Dissertation, Columbia University.

Chapter 14

L a b or X II Cerberus

Pauline Hanesworth

Setting the Scene Having obtained the golden apples of the Hesperides and presented them to Eurystheus, Heracles is tasked with one final Labor: to capture Cerberus, the three-​ headed hound of Hades who guards the gates of the underworld. To ensure success in his endeavor, Heracles makes his way north to Eleusis, where he is purified of his murder of the centaurs and initiated into the mysteries. Traveling to Cape Tainaron on the southernmost point of mainland Greece,1 he then descends through the mouth of Hades to the underworld, whereupon the souls of the dead, other than the hero Meleager, flee in terror at the sight of him. Brandishing his sword uselessly at a phantom Medusa, he then saves Theseus and, temporarily, Ascalaphus, fails to save Pirithous, attempts to slaughter the cattle of Hades, and asks the underworld god to hand over the hound. Challenged by Hades to overpower Cerberus while weaponless, Heracles finds him at the gates of Acheron, subdues him and drags him to the


Tainaron is the common point of descent for this myth, except in Xenophon’s Anabasis 6.2.2, where Heracleia is instead named; see Ogden 2013, 110.

166   Pauline Hanesworth upper-​world via Troezen.2 After presenting his prize to Eurystheus, our hero then returns the hound to his home in Hades. So Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.12) summarizes a tale at least as old as the Homeric epics. A tale that has penetrated Western consciousness to the extent that its recastings can be found in popular children’s books such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, in video games such as Sony’s God of War series, or even in the nomenclature for various viruses and virus protection software. Here, Cerberus stands as guard, as a gatekeeper preventing our hero(ine) from entering a forbidden realm. Defeat of the hound proves our hero(in)es’ worth, proves that they are “Heraclean.” Yet this tradition of Cerberus preventing entrance to an underworld does not appear in the extant literature until Virgil’s Aeneid. In this epic, the Sibyl neutralizes the hound through a drugged honey cake in order to ease the way down to the underworld for herself and Aeneas (6.417–​425, which then influences the depiction of Psyche’s descent in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses 6.19, as well as countless medieval and modern recastings). Usually, our hound faces inward. Consider Hesiod’s Theogony 767–​774: Cerberus has a “wicked trick,” fawning on those entering the underworld with his tail and ears but devouring whomever he catches attempting to leave. Depicted thus, Cerberus becomes a symbol not of the boundary between life and death but of the permanence of death itself: anyone can die and enter his realm, but once dead, there is no return. As such, the difficulty in Heracles’ task is not really to enter the realm of the dead but rather to defeat the hound and bring him to the world of the living. As Juno decries in Seneca’s Hercules Furens, in so doing Heracles has opened up a pathway from the underworld and shattered the laws of the dead (49–​50). It is for this reason that Heracles’ last Labor is often seen as a defeat of death (e.g., Dowden 1992, 98; Stafford 2012, 49). This should not be seen as individualistic—​that Heracles has defeated death for himself—​but rather as holistic: in removing the barrier between the dead and the living and in opening up a pathway through which the dead can infiltrate the living realm, Heracles has defeated the very concept of death itself. It is with this that many of the earlier retellings of the myth grapple. This chapter focuses on four interrelated ways in which these intricacies are explored. Following a brief overview of Heracles’ presence—​or rather lack of same—​ in retellings of the Cerberus myth, it first turns to the Iliad, in which a superhuman Heracles is found, one who is able to accomplish his Labor because of his godlike status epitomised in his relationship with and ability to successfully fight with gods. It

2  Heracles’ place of ascent varies greatly in the various retellings of the myth and includes Heracleia Pontica (Herodorus FGrH 31 F31; Euphorion fr.41a Lightfoot; Pomponius Mela 2.51; schol. Dionysius Periegetes 791), Tainaron (Hecataeus FGrH 1 F27; Strabo 8.5.1; Seneca Hercules Furens 807–​829), Troezen (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.12; Pausanias 2.31.2; Tzetzes Chiliades 2.36.407), Hermione (Pausanias 2.35.10), Mt. Laphystion (Pausanias 9.34.5), Emeia, and possibly Hierapolis and the site of the oracle of the dead in Thesprotia; see Ogden 2013, 112–​113.

Labor XII: Cerberus   167 moves then to the retellings of Theseus and Pirithous’ descent to the underworld in which Heracles’ type of heroism—​epitomized in his physical subduing of the underworld hound—​is problematized and compared unfavorably to Theseus’ own brand of heroics. In both of these, the defeat of death is othered: it is possible precisely because Heracles is a different, outmoded type of hero. Dissimilarly, in the third exploration, a Heracles is found who is able to accomplish his final Labor not owing to any innate strength or superhumanness but owing to his relationship with the underworld goddess Persephone, engendered by his initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries. Taken together, these three traditions render a convoluted and contradictory hero: godlike and superhuman, mighty and outmoded, humanized and blessed (cf. Chapter 33). It is with these complexities, so expertly explored in Euripides’ Heracles, that the chapter will close.

An Absent Hero It is noticeable that when it comes to Cerberus, rarely is Heracles the hero of his own story. First, many of the potential retellings have been lost. In the archaic period, it is possible that the Labor appeared in Stesichorus’ Cerberus (fr. 206 PMG), but with only the title known and in light of the other myths in which Cerberus might figure (for example, with Orpheus, Persephone, or Theseus) this cannot be guaranteed. It is also possible it appeared in the Heracleia of Pisander (Huxley 1969, 100–​105; West 2003, 177–​187). It is very likely that it featured in Panyassis’ epic of the same name in light of the extant fragments describing Theseus and Pirithous and then Sisyphus in the underworld (Pausanias 10.29.9; fr.18 West respectively; cf. Huxley 1969, 185); however, the extent to which it would have been told cannot be known. In the classical period, the Labor may have been explored in Sophocles’ Cerberus (fr. 327a Lloyd-​Jones) and his Satyrs at Tainaron (fr. 225 and fr. 226 Lloyd-​Jones) and it appears to have been retold in Euripides’ Eurystheus (frr. 371–​379a Collard and Cropp). Unfortunately, these are again mostly lost to us. It is clear that it was mentioned by Herodorus, who tells of Heracles’ ascent at Heracleia Pontica (FGrH 31 F31 = fr. 31 Fowler), but only fragments remain. Similarly, brief references to it are found in the fragments of the third-​century BC Callimachus (fr. 515 Pfeiffer) and Euphorion (fr. 41a and fr. 71 Lightfoot). Most often, the Labor is referenced in a throwaway line, such as in the later texts of Plutarch (Life of Nicias 1.3), Ovid (Heroides 9.87), Propertius (Elegies 4.9), Statius (Thebaid 8.53), and Hyginus (Fabulae 30, 32, and 251). When elaborated on, it is usually owing to etiological purposes, for example explaining the origins of the poison used by Medea in her attempt to kill Theseus (Ovid Metamorphoses 7.404–​424); or to describe localities (Pausanias 2.31.2, 2.35.10, 3.25.5, 9.34.5; Strabo C363 = 8.5.1).

168   Pauline Hanesworth It is only in the mythographic summaries of Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.12) and Diodorus Siculus (4.25.1, 4.26.1) and in the rationalization of Hecataeus (Pausanias 3.25.5 = Hecataeus fr. 27a Fowler; see further in what follows) that fuller retellings are given and it is only in Euripides’ Heracles and Seneca’s Hercules Furens that our hero himself is seen center stage. Yet, even in these, Heracles is side-​lined, his defeat of Cerberus occurring offstage in both, referenced but briefly in Euripides (610–​613), and retold not by our hero but by Theseus in Seneca (782–​826). Instead, references to Heracles’ last Labor are embedded in larger retellings of other heroes and/​or protagonists. For example, in the Iliad (8.357–​359), Athena briefly references her role in the Labor during the wider context of the Trojan War. In the Odyssey (11.601–​626), the tale is embedded in the larger retelling of Odysseus’ visit to the underworld. In Bacchylides’ Odes (5.56–​70) it is used as a transition tool for the more detailed retelling of Meleager, the Calydonian boar hunt, and that hero’s death. In Euripides’ now fragmentary Pirithous (frr. 4–​4a Collard and Cropp), Heracles’ fetching of Cerberus is embedded in the interrelated tale of Theseus and Pirithous’ own underworld journey.3 In Aristophanes’ Frogs (464–​478), it is parodied within the journey of Dionysus. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses (7.404–​424), as mentioned previously, it is used to explain the provenance of Medea’s poison in the wider telling of her attempted poisoning of Theseus. And, in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Fall of Troy (6.260–​268), in a play on the potentially Hesiodic Shield of Heracles and the account of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad (18.468–​617), it is described as one of the many depictions of Heracles’ Labors on the shield of his own son, Eurypylus. Rather than being the hero of his own story, Heracles is more often the figure against which those depicted are portrayed and through which their own heroism is defined. Rarely is this depicted as simple parallelism. Unlike in modern retellings, reference to or imitation of the Cerberus Labor does not confer Heraclean status on the hero under scrutiny. Instead, it emphasizes the differences between those center stage and our hero: Heracles is what they are not.

A Superhuman Hero This can be seen in our earliest mention of the myth. In the Iliad, Heracles’ fetching of Cerberus is described by Athena: Zeus, she claims, seems to have forgotten the support she provided to his son during his Labors who, without her help, would never have been able to escape from the underworld and “bring out of Erebus the hound of the loathsome god” (8.357–​359).4 3  Collard’s (1995 and 2007, 56–​68) arguments for Euripidean rather than Critian authorship are accepted here as most persuasive. 4  The name Cerberus is first attested in Hesiod’s Theogony 310–​312.

Labor XII: Cerberus   169 In this retelling, Athena emphasizes the divine help rendered to our hero. Such help is a common element of the Labor, as witnessed in its visual depictions in which the presence of either Athena or Hermes is almost ubiquitous (cf. Smallwood 1990).5 It could be tempting to read this inability to perform his task without divine aid as a presentation of a peculiarly humanized Heracles.6 However, the context of the retelling suggests otherwise. Within the Iliad, the Labor is retold in Book Eight, a book that emphasizes the division between mortals and gods. At the beginning of the Book, Zeus has ordered the gods to remove themselves from the mortals’ war. Upset at such an edict, Hera persuades Athena to contravene Zeus’ command and to help the Argives. Zeus stops the two goddesses while they are taking up arms and Hera claims that she can no more fight with Zeus for the sake of mortals, and that they should instead let them perish and live as fate dictates (Iliad 8.427–​430). Here the mortal condition—​short and subject to the whims of fate—​is contrasted to that of the gods who are immortal and for whom the vagaries of war are almost inconsequential. So, in a section of the epic that emphasizes the difference between mortals and gods, there appears a passage where Heracles is aided by the gods. This, rather than depicting a humanized Heracles who is unable to perform his tasks independently, reveals a hero who is outside the society of heroes that the Iliad presents. This interpretation is reinforced by the later tale of Sarpedon. In Book Sixteen, Sarpedon, son of Zeus, is engaged in battle with Patroclus. Zeus wishes to help his son and avert his death but is prevented from doing so by Hera. She does so, in an echo of her speech in Book Eight, by emphasizing that Sarpedon is mortal and subject to fate (16.440–​442). Both Sarpedon and Heracles are sons of Zeus; both are considered in this epic to be mortal. Yet, contrary to the episode where Heracles is saved from death owing to his relationship with Zeus, Sarpedon must confront his mortality despite his divine lineage. The difference between these two heroes lies in the fact that Sarpedon is portrayed as one of the contemporary Trojan War heroes like Achilles or Agamemnon. Heracles, on the other hand, is portrayed as an older, more superhuman hero, akin to those described by Nestor in 1.266–​272: heroes who were the “strongest of earth-​born men,” whom no earth-​born mortals could now fight (cf. Schein 1984, 134–​135). Although our hero is not mentioned explicitly here, that he is one of those that Nestor dealt with is illustrated at Iliad 11.689–​694, where the elder tells of the battle, fought in Pylos, between himself, his sons, and Heracles. Heracles as different—​as other—​to the Trojan War heroes is also echoed in Book Five, where Dione soothes her daughter Aphrodite when Diomedes has injured her 5 Cf. Odyssey 11.601–​626, where both gods render aid.

6  Heracles is presented as more humanized elsewhere in the epic; for example, when his journeys are endangered by the wrath of Hera (14.250–​256 and 15.26–​30), in the very human motive of revenge for Heracles’ campaign against Troy (5.638–​642 and 20.144–​148) and in his explicitly mortal death (18.117–​ 119). Cf. Davidson 1980; Galinsky 1972, 15; Willcock 1964.

170   Pauline Hanesworth (5.381–​404). Here the goddess tells of gods who have been injured by men. More specifically, she tells of Heracles injuring both Hades and Hera (cf. Panyassis fr. 26 West). This passage is interesting for two reasons. First, it is possible that, as a scholion to the Iliad suggests, Dione is referring directly to the Cerberus Labor and is suggesting that Heracles attacked Hades in the course of fetching the hound (schol. Iliad 5.395–​ 397; see also Gantz 1993, 455; Kirk 1990, 101–​102; Willcock 1964; see Sekita 2018, however, for problems with this passage). Such an interpretation is made more persuasive when the now lost middle-​Corinthian kotyle from Argos of c. 590 BC (LIMC Herakles 2553) is taken into account. This vase depicts Heracles threatening force in order to achieve his task. Here our hero is shown in front of Hermes about to throw a stone at Hades. A serpentine Cerberus is fleeing behind, and a female figure, variously interpreted as either Athena or Persephone (Gantz 1993, 413; Smallwood 1990), is standing in front, blocking the attack. Second, this passage forms part of a wider pattern in the Iliad, whereby Heracles is used as a paradigm against which the Trojan War heroes are placed. In this instance, he is used as a paradigm for Diomedes’ actions against Aphrodite. Elsewhere, it is Achilles against whom Heracles is placed (Davidson 1980; Rabel 1997, 167; Schein 1984, 87, 134–​136): Achilles is the only hero to share the epithet of thumoleōn with Heracles (5.639 and 7.228), and he is implicitly analogized to him in Agamemnon’s tale of the birth of Heracles and Eurystheus (18.83–​139). Further, Heracles is used as an exemplar in the passage on his death (18.117–​119) where both his demise and his characterization as superhuman are ones followed by Achilles in the following books in his rage on Hector. However, in these instances, Heracles is presented not as a paradigm to emulate but rather as an example of what not to do. Diomedes’ actions are considered atrocious, much like Heracles’ in his harming of the gods (5.403–​404), and Achilles surpasses his paradigm, as is revealed in his relinquishing of his revenge over Hector and in his pity for Priam (24.506–​517; cf. Rabel 1997, 16, 167–​215; Schein 1984, 136). Heracles, then, is shown as a violent, older hero who is an obsolete example for the contemporary warriors of the Iliad, who must operate under different, more mortal, rules to that of the older race. The Cerberus passage, with its stress on divine aid preventing death and through its position in a book that highlights the divide between mortals and gods, reinforces this depiction: Heracles belongs to an older, more superhuman, race of heroes, and it is precisely for this reason that he is able to break the laws of death.

An Outmoded Hero The version of the Cerberus Labor in which Heracles combats with gods does not appear again in our extant literature or imagery. However, the violent nature of the task is often

Labor XII: Cerberus   171 still emphasized. In a common version of the myth, Heracles is tasked with subduing Cerberus by force, either without the use of iron—​where instead the club is used—​ or while completely weaponless (cf. Ogden 2013, 111). As Ogden argues, the former, although late to appear in our extant literature (Seneca Hercules Furens 782–​829; Quintus Smyrnaeus Fall of Troy 6.260–​268), is an early variant in our extant imagery, appearing from the sixth century BC onwards.7 The latter is found in the Apollodorus retelling with which this chapter opened (see also Tzetzes Chiliades 2.36.389-​405; Pediasimus 12), and, as Ogden argues, is likely represented extensively—​and again from the sixth century BC onwards—​in the extant imagery in which Heracles is chaining the hound.8 Overall, it is common for the physical and violent nature of the Labor to be portrayed: through depicting the ferociousness of the hound who often bites his captor (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2581–​2582, 2586, 2605); through emphasizing the aggressiveness of Heracles (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2584, 2608); or—​as is found in fourth-​century BC Apulian vases and in some later Roman examples (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2571–​2572, 2639–​2642)—​through highlighting the conflict inherent in the Labor by depicting Heracles and Cerberus pulling in opposite directions (Smallwood 1990). This inherent violence is explored further in those retellings that intertwine with the underworld journey of Theseus and Pirithous. It is told that Theseus descended to the underworld with his friend Pirithous to aid him in capturing Persephone. The two heroes are unsuccessful in their task and imprisoned in Hades. In the most common variant of the myth, it is Heracles who frees Theseus, and sometimes, though rarely, Pirithous (Euripides Heracles 619; Diodorus Siculus 4.26.1, 4.63.4; Seneca Hercules Furens 806; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.12; Tzetzes 2.36.396).9 In a manner almost opposite to the depictions of Heracles’ Labor, the retellings of Theseus’ underworld journey emphasize his rationality and loyalty: he attempts to dissuade Pirithous from descending to Hades because of the impious nature of the task (Isocrates Helen 20; Diodorus Siculus 4.63.4), and he is forced to accompany his friend either owing to an oath (Diodorus Siculus 4.63.4) or owing to a debt of gratitude (Isocrates Helen 20), a debt that has been interpreted as symbolizing the Athenian ideal of reciprocity in friendship (Gantz 1993, 294; Garcia Gual 1992). This depiction is played out in Euripides’ Pirithous. Theseus is shown in conversation with Heracles in the underworld. He is portrayed as a man of honor (fr.6 Collard and Cropp), one who claims that it is shameful to betray a friend (fr.7 Collard and Cropp), and who offers Heracles aid in his conquering of the hound (fr.8 Collard and Cropp). In the latter fragment, as in Isocrates’ Helen, Theseus is shown on par with Heracles: he could potentially also conquer the hound of Hades. Indeed, in the later Senecan Hercules Furens, Heracles requires Theseus’ strength in defeating the 7 

See Ogden 2013, 111 n.230, for relevant LIMC references. See Ogden 2013, 111 n.233, for relevant LIMC references. 9  The Vatican Mythographer 1.57 uniquely suggests that the purpose of Heracles’ descent was the rescue of Theseus, and that the subduing of Cerberus was a byproduct of this. 8 

172   Pauline Hanesworth hound: the two must complete the Labor together (818–​821; cf. also Euripides’ Heracles 1386–​1388, where our hero asks Theseus to help him take Cerberus to Argos). By presenting the heroes side by side, Euripides emphasizes their differences: Heracles is still that lone hero who must complete his tasks independently (excepting in Seneca); Theseus—​while still needing Heracles’ strength to escape the underworld—​epitomizes a more Athenian hero who embodies the qualities of friendship and loyalty. Adhering to the dominant portrayal of the two heroes, especially in the classical period in Athens, the above authors utilize the Cerberus Labor as a means of depicting Theseus’ superiority. Heracles is seen as outmoded; his violent nature does not fit with the heroic values of the time. In these variants, however, Heracles is still depicted somewhat traditionally: he defeats the underworld hound and, in all his innate otherness, rends the barrier between death and life. In the classical period and beyond, a new variant arises where Heracles does not descend at all. Consider the tale of the late sixth-​/​early fifth-​ century BC Greek author Hecataeus, as recounted by Pausanias (3.25.5 = Hecataeus fr. 27a Fowler). Here, Heracles is depicted not as a superhuman hero traversing the underworld and conquering a terrible otherworldly beast but, instead, as bringing to Eurystheus a “terrible snake” named “he Hound of Hades” owing to the strength of its venom. Here, the traditionally serpentine elements of our underworld creature are built on to move the Labor from the supernatural to the natural world in a manner that still renders the task—​while humanized—​recognizable (cf. Hawes 2014, 8; Ogden 2013, 107). Elsewhere, our hound is removed almost entirely from the picture. Consider Plutarch’s Theseus where, based on the early third-​century BC Atthidographer Philochorus (FGrH 328 F18), a rationalization of the exploit is found in which Theseus and Pirithous are said to have attempted to seize not Persephone, underworld goddess, but Kore, mortal daughter of King Aidoneus of Molossia. Cerberus is Aidoneus’ dog. Heracles undertakes no explicit altercation with the hound and simply requests Theseus’ release from the King (Theseus 35; cf. Hawes 2014, 164-​165; Ogden 2013, 109). In these rationalizations, Heracles’ violence as epitomized within the Cerberus Labor is not just contrasted with Theseus’ heroic values but is undermined completely: it is violence against a natural, if extremely venomous, snake, or there is no violence at all.

An Initiated Hero Such a minimization or transformation of Heracles’ innate strength and violence is also seen in another variant of the Labor, one in which Heracles’ success is owing to his initiation into the mysteries (Diodorus Siculus 4.25.1, 4.26.1; Apollodorus 2.5.12; Tzetzes Chiliades 2.36.389–​405; Pediasimus 12).

Labor XII: Cerberus   173 This tradition is absent from our earliest Homeric representations, which is understandable since nowhere in the Homeric epics is mystery cult mentioned. Indeed, it has been argued that Greek mystery cults did not arise until the late archaic age in a post-​Homeric world (Burkert 1987, 2; Sourvinou-​Inwood 1997). This dating is credible when the archaeological and literary data for mystic cults are considered, which cannot be dated before the late archaic period.10 At the very least, the lack of evidence suggests that mystic cults did not have much influence in Greece until this period. It is not only in the earlier sources that the initiation is separate from Heracles’ final Labor. The fetching of Cerberus is elsewhere mentioned with no reference to initiation (e.g., Bacchylides Ode 5.56–​70) and the initiation itself is elsewhere divorced from the Labor and is instead connected to the purification of Heracles after the murder of the centaurs (e.g., Plutarch Theseus 30 and 33). The mythmakers of the ancient world had a variety of motifs available to them when describing Heracles’ exploits. One of these was the hero’s initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries. Some chose not to utilize this motif, others chose to use it when describing Heracles’ battle with the centaurs, and others again when describing Heracles’ Cerberus Labor. The earliest association between Heracles’ underworld journey and his initiation can be found on a vase fragment in Reggio of c. 540 BC (LIMC Herakles 1405/2592). The main scene on this vase depicts Demeter holding ears of corn and mounting a chariot. Next to her is Triptolemus, and in front of her is Plutus. Beyond the group are Athena and Heracles, who connect this Eleusinian scene with Athens. Above this picture is a subsidiary frieze depicting Cerberus being led by Heracles, who is preceded by Athena and Iolaus. The joining of the two pictures and the doubling of Heracles and Athena connect the Eleusinian Mysteries to the fetching of Cerberus from Hades. It is possible that this connection is depicted less explicitly on other vases of the period. Eschewing the violence of earlier depictions, a selection of vases from the last quarter of the sixth century BC onward begins to depict Heracles before Cerberus, with his club and chain lowered, reaching out to pet the hound (cf. Gantz 1993, 414; Smallwood 1990). Sometimes our hero is crouching (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2554-​2555, 2560), sometimes standing (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2556–​2557, 2562), and often he is watched by Persephone (e.g., LIMC Herakles 2557, 2560), sometimes with her arms outstretched (LIMC Herakles 2555–​2556, 2562): Heracles is gently enticing Cerberus, and apparently doing so with the underworld goddess’ blessing. Boardman (1975) argues that this change in depiction is directly related to the introduction of Heracles’ initiation into the mysteries into the myth. This association can also be found in the literature of the late archaic to early classical period. A fragmentary text of Pindar (P.Oxy. 2622), which has been linked to


The earliest inscription at Eleusis that mentions the mystic cult is from c. 510–​500 BC (IG I3 231). See Clinton 2005, 13–​14.

174   Pauline Hanesworth another fragmentary text (PSI 14.1391), and a scholion to the Iliad which describes Pindar’s portrayal of the Cerberus Labor (fr. 249a S-​M: schol. Iliad 21.194) talk of Heracles’ initiation by Eumolpus and his meeting with Meleager, which occurs in the underworld. This association is repeated at Euripides’ Heracles 610–​613 and alluded to at Aristophanes’ Frogs 503–​518. It is likely that Heracles’ initiation was linked to and became important for the iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries owing to a combination of political, etiological, and religious reasons. Politically, in the late archaic age, Heracles was the ultimate hero for Athens and thus to connect the hero to Eleusis was to link Athens and the Eleusinian Mysteries (Boardman 1975; Burkert 1983, 253–​254; Sourvinou-​Inwood 1997, 2003). Indeed, in order to be eligible for initiation, Heracles had to be adopted by the Athenians (Plutarch, Theseus 33; Apollodorus 2.5.12; schol. Iliad 8.368), an undeniable symbol of Athens’ claim to the hero. Etiologically, the retelling of Heracles’ initiation within the Cerberus Labor was used to explain the inauguration of the Lesser Mysteries (Diodorus Siculus 4.14.3; Apollodorus 2.5.12; schol. Aristophanes Plutus 845) and could be used to explain the opening of the Eleusinian Mysteries to non-​Athenians (Boardman 1975; Johnston 1999, 133–​135; Sourvinou-​Inwood 2003). It is also possible that it was the presence of a cult of Heracles in the Eleusinian sanctuary that gave rise to the linking of the two mythical motifs (Clinton 1992, 78–​81; Coumanoudis and Gofas 1978). The religious reasons are more nuanced. It has been argued that the initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries underwent an imitatio mortis (Albinus 2000, 173–​191). If such an argument were accepted, the descent and ascent of Heracles as an initiate could be seen to prefigure and thus facilitate his underworld journey by negating its inherent danger. However, such an argument cannot stand: the initiates did not undergo a pseudo-​underworld journey (Hanesworth 2009, 161–​173). Instead, the rite was concerned with creating an emotional and mental state that prepared initiates for the epiphany of Persephone and that forged a pseudofamilial connection between them and Demeter and Persephone (Burkert 1987; Foley 1994, 97; Sourvinou-​Inwood 2003), a relationship that ensured mystery initiates had brighter eschatological hopes than noninitiates. It is in light of the latter that the Heracles connection is best understood. Pseudo-​ Plato’s Axiochus (371e) claims that Heracles and Dionysus were initiated into the mystic cults to receive courage for their respective journeys to Hades. Diodorus Siculus claims that Heracles was initiated as he assumed it would be expedient in the accomplishment of his Cerberus Labor (4.25.1). That this courage and expediency derive from the pseudo-​familial connection forged between initiate and goddess is realized later in Diodorus when Heracles is said to be welcomed by Persephone “like a brother” (4.26.1). This is reflected in the earlier Heracles of Euripides: on return from the underworld, Heracles is asked by his father whether he overpowered the hound of Hades in a fight or whether he was a gift of the goddess (610–​613). Heracles replies that both his

Labor XII: Cerberus   175 strength and the goddess are responsible for his success. That the goddess is responsible is implied when Heracles claims he was fortunate because he had seen the mystic rites: those rites that foster a close relationship with the very goddess who was able to “gift” the hound. Similarly, a late second-​/​early third-​century AD text also chooses to portray Heracles’ relationship with Persephone as responsible for the hero’s success. At P.Mil. Vogl. I. 20.18–​32 Heracles is refused entry to the Eleusinian Mysteries. In complaint, he claims that he has been initiated into much truer mysteries (23–​24). Primarily, this complaint plays on the traditional portrayal of Heracles’ initiation in the ancient world. By placing the initiation after the Labor, the author of this text subverts the timeline of the story as it is portrayed in most representations; the text is an exercise in myth-​manipulation. However, behind this manipulation of myth can be seen the thoughts underlying the connections made between Heracles’ initiation and his journey. Colomo (2004) argues that Heracles’ underworld journey allows him to claim a prior, truer initiation. That is to say, it is the underworld journey that Heracles would have experienced in the Eleusinian rites. However, nowhere does Heracles explicitly state this, despite the fact that he refers to mystery initiation. In the last sections of the fragment, Heracles seems to be describing the rites of Eleusis: “I saw [ . . . ] close to the secret objects all through the night I beheld the fire/​light” (28–​30). The experience Heracles emphasizes in this description is his observation of Kore (31). It is this act that allows him to say that he has already been initiated into far truer mysteries; it is, as Endsjø (2000) argues, the establishing of a relationship with Persephone/​Kore that truly reflects and improves on the initiatory rite of Eleusis. So, most mythmakers choose to portray Heracles’ initiation as fostering a relationship with the underworld goddess that allows him to accomplish his task. His Cerberus Labor is often singled out from his other deeds since it is in this Labor that Heracles meets Persephone and in which the goddess has influence over the outcome of the deed. It makes sense that the Labor connected to mystery initiation is the one in which the results of initiation, a relationship with Persephone, may influence the outcome of stealing an inhabitant of the goddess’ realm.

A Paradoxical Hero In some ways, the addition of the initiation to retellings of the Cerberus Labor can be seen as an evolution rather than redirection of the myth. In the Iliad, Heracles is able to achieve his goal owing to his relationship with Athena (and in the Odyssey with Athena and Hermes); in mystery-​connected retellings, it is owing to his relationship with Persephone. The difference lies in the mechanism by which this relationship is engendered: in the Iliad, Heracles’ connection with the gods is owing to his innate

176   Pauline Hanesworth superhuman nature; in the mystery-​connected retellings, it is owing to his initiation, a peculiarly human act. This leaves us with a hero that is both superhuman and humanized. It is this paradox that Euripides tackles in his Heracles.11 As explored earlier, this play gives two reasons as to why Heracles is able to accomplish his Labor: his strength, typical of the epic model of the superhuman hero, and his knowledge of the Eleusinian Mysteries, typical of a humanized hero who is reliant on Persephone. While these were the two traditions prevalent at this time, Euripides’ representation is not merely a nod to them but also corresponds to the representation of our hero in the play in which he is portrayed as a dual figure (see Chapter 23). In the beginning of the play, Heracles is portrayed as a traditional hero of strength. This can be witnessed in the epinician-​style ode on Heracles’ Labors that emphasizes the strength of the hero and the savagery of those he defeats (348–​450). This hero, who is characterized as lone and isolated, is antithetical to the one presented on his return. This latter Heracles is a humanized, family man. He greets his house, draws his children to him (523–​582), and says farewell to his Labors in order to save his family from death (575). In this dual portrayal, Euripides establishes a paradoxical Heracles who is both a superhuman hero and a family man (de Grummond 1983; Foley 1985, 156–​161; Silk 1985; Stafford 2012, 88–​92). The dual reasons for Heracles’ accomplishment of his Labor give full articulation to this paradox. However, there is also an implicit cause for Heracles’ return. Immediately before the hero’s arrival, Megara and Amphitryon articulate two prayers. Amphitryon’s prayer to Zeus (498–​500) is a traditional plea to the Olympian god for help. Megara’s prayer is more complex. After addressing her sons, Megara prays to her husband asking him, even as a shade, to appear to her (490–​496). As Bond has argued (1981, 191–​192), this prayer is similar to other tragic prayers to the dead such as those found in Aeschylus’ Persae and Choephorae, Sophocles’ Electra, and Euripides’ Electra and Orestes. However, there is one significant aspect of Megara’s prayer that allies it more closely to that of Aeschylus’ Persae than to those addressed to Agamemnon in the other tragedies: although in the invocations to Agamemnon the prayer is answered via the successful murder of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus or, in the Orestes, via the attempted murder of Helen, it is achieved without the appearance of Agamemnon himself. In the Heracles, as in Aeschylus’ Persae, the figure invoked comes to the surface of the earth. Megara’s appeal is both a prayer to one who is in the underworld and is a summons, the purpose of which is to raise the dead: it is necromantic. This problematizes Heracles’ ascent since, although Heracles is overtly portrayed as a living man, Megara’s prayer is to a dead one. Indeed, prior to Heracles’ return, the hero is constantly depicted as dead. Lycus claims that Heracles has died (245). 11  Aristophanes also plays with this in his Frogs: cf. Dionysus-​as-​Heracles being castigated for forcibly and violently stealing the beloved hound of Hades (465–​478), while Xanthias-​as-​Heracles is welcomed with open arms by Persephone (503–​518).

Labor XII: Cerberus   177 The chorus ask why they are accused of being meddlers just because they help those friends (like Heracles) who, being dead, need help the most (266–​267). The chorus of the Labors at 348–​427 introduces itself as a eulogy that will sing the praises of one who has died.12 Only Amphitryon says that Heracles may return from the underworld (95–​100) and this is countered by Megara, who mocks Amphitryon for thinking his son will return from beneath the earth and asks “who of the dead returns from Hades?” (296–​297). This sentiment echoes Lycus’ disbelieving question to Amphitryon about whether he truly believes that Heracles, who lies dead in Hades, will come back (145–​146) and is further echoed by the chorus at 425–​441, who ally Heracles’ inability to return from Hades to their own inability to become young once more. The necromantic undertones to Heracles’ return from the underworld are strengthened further on his return: here our hero is portrayed as having brought Hades with him into the light, as spreading the contagion of death to those close to him and, eventually, himself. This is first found subsequent to Heracles’ return, during which the imagery of light is consistently subsumed by that of death. First, Heracles’ first action is to turn to his hearth and thank his household gods for helping him return to the light, to thank them for his safe return from the underworld (523–​524). This sense of return is then negated when Heracles faces his family and sees them dressed for death (525–​528): the image of life found in Heracles’ return to the light is usurped by the imagery of death. Second, Heracles’ appearance is then depicted as the impetus for his family’s return to life: Amphitryon sees his son’s appearance as daylight returning (531–​532) and Heracles tells his family to tear the trappings of death from their hair and look on the sunlight as an exchange for the darkness below (562–​564). Again, however, this image is subsumed by Heracles’ actions: the hero is portrayed as separate from this return to life through his subsequent speech, in which he claims he will kill Lycus and the Thebans (565–​573): our hero remains in a world of death. Third, Heracles returns a second time to the hearth. This is again articulated as a way of finalizing his return to life through a thanksgiving to the household gods (607–​ 609). It results, however, in the murder of Lycus. Ultimately, it is in Heracles’ madness that the suggestion in Megara’s necromantic invocation, of an incursion of the dead into the living realm, reaches fruition. Heracles’ madness is seen as a death: “where,” he asks, “did madness take me? Where did it destroy [me]?” (1144; cf. Hangard 1976; Mikellidou 2015; Rehm 2000; Ruck 1976). In his frenzy, he is depicted by Lyssa as calling forth the spirits of the dead (870 and 860). Upon awakening, he is confused and thinks he is back in Hades, but one that does not look like Hades (1101–​1104). It is a Hades on earth. This confusion between


See also Mikellidou 2015, who provides similar arguments about the play but whose work was brought to my attention following completion of this chapter.

178   Pauline Hanesworth Hades and the world of the living is specifically linked to the Cerberus episode in line 1102, which suggests a continuity between the final Labor and present situation (cf. Mikellidou 2015; Papadopoulou 2005, 151). Euripides, then, while overtly showing Heracles to have succeeded in his Cerberus Labor and having returned from the underworld owing to his strength and initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries, offers an implicit cause: necromancy. Here, the playwright does not just play with earlier representations of the myth but adds another dimension: Heracles is not just a superhuman older hero, nor a humanized—​but still extraordinary—​initiate (extraordinary owing to the blessed nature of initiates), but singularly mortal, a shade returned from the dead who unleashes Hades on earth.

Reconsidering the Cerberus Labor Overall, Heracles’ twelfth Labor is more nuanced than modern appropriations might suggest. The defeat of the hound of Hades does not equate simply with a display of heroism but instead represents a rending of the very concept of death itself. In its playing with that which separates gods from heroes and mortals, the myth becomes a mechanism by and through which ancient mythmakers can explore what it means to be a hero. Heracles—​godlike and superhuman, mighty and outmoded, humanized and blessed—​is seen through his conquering of Cerberus either as being precisely what more contemporary heroes should not be, or as embodying the very contradictions and blurred boundaries that Cerberus’ defeat creates.

Abbreviations FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. PMG Page 1962. P.Mil.Vogl. Papiri della R. Università di Milano 1937–​. P.Oxy. Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1898–​. PSI Papiri Greci e Latini 1912–​.

References Albinus, L. 2000. The House of Hades: Studies in Ancient Greek Eschatology. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press. Boardman, J. 1975. “Herakles, Peisistratos and Eleusis.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 95: 1–​12. Bond, G. W. 1981. Euripides: Heracles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Labor XII: Cerberus   179 Burkert, W. 1983. Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth [Trans. P. Bing; German original: 1972]. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Burkert, W. 1987. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Clinton, K. 1992. Myth and Cult: The Iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Stockholm: Svenska institutet i Athen. Clinton, K. 2005. Eleusis: The Inscriptions on Stone; Documents of the Sanctuary of the Two Goddesses and Public Documents of the Deme. Vols. IA–​B. Athens: The Archaeological Society at Athens. Collard, C. 1995. “The Pirithous Fragments.” In De Homero a Libanio: Estudios actuales sobre textos griegos II, ed. J. A. López-​Férez, 183–​193. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas. Collard, C. 2007. Tragedy, Euripides and Euripideans: Selected Papers. Exeter: Bristol Phoenix Press. Colomo, D. 2004. “Herakles and the Eleusinian Mysteries: P. Mil. Vogl. I, 20, 18–​32 Revisited.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 148: 87–​98. Coumanoudis, S. N., and D. Gofas. 1978. “Deux décrets inédits d’Éleusis.” Revue des Études Grecques 91: 289–​306. Davidson, O. M. 1980. “Indo-​European Dimensions of Heracles in the Iliad 19: 95–​133.” Arethusa 13: 197–​202. de Grummond, W. W. 1983. “Heracles’ Entrance: An Illustration of Euripidean Method.” Eranos 81: 83–​90. Dowden, K. 1992. The Uses of Greek Mythology. London and New York, NY: Routledge. Endsjø, D. Ø. 2000. “To Lock Up Eleusis: A Question of Liminal Space.” Numen 47: 351–​386. Foley, H. P. 1985. Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Foley, H. P. 1994. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary and Interpretive Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Galinsky, G. K. 1972. The Heracles Theme: The Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press. Garcia Gaul, C. 1992. “El mito de Teseo en Isocrates y en Plutarco.” In Coloquio sobre Teseo y la Copa de Aison, ed. R. Olmos, 217–​226. Madrid: Madrid Centro de Estudios Históricos. Hanesworth, P. 2009. Heroic and Mortal Anodoi: Representations and Uses of a Mythical Motif in Archaic and Classical Greece. Dissertation, University of Exeter. Hangard, J. 1976. “Remarques quelques motifs répétés dans l’Héraclès d’Euripide.” In Miscellanea tragica in honorem J. C. Kamerbeek, ed. J. M. Bremer, S. L. Radt, and C. J. Ruijgh, 125–​146. Amsterdam: Apud A. Hakkert. Hawes, G. 2014. Rationalizing Myth in Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Huxley, G. L. 1969. Greek Epic Poetry: From Eumelos to Panyassis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Johnston, S. I. 1999. Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Kirk, G. S. 1990. The Iliad: A Commentary. Vol. II: Books 5–​8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

180   Pauline Hanesworth Mikellidou, K. 2015. “Euripides’ Heracles: The Katabasis-​Motif Revisited.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 55: 329–​352. Ogden, D. 2013. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1898–​. London: Egypt Exploration Society. Page, D. L. 1962. Poetae melici Graeci. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Papadopoulou, T. 2005. Heracles and Euripidean Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Papiri della R. Università di Milano 1937–​. Milan. Papiri Greci e Latini. 1912–​. Florence: Società Italiana per la ricerca dei papiri greci e latini in Egitto. Rabel, R. J. 1997. Plot and Point of View in the Iliad. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Rehm, R. 2000. “The Play of Space: Before, Behind, and Beyond in Euripides’ Heracles.” In Euripides and the Tragic Theatre in the Late Fifth Century, ed. M. Cropp, 263–​275. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing. Ruck, C. 1976. “Duality and the Madness of Heracles.” Arethusa 9: 53–​75. Schein, S. L. 1984. The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Sekita, K. 2018. “Hades and Heracles at Pylos: Dione’s Tale Dismantled.” Classical Quarterly 68: 1–​9. Silk, M. S. 1985. “Heracles and Greek Tragedy.” Greece and Rome 32: 1–​22. Smallwood, V. 1990. “Heracles and Kerberos.” Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae 5.1: 85–​100. Sourvinou-​Inwood, C. 1997. “Reconstructing Change: Ideology and the Eleusinian Mysteries.” In Inventing Ancient Culture: Historicism, Periodization, and the Ancient World, ed. M. Golden and P. Toohey, 132–​164. London and New York, NY: Routledge. Sourvinou-​Inwood, C. 2003. “Festival and Mysteries: Aspects of the Eleusinian Cult.” In Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults, ed. M. B. Cosmopoulos, 25–​49. London and New York: Routledge. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles: Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World. London and New York: Routledge. West, M. L. 2003. Greek Epic Fragments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Willcock, M. M. 1964. “Mythological Paradeigma in the Iliad.” Classical Quarterly 14: 141–​154.

Part III


Chapter 15

Bri ga nds and Cruel Kin gs Debbie Felton

In his Twelve Labors, Heracles vanquishes a wide variety of monstrous creatures whose eerie hybrid shapes, destructive actions, and narrative contexts lend themselves to many different interpretations. But Heracles also had a number of less famous adventures, known as the parerga, or “additional deeds,” sometimes also referred to more informally as his “side adventures” or “Minor Labors.” Chronologically distributed before, during, and after the Twelve Labors, the parerga took Heracles all across the ancient Mediterranean world, from Greece and Italy to North Africa to Asia Minor and back. Several of these adventures occurred during his later military expeditions in the Peloponnese and Thessaly. Lists of what constitute Heracles’ parerga vary, but most include adventures such as freeing Prometheus from his torture in the Caucasus mountains, saving Hesione from the Cetus or “Trojan Monster” (see Chapter 17), and retrieving Alcestis from the hands of Thanatos (Death). The majority of parerga, though, involve Heracles facing off against human brigands and savage kings exhibiting such monstrous behavior that these human antagonists were at least as disturbing as the mythological monsters Heracles faced—​possibly even more so, given that their actions fall within the realm of reality, inasmuch as the typical mortal Greek traveler was almost as likely as the semidivine Heracles to encounter a highway bandit.1 But Heracles’ victories over an unusually high number of such opponents, like his victories over the monstrous beasts, may have represented to the Greeks the


For discussion of Heracles’ semidivine nature and possible basis in history, see Philips (1978) and Chapters 21 and 33 in this volume.

184   Debbie Felton abstract triumph of “civilized” values over the perceived savagery of earlier cultures. These adventures may thus reflect a number of cultural shifts in early Mediterranean societies, such as the development of roads, the crossing and opening of geographical boundaries, and a movement away from specific ritual practices seen as barbaric by the seventh century BC and toward what anthropologists consider more “humane” customs as Hellenic culture spread and the Greeks started developing formal law codes.2

Context: Expansion, Colonization, and Dangerous Roads The large number of parerga involving bloodthirsty kings, violent highwaymen, and xenophobic characters (often including such kings and highwaymen) who ambushed anyone passing through their territory likely reflected a perception common among the ancient Greeks and Romans that such criminals represented civic disorder—​the chaos that existed during early periods of geographical expansion and colonization and before men developed law codes.3 In both myth and history, rulers and heroes who freed their lands from such criminals as highway brigands, or who managed to found colonies in new territories despite native opposition, garnered praise for bringing peace, and the suppression of robbery, foreigners, and foreign robbers marked a transition from barbarism to law-​abiding civilization. Most ancient accounts of robber-​bandits describe them as operating in dangerous gangs that roamed the countryside and attacked travelers. Loosely organized, robber gangs fought in a way civilized people did not (to the extent that any type of fighting can be considered civilized): they waged a type of guerrilla warfare. Being too dishonorable to engage in formal battle, their sudden assaults on innocent passers-​by marked their barbaric nature. The robber-​bandit was the enemy of social and political order. Occasionally, in certain genres of ancient literature such as Greek and Roman novels, some bandits act nobly, sparing a virtuous victim here and there. For the most part, though, these robbers exhibited lawless, reprehensible behavior. They were rarely romanticized as dashing heroes such as the likes of Robin Hood (late medieval period) or Dick Turpin (eighteenth century), outlaws (in)famous in England for their daring exploits, popular enough to be fictionalized. Romulus and Remus, mythological ancestors of the Romans, were rare anomalies: according to the writer Livy (1.4), the 2  Although formal written (rather than malleable and manipulable oral) law codes developed in the Near East starting as early as the third millennium BC, the earliest in the Mediterranean area were Draco’s laws, instituted in Athens in the late seventh century BC. 3  See Grünewald (2004) and van Hooff (1988).

Brigands and Cruel Kings  185 two young men attacked other brigands, stole their plunder, and distributed the spoils among the poor (as Robin Hood was later said to do). Such exceptions aside, classical authors depict highway robbers as people who do not belong in the civilized world. Having such low motives that they attack innocent travelers merely for profit, these brigands were considered crueler than common thieves and worse than other criminals. Rarely did writers record accounts of robbers who stole simply to feed themselves and their families. Moreover, highway robbers often indiscriminately harmed or even killed their victims. One terrible thing about such criminals was that, in giving in to their greed—​in their inability to control their base passion—​they gave up any vestiges of the quality of reason that would allow them to belong to the society of men. The main problem contributing to the existence of such criminals was that for many hundreds of years the roads across the ancient Mediterranean lands were not secure. Travelers within Greece and Italy as well as abroad had to pass through long stretches of sparsely settled countryside where gangs of highway robbers could easily ambush them. The rich could afford bodyguards; robbers sometimes spared the poor, who had nothing worth taking. But stories indicate that even servants with few or no possessions were glad to have armed comrades on their journeys. In his Satyrica (61–​62), Petronius tells the story of a slave who, traveling from the city to the country to visit his girlfriend, sought the company of a soldier for a traveling companion, and even the slave himself was armed with a sword, so unsafe did he consider the roads outside the cities. (The slave was even less happy when his companion turned out to be a werewolf, but that’s another story.) A woman traveling outside the city would likely be told not to wear her jewelry, but to conceal it rather than flaunting it (Carucci 2016, 181–​ 183). Despite such precautions, both women and men remained vulnerable to attack by criminals intent not just on stealing valuables but on kidnapping, planning to sell their victims elsewhere as slaves or into prostitution for a keen profit. Unlike the typical highway robbers of the ancient world, though, the criminals described in Greek myths such as those of Heracles seemed completely uninterested in merely stealing riches from unwary travelers.4 Rather, they took delight in torturing and killing their victims. Notably, they did not work with others in organized bandit gangs, but instead acted alone. If the typical robber of antiquity, who participated in lawless gang activity, was already considered the lowest form of humanity, a robber who acted alone and gained a reputation not for looting but for gruesomely torturing and killing his victims was something else entirely: a travesty of a human being, a monster. Heracles famously encountered highway brigands who specialized in various forms of torture and murder. Similarly, Heracles faced a number of cruel, xenophobic kings and landowners who acted much the same as such brigands, waylaying and killing travelers trying to pass through their kingdoms. In defeating such foes,


Much of this also applies to the travels of Heracles’ younger cousin Theseus in his travels along the road from Troezen to Athens.

186   Debbie Felton Heracles helped make the roads around the Mediterranean safer for travel; as Padilla suggests, one important effect of such myths may have been to soothe tensions and anxieties for Greeks who, during the eighth and seventh centuries BC, sent out multitudes of colonists to increasingly remote, unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous locations (1998, 30).

Encounters during the Twelve Labors One of Heracles’ first encounters with a lone brigand occurred during his fourth Labor, the quest for the Erymanthian Boar (Chapter 6), which took him to the regions of Elis and Arcadia in southern Greece. Passing through Elis he met Saurus, who assaulted not only travelers passing through but even people living in the surrounding area. Saurus attacked Heracles and consequently “paid the penalty at his hands” (Pausanias 6.21.3), meaning that Heracles killed him. To commemorate the deed, locals named a ridge by the river Erymanthus after the bandit and placed his tomb there; nearby they raised a shrine in honor of Heracles, who had made the neighborhood safe again.5 The name Saurus means “lizard,” and although no ancient author explains the reasons for this bandit’s nickname, he may have acquired it from his ability to creep up quietly and ambush unsuspecting victims. Alternatively, the Greeks and Romans generally considered lizards untrustworthy and ill-​omened creatures (Hurwit 2006), making “lizard” a fitting alias for a criminal. The stories do not explicitly state that Saurus killed his victims, though the context implies so. But even if Saurus was “merely” a robber rather than a murderer, his case provides an example of how, early during his adventures, Heracles “cleaned up” the roads to make them safe for travelers. More clearly homicidal was Cacus, the “Wicked One,” a monstrous criminal who robbed passersby, killed them, and, as the literary evidence suggests, ate them (see Chapter 36). The stories describe Cacus as a half-​human, three-​headed, fire-​breathing giant. Supposedly a son of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge, Cacus lived in a vast, labyrinthine cavern on the Aventine Hill in the area that later became Rome. He decorated the entryway to his cave with the rotting faces and limbs of his victims, and the floor of his dwelling was always warm with blood and littered with blanched human bones, stripped of their flesh—​hence the implied cannibalism.6 Heracles encountered Cacus while passing through Italy on his way back from his tenth Labor, capturing the cattle of Geryon (Chapter 12). Cacus stole some of those cattle, but when 5  The ruins of both tomb and shrine were still visible in the second century AD, according to Pausanias (6.21.3), though no later record mentions them. 6  On which, see Vergil Aeneid 8.195–​197 and Ovid Fasti 1.557–​558.

Brigands and Cruel Kings  187 Heracles traced the missing beasts to Cacus’ cave, he beat the giant to death. Later versions rationalize the myth by downgrading Cacus to an ordinary robber with no mythical or cannibalistic associations.7 In any case, after Heracles’ victory the local people instituted a ritual honoring the hero for saving them from this danger. A similarly murderous character was the giant Antaeus, whose name, appropriately enough, means “Opposed” or “Hostile.” Antaeus ruled over Libya and was reputedly the son of the sea god Poseidon and Gaia, the Earth. Like Heracles, Antaeus had immense, nearly invincible strength. Unlike Heracles, Antaeus did not use this asset for the good of society. Instead, in an example of the two-​way xenophobia reflected in many stories coinciding with Greek colonial expansion,8 he challenged every traveler passing through his kingdom to a wrestling match. Inevitably, Antaeus won. Not content with simply winning each bout, he killed his exhausted, unwilling opponents, cut off their heads, and used their skulls to roof a temple to his father, Poseidon (Pindar Isthmians 4.3). It was not unusual for certain tribes in the ancient world, such as the Scythians, to cut off the heads of their enemies after conquering them; the Scythians even used the skulls of their vanquished enemies as drinking bowls. The taking of human body parts from one’s enemies is documented throughout most of human history, as discussed later. But Antaeus, like the other lone killers Heracles met in his travels, hardly falls into the category of “warrior engaging with an enemy.” Rather, he confronted unsuspecting travelers who had no wish to fight him. Unfortunately, they had no choice. Heracles confronted Antaeus when passing through Libya on his way to the far west of North Africa for his eleventh Labor, obtaining golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides (Chapter 13). In those mythological times the ancient kingdom of Libya stretched across most of North Africa, and the two characters came into conflict on the Atlantic coast near the river Lixus (the modern river Draa, Morocco’s longest river), not far from Antaeus’ palace. Antaeus forced Heracles, like all strangers passing through this territory, to a wrestling match. At first, the match did not go well for the Greek hero. Heracles was immensely strong, but Antaeus seemed to be even stronger, and Heracles noticed that every time he wrestled Antaeus to the ground the giant gained new energy (Fig. 15.1). Finally, the goddess Athena advised Heracles to lift Antaeus up from the earth during the contest. Hearing this, Heracles realized Antaeus’ trick: contact with the Earth, his mother, restored his strength. So Heracles, clasping the giant by his waist, held Antaeus tightly and lifted him up into the air, depriving him of contact with the Earth from which he drew his strength.9 In this way


E.g., Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.39; Propertius 4.9. “Two-​way” in the sense that in these stories the Greeks viewed foreigners with suspicion, and vice versa. 9  This move was the exact opposite of the objective of an ancient Greek wrestling match, which, as early as the Archaic period, was to throw your opponent to the ground three times without first suffering three falls yourself (Miller 2004, 46–​50). 8 

188   Debbie Felton

Figure 15.1. Heracles wrestling Antaeus. Attic red-​figure kylix (cup), c. 500 BC. National Archaeological Museum, inv. no. 1666. Public domain: Wikimedia.

Heracles defeated a weakened Antaeus, crushing his torso and squeezing the life out of him, driving his rib bones into his liver and his breath from his lungs.10 The alleged tomb of Antaeus, which formed an elongated man-​shaped hill, was a local attraction for centuries near the town of Tingis in ancient Mauretania, formerly a part of ancient Libya and now part of Morocco and Algeria. Local folk belief held that whenever anyone removed part of the earth covering the tomb, rain fell until the hole was filled again. The Roman general Quintus Sertorius (c. 126–​73 BC), while on an expedition in the area, reportedly opened the grave, but upon finding in it a skeleton over eighty feet long was so horrified that he ordered the tomb covered up again.11 No sources tell us what happened to the temple to Poseidon roofed with the skulls belonging to Antaeus’ unfortunate victims. But with Antaeus vanquished, “the Greek civilization of Libya began.”12 10  The anatomical details come from Philostratus Imagines 2.21, describing a painting of Heracles wrestling Antaeus. 11  On the possibility of there actually having been a giant skeleton in this location, see Mayor (2000, 121–​126). 12  Amitay (2014, 1). He goes on to discuss other versions and interpretations of the Heracles-​ Antaeus myth.

Brigands and Cruel Kings  189 According to Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.11), after Libya Heracles passed through Egypt, and when he came to the Nile at Memphis, fell into the clutches of King Busiris. Known in many versions of the myth for his cruelty, Busiris—​yet another son of Poseidon—​hated foreigners, and killed any who entered his kingdom. On this basis, Plutarch (Parallela minora 315b) accuses him of “deceitful hospitality.” Alternatively, another main version of the Busiris story says that a prophet advised the king to sacrifice a stranger to Zeus once a year to restore prosperity to the kingdom, which had suffered from nine years of bad harvests; a similar theme recurs in Heracles’ encounters with Lityerses and Syleus (discussed later). When Heracles arrived, he had the bad luck to be the annual sacrifice. The Egyptians took him captive, but the hero broke his bonds and killed Busiris—​along with the king’s son Iphidamas and several servants—​ near the altar on which the king killed foreigners (Fig. 15.2).13 By the fifth century BC Greece and Egypt shared friendlier relations, and Herodotus (2.45.1–​2) refers to the Busiris story as “silly” and the Greeks as “utterly ignorant of Egyptian character and customs,” arguing that the Egyptians could never have practiced human sacrifice since their religious beliefs forbade them from sacrificing nearly every kind of animal. Asheri et al. (2007, 270) suggest that the story “arose from Egyptian xenophobia” toward Greeks and others.14 While passing through Egypt, Heracles also crossed paths with a thug named Termerus, known mainly as a pirate who usually plundered the coastal cities in the regions of Lycia and Caria on the southern coast of Asia Minor (Grimal [1951] 1996, 440), but who on this occasion happened to be in North Africa. According to Plutarch (Theseus 11.1–​2), Termerus used to kill people by head-​butting them. Heracles killed him in the same manner—​by dashing his own head against Termerus’ skull.

Encounters after the Twelve Labors After his Labors Heracles participated in a number of military expeditions. While in northern Greece for one of these, the Thessalian campaign,15 he encountered another deadly foe: Cycnus, a son of the god Ares. It is said that Cycnus used to cut off the heads of passing strangers, intending to build a temple to his father Ares with these gory trophies. This we learn from the scholiasts on Pindar (at Olympians 10.19). Cycnus

13 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.11. See also McPhee (2006, 45). For detailed discussion of literary

sources for the Bousiris story, see Livingstone (2001, 78–​85). 14  Cf. Bowden (2005, 3); see also McPhee (2006, 46). 15  In this expedition, Heracles aided Aegimius, king of the Dorians, in a territorial war against the Lapiths, a native Thessalian people.

190   Debbie Felton

Figure 15.2. Heracles killing the Egyptian king Busiris and his servants. Attic red-​figure kalpis (water jar) by the Troilos Painter, c. 480 BC. Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, inv. 2428 (SL 104). Public domain: Wikimedia.

lurked in the sacred grove of Apollo by the Thessalian coast, intercepting and robbing travelers coming from the north who were heading south with rich offerings for Apollo at Delphi. Cycnus had taken over this grove and targeted Apollo’s worshippers because of an unspecified grudge; possibly he was supporting his father Ares’ hatred of Apollo. According to the myths, Apollo was the first-​born son of Zeus, and second-​ born Ares resented his father’s favorite. Ares’ son, then, shared his father’s resentment. The main version of Heracles’ encounter with Cycnus appears in the early Greek epic poem known as the Shield of Heracles (eighth–​seventh centuries BC), which describes the battle that ensued when Cycnus challenged Heracles to combat. According to the Shield, Heracles came across Cycnus and Ares in the grove sacred to Apollo as Heracles was on his way to King Ceyx in Trachis, one of his allies, to report a successful campaign. Cycnus rejoiced, hoping to kill both Heracles and the hero’s nephew, Iolaus, and strip them of their splendid armor. Armor was a typical sought-​after prize of battle, but Heracles’ was particularly exquisite: Hephaestus, god of the forge, had made the shining bronze greaves for his legs, and the goddess Athena had added a finely wrought golden breastplate. Heracles’ shield was the pièce-​ de-​résistance, made by Hephaestus and carved with intricate details of daily life as well as of war (in a poetic throwback to Achilles’ shield in the Iliad). Heracles and Cycnus dismounted from their chariots and engaged in hand-​to-​hand combat in what became one of the last great battles of Heracles’ entire career. With his bronze spear, Cycnus struck Heracles’ shield, but barely dented it. Heracles’ spear, on the other hand, pierced Cycnus’ neck and killed him. Ares himself then, in his grief, attacked

Brigands and Cruel Kings  191 Heracles, who wounded Ares in the thigh, whereupon the god’s sons Phobos and Deimos (“Fear” and “Terror”) swept him away from the combat and up to Olympus to be healed. Heracles stripped Cycnus’ body of its armor and continued on his way. Not long after Heracles returned to Trachis, Ceyx arranged for Cycnus’ burial. The outlaw had been his son-​in-​law, though a disappointing one whom Ceyx had disowned because of his criminal activities. But the river Anauros, swelled by a rainstorm, obliterated the grave and memorial of Cycnus at the command of an angry Apollo, wanting vengeance for Cycnus’ actions against him. As with the case of Antaeus, no myths mention what happened to the shrine of skulls. And no archaeological evidence so far has turned up any skull caches corresponding to the geographical sites of these myths; that is, we have no material finds on which the stories might have been based. At another point during his various military expeditions—​sources do not agree on exactly when—​Heracles again found himself atoning for murder after killing his friend Iphitus during a fit of madness.16 Recovering from his fit and horrified at what he had done, Heracles wanted to purify himself of the bloodshed. This time, instead of being sent out to kill monsters, Heracles was told by the Delphic Oracle to sell himself into slavery for a period of time to Omphale, queen of Lydia in Asia Minor (Chapter 20). While in her service, Heracles “punished those throughout the land who made a habit of pillaging” (Diodorus 4.31.6). Out on patrol, he happened to pass the territory of Lityerses, a son of King Midas and well known as a master harvester—​but with an odd sense of hospitality: he invited travelers passing by his territory to go harvesting with him, but if they refused, he either killed them or compelled them to work for him. Sometimes he forced passersby into a competition to see who could harvest sheaves more quickly, and he always won. Whether they cooperated or not, Lityerses decapitated every one of these unfortunate travelers and displayed their heads on sheaves of grain. Heracles, challenged by Lityerses just as other passersby had been, accepted the bloodthirsty man’s challenge, but, humming as he worked, made Lityerses drowsy and cut off his head as he slept.17 During his service to Omphale Heracles was also sent to work in the vineyard of Syleus, who apparently shared Lityerses’ strange sense of hospitality. Syleus, yet another son of Poseidon, and a character whom Padilla neatly calls an “outlaw farmer” (1998, 23), was a wine-​grower who forced passersby to work in his vineyard before executing them. Heracles began working for him but, instead of tilling the vines, he tore them up—​and then killed Syleus with his own hoe.18 Also while in service to Omphale, Heracles encountered the Cercopes. These men made a nuisance of themselves as thieves and liars and possibly murderers as well, though our sources remain vague on the exact nature of their crimes. Diodorus 16 

Cf. Chapter 2. In alternate versions of this episode, Heracles killed Iphitus for various other reasons. This was similar to the strategy that Hermes used on Argus, the watchman Hera set to guard Io (see, e.g., Ovid Metamorphoses 1.681–​684, 712–​7 18). 18  For more details, see Stafford (2012, 60) and Padilla (1998, 29). 17 

192   Debbie Felton describes them as “robbing and committing many [other] evil deeds” (4.31.7), and the Suda’s description is similarly ambiguous, referring only to “the heinous nature of their actions” (Suda, s.v. Κέρκωπες). Although some literary sources refer to them as two brothers and the visual record does the same, Diodorus’ account suggests a group of brigands, as he says that Heracles killed “some” but captured “others” and presented them to Omphale (4.31.7), having sought them out at her orders to rid Lydia of their villainy. Alternatively, according to sources including Ovid and the Suda, Zeus turned the Cercopes into monkeys because of the wicked behavior that had proved them less than human.19

Interpreting the Encounters All of these stories admit of various possible meanings relating to early Mediterranean society. We can never know for certain what such stories meant to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but we can certainly speculate about different aspects of the myths. For example, many of the highway criminals Heracles encountered are also mythologically the sons of gods—​mainly Poseidon and Ares. This pattern suggests a reluctance on the part of storytellers (and their audiences) to attribute such gruesome torture-​ murders to mere mortals. For a man to commit such a heinous crime there had to be something nonhuman about him, though these villains were still mortal (having only one divine parent rather than two does not make you immortal, only formidable). The excessively violent temperaments attributed to these two particular gods, Poseidon and Ares, partially explains the behavior of their offspring; Ares himself, as the god of war, was especially impetuous and bloodthirsty. And since nearly all the major heroes, including Heracles, were also sons of gods, their opponents needed to be more than human as well. Although Poseidon also had noble sons such as Theseus, Ares had no “good” sons: they were violent and murderous, just like their father. (Even if Phobos and Deimos usually appear as abstractions who accompany Ares but have no adventures of their own, their names, “Fear and Terror,” are not encouraging.) Notably, many of these myths appear to relate to human sacrifice. Heracles’ encounters with Busiris, Syleus, and Cacus all suggest a basis in sacrificial ritual, but the stories of Antaeus, Termerus, Cycnus, and Lityerses are even more oddly specific and may relate to real-​life practices in the prehistoric Mediterranean. The archaeological evidence for ritual human sacrifice in ancient Greek society remains ambiguous and highly debated, but material finds confirm that head-​taking and the use of skulls in various rituals occurred throughout the wider ancient Mediterranean basin from the

19 Ovid Metamorphoses 14.99–​100; Suda, s.v. Κέρκωπες. On the Cercopes as comic figures, see

Stafford (2012, 61–​62).

Brigands and Cruel Kings  193

Figure 15.3. Remnants of the portico at Roquepertuse, now housed in the Mediterranean Archeology Museum in Marseille. The pillars have hollowed-​out niches that housed skulls, possibly those of decapitated enemies. Celtic-​Ligurian culture, third to second centuries BC. Photo by Robert Valette, 2008. Public domain: Wikimedia.

European Mesolithic period through the early Iron Age—​broadly, c. 10,000–​300 BC. Depending on the culture, head-​taking had various meanings. For some, collecting the skulls of slain enemies might indicate social and political power, with display of these heads serving to terrify and impress. Evidence includes two skull clusters found in Mesolithic-​era pits in Ofnet, Germany, showing fatal head injuries and other evidence of warlike activity. For other cultures, head-​taking might serve as a symbol of spiritual efficacy as part of a religious ritual; for example, the reconstructed portico from Roquepertuse in southern France contained niches that held human skulls, and might have been a liminal (threshold or gateway) structure reflecting death as part of a journey toward the afterlife (Fig. 15.3).20 The skull shrines created by Antaeus and Cycnus recall the ritual collection of enemy skulls, if not of actual human sacrifice to Poseidon and Ares (for which we have only very tenuous, anecdotal evidence). Termerus’ targeting of skulls may also reflect the real-​life practice of collecting enemy skulls. Classical literature has a long-​ standing interest in headhunting: the practice was a recurrent motif in classical writings about Celtic peoples, including the Gauls. Greek and Roman writers from the mid-​second century BC on regarded the collection of human heads as battle trophies


On the Ofnet finds, see Orschiedt (2005, 67–​70); on Roquepertuse, Armit (2012, 129 and 147).

194   Debbie Felton as a characteristic Celtic custom proving the tribe’s barbarity. Yet headhunting was practiced not just among the Celts but all over the ancient world—​Germans, Iberians, and even the Romans themselves collected enemy heads at various points in their culture’s myths and histories. Trajan’s Column in Rome, a monumental work of bas relief sculpture commemorating the emperor’s victory over the Dacians in the early second century AD, depicts a Roman soldier holding the decapitated head of a Dacian warrior in his teeth, while coins issued during this time show Trajan himself standing with his foot on the severed head of the Dacian leader. In 1988, several dozen skulls unearthed in a Roman-period pit in London provided evidence that the Romans collected the heads of foreign enemies, slain gladiators, and executed criminals, possibly for public display.21 Additionally, according to the Roman poet Ovid, Heracles’ eighth Labor included an antagonist who collected skulls. For this Labor, Heracles had to travel to the northern wilds of Thrace and bring back the mares of King Diomedes, who had raised his horses on a diet of human flesh (Chapter 10). In connection with this Labor, Ovid’s Deianeira describes “heads affixed to Thracian thresholds” (Threiciis adfixa penatibus ora; Heroides 9.89) The term “Thracian” might refer to the Thracians generally as a people who, the Greeks believed, practiced human sacrifice;22 or it might refer only to Diomedes’ palace. And aside from the skull trophies taken by Heracles’ savage foes, skulls from human sacrificial victims appear in the playwright Euripides’ drama Iphigenia among the Taurians (c. 413 BC). The Greeks believed that the Taurians, who lived on the Crimean peninsula, carried out ritual human sacrifice. On a mission in the land of the Taurians to retrieve a statue of the goddess Artemis, Orestes asks Pylades, “Do you see the spoils (skula) hanging from the cornices?” Pylades replies, “Yes, the prime prizes (akrothinia) from slain strangers” (lines 74–​75). The word akrothinia literally means “topmost/​highest part,” sometimes indicating simply the “best,” but here most likely referring to the “topmost” part of the strangers, i.e., their skulls.23 While some headhunting occurred in the context of war and politics, a widespread ancient belief in links between human heads and the fertility of crops, animals, and people probably lies behind the story of Lityerses. A range of surviving literature makes symbolic links between heads of humans and heads of grain or flowers, and 21  On the Celts, see Armit (2012, 20–​27); on headhunting in the ancient world more generally, Armit (2012, 37–​39); on the Romans, Armit (2012, 40); on the London finds, Black (2014) at http://​www.ancient-​​news-​history-​archaeology/​gruesome-​evidence-​ancient-​roman-​head-​hunters-​london-​ 001225. Skull collecting was not confined to Europe and the Near East. Cf. Wade (2018) at https://​www.​news/​2018/​06/​feeding-​gods-​hundreds-​skulls-​reveal-​massive-​scale-​human-​sacrifice-​ aztec-​capital on the recent find of an Aztec skull rack display from Tenochtitlan, Mexico, dating to the fifteenth century AD. 22  Archaeologists have found some evidence that might indicate human sacrifice in the Thrace of nearly 3,000 years ago: Miller (2015) at https://​www.ancient-​​news-​history-​archaeology/​ bulgarian-​archaeologists-​find-​evidence-​sacrifice-​thracian-​child-​020304; see also Herodotus 5.5, Thracians sacrificing wives as part of the burial ritual for their dead husbands. 23  Mueller (2018, 80). The Greek skula is unrelated to the English “skull.”

Brigands and Cruel Kings  195 some evidence, though highly controversial, suggests that in various cultures human sacrifice, including head-​taking, might have had a strong association with the fertility of crops. Because the god Poseidon was himself linked with fertility, we may be seeing a remnant of this metaphorical connection in his sons’ proclivities toward human sacrifice and skull collecting. The story of Syleus also touches on the relationship between human sacrifice and crop fertility.24 But such sacrifices, to whatever extent they really occurred, gradually fell out of favor among the ancient Greeks, and Heracles’ conquest of his “barbaric” foes, depicted as marauding on the outskirts of the Mediterranean—​the farther from Greece, the more uncivilized—​suggests Greek propaganda regarding the civilizing effect of Hellenic culture. Although Heracles himself was a transitional figure, combining primitive brutality with a civilizing force, literary sources tended to focus on the latter. As noted earlier, the myths of Antaeus and Cycnus do not say what became of the skull shrines so triumphantly assembled by their builders, and this lack of narrative interest in the gruesome collections may seem odd to us but most likely reflects the myths’ focus on Heracles’ achievements and dismissal of barbarism—​a shift in Greek thought toward a more “orderly” society. Collecting enemy skulls and using human heads for fertility rituals generally occur as tribal actions, not as the actions of an individual. As the myths depict them, Antaeus, Cycnus, Termerus, and Lityerses did not act as members of communities when they killed their victims. They acted alone, in the absence of community. They preyed on individual, innocuous travelers, not enemy tribes. Their actions lacked political or social motivation.25 The location of these murders is also important: early roads. The appearance of so many highwaymen in the Heracles myth suggests several things. For one, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not tell these stories just to make Heracles look good; rather, to a large extent the stories reflected the reality that the rudimentary and unpatrolled roads were very dangerous, and that travelers regularly fell prey to bandits, some of whom were violent enough to kill and mutilate their victims. As brutal but still mortal characters, the brigands and cruel kings Heracles encountered in his parerga played a secondary role to the extraordinarily large, excessively strong, often hybrid, uncannily terrifying monsters he had to face, such as the Lernaean Hydra and Cerberus. The concerns of the time period during which the myths of Heracles circulated (early Iron Age Greece) were still more agricultural than urban, which helps explain the tension between the old ritual of skull shrines, possible crop fertility, and Heracles’ conquest of characters representing these older beliefs. Heracles likely served as a 24 

Armit (2012, 37–​40, 102, 118), noting that a similar concept existed in Iron Age southern France, and that the metaphorical relationship between the action of the sickle, harvesting crops, and that of the sword, swiping off heads, “occurs quite widely in the ancient world” (118). See also Felton (1998) and, for modern takes on the sacrifice of humans to ensure a good harvest, cf. Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” (1948) and the 1973 film The Wicker Man (directed by Robin Hardy). 25  For discussion of such stories as expressing characteristics typical of serial killers, see Lämmle (2013) and Felton (forthcoming).

196   Debbie Felton transitional, liminal figure for the Greeks. Using both primitive force (his club) and more advanced technology (his sword), as well as the chronologically ubiquitous bow and arrow,26 he was both brutal and civilized, ultimately considered not a savage who unthinkingly slaughtered horde, but rather a culture hero who purged the earth of monsters and tamed the uncivilized world,27 making it safe for the spread of Greek culture.

References Amitay, O. 2014. “Vagantibus Graeciae fabulis: The North African Wanderings of Antaios and Herakles.” Mediterranean Historical Review 29.1: 1–​28. Armit, I. 2012. Headhunting and the Body in Iron Age Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Asheri, D., A. Lloyd, and A. Corcella. 2007. A Commentary on Herodotus Books I–​IV. Edited by O. Murray and A. Moreno. Translated by B. Graziosi, M. Rosetti, C. Dus, and V. Cazzato. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Black, J. 2014. “Gruesome Evidence of Ancient Roman Headhunters in London.” Ancient Origins online, January 16. https://​www.ancient-​​news-​history-​archaeology/​ gruesome-​evidence-​ancient-​roman-​head-​hunters-​london-​001225 Bowden, H. 2005. “Herakles, Herodotos, and the Persian Wars.” In Herakles and Hercules: Exploring a Greco-​ Roman Divinity, ed. L. Rawlings and H. Bowden, 1–​ 13. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales. Brommer, F. 1986. Heracles: The Twelve Labors of the Hero in Ancient Art and Literature. Translated by S. J. Schwarz. New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas. Burkert, W. 1985. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Translated by J. Raffan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Originally published as Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1977. Carucci, M. 2016. “The Dangers of Female Mobility in Roman Imperial Times.” In The Impact of Mobility and Migration in the Roman Empire, ed. E. Lo Cascio and L. E. Tacoma, 173–​190. Leiden: Brill. Felton, D. 1998. “The Motif of ‘Enigmatic Counsel’ in Greek and Roman Texts.” Phoenix 52.1–​ 2: 42–​54. Felton, D. (forthcoming). Monsters and Monarchs: Serial Killers of Classical Myth and History. Austin: University of Texas Press.

26  Use of the bow and arrow to hunt dates back to at least the Paleolithic period if not earlier, and hunters still use them today. Burkert has suggested that the core myth of Heracles may have developed as early as the Paleolithic (1985, 209). Swords developed during the Bronze Age. On Heracles’ weapons, see, e.g., Padilla (1998, 30–​33) and Brommer (1986, 65–​67), the latter of whom points out that not until the seventh century does Heracles appear using the bow as a weapon, and both of whom discuss the depictions of Heracles in hoplite gear. 27  See, for example, Stafford (2012, 23) and Padilla (1998, 22), with references going back as far as Euripides.

Brigands and Cruel Kings  197 Grimal, P. 1996. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Translated by A. R. Maxwell-​Hyslop. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Originally published as Dictionnaire de la mythologie grecque et romaine. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1951. Grünewald, T. 2004. Bandits in the Roman Empire: Myth and Reality. Translated by J. Drinkwater. London and New York: Routledge. Hurwit, J. 2006. “Lizards, Lions, and the Uncanny in Early Greek Art.” Hesperia 75.1: 121–​136. Lämmle, R. 2013. Poetik des Satyrspiels. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter. Livingstone, N. 2001. A Commentary on Isocrates’ Busiris. Mnemosyne Supplementum 223. Leiden: Brill. McPhee, I. 2006. “Herakles and Bousiris by the Telos Painter.” Antike Kunst 49: 43–​56. Mayor, A. 2000. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Miller, M. 2015. “Bulgarian Archaeologists Find Evidence of 2,700-​Year-​Old Thracian Child Sacrifice.” Ancient Origins online, April 19. https://​www.ancient-​​news-​history-​ archaeology/​bulgarian-​archaeologists-​find-​evidence-​sacrifice-​thracian-​child-​020304 Miller, S. 2004. Ancient Greek Athletics. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Mueller, M. 2018. “Dreamscape and Dread in Euripides’s Iphigenia among the Taurians.” In Landscapes of Dread: Negative Emotion in Natural and Constructed Spaces, ed. D. Felton, 77–​94. London and New York: Routledge. Orschiedt, J. 2005. “The Head Burials from Ofnet Cave: An Example of Warlike Conflict in the Mesolithic.” In Warfare, Violence and Slavery in Prehistory: Proceedings of a Prehistoric Society conference at Sheffield University, ed. M. P. Pearson and I. J. N. Thorpe, 67–​73. BAR International Series 1374. Oxford: The Basingstoke Press. Padilla, M. W. 1998. The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece: Survey and Profile. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. Philips, F. C. 1978. “Heracles.” The Classical World 71.7: 431–​440. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London and New York: Routledge. Suda Online: https://​​~raphael/​sol/​sol-​html/​ Van Hoof, A. J. L. 1988. “Ancient Robbers: Reflections behind the Facts.” Ancient Society 19: 105–​124. Wade, L. 2018. “Feeding the Gods: Hundreds of Skulls Reveal Massive Scale of Human Sacrifice in Aztec Capital.” Science online, June 21. https://​​news/​2018/​06/​ feeding-​gods-​hundreds-​skulls-​reveal-​massive-​scale-​human-​sacrifice-​aztec-​capital

Chapter 16

T h e A rgonau ts Richard Hunter

Odysseus’ last significant encounter in the Underworld of Odyssey 11 is with Heracles:** After him I recognised the might of Heracles, a phantom (eidōlon); the hero himself among the immortal gods rejoices in feasts (thaliai) and has as wife the fair-​ankled Hebe, [child of great Zeus and Hera of the golden sandal]. All around him the dead clamoured like birds, startled in every direction. He was like dark night, holding his bow at the ready with an arrow at the string, glancing around fiercely, like someone always about to shoot. Around his chest was a terrible belt, a golden baldric, on which marvellous images were depicted, bears and wild boars and bright-​eyed lions, battles, and fighting and deaths and slaughter. May he who made it and whose art encompassed that belt never make another such! On seeing me, Heracles immediately recognised me and in lamentation addressed me with winged words: “Noble-​born son of Laertes, much-​devising Odysseus, unhappy man, do you too bear the weight of the grim fate which I endured while under the rays of the sun? I was the son of Zeus, son of Kronos, but I suffered unending grief. I was bound in servitude to a man far worse than me, and he commanded me to perform difficult labours (aethloi). Once he sent me here to bring back the dog, for he could devise no other labor more demanding than this. I did indeed bring back the dog up out of Hades, as Hermes and bright-​eyed Athena guided me.” With these words he returned again into the house of Hades, while I waited there without moving, in the hope that another one of the heroes who had died in former times might approach. Homer Odyssey 11.601–​6291 *  I am grateful to Rebecca Laemmle and Cédric Scheidegger Laemmle for their comments on an earlier version. 1  V. 604 (= Hesiod Theogony 952), here marked by brackets, is almost certainly a late interpolation into the text. For discussion and bibliography on this passage cf. Karanika (2011); Bär (2018, 46–​49).

The Argonauts  199 This famous passage has been the site of scholarly discussion since antiquity. The opening verses (vv. 602–​603) seem already to have been athetized in antiquity, presumably by Aristarchus,2 principally on the grounds that Homer does not otherwise know of the apotheosis of Heracles and his marriage to Hebe; in the Iliad Achilles had even used Heracles as a consolatory exemplum for himself—​a great hero who had nevertheless died (18.117–​119, cf. further in what follows). The notion of such an eidōlon of Heracles in the Underworld also seems entirely novel; we may contrast how Odysseus fears that the ghost of his mother was a mere eidōlon sent to deceive him (Odyssey 11.213–​214).3 The passage also raises a number of striking questions of narrative plausibility: How does Odysseus know that Heracles is with the immortals? How does the eidōlon recognize Odysseus, who belongs to a later generation, and in his most typical epic form (v. 617)? Why does Odysseus not reply to Heracles’ speech? When we look back at this passage, however, from the poetry of the Hellenistic age, it appears to foreshadow prominent features of the later Heracles. However we understand the eidōlon, this passage offers us two Heracleses, one feasting with the gods, and the other a man of violence and of Labors (aethloi, v. 622). In Odyssey 11 the two coexist simultaneously, though clearly the eidōlon in the Underworld is, quite literally, an “image” for the activity of Heracles while he was alive on earth. If Homer does not explicitly create a temporal sequence from the two figures, first a man of violence and labors and then a sharer in divine bliss, it was easy enough for the subsequent tradition to do so, and Heracles’ apotheosis was familiar at least by the classical period. This sequence determines central features of the representation of Heracles in Hellenistic poetry. In the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, Heracles joins the expedition, but it is always clear that he is “not like others.” After he has been left behind in Mysia on the outward voyage at the end of the first book (cf. later), the sea-​god Glaucus appears to tell the Argonauts that it is Heracles’ fate “to live with and share the feasts of the immortals (ναίειν δ᾽ ἀθανάτοισι συνέστιον), if he complete the few remaining labors” (1.1319–​1320); this description of his divine afterlife picks up Odysseus’ account. The last glimpse we and perhaps one of the Argonauts catch of him is in the Libyan desert: As for Heracles, Lynceus alone at that time thought that he saw him far away across the vast land, as a man sees or imagines he sees the moon through a mist at the beginning of a new month. On returning to his comrades he told them that no other searcher would catch up with Heracles on his travels again. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 4.1477–​1482

2  Cf. the scholia on vv. 601–​602 and on Odyssey 3.464, the A-​scholia on Iliad 4.2d, 5.905a, 18.117, and Schironi (2018, 646, 677 n.119). 3 At Odyssey 24.14 all the inhabitants of the Underworld are called “ghosts, the phantoms of the dead” (ψυχαί, εἴδωλα καμόντων).

200   Richard Hunter Heracles has completed his final Labor (the Golden Apples of the Hesperides) and is disappearing forever from our view; what Lynceus thinks he sees may already be the eidōlon of Heracles.4 The “Heracles-​plot” of the Argonautica is indeed the narrative suggested by Odyssey 11.5 The plot in which a life of struggle was succeeded by a divine afterlife acquired new force with the coming of ruler cult and divine honors for kings and benefactors, and here the divinized Heracles very much came into his own, both as an adopted model for Alexander and as the ancestor of the Ptolemaic line, in the genealogy which, in particular, the first two Ptolemies promoted.6 It is, for example, generally accepted that the depiction of the infancy and boyhood of Heracles in Theocritus Idyll 24 evokes patterns that were also said to have been followed by the young Philadelphus,7 and in his poem on Ptolemy II Philadelphus, Theocritus, like Apollonius (earlier), echoes Odysseus’ description of Heracles on Olympus, where Ptolemy’s parents are also to be found: there he joins in feasting (thaliai) with the heavenly ones and rejoices exceedingly in the grandsons of his grandsons. Theocritus 17.22–​23

The divinized Heracles retains the appetite for food and drink of his comic and satyric prior life, but all is now relaxed and pleasurable; Theocritus depicts how Alexander and Ptolemy Soter guide Heracles, the divine symposiast who has had a bit too much nectar, back home to his loving wife Hebe (Theocritus 17.28–​33). The prominence of Odyssey 11.601–​603 in the context of ruler cult is easy enough to understand, but if the apparent belief of second-​century Alexandrian scholarship that these verses contained ideas that postdated Homer and were therefore non-​Homeric may be pushed back into the third century, then it is tempting to see in their reuse in the context of ruler cult precisely a recognition of similarity and difference: kings were now both “heroes” (as were the great figures of Homer) and gods. Callimachus, too, offers a picture of Heracles on Olympus, where he has yet another aethlos and just the same appetite. Artemis brings the results of the hunt back to Olympus, where Heracles is waiting for her: Now Phoebus no longer has this task, for such a one as the Tirynthian anvil always takes his place before the gates waiting if you should come bringing some rich edible.


Virgil’s reuse of these verses to describe Aeneas’ meeting with Dido in the Underworld (Aeneid 6.450–​454) suggests that he connected the Apollonian passage with the Homeric nekuia. 5  On Heracles in the Argonautica cf. esp. Feeney (1986); Hunter (1993, 25–​41); Bär (2018, 73–​99); see what follows, pp. 203–7; for further bibliography on Heracles in Hellenistic poetry cf. Weber (1993, 348–​351). 6  Cf. Huttner (1997, 86–​145). 7  Bibliography and discussion in Huttner (1997, 138–​140); Hunter (1996, 27).

The Argonauts  201 The gods all laugh continuously at him, but especially his own mother-​in-​law, whenever from your chariot he should carry a very large bull or a wild boar by its hind foot as it writhes. With this very crafty speech, goddess, he admonishes you: “Shoot at evil beasts so that mortals may call you their helper, as they do me; let deer and hares feed in the mountains. What could deer and hares do? Boars destroy tilled fields, boars destroy orchards, and bulls are a great evil for men. Shoot at those too.” Thus he spoke, and quickly set to work on the great beast. (trans. S. Stephens) Callimachus Hymn to Artemis 145–​158

Heracles here retains some obviously comic features (he is a kind of Olympian Obelix), and the poet even gives him the winning “cunning” of a child which fools no one. A second aspect of Odysseus’ meeting with Heracles in the Underworld is also given prominence in the Argonautica. The eidōlon stresses the similarities of the “grim fate” (κακὸς μόρος) which both Odysseus and Heracles faced (Odyssey 11.617–​619; cf. further in what follows), and the scholia see a strategy by Odysseus both to impress the Phaeacians by the fact that he, no less than Heracles, descended to the Underworld and to use Heracles’ descent to lessen the implausibility of his own account. Heracles, then, is a paradigmatic model. Apollonius’ Argonauts too, as Denis Feeney above all showed,8 follow in Heracles’ footsteps, visit sites where he has been before them, and are finally saved by his recent discovery of water in the desert (4.1441–​1460). Just as in the Iliad Heracles is an exemplum from a previous generation, so it is his exemplary status that the Argonauts trace on their quest. When he is left behind in Mysia, the Argonauts do not even realize that he is missing until day comes and they are already well on the way (1.1280–​1283; cf. further in what follows), and when he is possibly sighted again in Libya (cf. previously) he is far too far away (in every sense) for any communication. The strange scene of noncommunication in the Underworld of Odyssey 11 here finds a powerful echo: the solitariness of Heracles does not encourage conversation. Heracles’ fate is not to be shared with anyone. It is Heracles himself who imposes the choice of leader of the expedition (1.345–​347) and Heracles who tells the Argonauts that their departure from Lemnos and the charms of its women is long overdue (1.861–​874); on neither occasion does anyone dare to speak on the other side. Although differing views of the matter are held in modern scholarship,9 Odysseus’ narration of the Underworld suggests that it is Heracles’ decision to return to “the house of Hades” after he has addressed Odysseus (vv. 627–​628, cited earlier); he does not wait for a response.10 Heracles always has his own agenda, and some of the myths concerning him, and their realization in poetry, dramatize the tensions that arise when that agenda meets the, often more sympathetic, concerns of others; Heracles’ behavior in the house of Admetus in Euripides’ Alcestis is one example of this. Another 8 

Cf. Feeney (1986). Cf., e.g., Bär (2018, 52). 10  The account of the angry silence of Ajax (vv. 563–​567) is importantly different in this regard. 9 

202   Richard Hunter is Callimachus’ story of how Heracles killed and ate one of the ploughing-​oxen of a Lindian farmer (Aitia frr. 22–​23 Pf.).11 The story is an aition for why those performing cultic rites for Heracles at Lindos curse the hero; the principal surviving fragment precisely thematizes Heracles’ lack of concern with anyone else and what they might say: Thus he was cursing there, but you, as a Sellian in the Tmarian mountains hears the sound of the Icarian Sea, as the lustful ears of young men listen to a poor lover, as bad sons listen to their father, as you listened to the lyre—​for you are not very gentle . . . thus by no means heeding his baneful words. (trans. A. Harder) Callimachus fr. 23 Pfeiffer-​Harder

Heracles is, however, the least monochrome of heroes. As the great civilizer whose destruction of beasts made the world safe for mortals, he is both entirely self-​centered and committed to the well-​being of others and to their communal values (the Alcestis is again an excellent example). In Callimachus’ relatively lengthy, but for us sadly very fragmentary, account of the hero’s killing of the Nemean lion, Heracles appears both gentle and solicitous toward Molorcus, the humble peasant who took him in and offered him hospitality; this narrative was embedded in the elegiac epinician celebrating Berenice II, the wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes (Aitia frr. 54–​60 Harder), and as such it also illustrates the importance of the figure of Heracles to the Ptolemaic house (cf. earlier). Nowhere perhaps is Heracles’ “individualism” more on show than in the story of how he was left behind by the Argonautic expedition in Mysia when his beloved Hylas was dragged into a pond by a nymph or nymphs.12 In the Hesiodic Wedding of Ceyx, Heracles had been left behind in Magnesia because he had gone off to look for water (Hesiod fr. 263 M​W = 202 Most), whereas in another (probably pre-​Hellenistic) version it was Heracles’ son Hyllus who went to look for water and did not return. Although the similarity of name between Hylas and Hyllus perhaps suggests a deliberate mythic innovation to create the story of Heracles and Hylas, and in Callimachus’ account in the Aitia of how Heracles took Hylas away from his father Hyllus also is involved (frr. 24–​25 Pf.; cf. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 1.1211–​219), we cannot in fact identify when or by whom the story of Heracles, Hylas, and the Argonautic expedition was first created. It was, however, to become very popular; when, at the beginning of Georgics 3, Virgil lists poetic themes which are now vulgata, the first three all seem to involve Heracles: Everything else, which would in song have held empty minds, is now commonplace: who does not know of cruel Eurystheus or the altars of Busiris who wins no praise?


Cf. Harder (2012, ii, 209–​231). For a summary of the ancient variants of this story cf. Vian-​Delage (1976, 245); Hunter (1993, 36–​ 41); Hunter (1999, 263–​264); our knowledge is crucially dependent on the scholia to Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 1.1289–​1291. 12 

The Argonauts  203 Who has not told of the lad Hylas and Delos, Leto’s island, and Hippodame and Pelops, notable for his ivory shoulder, a skilled horseman? Virgil Georgics 3.3–​8

Two major treatments of the story of Heracles and Hylas, by Apollonius of Rhodes and Theocritus, survive to us from the third century. One aspect of the story of Hylas which certainly appealed to Hellenistic taste was etiological; “still to this day” the people of Mysia, in some versions ordered by Heracles to do so, hold an annual ritual search for Hylas in which they call out his name. When he passed to Olympus, Heracles left very many terrestrial traces of himself behind. Heracles’ involvement in the Argonautic expedition is a fact of our record from the beginning, although in some versions Heracles had to abandon his intention to join the expedition because the Argo refused to carry his weight.13 In the Argonautica the joining of the expedition is a typically spontaneous act in which he (temporarily) abandons one set of labors for another: Not even the mighty Heracles, whose heart was never daunted, not even he, so we learn, scorned the needs of the son of Aison. When he heard the report of the gathering of the heroes, he had just crossed from Arcadia into Lyrceian Argos on the journey on which he carried alive the boar which grazed in the glades of Lampeia across the great Erymanthian marsh. In front of the market-​square at Mycenae he shook the boar wrapped in bonds off his great back, and set off of his own volition contrary to Eurystheus’ intentions. With him came Hylas, an excellent squire in the first blush of youth, to carry his arrows and guard his bow. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 1.122–​132

The opening verses pick up Achilles’ (self-​consolatory) claim to his mother in Iliad 18: For not even the mighty Heracles, not even he, escaped death, who was dearest to the lord Zeus, son of Kronos; but fate and the grim anger of Hera subdued him. Homer, Iliad 18.117–​119

We do not know whether some of Homer’s audience would have understood Achilles to be denying accounts elsewhere in circulation of Heracles’ immortality,14 but there can be little doubt that Achilles would be understood as referring to non-​ Homeric epic poetry about Heracles (Achilles is, after all, knowledgeable about the klea andrôn, “glorious deeds of heroes”; Iliad 9.189). In a move typical of a Hellenistic poet, Apollonius, who presumably understood Achilles’ technique, spells out (“so we 13  Cf. Vian and Delage (1976, 245). Heracles is given the privileged first place in Pindar’s catalog of the Argonauts at Pythians 4.171–​172. 14  Cf., e.g., Rutherford (2019, 120–​121).

204   Richard Hunter learn”) his own debt to the poetic tradition, in a manner which we would not of course have expected from Achilles. It is perhaps tempting to think that the low-​key entry of Hylas at the end of the passage marks an innovation after the traditional stories that have dominated so far; be that as it may, “in the first blush of youth” (πρωθήβης) clearly looks ahead to the role Hylas is to play later in the book. When the Argonauts land in Mysia, Heracles goes off into a forest (εἰς ὕλην, 1.1188) to make himself another oar,15 the previous one having snapped when Heracles was single-​handedly rowing the boat and his exhausted comrades (1.1161–​1171); here too, Heracles is set apart from the other Argonauts who are dining and enjoying Mysian hospitality. Heracles is successful in his quest—​he uproots a fir-​tree as a sudden powerful wind can demast a ship (1. 1201–​1206)—​but Hylas, who also separates himself from the rest, goes to fetch water for the meal and there falls prey to a water nymph captivated by his beauty: The nymph of the spring, however, was just rising from the fair-​flowing water, and she saw close at hand how the sweet grace of Hylas’ beauty blushed red in the rays of the full moon which shone from the sky. The Cyprian goddess set her heart racing and only with difficulty could she gather herself together in her helpless amazement. But as soon as Hylas leant over to dip the pitcher in the stream and the water gurgled loudly as it swept into the echoing bronze, the nymph placed her left arm on his neck and with her right hand on his elbow she drew him down towards her, desiring to kiss his soft mouth. He fell into the middle of the eddying water. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 1.1228–​1239

Hylas’ cry is heard by another of the Argonauts, Polyphemus, who brings the bad news to Heracles; the latter’s reaction very strongly suggests that Heracles’ relationship to Hylas had been pederastic: So Polyphemus spoke. When Heracles heard this, sweat poured down over his temples and deep in his body the dark blood boiled. In a rage he threw down the fir-​tree to the ground and ran wildly wherever his feet led him. As when a bull is stung by a gadfly and rushes off, abandoning the meadows and the marshes, and has no thought for the keepers or the herd, but runs without resting or sometimes stops and lifts its broad neck to bellow in distress at the bite of the cruel fly, so in his rage did Heracles’ legs move swiftly and without pausing, but sometimes he would break off his labour and in a loud voice give off cries which reached far into the distance. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 1.1261–​1272

The stung bull to which Heracles is compared makes it unsurprising that he pays no attention to the departure of his comrades. Theocritus too leaves us in no doubt:


Despite the difference in length of the initial vowel, play on Ὕλας and ὕλη is familiar, cf. Strabo C564 (12.4.3), but there seems no reason to suspect an etymological resonance here.

The Argonauts  205 The flesh-​eating lion hears a fawn calling in the hills and bounds from its lair to seek out a ready feast; so did Heracles rampage through untrodden thorn-​brakes, covering vast tracts of land, in longing for the boy. How reckless lovers are! How he suffered, as he roamed over hills and through forests, and Jason’s expedition went clean from his mind. (trans A. Verity) Theocritus 13.62–​67

That Heracles is involved in the only pederastic relationship of the poem should not surprise;16 he is the hero of passion and thumos, of relationships that are almost inevitably multiple and transitory because ultimately, for Heracles, unimportant, however all-​consuming they may be at the start. Heracles’ infatuation for Iole, dramatized in Sophocles’ Trachiniae, is a good instance of this. Pederastic relationships are indeed standardly imagined in literature as relatively brief and passing. Having taken him from his father, Heracles is in the position of ersatz father, as well as erastēs, and the loss of the boy is a failure of Heracles’ “duty of care” as much as anything else. In his version of the story of Heracles and Hylas in Idyll 13, Theocritus is both more explicit about the erotic nature of the relationship and about how the pattern of the relationship fitted a “didactic” model familiar from, say, Theognis and Plato: No, even Amphitryon’s son, whose heart was bronze, and who withstood the savage lion, loved a boy, beautiful Hylas, whose hair was still unshorn. Just as father to son, Heracles taught him the lessons which had brought him nobility and renown in song. They were never apart, neither at noonday nor when Dawn’s white horses flew up into the sky, nor when clucking chickens looked to their rest while their mother shook her wings on her soot-​black perch. Thus he hoped the boy would be trained after his own mind, and by his efforts reach the state of true manhood. (trans. A. Verity) Theocritus 13.5–​15

It has often been claimed that, at least for the Argonautica, Heracles’ pederastic love for Hylas marks him as “old-​fashioned,” as a leftover from an earlier age of violent heroism, out of place in a poem that gives such prominence to heterosexual relationships. That Heracles is different and that his presence works against Argonautic unity (homonoia) is clear (cf. further in what follows), but there is no indication in the poem that Heracles’ sexual preferences are uniformly pederastic (all that we know of him would suggest otherwise) or that such relationships are somehow “old-​ fashioned.” Nevertheless, there is an important contrast with Jason. The latter must leave Hypsipyle behind so that, as Heracles has urged, the expedition can continue, and Jason embarks “before anyone else” (1.910); Heracles’ intense passion for Hylas is of a very different kind. Heracles’ relationship with Hylas is inevitably short-​lived, as the young man passes into a dark and female world of absence, evoking and reversing Persephone’s rape by


For links here to the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus cf. Hunter (1993, 39).

206   Richard Hunter Hades, just as Heracles and Demeter play partly corresponding “parental” roles;17 Hylas and Persephone were to become two of the most common paradigms in Greek funerary poetry for boys and girls who died (too) young. Here too we might see a recurrent feature of Heraclean myth. It is very difficult to be close to the great hero, whether as wife (Deianeira), child (the myth of the madness), or erōmenos. The sequence of athloi that formed Heracles’ life on earth produced a persistent forward narrative movement in which others are constantly discarded. In the Argonautica, the Argonauts, including apparently Ancaeus, who always shared a rowing-​bench with him (1.396–​400, 531–​532), do not realize until morning that Heracles is missing; Theocritus explicitly avoids this apparent implausibility (13.68–​70). Why does Apollonius draw attention to it in such a way as to suggest that it is important? At one level, this is an extreme case of the persistent motif of separation from Heracles, which we have already seen as a prominent and meaningful feature of his mythology. Moreover, perhaps too the very “implausibility” of the Argonauts’ “mistake” suggests that Heracles’ departure in Mysia from the expedition was determined by more than just his distress at the loss of Hylas. When Glaucus appears to explain his (and Polyphemus’) disappearance with reference to “the plan (βουλή) of great Zeus” and moira, “fate,” we realize that, despite Heracles’ apparently spontaneous decision to join the expedition (1.122–​132, see p.203), this was indeed for Heracles merely a diversion from a much larger and divinely ordained plot of which he was the center, even if he did not fully understand it (cf. 1.1300–​1308). The narrative “implausibility” draws our attention to the larger scheme of things. We may perhaps compare Theseus’ apparently inexplicable abandonment of Ariadne on Naxos, behind which was in antiquity often thought to lie Dionysus’ plans for his bride or a broader Olympian plan. If the manner of Heracles’ departure from the Argonautic expedition points to a higher plan, then it also brings with it obvious poetic advantages. Heracles can now become the exemplary model in whose tracks the expedition follows. More importantly, however, any epic in which Heracles is a central character throughout is bound to become an epic “about” Heracles. When in anger Telamon accuses Jason of having deliberately left Heracles behind “so that his glory (kudos) should not put you in the shade in Greece” (1.1292), we realize that Telamon is both unfair and also pointing to something very important about the epic as a whole, if not about Jason as the figure leading it. Whether or not one considers that Aristotelian principles have influenced the composition of the Argonautica,18 and regardless of how familiar Apollonius was with the Poetics, Aristotle had marked Heraclean epic as inherently “difficult.” It was in part the episodic nature of his life which, in Aristotle’s view, made that life an inappropriate subject for well-​structured epic (Poetics 1451a20–​22). Aristotle does not say

17  18 

Cf. Hunter (1993, 40–​41). Cf. Hunter (1993, 190–​195; 2008).

The Argonauts  207 that a “good” epic about Heracles was impossible, any more than a “good” tragedy was, just that no one should imagine that a poem about one figure is inevitably “unitary.” Nevertheless, Aristotle clearly chooses epics about Heracles and Theseus as his examples because these are figures whose lives were indeed packed full of different incidents, many of which had no “necessary or probable” connection with each other. Aristotle contrasts such poems with the superior technique and understanding on show in the Homeric poems. In some senses, Aristotle is here taking his cue from Homer himself. In the Underworld (see earlier discussion, pp. 198–9), the eidōlon of Heracles had acknowledged that Odysseus was like himself in his “grim fate” and his life of athloi, a fact most notably borne out of course by Odysseus’ sojourn in the Underworld; like Heracles, Odysseus will be “twice dying” (δισθανής; Homer Odyssey 12.22), though his afterlife will not be as double as that of the Odyssean Heracles (if vv. 602–​604 are kept). Odysseus may elsewhere decline to compete in prowess with “earlier men” such as Heracles (Odyssey 8.223–​224), but the Odyssey-​poet seems to be marking Heracles-​epic, whether a specific poem or in general, as a model for his own (“So you too . . . ”); it is, however, a model from which he also marks his difference, just as he is soon to acknowledge a forerunner, which is also not to be followed, in Argonautic epic (Odyssey 12.69–​72).19 As the Odyssey is the principal epic model for Apollonius’ Argonautica, so Apollonius too offers a “Heraclean epic” as one prior model that is left behind in Mysia, though its traces will continue to be glimpsed throughout the poem.20

References Bär, S. 2018. Herakles im griechischen Epos. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. Feeney, D. 1986. “Following after Hercules, in Virgil and Apollonius.” Proceedings of the Virgil Society 18: 47–​85. Harder, A. 2012. Callimachus, Aetia: Introduction, Text, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hunter, R. 1993. The Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hunter, R. 1996. Theocritus and the Archaeology of Greek Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hunter, R. 1999. Theocritus: A Selection. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hunter, R. 2008. “The Poetics of Narrative in the Argonautica.” In A Companion to Apollonius Rhodius, ed. T. Papanghelis and A. Rengakos, 2nd ed., 115–​146. Leiden: Brill.

19  The similarity of the closural verses 11.626 and 12.72 in which the divine assistance in both cases is acknowledged is noteworthy. 20  Cf. further Bär (2018, 93–​95).

208   Richard Hunter Huttner, U. 1997. Die politische Rolle der Heraklesgestalt im griechischen Herrschertum. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. Karanika, A. 2011. “The End of the Nekyia: Odysseus, Heracles, and the Gorgon in the Underworld.” Arethusa 44: 1–​27. Rutherford, R. 2019. Homer Iliad Book XVIII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schironi, F. 2018. The Best of the Grammarians. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Vian, F., and E. Delage 1976. Apollonios de Rhodes, Argonautiques, Tome I. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. Weber, G. 1993. Dichtung und höfische Gesellschaft, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

Chapter 17

L aomed on, H e sion e , an d th e Sea -​M on ste r Bronwen Wickkiser

Heracles enjoyed widespread fame in antiquity for having purged the seas of menacing creatures (e.g., Pindar Nemeans 3.23–​24). One such creature was the kētos of Troy, a sea monster who threatened to devour Hesione, daughter of the Trojan king Laomedon. Heracles killed the monster and saved Hesione but in the process was cheated by the king of his promised reward. And so Heracles killed the king and conquered Troy. This occurred in the generation before the Trojan War that Homer recounts.

Detailed Synopsis The story really begins somewhat earlier than Heracles, with two other individuals: Zeus and Ganymede. Zeus became enamored of Ganymede, the son of Tros, king of Troy at the time, and took him off to Olympus, where he would reside as cupbearer to the gods. In exchange for Ganymede, Zeus gave to Tros immortal horses. Years later, Tros’ descendant Laomedon would inherit the horses and become king. So much did Laomedon prize these horses that he cheated and lied to avoid giving them up, even in return for the protection of his city and the safety of his daughter Hesione. Two instances of Laomedon’s deception bookend the story of Heracles and the kētos. The first occurs when Poseidon and Apollo were living at Troy and working

210   Bronwen Wickkiser for Laomedon. The two gods agreed to build substantial walls, and Laomedon promised to give them his immortal horses. But when the time for payment came, he broke his word and even threatened violence against the gods. In revenge, Poseidon sent a kētos to attack Troy. This monster ravaged the lands and its people, in combination in some accounts with a famine and/​or pestilence sent by Apollo. Looking for solutions, Laomedon consulted an oracle and was told to feed to the beast young Trojan women, a group that included his daughter Hesione. And so she was set out on the shore. Laomedon offered his immortal horses as a reward to anyone who succeeded in killing the monster. Heracles happened to be sailing by Troy and realized Hesione’s dire situation. He killed the monster and saved Hesione, but, much like Poseidon and Apollo, Heracles too was cheated of the horses, which constitutes Laomedon’s second major deception. Heracles returned to Troy soon after with a group of warriors to kill Laomedon and his sons and conquer the city. One comrade in this quest was Telamon, to whom Heracles gave Hesione as a reward for breaching the walls of Troy. Only one of Laomedon’s sons survived, Podarces, later called Priam because, in some accounts, Hesione ransomed him (the verb priamai meaning “purchased”). Priam would go on to rebuild Troy and was king at the time of the Trojan War. These are the general threads of the story, with which most of our sources agree, even if they do not all cover each aspect of the tradition.

Ancient Sources Various media, from paintings, mirrors, and mosaics to poems, mythographies, and histories, preserve the story.1 The textual tradition tends to focus on the deception of Laomedon and the revenge exacted by Poseidon and Heracles. By contrast, the visual tradition, much of it on pottery from the Greek period and wall paintings and stone reliefs from the Roman, narrows focus to the Heracles-​Hesione-​kētos episode.2 Due to

1  The main textual accounts survive in Homer Iliad 5.628–​651, 7.452–​453, 20.144–​148, 21.441–​457; Hellanicus fr. 26 Fowler; Palaephatus 37; Lycophron Alexandra 31–​37, 467–​478, 521–​523, 951–​957 (along with a commentary on the Alexandra by the Byzantine scholar Tzetzes); Diodorus 4.32, 4.42; Ovid Metamorphoses 11.194–​217; Valerius Flaccus Argonautica 2.451–​578, 4.58–​59; Hyginus Fabulae 31, 89; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.9, 2.6.4; and Philostratus the Younger Imagines 12. Two compendia of ancient myths recovered from medieval manuscripts also preserve summaries: First Vatican Mythographer 133, Second Vatican Mythographer 220. For other sources, see Gantz 1993, esp. 400–​402, 442–​444. Bibliography concerning the episode is gathered by Ogden 2013, 119, note 15, with the addition of Stafford 2012 and Hornblower 2015. 2  The visual sources are catalogued and discussed by John Oakley (LIMC Hesione).

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  211 the fact that the ancient sources for this episode are relatively few, we can linger over many of them to observe how the tradition changes.

Homer Iliad (c. 750 BC) The earliest surviving account occurs in Homer’s Iliad, which pays great attention to the anger that Poseidon continues to nurse against the Trojans for being cheated of pay when he built Troy’s walls. Inasmuch as the larger poem concerns anger and the consequences of taking without providing proper recompense, the relevance of the Laomedon story is clear. Within the poem, Poseidon is inconsistent about whether Apollo helped to construct the walls (cf. 7.452–​453, 21.441–​457), but he is unequivocal that both gods were cheated of promised pay and that a particularly arrogant Laomedon had threatened to bind their arms and legs, cut off their ears, and ship both gods off for sale in distant lands (21.453–​455).3 The Iliad does not state that Poseidon sent a sea monster in revenge, though Homer’s audience probably understood the connection between these events: elsewhere in the narrative Poseidon leads the gods to a landmark on the plain of Troy from which they can watch the battle—​a bastion of sorts that Athena and the Trojans constructed for Heracles to protect him while he fought the kētos as it chased him from the coast toward the plain (20.144–​148). Homer gives no other details about the struggle against the kētos, and there is no mention of Hesione or any other people being devoured by the monster. We do hear that Heracles came back to Troy with six ships to collect some horses (whether they are the immortal horses of Zeus is not specified), which had been promised to Heracles by Laomedon in exchange for some good deed (also unspecified), and we hear that Heracles sacked the city in revenge (5.628–​651). Though these various episodes are presented separately and out of chronological order in the Iliad, a cohesive story existed almost certainly by the time of Homer, with Laomedon and his penchant for cheating benefactors of fair pay receiving great attention in the Iliad due to the poem’s larger themes. Even the kētos episode, so briefly mentioned, is tailored to spotlight the bastion that Athena and the Trojans constructed to protect Heracles, rather than the killing of the beast, which accords with the narrative’s interest elsewhere in walls (whether surrounding Troy or protecting the Greek ships) and landmarks on the Trojan plain (such as a grave marker/​turning post at 23.327–​333). 3 At Iliad 7.452–​453 Poseidon says Apollo helped, while at 21.441–​457, he reminds Apollo that both gods were ordered by Zeus to serve Laomedon for one year, and that Apollo herded cattle for Laomedon while Poseidon built the walls.

212   Bronwen Wickkiser

Hellanicus (Fifth–Century BC) We find all of the components of the story linked explicitly in the fifth-​century historian Hellanicus (fr. 26b Fowler, which is a summary of Hellanicus’ now-​lost account by a scholiast on Iliad 20.145). Here, the feud between Poseidon and Laomedon continues to loom large: when Laomedon breaks his promise to pay Poseidon and Apollo for building walls, Poseidon sends a kētos that destroys crops as well as people. Laomedon is told by an oracle that he must set his daughter Hesione out to be eaten by the monster. He offers his divine horses as a reward to anyone who kills it, and Heracles accepts the challenge. Athena builds him a wall for protection, as in the Iliad. Hellanicus, unlike Homer, provides details about how Heracles attacks the kētos: he climbs inside its mouth and enters its belly, where he “destroyed its flanks,” cutting them from within. In return for killing the beast, Laomedon does in fact give Heracles horses, but not the immortal ones that had been promised. When Heracles realizes this, he conquers Troy. Another fragment of Hellanicus gives further details of the sack of Troy: Telamon enters the city first, which disgruntles Heracles; to soothe his anger, Telamon builds him an altar (fr. 109 Fowler). Hellanicus’ account is slightly later than the only visual representation of Heracles fighting at Troy to survive from Greek antiquity: the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina (LIMC Herakles 2792, c. 480 BC). With Hellanicus, not only are all of the elements of the larger story in place, but so too is a clear system of cause and effect, which will remain largely consistent in subsequent accounts.

Spotlight on Greek Pottery (Sixth-Century BC) Two vases of the sixth century BC, falling thus between Homer and Hellanicus, are the earliest visual representations of the Heracles-​kētos myth. Both tell the portion of the story not recounted in the Iliad—​Heracles attacking the kētos—​which makes them the earliest extant narratives of any sort to depict the struggle, and they do so quite differently. The earlier, a colorful Corinthian column-​crater of c. 560 BC, found in Caere, shows Heracles shooting a volley of arrows at the head of a brutish, rather Jurassic looking kētos that seems to be emerging from a rocky cliff or from a giant wave that carries the kētos onto shore (LIMC Hesione 3).4 His jaws are long, his teeth spiky, and from them protrudes a narrow tongue that seems poised to snatch up Hesione, who stands immediately in front of the kētos. Adrienne Mayor has suggested that this kētos resembles a fossil, such as the skull of a whale, giraffid, or ostrich, objects of wonder known in the ancient Mediterranean (Mayor 2011, 157–​191).5 Hesione holds rocks that she’s gathered from a pile at her feet, in

4  5 

Cliff: Oakley 1997 (LIMC Hesione 3), Mayor 2011, 158–​159. Wave: Ogden 2013, 121. On whale fossils and the Greek tradition of kētē, see also Papadopoulos and Ruscillo 2002.

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  213 preparation to hand them to Heracles or to throw them herself.6 Other rocks have already been lobbed at the monster, suggested by the fact that these appear in front of the kētos’ face, along with an arrow that hangs like an errant whisker from its chin. A strange, spotted circle above his eye could be a mark left by Heracles’ club, though we do not see the club itself.7 Heracles wears his quiver and is shooting three arrows almost simultaneously from his bow. The configuration of the three arrows as they come off the bow resembles the fork of Poseidon’s trident, perhaps a reminder to the audience of Poseidon’s role in the framing narrative. A second vase of the same century, an Attic black-​figure cup in Taranto of c. 540 BC, shows Heracles standing in front of the gaping mouth of an enormous kētos (LIMC Hesione 4). The hero is readily identifiable by the lion-​skin he wears. He wields a harpē, or sickle, in his right hand and grasps the long, narrow tongue of the kētos with his left, presumably to cut it out. His sword hangs belted around his waist.8 Hesione sits traumatized, hand to head, on a rock behind Heracles. Unlike the Corinthian vase, where we see only the head of the beast, here the artist has depicted its entire, scaly body, largely piscine save for a serpentine tail and a curious leonine mane. It appears that Heracles is poised to enter the beast after removing its tongue. This is the only representation to depict Heracles cutting out the tongue of the kētos. Some fairy tales have their hero remove a creature’s tongue and pocket it as evidence of the kill so that he will not be cheated of due reward later (Milne 1956, Lesky 1967). The audience of this cup likely would know the backstory of Heracles and the kētos—​that Laomedon was notorious for breaking his promises—​and so this one action of removing the tongue could signal not only the bravery of Heracles and the eventual death of the beast but also the framing narrative of Laomedon’s deceit and the resulting sack of Troy. Both vases thus incorporate details that seem to telescope the larger myth into a single moment.

Lycophron Alexandra (Third-Century BC) The Alexandra is a Hellenistic poem traditionally attributed to Lycophron and composed almost entirely of a lengthy prophecy delivered by the Trojan princess Cassandra (Alexandra) about the future of Troy. Full of unusual language and puzzling allusions, the prophecy jumps backward and forward in time. Cassandra begins by recalling the sack of Troy at the hands of Heracles (31–​38); but barely has she mentioned the sack (31–​33) when she lingers over Heracles’ confrontation with the sea 6 

Roman poets will describe Hesione as looking statuesque; here, she looks vaguely like an archaic korē statue, wearing a peplos, one foot in front of the other, palms upturned to hold objects (cf. Acropolis Museum nos. 679, 685). 7  Heracles will use his club against the sea monster in Valerius Argonautica 2.534–​536, Philostratus Imagines 12, and often also in Roman wall paintings and stone reliefs depicting the myth; see what follows. 8 The harpē is an unusual weapon for Heracles to wield against the kētos, though he and/​or Iolaos do use it against the Hydra. Milne 1956 suggests that Heracles employs the harpē only to cut out the tongue of the kētos; once inside, he uses his sword for the kill. The hero Perseus often wields a harpē against the kētos that threatens Andromeda.

214   Bronwen Wickkiser monster (33–​37). A dog-​like kētos swallows Heracles between his sharp teeth, yet Heracles manages to survive inside the belly of the beast, perhaps for three days, and eventually escapes by carving at its liver (35); meanwhile, the heat of the kētos’ gut causes Heracles to lose his hair.9 Later in the prophecy, we learn that Poseidon and Apollo are cheated by Laomedon (521–​523) and that the dog-​like sea monster sent in revenge spews salt water onto the plains of Troy and causes the ground to quake (472–​475). In an assembly, one of the Trojans, Phoenodamas, suggests that Hesione be fed to the monster (470–​473).10 The monster swallows Heracles rather than Hesione (“a scorpion rather than a woodpecker,” 476), and Heracles gives Hesione to Telamon for breaching the walls of Troy (468–​469).11 As in Homer, references to the larger Laomedon-​Heracles story are unsurprising, given the Trojan setting and imminent, second fall of Troy. But, unlike the Iliad, this poem includes Hesione. A principal motif of Cassandra’s prophecy is beautiful women who are the undeserving victims of divine anger, and Cassandra’s aunt Hesione is just such a victim, as is Cassandra herself (Hornblower 2015 on Alexandra line 34). Cassandra also mentions another female victim of divine anger: Andromeda, whose story shares striking parallels with Hesione’s. She too is exposed to a kētos, only to be rescued by the hero Perseus when he kills the beast (Alexandra 834–​846; on Perseus and Andromeda, see next section). The Alexandra, and Tzetzes’ commentary on it, is the last time that we hear of Heracles entering the beast to kill it. It is tempting to read the kētos here and in Hellanicus as a doublet for Troy itself, both of which Heracles must enter to destroy.

Spotlight on Perseus and Andromeda The story of Perseus and Andromeda runs roughly as follows: Andromeda was the daughter of Cepheus, the king of Ethiopia, and his wife Cassiepeia. In some versions, Poseidon grows angry when Cassiepeia boasts that she is more beautiful than the Nereids, and so a kētos is sent against the land. In order to end this threat, Andromeda is bound to a rock or to wooden posts, arms outstretched, as food for the kētos. Perseus, flying by Africa on his winged sandals after decapitating Medusa, sees Andromeda tied up and is smitten. Intent on marriage to her, he battles the kētos and frees and weds Andromeda. The points of convergence between this story and that of Heracles-​Hesione need little highlighting: a hero saves a young woman who is exposed to a sea monster in order to expiate one of the gods, who has been angered by an act of hubris on the part of the woman’s 9  The loss of hair is a curious detail that may signal the hero’s purification or rebirth (Strong and Jolliffe 1924, 78–​79). Tzetzes on Alexandra 33 suggests that the phrase “the three-​evening lion” used in reference to Heracles means that he spent three days inside the beast. 10  In revenge for this, Laomedon has Phoenodamas’ daughters banished to distant lands with the hope that they too will be eaten by monsters (Alexandra 952–​955). 11  Heracles is shown entering the kētos on a red-​figure crater of c. 350–​325 BCE (LIMC Hesione 6); here his head and body are covered with a garment (mantle?), as if disguised as Hesione—​a “woodpecker” rather than a “scorpion”—​perhaps to dupe the kētos into swallowing him. For this interpretation, see Ogden 2013, 122–​123.

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  215 parents. The hero kills the monster. But within this framework, divergences emerge. A near-​ constant and quite prominent aspect of the Andromeda story is Perseus’ immediate and enduring attraction to her: he falls in love almost at first sight, and not only does he marry her but he remains faithful to her. It is a quintessential love story: the hero must overcome an obstacle (the kētos) in order to prove himself worthy of his beloved, and the two live happily ever after. Heracles, by contrast, never seems to have a romantic interest in Hesione, although he has such interest in many other individuals, both male and female. Even when he gains possession of Hesione, he gives her to his comrade Telamon to marry.12 It is impossible to know which of the two stories developed first. The earliest source for the struggle between Perseus and the kētos is a Corinthian black-​figure amphora of c. 575–​ 550 BC, roughly contemporary with the earliest visual representation of Heracles and the kētos discussed previously (LIMC Andromeda i.1).13 The earliest literary accounts date to the mid-​fifth century BC, so quite a bit later than the reference to Heracles and the kētos in Homer (citations and discussion in Ogden 2013, 123–​129). The Perseus-​Andromeda myth quickly outstripped Heracles-​Hesione in popularity, however, appearing frequently in Greek and Roman literature and visual media, a phenomenon due in part, almost certainly, to its erotic aspects. By the classical period, focus tends to fall on Perseus’ attraction to Andromeda and her captivating beauty, which derives from the fact that she herself is captive, chained in provocative ways as she awaits the kētos. Almost from the beginning of the mythological tradition, Andromeda is a pin-​up, whereas Hesione becomes one only in the Roman period, as we shall see in what follows.14

Diodorus Bibliotheca Historica (First-Century BC) The historian Diodorus provides a lengthy narrative of Hesione and the kētos within an account of the various traditions of Heracles (4.32, 4.42). Diodorus gives more

12  The First Vatican Mythographer (133) has Heracles request marriage to Hesione for killing the sea monster, yet he gives her to Telamon nonetheless after conquering Troy, as in other accounts. An Apulian red-​figure amphora of c. 330 BCE depicts Eros hovering near Heracles while Laomedon and Paris beseech him to save Hesione, also pictured, which suggests erotic interest, though whether on the part of Heracles or Hesione, or both, is unclear (LIMC Hesione 1). On eroticism in the tradition of Perseus-​ Andromeda, see Ogden 2008: 77–​82. On Heracles’ many lovers, see Stafford 2012, 130–​136. 13  The amphora depicts three figures, labeled: to the left is the kētos, its enormous head emerging from the sea, its mouth open, tongue lolling expectantly beneath its sharp snout; in the center stands Perseus, wearing hat and winged sandals, poised to lob rocks at the kētos from a pile by his feet (much like Hesione on LIMC Hesione 3); to the right stands Andromeda, looking intently at the action, her hands (bound?) behind her back. 14  We may compare the first visual representations of Hesione and Andromeda, both on vases of the sixth century BC (LIMC Hesione 3; Andromeda i.1): Hesione is holding rocks, actively helping against the kētos, whereas Andromeda’s arms are behind her back, perhaps bound.

216   Bronwen Wickkiser detail than do other sources about the ways that Laomedon and his people are punished: not only does Poseidon send a kētos that carries off those who work by the shore and those who farm the land next to the sea, but a plague and famine too fall on the population and its territory (4.42.2). Diodorus also describes a complex response to the crisis: the people meet in assembly, and Laomedon sends an embassy to an oracle of Apollo. The oracle explains that the people must of their own free will choose by lot one of their children to expose as food for the monster. The lot falls to Hesione, and Laomedon chains her by the shore. Heracles is traveling with the Argonauts when they discover Hesione.15 Laomedon has not publicized a reward for killing the kētos; rather, Heracles learns about the kētos and Hesione’s predicament by asking her about it before he frees her. Only then does Heracles enter the city to engineer a deal with the king: he proposes to kill the kētos in return for Laomedon’s invincible horses (4.42.6). We find no details about how Heracles kills the kētos; we are only told that he does so. Afterward, Hesione is given a choice: to leave with Heracles or stay with her parents. She chooses the former because she values the good deed that Heracles performed more highly than family ties, and because she is afraid that she might be exposed by the citizens to another kētos (4.42.6). True to form, Laomedon fails to hand over the horses, and Heracles must leave with the Argonauts to complete their expedition (4.32.1–​2). Eventually he returns to take Troy but spares Priam, making the latter king because he had encouraged Laomedon to honor his deal (4.32.4–​5). Heracles bestows Hesione upon Telamon, as in earlier accounts. The focus of Diodorus’ narrative, as opposed to others we have explored, is not the long arc of Laomedon’ various deceits, beginning with Poseidon and Apollo, continuing with Heracles, and ending with the first sack of Troy, which of course sets up patterns for the second, more famous sack by the next generation of Greeks. Rather, Diodorus focuses on the exploits of Heracles, which feature the hero’s sense of fairness and cunning (as in engineering his own deal with the king) as well as his courage and strength.16 Hesione herself has much more of a voice in this version: she speaks up when discovered by Heracles, and she voices her desire to leave with him rather than remain with her family. There is also a curious play between free will and necessity in the narrative: not only does the oracle advise that the people of their own free will choose by lot one child to expose to the kētos, but when the lot falls upon Hesione, Laomedon is forced to hand his daughter over and leave her, bound in chains, by the shore (4.42.3–​4, emphasis added). This is the first account to put Hesione in chains, as opposed to the more vaguely “set out” or “sent” (ektheinai, Hellanicus F26b line 21 Fowler; steilai, Lycophron Alexandra 472). The image of Hesione bound passively (and erotically) in chains will 15  Diodorus is the first to place this episode within the expedition of the Argonauts, followed by Ovid, Valerius, and Hyginus. In Apollodorus, Heracles is returning from the Amazons. 16  On Diodorus’ interest in Heracles (and Odysseus) in Book 4 as a model for the work of historians, who labor to write histories and proffer benefactions thereby, see Ring 2018: 392–​395.

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  217 become a near-​constant both in Roman literature and visual art, a stark contrast to her earliest appearance on the sixth-​century BC Corinthian crater discussed earlier, where she arms herself with rocks. Moreover, beginning with Diodorus, subsequent accounts will describe Heracles killing the beast by delivering fatal wounds from outside its body, not from within, as had been the case in Hellanicus and the Alexandra. This, together with the chaining of Hesione, may indicate the influence of the Perseus-​ Andromeda myth.

Ovid and Valerius Flaccus (First-Century AD) The Roman authors Ovid and Valerius Flaccus recount the story of Hesione in their epic poems, the Metamorphoses and Argonautica, respectively. Ovid positions his account between stories of another eastern king, Midas, and another Greek hero, Peleus, brother of Telamon, who helped Hercules to take Troy, as we have seen in other sources (Metamorphoses 11.194–​217). Ovid’s version is brief: Apollo and Neptune in human form offer to help Laomedon build walls in return for gold, a detail that picks up the many mentions of gold within the Midas story. After Laomedon breaks his agreement, and even claims that there was no agreement—​which in the narrator’s assessment constitutes a crowning treachery (perfidiae cumulum, 11.206)—​Neptune exacts punishment first by washing away all the crops and submerging the farmland in water. Only then, and almost as a crowning punishment to suit Laomedon’s ultimate deceit, do we hear of the monster to whom the king’s daughter must be handed over (monstro . . . aequoreo, 11.211–​212). It takes Hercules a mere 3.5 dactyl-​sped lines to free Hesione from the rocks to which she’s chained, demand and fail to receive from the king the promised horses, and finally capture Troy’s twice-​perjured walls (bis periura; no need for a return trip in this version). As a coda, Hesione is given to Telamon. Ovid makes no mention of Hercules battling and killing the sea monster, perhaps because he had described a similar battle earlier in the same poem: at Metamorphoses 4.668–​705 Perseus saves a naked, chained, especially statuesque Andromeda from a barnacled sea monster (belua) by slashing at it repeatedly with his sword from above, borne as he is over the sea on winged sandals. It is quintessential Ovidian narrative, replete with delightful, sometimes gory details, and amusing asides. Valerius Flaccus, by contrast and almost certainly in response to Ovid, devotes a staggering 125+ lines of his Argonautica to Hercules, Hesione, and the kētos (2.451–​578). His is the most detailed account of the struggle to survive, and he gives Hesione far more voice than other sources. Nevertheless, elements of the larger Laomedon story do not appear, perhaps because the poem is unfinished: Laomedon’s deceit is never fully realized, for instance, and Hercules does not return to sack Troy. Apart from these

218   Bronwen Wickkiser differences, Valerius’ account of Hercules and Hesione shares much in common with Diodorus, and much more even with Ovid’s account of Perseus and Andromeda.17 Hercules, together with Telamon, is sailing by the coast of Troy while on expedition with the Argonauts. They hear Hesione’s cry for help and investigate. Hercules sees Hesione, statuesque and bound by chains on a cliff, and asks her who she is and how she ended up in this moment of crisis. Hesione launches into a lengthy reply (2.471–​ 492): I do not deserve this fate; my family was deserted by good fortune, as attested by a plague and a sea monster (belua) of immeasurable size that befell the land; the oracle of Ammon instructed that virgins be chosen by lot as a sacrifice to the beast, and this lot has fallen to me; however, auguries indicate that someone will come to save me, and my father has been feeding horses to give to my savior; might this savior be you, for you have a chest bigger than that of Neptune when he built the walls, and shoulders broader than Apollo’s? So ends her speech, on a note not only of flattery but of brief allusion to Laomedon’s deceit of Neptune. On cue, Neptune rouses the monster, which Valerius renders in appropriately hideous detail, including a triple row of teeth and one thousand coils of bulk. But the real show-​ stopper is Hercules, focalized not through the eyes of Hesione and not merely through those of the narrator, but also through those of Telamon, who stands in awe of him (2.509–​511). Hercules jumps onto a rock and launches a barrage of arrows, yet the monster keeps advancing and gets too close for long-​range ballistics, which forces Hercules to switch weapons, first to rocks and then to his club. With blows of the latter, the monster sinks into the sea. Hercules frees Hesione and goes to meet Laomedon, who thanks him and invites him to spend the night at Troy. But secretly the king is distressed at the thought of having to hand his horses over to Hercules the next morning, so he plans to kill the hero in his sleep. Hercules escapes this fate by declining the invitation, explaining that he must get on with his adventures and will come back for the horses another time. He sails away, and though he does try to return later (4.58–​59), another mission distracts him and we hear no more of Hesione or Laomedon in Valerius’ poem. Valerius’ account diverges in clever ways. One such way is through gaze. As he approaches Troy, Hercules strains to catch sight of the person crying out in distress (visuque enisus, 2.462). Upon seeing a woman chained to the rocks, Hercules feels concern but not lust. As noted previously, this aligns with the dynamic between Heracles and Hesione in other accounts: he seems to have no romantic interest in her, in stark contrast to Perseus’ passionate interest in Andromeda.18 Just a few lines later, however, Telamon, whom Valerius posits by Hercules’ side, watches and marvels at how Hercules’ mind grows violent, his muscles swell, and his weighty quivers beat on his back. The gaze of Telamon (stupet . . . Aeacides, 2.510–​511) lends a fellow comrade’s 17  On the narrative of Hercules-​Hesione in Valerius as a direct response to Ovid’s Perseus-​ Andromeda, see Hershkowitz 1998, 72–​75; Keith 2014, 273–​275, with bibliography. Keith 1999 (esp. 221–​ 223) argues that Ovid’s Perseus is himself a Herculean hero. 18  On glory rather than eros as a motivator for Hercules in the Argonautica, see Keith 2014: 274.

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  219 vantage point, even perhaps a homoerotic one, for admiring the hero.19 Hercules also feels shame and self-​doubt in the face of potential failure, which we have not witnessed in this myth before (vanique insania coepti—​et tacitus pudor, 2.525–​526). Ever the valiant, steadfast fighter, Hercules overcomes these obstacles to unleash an arsenal more diverse than other literary accounts relate: he wields arrows, rocks, and even his famous club that delivers the fatal blow.

Spotlight on Roman Wall Painting By the first century, the Romans had acquired an appetite for paintings featuring damsels naked in distress, arms chained akimbo, patiently awaiting a hero to save them from rapacious monsters. Images of Hercules and Hesione, as well as of Perseus and Andromeda, fed that appetite. Hesione and Hercules appear typically in the center of the composition, standing on a shore, sometimes with the walls and buildings of Troy in the background, as the kētos lurks in the foreground in the process of being killed or collapsed already dead with an arrow fastened in its carcass (LIMC Hesione 9–​14, also 15 [though second century AC] and Philostratus, later). Generally the kētos in these paintings has a long, narrow body and head, looking much like a dragon. Hesione is chained to rocks or recently freed from them, and wears little or no clothing. Hercules too is often naked and can be identified readily by his lion-skin, as well as his club and bow, which he deploys in addition to stones against the kētos. Telamon often stands nearby, helping to defeat the kētos and free Hesione (LIMC Hesione 9, 10, 13; also Telamon no. 13).20 In many of the paintings, Laomedon disappears into the background, if he appears at all. One prominent exception is a cycle of paintings from Pompeii that includes Hercules meeting Laomedon and, later, Hercules attacking him (LIMC Herakles 2791). The focus in these paintings tends to be wider in scope than on Greek vases, where the battle between the hero and kētos took center stage. Here instead, we see more characters, including Telamon as well as other Greeks and Trojans, and much more of the landscape around Troy. Moreover, the moment captured is sometimes not the struggle between monster and hero but its aftermath, the kētos lying inert, fully defeated.

Hyginus Fabulae and Apollodorus Bibliotheca (Early Imperial) Given the popularity of this story in Roman wall painting and literature, it is no surprise that compendia of myths from the early imperial period recount it, including 19  Stupet is the same verb Ovid uses when Perseus beholds Andromeda for the first time (Metamorphoses 4.676). 20  An early imperial mosaic and probably also an Etruscan mirror portray Telamon gazing at Hesione as he leads her by the hand, suggesting erotic interest (LIMC Telamon 14, 15).

220   Bronwen Wickkiser those attributed to Hyginus (Fabulae 31 and 89) and Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.9, 2.6.4). Hyginus’ version differs in two key facets: Laomedon refuses to hand Hesione over to Hercules after he’s defeated the sea monster, and Podarces gets the name Priam because he is ransomed (apo tou priasthai). Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.6.4 adds that Hesione uses her veil as payment for Priam’s ransom.21 These summaries are important for exposing variants of the story that may have existed long before but did not survive well otherwise.22

Philostratus Imagines (c. AD 200) The final literary account of any length from antiquity is that of Philostratus the Younger, who describes a fictive or now lost painting of Heracles, Hesione, and the kētos (Imagines 12). The action of the painting takes place before the walls of Troy, behind which, Philostratus speculates, Laomedon may be watching. Many of the Trojans stand atop the walls, raising their hands in prayer lest the monster attack the city. Hesione, bound to rocks, looks a bit less beautiful than she otherwise does due to fear, Philostratus explains. But the real focus is Heracles and especially the kētos. The latter occupies most of Philostratus’ description—​and most of the painting, we can imagine: it is huge, with a body so long that it bends many times and rises out of the water at points like islands; its head is massive, and its eyes seem to glance about, hooded by a spiky brow; its mouth protrudes with a triple row of teeth (as in Valerius), some of which are bent back to trap what they catch, while others are sharp and especially long. It rushes toward the land, churning up waves that crash onto the shore. Heracles stands valiantly against the monster, naked, with his club and lion-skin by his feet. He stretches his bow. Overall, the composition is much in keeping with surviving paintings of the myth. Philostratus’ narrator claims that the key to distinguishing this undertaking from Heracles’ canonical Labors is his pursuit of aretē (“virtue” or “valor”). Heracles is no longer forced to act; rather, he chooses to act for the good of others.

Spotlight on Roman Reliefs By the time of Philostratus, images of Hercules and Hesione were popular also in the northern provinces of the empire, especially on carved stone reliefs, many of them funerary. 21 

Hesione is portrayed wearing a veil on a red-​figure Apulian amphora of c. 330 BC (LIMC Hesione 1), which may indicate that the tradition of a veil for ransoming her brother is much older. 22  Two other mythographies offer minor variants: Heracles requests not horses but Hesione for killing the monster (First Vatican Mythographer 133), and Neptune sends cetos (plural!) against Troy (Second Vatican Mythographer 220).

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  221 These compositions feature only three figures typically: Hercules, Hesione, and the kētos (LIMC Hesione 21–​34). Hesione continues to be depicted nude or partially clothed, chained to a rock, arms akimbo or, less frequently, behind her back. Hercules sometimes carries or wields his club, less often his bow, against the kētos, which tends to rise up next to Hesione or lie dead between Hesione and the hero. The stone from which these reliefs are carved lends realism to the rocky landscape that the characters inhabit. The funerary context for many of these reliefs is remarkable; Oakley suggests that the popularity of Hercules in the provinces, particularly as a redemptive hero, may explain the phenomenon (LIMC Hesione p. 628). That Hercules is paired with Hesione and the kētos in this context is equally remarkable: the kētos could easily be shorthand for his ability to rid the earth of evils generally, and the vulnerable Hesione for his benefactions towards all mortals, apart from any romantic motivation.23

Nachleben In the medieval period, beginning with Benoit de Sainte-​Maure’s epic poem Le roman de Troie, c. 1150, we find new histories of Troy in both prose and poetry, many of which include Laomedon and Hesione.24 These peak most famously in 1464 with Raoul Lefèvre’s Le recueil des hystoires de Troyes and its English translation ten years later by William Caxton, the first book to be published in the English language. Some editions of Lefèvre’s history contain illustrations, including a late fifteenth-​century manuscript that depicts Heracles clad in full medieval armor, raising a metal-​spiked club against a hairy kētos-​cum-​Gargouille.25 At the end of the sixteenth century, Shakespeare uses the story of Hesione to comic effect in The Merchant of Venice (3.2.53–​62), when Portia compares herself to Hesione and Bassanio to Heracles, remarking that Bassanio seems much more in love than Heracles was. With the advent of opera, composers turned anew to Laomedon and Hesione; no fewer than five operas based on the story appear over the course of the eighteenth century, including André Campra’s Hésione, first performed in 1700. Antoine Danchet, who penned the libretto for Campra’s opera, wrote Heracles out of the plot, perhaps for the very reason that Shakespeare’s Portia points up: he has no passion for Hesione. Rather, the opera presents a complex love triangle among Hésione, Telamon, and Anchises, with intervention from Venus and Neptune (who sends a kētos, which Telamon vanquishes, thereby winning Hésione in marriage).


On Heracles’ relationship to virtue, see Galinsky 1972, 185–​230; Stafford 2012, 104–​136. On his use by early Christians, see Stafford 2012, 202–​206 and Chapter 37 in this volume. 24  This and many of the following works are listed, with bibliography, in Reid 1993, “Laomedon.” 25 Bibliothèque nationale de France: Français 59 (Anc. 6737), fol. 124r. On Lefèvre’s portrayal of Heracles, see Galinsky 1972, 191–​195.

222   Bronwen Wickkiser In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Paris town homes were decorated with paintings of Heracles saving Hesione, an intriguing comparison to wall paintings of the episode in Roman domestic spaces. One of these, by François Lemoyne, is particularly dramatic: Heracles plants his foot and club on the belly of the dragon-​ like kētos lying supine on the shore, while with his free hand he tends to the shackles of swooning Hesione; just offshore, his companions struggle on their skiff in rough waters.26 By the close of the nineteenth century, interest in Hesione and the kētos seems to have waned almost entirely. Perhaps fittingly, a painting by Hans Thoma in 1890, the last of the famous renditions, has Heracles facing away from the viewer.27 He presents his broad, naked back to us, resting his club on the sand as he converses with Hesione, who is already freed and holds her garment modestly across her breast. A diminutive male figure (Telamon?) hefts a rock aloft, eyes closed, as if mustering strength to hurl it at the sea-​monster that spirals in the foreground. Indeed, the eyes of all the figures are closed or hidden to us, leaving one to wonder just what the focus should be.

Abbreviation LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999.

References Fowler, R. L. 2001. Early Greek Mythography. Volume 1: Text and Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galinsky, G. K. 1972. The Herakles Theme: The Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Hershkowitz, D. 1998. Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica: Abbreviated Voyages in Silver Latin Epic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hornblower, S. 2015. Lykophron, Alexandra: Greek Text, Translation, Commentary, and Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Keith, A. 1999. “Versions of Epic Masculinity in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.” In Ovidian Transformations: Essays on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Its Reception, ed. P. R. Hardie,

26 Musée des Beaux-​Arts, Nancy, inv. 925, on loan to the Musée Rodin, Paris (the building where it originally was on display). 27  The composition is very close to that of a Roman wall painting (LIMC Hesione 9), though the figures in the latter are more expressive (e.g., Hesione gestures towards Heracles, whose face is visible).

Laomedon, Hesione, and the Sea-Monster  223 A. Barchiesi, and S. Hinds, 214–​ 239. Cambridge Philological Society Suppl. 23. Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society. Keith, A. 2014. “Ovid and Valerius Flaccus.” In Brill’s Companion to Valerius Flaccus, ed. M. Heerink and G. Manuwald, 269–​289. Leiden, Boston: Brill. Lesky, A. 1967. “Herakles und das Ketos.” Anzeiger der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.-​hist. Klasse 104: 1–​6. Mayor, A. 2011. The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Milne, M. J. 1956. Review of F. Brommer, Die Königstochter und das Ungeheuer, Marburger Winckelmann-​Programm, 1955. American Journal of Archaeology 60.3: 300–​302. Oakley, J. H. 1997. “Hesione.” LIMC viii.1, 623–​629. Ogden, D. 2008. Perseus. London: Routledge. Ogden, D. 2013. Drakōn: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Papadopoulos, J. K., and D. Ruscillo. 2002. “A Kētos in Early Athens: An Archaeology of Whales and Sea Monsters in the Greek World.” American Journal of Archaeology 106.2: 187–​227. Reid, J. D. 1993. The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300–​1990s. Volume 1. New York: Oxford University Press. Ring, A. 2018. “Diodoros and Myth as History.” In Diodoros of Sicily: Historiographical Theory and Practice in the Bibliotheke, ed. L. I. Hau, A. Meeus, and B. Sheridan, 389–​403. Studia Hellenistica, 58. Leuven: Peeters. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Strong, E., and N. Jolliffe. 1924. “The Stuccoes of the Underground Basilica near the Porta Maggiore.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 44: 65–​111.

Chapter 18

Auge a nd Te le phus Emma Griffiths

One of the greatest surviving monuments from the ancient world, the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (second-century BC, Asia Minor), showcased a dramatic Gigantomachy where Heracles assisted the gods, but a second frieze in the inner court depicted the life of Telephus and his parents, Auge and Heracles (LIMC Telephos 1 pll. 1–​12, 20–​21). This smaller, shallow set of sculptured panels has required considerable reconstruction, but the main outline of the story is clear. In a remarkable artistic feat of visual storytelling we are given eye-​witness views of the meeting of Heracles and Auge, daughter of King Aleus, followed by the casting out of mother and child. Subsequent panels show mother and son finding safety, with Heracles acknowledging Telephus as his son. The rest of the frieze concentrates on the life of Telephus, including his wounding and subsequent healing by the sword of Achilles. Telephus was the mythical founder of Pergamon and the frieze depicts the founding of local cults along with the altar itself. Both narratives on the monument cast Heracles in a supporting role.1 The Altar commemorated a victory by Attalid forces over several potential invasions, and asserted the Greek heritage of the ruling family. Pergamon would be an important ally of Rome, and so this set of images comes from a significant point in the development of Graeco-​Roman mythology, linking multiple local traditions. While the importance of Telephus himself is clear, it is less easy to determine whether his status as “son of Heracles” ’ is essential, and what the role of Heracles himself is in this statement of cultural hegemony. It may be that Heracles’ importance only developed in the second century BC in Pergamon as the mythical genealogies became more


On the reconstruction of the frieze, see Dreyfus (1996). On the sociopolitical significance of the frieze, see Dignas (2012).

Auge and Telephus  225 important (Patterson 2011, 140–​141), and that Telephus himself was a primary figure of early myth, possibly as a manifestation of the “wounded leader” (Ogden 1997, 31), or an incarnation related to the Hittite deity Telipinu. Heracles’ political and cultural significance in the Mediterranean world was strongly linked to the role of Telephus, linking different communities beyond his established role as Dorian ancestor. When Rome rose to become the Mediterranean superpower, Telephus continued to provide an important link between Italy and previous seats of power. Heracles’ role as a father figure, saving the infant Telephus, was promoted in Roman art as a symbol of Roman paternal virtue, related to the Romulus and Remus abandonment narrative. The Hellenistic Lycophron (Alexandra 1245–​ 1249) said that the Etruscans were descended from the line of Telephus, and Plutarch described “Roma” as a descendent of Telephus (Romulus 2). The antiquity of the story is supported by numismatic evidence from third-​century BC Italy (Bremmer and Horsfall 1987, 95–​96).

Auge The relationship between Heracles and Auge was constructed in many different frames in the ancient world, but for the original audiences, the key point may have been that the son, Telephus, was born, providing a bridge between Arcadia and Mysia.2 In this respect, Heracles could be viewed as a minor character in the story of Telephus (who has a popular story of his own involving magical weapons and the folktale aspects of the Trojan War). Heracles’ relationship with Auge also involved several possible journeys, as part of the hero’s role in the establishment of Greek mythopoetic geography and etiologies for different social and political narratives (Braun 2004, 296–​303; Davison, 1991). A range of questions can be posed by instantiations of the myth, some of which may occur most strongly to modern audiences, but others were relevant to ancient and modern audiences, such as the nature of Heracles’ sexual encounter. Auge was born as daughter of King Aleus of Tegea in Arcadia and ended her life in Mysia, the northwest area of Asia Minor.3 A constellation of narratives surrounds her sexual encounter with Heracles. The earliest surviving account, from Hesiod’s Catalog of Women, indicates that somehow Auge arrived in Mysia and that a divine edict led the king Teuthras to take her under his protection. This led to a development of the story where Heracles has sex with Auge in Mysia, possibly on his way to complete the Labor of taming the man-​eating horses. Hesiod’s language notes that the 2  For detailed reconstruction of the different traditions, see Scheer (2016). New material for the Telephus myth has come from a fragmentary poem by Archilochus: see the commentary by Swift (2019). On the implications for our knowledge of Heracles’ cult on Thasos, see Bowie (2016). 3  The name “Auge” means “sunbeam”; it was also the name of one of the Horae (Hours).

226   Emma Griffiths union was “by force” (biai, F165. 6–​9 M​W).4 However, it is possible that Hesiod was referring to a story in which Auge became pregnant in Tegea, and then was cast out with her son. The majority of versions locate the sexual encounter in Arcadia, a story with greater mythical coherence and parallels with the story of Heracles’ ancestor, Perseus, cast out to sea in a chest with his mother Danaë (Ogden 2008, 19–​21). Auge’s voyage can be seen as a mythical representation of the way women were historically moved between different households. Communities established connections by marriage and so women operated as a form of social currency (Kontastanionou 2018, 1, 83–​84). In this respect, Heracles’ action is a catalyst for the movement of Auge, which symbolically links Greece with Asia Minor. Several possible narratives can be reconstructed from a range of sources, including accounts from mythographers. The first-​century BC Diodorus Siculus (4.33) includes the story in his list of Heracles’ relationships, between Omphale and Deianeira. He details how Heracles’ attacked Auge in Arcadia and Telephus was then abandoned on Mt. Parthenion. This family drama was popular in the Greek world, as the subject of many lost tragedies, including Aeschylus’ Telephus and Sophocles’ Telepheia tetralogy. Euripides’ Telephus dramatized the adult Telephus holding the infant Orestes hostage (a scene also presented on contemporary vases: LIMC Telephos 51–​83), and his treatment of the action was parodied in several comedies by Aristophanes. Auge may have originally been seen as a nymph, but the surviving versions make her a mortal, sometimes the virgin priestess of Athena Alea; Euripides’ Auge F323a says that she was engaged in washing clothes for the goddess when Heracles abducted her. If her journey begins before Heracles’ arrival, she may be sent away to Mysia because her father had received an oracle that any son born to her would kill his own uncles—​a detail given in the work of the fourth-​century BC orator Alcidamas (Odysseus 14), which may derive from an earlier account in Sophocles’ Auge. The majority of versions place the rape in Arcadia, normally as an act of Heracles’ violence and/​or drunkenness, a motif alluded to in Euripides Auge F272b, where Heracles appears to regret the influence of alcohol. The issue of rape is complicated, and an alternative version attributed to Hecataeus says that Heracles had sex with Auge whenever he came to Tegea (Pausanias 8.4.8–​9), implying a hidden ongoing relationship.5 For an ancient audience, each version of the story made Heracles culpable. Any sexual act without the consent of the father could be considered a “rape,” in the sense of unauthorized trespass on another man’s household.6 Even if Auge was imagined as a willing lover, and herself cast in a negative light 4 

See further Michalopoulos (2017) on how Hesiod’s versions of the myth influenced Ovid’s later approach to Hercules. 5  Pausanias’ reporting of local lore requires critical consideration, particularly when the importance of claiming a hero ancestry was involved. For Tegea’s mythical ambitions and the relationship with Pergamon, see Scheer (2016). 6  On the conceptualization of rape in antiquity, see Omitowoju (2008) for the Classical Athenian view, as well as a range of perspectives offered in Deacy and Pierce (2002).

Auge and Telephus  227 by a mutually consensual relationship, this would not absolve Heracles of responsibility, particularly if she was violating her oath as a virgin priestess. In Apollodorus’ account, the birth of Telephus leads to a plague in Arcadia when Auge leaves the baby in Athena’s temple (Bibliotheca 2.7.4), indicating the potentially miasmic nature of the union. For an ancient audience, the idea of seduction may have been even more troubling than a violent assault, so Pausanias’ story may reveal some local mythopoetic attempt to downplay Heracles’ importance as a local hero. However, the stories of Auge and Telephus do inspire several romantic responses, particularly in Hellenistic and Roman literature, so a storyline with Heracles as lover is not out of the question. A fragment of Euripides’ Auge (F269) implies that there was an element of romance in the relationship: “Only a fool, or someone who has never felt the overwhelming joy of love, would fail to acknowledge that Eros is the greatest and most powerful of gods.” It is also possible to view the relationship as a “Sacred Marriage,” a hieros gamos, representing an early mythical pattern, as the stories of Arcadian myth are closely linked to ritual practice (Brulé 1996; Rigoglioso 2009, 77–​79). For a modern audience, the question of consent is unavoidable, and the story presents a largely negative picture of Heracles as a violent attacker, but the narrative of drunkenness leading to a significant birth can be paralleled elsewhere in Greco-​ Roman mythology, such as in the story that Laius (father of Oedipus) drunkenly forgot the oracle foretelling death at the hands of his son. Although Heracles’ love of wine is part of his mythological persona, particularly in comedy, there may also be deeper cult links between Telephus and the god Dionysus. Dionysus is part of both friezes on the altar at Pergamon, as he is said to be angered at Telephus and cause him to fall victim to Achilles in the Greek attack on Mysia (Moraw 2011, 245–​246). The movement of the characters between different locations is central to the myth, as it accounts for multiple dynastic and ethnic links between Greece, Asia Minor, and eventually Rome. The importance of Telephus’ hybrid ethnic identity can be seen as early as the fifth century BC (Sells 2019, 23–​52), and provides an additional perspective on Heracles’ own liminality. Several episodes in the story can be viewed as an etiological response to the local landscape, from Mt. Parthenion (Mountain of the Virgin), to the periegesis which the adult Telephus’ undertakes to find a cure for his wound (Williamson 2016, 73–​79).

Birth of Telephus The next stage of the story brings Auge to Mysia via several possible routes. Mother and son may be exposed in a chest and wash up on the shore, or she may give birth and the infant Telephus is exposed on Mt. Parthenion, where he is suckled by a deer—​ Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.7.4) derives his name from this event, reading it to mean “doe’s teat.” The infant is either saved by shepherds, or by Heracles himself, before

228   Emma Griffiths coming to Mysia as an adult, possibly in response to a message from the Delphic Oracle. If Auge is separated from her son, she is reunited when he is an adult in dangerous circumstances that require Heracles’ intervention. The plot of Sophocles’ Mysians seems to have involved a projected marriage between mother and son, prompting Auge to try to murder Telephus. The gods intervene by sending a huge snake (a possible reversal of the snakes sent to kill the infant Heracles), and Auge herself cries out to Heracles to save her, which leads to a recognition. Euripides may have created a mechanism for recognition by making Heracles give Auge a ring. Mythically, many of these variants make sense, and can be paralleled in other stories. However, by the time we reach the Roman period, it is essential that Heracles is given a role in saving his son as an infant, to prefigure the founding narratives of Romulus and Remus (Plutarch Life of Romulus 2). The Basilica at Herculaneum displayed several episodes from the life of Telephus, and it seems likely that that the story was closely linked to the promotion of the emperor’s generosity (Moormann 2014, 133). These stories reflect the role of Heracles/​Hercules as a savior figure (theos soter), particularly after his deification, when he became the focus of many hero cult sites throughout the Mediterranean world. It presents a very positive reading of Heracles’ paternal role, but we lack key information about particular details, such as how and why Heracles comes to save his son.

Telephus the Adult Heracles’ action in saving the infant Telephus situates him as a supporting actor in a familiar mythological pattern, the early life of the hero who was exposed at birth (Huys 1995). Heracles may have been added into an existing story about Telephus, for he has a strong mythical biography as an adult as King of Mysia. Coming to the aid of his countrymen, he was wounded in the preliminary events of the Second Trojan War (after Heracles himself was involved in the First Trojan War). The Greek fleet sent to recover Helen from Troy mistakenly landed in Mysia and in the battle Telephus was wounded by Achilles. It proved to be an unusual wound, which required a magical remedy, slivers of metal from the spear itself.7 In desperation, Telephus traveled to Argos and took the baby Orestes hostage until Agamemnon agreed to help. The scene was dramatized by Euripides, and parodied by Aristophanes, with different characters enacting a hostage scene with “wineskin baby” (Women at the Thesmophoria 730–​ 760) or “coal-scuttle baby” (Acharnians 336).8 The striking images of the Euripidean

7  These events formed part of the epic cycle, and the story is told in fragments of the Cypria and made explicit in later accounts such as Ovid Metamorphoses 12.112–​113, 172–​173 and Tristia 5.2.15–​16. 8  Cf. Aristophanes Acharnians 430–​432 where Dicaeopolis requests the costume of Telephus from “Euripides.”

Auge and Telephus  229 version with Telephus as a beggar may have influenced the development of the myth (Papaioannou 2007, 78), but there is good reason to suppose that the story of Telephus was mythically rich from the early archaic period on, and widely depicted in visual media. The father–​son relationship between Heracles and Telephus is not explored in any of our surviving sources, but the link to the relationship of Agamemnon and Orestes hints at the kaleidoscopic nature of Greco-​Roman myth. Telephus (the exposed infant who travels over water), is wounded by Achilles (infant dipped in the Styx), then forces assistance from the Greeks by taking hostage Orestes, who will then go on to murder his own mother and become an exposed outcast “Mountain Man.” The family line is central here and has a mythical continuity. Plutarch (On Controlling Anger 458e) tells of a play by Sophocles involving a fight between Neoptolemus (son of Achilles) and Eurypylus (son of Telephus), indicating the ongoing conflict between the heroic families.

Silence One element of Telephus’ story which was famous, though not clearly explained in any surviving source, is his silence, possibly self-​imposed or inflicted by Apollo. Aristotle (Poetics 1460a32) refers to Sophocles’ play Mysians and “the voiceless man who came from Tegea to Mysia.” Alexis (Parasite F183 K-​A, at Athenaeus 421d) refers to the proverbial “silence of Telephus,” and it seems to have been a motif in comedy that became particularly important in Latin literature, evolving into a metapoetic image in the poetry of Juvenal (Larmour 2016, 62–​63). The silence may be a result of a murder, which could be read as a recasting of mythological tropes within the family line, as Heracles’ own life involves a complex interlude of silence and femininity in his enslavement to Omphale. This may be echoed at key moments in other parts of his story, such as the way ritual silence is suddenly deepened as madness grips him in Euripides’ Heracles (926–​30), or the peculiar pattern of speech and silence presented in Sophocles’ Trachiniae (Rood 2010).9 The image of Telephus in rags, as pictured by Euripides, further suggests possible mythological repetitions with ideas of clothing, silence and femininity linking father and son (Llewellyn-Jones 2005, 61).


There is also a peculiar reference to “Herculean silence” in the seventeenth-​century poet George Chapman (Euthymiae Raptus 1105–​1111) which may hint at another ancient tradition (Waddington 1970). Chapman does not gloss or expand on the comment, suggesting that his audience could understand this as a proverbial phrase, although his work often assumes knowledge of obscure details of Greek and Roman myth which the popular reader might miss.

230   Emma Griffiths

Magic Questions of speech and silence inevitably lead to consideration of ritual practice in the ancient world, and the family story provides etiologies for cult practice throughout the Mediterranean. It may also be part of a deeper substratum of myth and magic in ancient culture indicating the more magical and occluded aspects of Heracles’/​Hercules’ life before and after deification. In the Ibis Ovid links the wounds of Philoctetes and Telephus as focal points for curses, and the two stories share considerable points of overlap, as different configurations of mythical motifs of medicine and magic. Philoctetes’ wound from a snake bite is magical in its persistence, and can only be cured by Asclepius (as promised by the divine Heracles in Sophocles’ Philoctetes 37–​38). His salvation relies on the power of his bow, which is itself an object with more-​than-​mortal strength, and had previously belonged to Heracles. These magical objects exist throughout Greek mythology, although the mechanism of their operation, and the relationship with the Olympian gods, is often extremely vague, suggesting that they draw on older traditions or alternative, magical narratives which have not translated into mainstream mythology as transmitted to us. The wound that Telephus receives from Achilles’ spear is never properly explained, but can reasonably be viewed as representing the dual nature of medical power and knowledge, a connection suggested by Plato’s use of the image in the Gorgias (Moore 2012). The spear was of divine origin, passed from Chiron to Peleus, and Chiron himself is said to have taught Achilles the healing arts. In this way it relates to wider traditions of folktale that tell stories involving conflict and reconciliation of opposing forces. Such stories often involve repetition and doubling of motifs and characters, as well as the homeopathic principle of “like cancels likes”—​we see this reflected in ancient Greek language with the dual meaning of the word pharmakos as “drug” or “antidote.” Greek myth presents many cases where a narrative has two strands, or repeated episodes that expose or challenge ideas of duality (Davies 2000). Figures such as Heracles embody contrasts in one figure, warning of the problems we face when establishing and enforcing strict boundaries, such as Male versus Female, Greek versus Barbarian, Strength versus Weakness and so on. The association with metal and magic was well developed in the ancient world (Laskaris 2016), and the Telephus myth may reflect notions associated with his father, such as the invulnerability of the Nemean Lion to any metal weapon, or the tradition that Heracles was originally one of the Idean Dactyls, the legendary metalworkers of Crete (Diodorus Siculus 5.64).10 The family may be further connected through magical associations with water. Telephus’ abandonment at sea may be part of a broad folktale pattern of “trial by water” (McHardy 2008), and Auge may have been a water-​nymph in early versions of the story, a feature expressed more obliquely in later versions, especially with 10 

On the wider links between metal and magic in ancient cultures, see Blakely (2006).

Auge and Telephus  231 references to washing and bathing. Heracles himself has multiple encounters with the forces of water, from diverting the rivers to clean the Augean stables to fighting the river god Achelous, so his wider mythology may have emphasized, if not derived from, ancient approaches to water, including the development of irrigation and ritual practice (Taylor 2009). In a similar vein, we may consider how Telephus’ magical wound related to Heracles’ role in narratives of necromancy (Ogden 2001, 29–​43), his links to Orphic tradition (Athanassakis and Wolkow 2013, 99) and the co-​opting of Hercules as a figure in early Christianity (Stafford 2020). The figure of the wounded Telephus may be seen as an antecedent to the story of Parsifal/​Percival, the knight of Arthurian legend (Felton 2017, 252, n.4) and the wider narrative of the grail myth.

Conclusions The stories of Heracles, Auge, and Telephus demonstrate the significant gaps in our knowledge of ancient myth. Heracles may have been a later addition to an existing narrative about Telephus, but the mythical dynamics successfully operated in a number of different contexts, particularly when ideas of ethnic identity and genealogy were contested, and contributed to the role of Heracles/​Hercules in multiple narratives involving displacement, alliance, and colonization. Despite the best efforts of ancient authors to present a coherent narrative, we are left with many gaps. If Telephus was destined to kill his uncles, what happened? Hyginus Fabulae 244 says that he killed them, implying it was a deliberate rather than an accidental homicide, and this may have been the focus of Sophocles’ play Aleadae. Given the complexity of Heracles’ kinship relationships in myth, and the subsequent interactions of his descendants, there might have been a lost or hidden story that could unlock historical queries about ancient Arcadia.11 We might also question how the ideas of “selling” Auge figured into the relationship between different Greek individuals (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.4, 3.9.1). While mythology has often been viewed as figuring women as currency, there may be a parallel in the way Heracles was “sold” to Omphale. The family story remained popular throughout classical antiquity, and beyond. Knowledge of the stories was often in the background of later works of art, suggesting that these characters continued to be well known by the audiences of Chaucer and others (Gutiérrez Arranz 2009, 42–​43). The exhibition of the Pergamon altar in recent decades has continued to provoke debate about cultural identity, hybridity, and celebrity. In response to the display in Berlin, Peter Weiss’ work Die Ästhetik des Widerstands opens with a long exploration of the image, and presents resistance fighters contemplating how the image of Heracles on the altar can be deployed in 11 

For the complexities of our fragmentary understanding of ancient Arcadia, see the research in Tausend (2018).

232   Emma Griffiths their own cultural struggle. The phrasing focuses on the missing pieces as an inspiration for contemporary action (Kaakinen 2017, 45–​46). This intellectual instability and flexibility caused by our fragmentary knowledge may paradoxically bring us closer to understanding how the figure of Heracles operated in the ancient world, as even ancient authors suggested his life story was an amalgamation of different figures. We should also give further thought to the marginal figures in our surviving instantiations of the myth, such as the figure of Dionysus in the Pergamon frieze, or the figure of Iris in the Herculaneum Basilica. Whether we view the surviving Greco-​Roman material as a synthesis of different biographies, an instantiation of a hieros gamos, or an embodied response to geographical mobility, Auge and Telephus were fundamental to the ancient polyvalency of the hero. We may find as much to explore in the roles of Heracles as “bit player” as in his starring role as a central figure of ancient myth.

Abbreviation LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999.

References Athanassakis, A. N., and B. M. Wolkow. 2013. The Orphic Hymns. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Blakely, S. 2006. Myth, Ritual and Metallurgy in Ancient Greece and Recent Africa. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Bowie, E. 2016. “Cultic Contexts for Elegiac Performances.” In Iambus and Elegy: New Approaches, ed. L. Swift and C. Carey, 341–​343. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Braun, T. 2004. “Hecataeus’ Knowledge of the Western Mediterranean.” In Greek Identity in the Western Mediterranean: Papers in Honour of Brian Shefton, ed. K. Lomas, 287–​350. Leiden: Brill. Bremmer, J., and N. Horsfall. 1987. Roman Myth and Mythography. London: Institute of Classical Studies. Brulé, P. 1996. “Héraclès et Augé: À propos d’origines rituelles du mythe,” in IIe rencontre Héracléenne: Héraclès; Les femmes et le feminine, ed. C. Jourdain-​Annequin, 35–​49. Brussels: Institute historique belge de Rome. Davison, J. M. 1991. “Myth and the Periphery.” In Myth and the Polis, ed. D. C. Pozzi and J. M. Wickersham, 49–​63. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press. Deacy, S., and K. F. Pierce, eds. 2002. Rape in Antiquity. London: Duckworth. Dignas, B. 2012. “Rituals and the Construction of Identity in Attalid Pergamon.” In Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World, ed. B. Dignas and R. R. R. Smith, 119–​144. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dreyfus, R. 1996. “Introduction.” In Pergamon: The Telephos Frieze from the Great Altar, Volume 1, ed. R. Dreyfus and E. Schraudolph. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Auge and Telephus  233 Felton, D. 2017. “Thigh Wounds in Homer and Vergil: Cultural Reality and Literary Metaphor.” In Resemblance and Reality in Greek Thought: Essays in Honour of Peter M Smith, ed. A. Park, 239–​258. Oxford: Routledge. Gutiérrez Arranz, J. M. 2009. The Cycle of Troy in Geoffrey Chaucer: Tradition and “Moralitee.” Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Huys, M. 1995. The Tale of the Hero Who Was Exposed at Birth in Euripidean Tragedy: A Study of Motifs. Leuven: Leuven University Press. Kaakinen, K. 2017. Comparative Literature and the Historical Imaginary: Reading Conrad, Weiss, Sebald. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​1999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Larmour, D. H. 2016. The Arena of Satire: Juvenal’s Search for Rome. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Laskaris, J. 2016. “Metals in Medicine: From Telephus to Galen.” In Popular Medicine in Graeco-​ Roman antiquity, ed. W. V. Harris, 147–​160. Leiden: Brill. Llewellyn-​Jones, L. 2005. “Herakles Redressed: Gender, Clothing and the Construction of a Greek Hero.” In Herakles and Hercules: Exploring a Graeco-​Roman Divinity, ed. L. Rawlings and H. Bowden, 51–​69. Swansea: University of Wales Classical Press. McHardy, F. 2008. “The Trial by Water in Greek Myth and Literature.” Leeds International Classical Studies 7.1: 1–​20. Michalopoulos, A. N. 2017. “Hesiodic Traces in Ovid’s Heroides.” In Poetry in Fragments: Studies on the Hesiodic Corpus and Its Afterlife, ed. C. Tsagalis, 219–​2 44. Berlin/​B oston: de Gruyter. Moore, C. 2012. “Chaerephon, Telephus, and Diagnosis in the Gorgias.” Arethusa 45: 195–​210. Moormann, E. M. 2014. Divine Interiors: Mural Paintings in Greek and Roman Sanctuaries. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Archaeological Studies. Moraw, S. 2011. “Visual Differences: Dionysos in Ancient Art.” In A Different God? Dionysos and Ancient Polytheism, ed. R. Schlesier, 233–​253. Berlin/​Boston: De Gruyter. Ogden, D. 1997. The Crooked Kings of Ancient Greece. London: Duckworth. Ogden, D. 2001. Greek and Roman Necromancy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ogden, D. 2008. Perseus. Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World. London: Routledge. Omitowoju, R. 2008. Rape and the Politics of Consent in Classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Papaioannou, S. 2007. Redesigning Achilles: “Recycling” the Epic Cycle in the “Little Iliad.” (Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.1–​13.622). Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd. 89. Berlin/​New York: De Gruyter. Patterson, L. E. 2011. Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece. Austin: University of Texas Press. Rigoglioso, M. 2009. The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece. London: Palgrave MacMillan. Rood, N. 2010. “Four Silences in Sophocles’ Trachiniae.” Arethusa 43.3: 345–​364. Scheer, T. S. 2016. “Myth, Memory and the Past. Wandering Heroes between Arcadia and Cyprus.” in Wandering Myths: Transcultural Uses of Myth in the Ancient World, ed. L. Audley-​ Miller and B. Dignas, 71–​94. Berlin/​Boston: De Gruyter. Sells, D. 2019. Parody, Politics and the Populace in Greek Old Comedy. London: Bloomsbury. Stafford, E., ed. 2020. Herakles Inside and Outside the Church. From the First Apologists to the End of the Quattrocento. Leiden: Brill. Swift, L. A. 2019. Archilochus: The Poems; Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

234   Emma Griffiths Tausend, K., ed. 2018. Ancient Arcadia: History and Culture of a Mountainous Region: Proceedings of the International Conference held at Graz, Austria, 11th to 13th February, 2016. Unipress Verlag. Taylor, R. 2009. “River Raptures: Containment and Control of Water in Greek and Roman Constructions of Identity.” In The Nature and Function of Water, Baths, Bathing and Hygiene from Antiquity through the Renaissance, ed. C. Kosso and A. Scott, 19–​42. Leiden: Brill. Waddington, R. B. 1970. “The Iconography of Silence and Chapman’s Hercules.” Journal of the Warburg Institutes 45: 248–​263. Williamson, C. G. 2016. “Mountain, Myth and Territory: Teuthrania as Focal Point in the Landscape of Pergamon.” In Valuing Landscape in Classical Antiquity. Natural Environment and Cultural Imagination, ed. J. McInerney and I. Sluiter, 70–​99. Leiden: Brill.

Chapter 19

T h e Gi ga ntom ac hy Christina Salowey

Heracles was enlisted as the token mortal, necessary for victory, in the Olympian gods’ battle against the Giants. Apollodorus’ summary of the Gigantomachy, although fairly late, is the only surviving complete literary version, and, as such, is a necessary starting point to provide context for the fragments and snapshots of the grand battle, and Heracles’ participation in it, in literature and art from the archaic and classical periods to the late imperial periods. Apollodorus preserves the tradition that an oracular pronouncement revealed to the gods that a mortal combatant was necessary for victory in their struggle against the Giants. The Giants’ mother, Gaia, believed she could protect her children with a plant-​ based drug, but was thwarted in this preparation by Zeus who blocked the dawn, the moon, and the sun from appearing and thus destroyed the herb. He subsequently summoned Heracles, with Athena’s help, to be an ally in the battle (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.6.1). There are scant claims (schol. Pindar Nemeans 1.101; Diodorus 4.15.1) that both Dionysus and Heracles joined the gods as allies after Gaia announced that the Giants would not be conquered without the participation of two hēmitheoi, semidivine beings. Although this version does not have much traction in subsequent literature, Schefold (1992, 67–​68) argues that armed satyrs depicted as minions of Dionysus on a few red-​ figure cups of the late sixth century BC are acting out a Gigantomachy, perhaps referencing a satyr play on the theme. According to the version of Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 1.6.1–​2), however, it was only Heracles who greatly assisted in the killing of all the Giants. His primary targets were Alcyoneus and Porphyrion, the most fearsome of the group. He shot Alcyoneus with an arrow, but, since this Giant proved immortal when in contact with the land of

236   Christina Salowey his birth, Pallene,1 where the conflict took place, Heracles dragged him outside the boundaries to finish him off. Porphyrion, inspired by Zeus, was pursuing Hera lustfully, and was dispatched both with a thunderbolt of Zeus and an arrow from Heracles. Ephialtes was struck by an arrow of Apollo in his left eye and one from Heracles in his right. The rest of the Giants mentioned by Apollodorus—​Eurytus, Clytius, Mimas, Enceladus, Polybotes, Hippolytus, Aegaeon, Agrius, and Thoon—​were mortally wounded in a variety of ways by other divinities, but finished off by Heracles’ arrows as they lay dying. Other scholars and encyclopedic compilations have brought together the immense quantity of representations of the theme as a whole (Vian 1951, 1952a; Vian and Moore, LIMC Gigantes; Gantz 1993, 443–​454), concentrating on issues ranging from who exactly are meant by the term “Giants” (Gantz 1993, 445–​448; Vian 1952a, 20–​46), what monstrous form the Giants take on (Vian 1952a, 184–​196), what religious or political interpretations can be overlaid onto the use of the story in different time periods (Kleiner 1949, Queyrel 2017), and how notable versions of the myth in art and literature were received by later portrayals (Massa-​Pairault and Pouzadoux 2017). Here we will concentrate on the various depictions of Heracles’ participation. What actions did Heracles perform according to the ancient sources? What notable portraits of the hero’s efforts survive? Why was the semidivine Heracles the appropriate mortal for this task, for which he was granted immortality? In what time periods and for what purpose was Heracles’ role particularly emphasized?

The Archaic Period Although the race of Giants is alluded to in Homer (Odyssey 7.58–​60, 206), neither the battle nor Heracles’ role is mentioned by him. There are strong indications that epic treatments of the theme have been lost,2 but Heracles’ participation is alluded to in other surviving archaic literature. In the post-​Hesiodic appendix to the Theogony (950–​ 954), Heracles receives Hebe as his wife and lives painlessly and agelessly after completing a “great deed among the immortals” (ὅς μέγα ἔργον ἐν ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνύσσας, 954), thus linking his aid to the Olympians with his apotheosis, a connection that will be emphasized in art and literature for the next 900 years. In Hesiod’s Ehoiai, the so-​ called Catalog of Women, Heracles’ life story is woven throughout the poem in a retrograde manner. Early in the catalog (Hesiod fr. 43a.61–​65 MW), the “sturdy son of Zeus”


The toponyms for and locations of the battleground are discussed in what follows. Fragments of Xenophanes (DK 5 21 B1, 21), Ibycus (SLG S192, 2), and Alcman (PMG frg. 1, 30–​32; see also Page 1951, 42–​43). The Alcman fragment mentions evildoers being dispatched with an arrow, which could be a reference to Heracles’ participation. There is also a slight mention of an epic at Batrachomyomachia 284. 2 

The Gigantomachy  237 is credited with coming straight from Troy to sack a lovely city on Cos, and then “in Phlegra he slaughtered the overbearing Giants” (ἐν Φλέγρηι δὲ Γίγαντας ὑπ-ερφιάλους κατέπεφνε, 65). When his birth is finally recounted (Hesiod fr. 195), Zeus’ intentions are characterized as engendering the hero as a protector against ruin (ἀρῆς ἀλκτῆρα, Hesiod fr. 195.29), making Heracles an indispensable part of his plan to thwart the chaos that the Giants will bring to his emerging cosmic order (Haubold 2005). Heracles is present in the visual mythological record of the Gigantomachy as early as the sixth century BC. For example, a Corinthian votive pinax from the Penteskouphi cave, dated 575–​550 BC, shows Heracles drawing a bow and Zeus hurling a thunderbolt against off-​screen adversaries (LIMC Gigantes 98; Hanfmann 1937, 476–​477). The pairing of Heracles and Zeus, both in attack mode, surely must be a moment from the Gigantomachy. The theme, however, was particularly in vogue in archaic Athens, where the battle was woven into the robe presented to the goddess Athena at the Panathenaea festival, newly renewed in 566 BC (Ridgway 1992, 122–​124). The Panathenaea was a celebration of Athena’s birthday as well as her role in the victory of the Gods over the Giants (Callikrates FGrH 124 F5; Aristotle fr. 637 Rose). This depiction, paraded through the streets of Athens on a cart, was a prominent visual moment of pride: their tutelary goddess was an influential martial force against this attack on the cosmic order. Subsequently, abundant Attic black-​figure representations of the Gigantomachy appear on vases dedicated as votive offerings on the Acropolis (Shapiro 1992, 38).3 These show Heracles fighting from Zeus’ chariot with Zeus and Athena in close proximity and, in many examples, Gaia appearing to supplicate Zeus on behalf of her children. This vignette from the battle compositionally emphasizes the mortal hero’s status in the ranks as equal to the Olympian divinities’ (Vian 1951, 51; Moore 1977, 308; LIMC Gigantes 104–​123). An amphora in the Antikensammlungen in Munich, in the manner of the Lysippides Painter and dated between 530 and 525 BC (Fig. 19.1, Munich, Antikenslg 1485; ABV 263, 4), can serve as an example of the popular depiction of this theme in the Archaic period. Zeus, in right profile, is prominent brandishing his thunderbolt and mounting his quadriga chariot on which Heracles is already balanced. The hero is easily recognizable from the lion-​skin that covers his head as a helmet and drapes its paws over a short chiton. With one foot on the chariot pole, he draws back his loaded bow aiming at the Giants in front of him. Athena, dressed in her aegis, strides out in front with the horses, her long hair flowing out from under her helmet, and is poised to throw a spear. Heracles, flanked by the two powerful divinities, emphasizes that his presence is essential for the success of the enterprise. In a few rare Archaic depictions (Vian 1952a, 64–​67; Moore 1977, 308 n. 16), Athena and Heracles appear without Zeus, 3  LIMC Gigantes 104–​123 lists the Attic black-​figure vases that depict Zeus and Heracles fighting from a chariot, of which LIMC Gigantes 104, 105, 106, 108, 110, 112, 113, and 119 (= Athens National Museum, Acropolis, 2211, 607, 2134, 648, 1632, 2403, 2553, 1244 respectively), all dated between 550 and 530 BC, are from the Acropolis in Athens.

238   Christina Salowey

Figure 19.1 Heracles, Zeus, and Athena battle the Giants. Black-​figure amphora from Vulci, manner of the Lysippides Painter, c. 530–​525 BC. Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen 1485. Photo: Bibi Saint-​Pol. Public domain: Wikimedia.

the hero alone with his patroness referencing their close relationship and her recommendation for including him as the token mortal in this battle. Major sculptural groups of the Archaic period, the most notable being that of the precursor to the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis (LIMC Gigantes 7) and that of the west pediment of the temple of Apollo at Delphi (LIMC Gigantes 3), also depict the battle.4 While Heracles was most likely a prominent element in the compositions of both pediments, there are scant traces of the hero’s presence. His arrow pierces the chest of the fallen Giant from the Archaic Temple of Athena on the Acropolis (Moore 1977), but he is not apparent in any of the surviving fragments of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The pediment of the so-​called Megarian treasury at Olympia preserves a male nude torso that might be also identified with Heracles in his role of archer in the battle (Vian 1952a, 55). The noteworthy and well-​preserved Gigantomachy on the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury, dated to 520 BC (Daux and de la Coste-​Messelière 1927, Daux and Hansen 1987, Simon 1984), depicts the Olympian combatants struggling against a gang of Giants decked out as hoplites. Hoplite or military attire is the norm for the Giants 4  The intertwining of the history and interpretation of these two pediments, products of the rivalry of the Alcmeonids and Pisistratids, is outside the scope of this investigation, but is well summarized in Ridgway 1993, 292–​296.

The Gigantomachy  239 until the end of the fourth century, when they take on their anguiped look in sculptural and ceramic representations. At the eastern end of the composition, a striding figure in skins walks behind a chariot drawn by lions controlled by a female charioteer. The skinned figure was associated with Heracles until a convincing argument for Dionysus, with Themis acting as charioteer, was made and widely accepted (Lenzen 1946; Vian 1951, 106; Brinkmann 1994). The chariot group of Zeus, Heracles, and Athena is now placed in the lacuna before (to the east of) the remnants of a chariot-​pulling group of horses, on the basis of parallels from the Archaic black-​figure vases discussed earlier (Moore 1977). This would locate the main protagonists of the battle roughly in the center of the frieze. Sculpted friezes were a relatively new art form at this time in mainland Greece and, as such, this composition would have been striking for the sixth-​century visitors to Delphi, who strode up the sacred way in the same direction as the conquering Olympians (Neer 2003, 141–​145). The Olympians adopt a heroic, Iliadic form of battle, fighting from chariots and taking on their opponents in solo confrontations; the Giants fight in phalanxes, a unique representation in Archaic art (Stewart 1997, 89). In this context, Heracles would have stood out as the mortal hero par excellence. Heracles’ narratives, including his role in the Gigantomachy, become a particularly popular sculptural theme at the same time as the rituals and iconography for the Panathenaea are developing. A political motivation has been offered for the increased presence of the triumphant hero in Archaic Athenian art. Analyzing Heracles’ mythological stories in black-​figure vase painting of the late sixth century, Boardman (1972 and 1975) suggests a connection between Pisistratus and Heracles in many mythological guises, but also as victor in the Gigantomachy. Using the context of Herodotus’ report (1.60) that Pisistratus mounted the Acropolis in a chariot with the girl, Phye, posing as Athena, he postulates that Pisistratus was encouraging his audience to see a parallel between what Olympus is for the Greeks and the Acropolis is for Athens. Valenza Mele (1980, 26) takes this a step further by contending that Pisistratus is presenting himself as a new Heracles, mounting his return to Athens from the temple of Pallenian Athena to increase the identification of his opponents with the Giants (Herodotus 1.62), as Pallene is the name of the location of the Gigantomachy in some sources. This may be the first instance of the Gigantomachy being used for political propaganda, but it certainly will not be the last. (See Chapter 26 for further discussion of Pisistratus’ use of Heracles.)

Location of the Gigantomachy Before exploring later literature and art that references Heracles/​Hercules’ activity in the Gigantomachy, the locales specified for the battle must be surveyed.5 Apollodorus 5  Longer discussions of the home of the Giants can be found at Vian 1952a, 189–​191 and 217–​218. Mayor (2000, 194–​202) offers a geomorphic and paleontological explanation for the locations of these Giants that became thought of as volcanoes.

240   Christina Salowey (Bibliotheca 1.6.1) offers that “some say that the Giants were born in Phlegra(e), others in Pallene,” and those toponyms are used for the battle throughout the ancient sources. Most early Greek authors locate the encounter at Phlegra (Hesiod Ehoiai fr. 43a65 MW; Pindar Nemeans 1.67–​69, Isthmians 6.33; Aeschylus Eumenides 295). Pindar (Isthmians 6.32–​36) links Heracles’ conquests at Troy against Laomedon, at Cos against the Meropes, and at Phlegra against the giant Alcyoneus. The naming of Alcyoneus here is a perplexing complication since he was not a Giant combatant in the larger war until later sources (e.g., Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.7.1). It is possible that the tradition of Heracles fighting a giant monster at Phlegra in Thrace drew the location into the Gigantomachy narrative (Gantz 1993, 445; Vian 1952a, 217–​221). By the fourth century, Ephorus (FGrH 70 F34) again locates the battle at Phlegra, but substitutes the Giants as a corporate group for the singular Alcyoneus. Herodotus, incidentally alluding to the battlefield as he lists the cities taken by the Persians, states that “they are located in the country today called Pallene and formerly Phlegra” (7.123). Polyaenus (7.47) explains that Pallenians fleeing Troy were abandoned at Phlegra and lent their name to the place. The names became interchangeable, and both are attached to the westernmost “finger” of the Chalcidice peninsula just east of Thessaloniki (Barrington Atlas, Macedonia 50, Thracia 51). Vian (1952a, 190–​ 191) suggests that the geographical profile of this peninsula is not dramatic enough, but the paleontological discoveries in the region, mainly the bones of large prehistoric animals, may have encouraged the placement of the legend there. Even in antiquity large bones were observed in the region and connected with the destroyed bodies of the Giants (Solinus 9.6; Philostratus Heroicus 8.18; Chuvin 2017, 267). This paleontological explanation has been explored in recent times, and many regions connected with the Gigantomachy—​Crete (Diodorus 5.71), Rhodes, Arcadia, Campania (Mayor 2000, 317 n.9), and Pallene—​all contain fossil beds (Mayor 2000, 195–​196, 305, n. 26). Phlegra, a word used to identify any place associated with volcanic agency, became a most suitable name for the battlefield, since later descriptions conceptualized the vanquished Giants as suppressed underground by mountain-​welding divinities to act as strong earthquakes and fiery eruptions. This connection of the Giants with volcanic landscapes drew other locales into the cosmic struggle, most notably the famously volatile region of Campanian. The plains near Cumae not far from the northwestern flank of Mt. Vesuvius were also known as the campi phlegraei, or Phlegraean fields, and imprisonment of the Giants is often located here, not surprisingly since there are hot springs at Baiae and many sulphuric fumaroles in the area (Timaeus FGrH 566 F89 = Diodorus 5.21.5–​6; LIMC Gigantes, p. 192). The giant Mimas was deposed under Prochyta (modern day Procida) and Typhoeus under Imarmine (modern day Ischia). Silius Italicus, when he describes Hannibal’s visit to Baiae, has the guide give credit to Hercules for entombing the Giants there and producing a volcanic wasteland (tradunt Herculea prostratos mole Gigantas /​tellurem iniectam quatere, et spiramine anhelo—​torreri late campos, “they say that Giants prostrate under a Herculean mass shake the earth all round and burn

The Gigantomachy  241 widely the fields with a panting breath,” Punica 12.143–​145). The victory of Hercules at the battle in these regions could explain the names of two prominent Campanian towns, Pompeii and Herculaneum. The theme of Hercules’ “fair-​victory revel” (kōmos kallinikos) would have converted into the Latin “triumph” (triumphus) in the Roman period, a celebration of the restoration of cosmic order marked by trophies, feasting, and procession (pompē), of which the hero would have been a part. Although the Phlegra in Thrace and that in Campania are most often cited for the battle, Strabo places some of Heracles’ activities in other locations. Heracles is said to have driven survivors of the battle to Leuca, in southern Italy, where there is a foul-​ smelling, undoubtedly a sulfur, spring, and to have buried them there (Strabo C281). At Phanagoreia, near the Bosporus, the hero aided Aphrodite in a trick (apatē) against the Giants (Strabo C495). He hid in a cave into which the goddess lured the unsuspecting foe and the hero killed them. The goddess bears the cult name Apatouros because of this deceit.

Classical Period In the fifth century BC, the poets become more precise in the details of the battle and Heracles’ participation in it. Pindar’s odes repeatedly locate the battle at Phlegra (Nemeans 1.67–​69, 4.25–​27, Isthmians 6.26–​36), twice highlighting the hero’s use of the deadly bow, the weapon that has already become iconic in the art of the archaic period. In Isthmians 6.26–​36 and Nemeans 4.25–​27, the battle is conflated with an exploit Heracles performs with Telamon, the killing of the sleeping Alcyoneus, a story later drawn into the Gigantomachy complex (Vian 1952, 217–​221). In another ode, the poet characterizes the hero’s role as a fitting ephebic mentor to Sogenes, victor in the boys’ pentathlon, solely by virtue of his Giant-​slaying capabilities (Γίγαντας ὅς ἐδάμασας, Nemeans 7.90). There is a tendency to glorify Heracles as the primary victor, as we have already seen in Hesiod (fr. 43a 65) earlier, but Pindar also associates his participation in the Gigantomachy with his apotheosis and marriage to Hebe (Pindar Nemeans 1.67–​72). Fifth-​century dramas are peppered with references to the Gigantomachy (Vian and Moore 1998, 191–​192), but Heracles’ involvement is invoked primarily in dramas concerning the hero. In Sophocles’ Trachiniae, the suffering Heracles experienced from Deianeira’s poisoned robe is not exceeded by any of his struggles in life, not even the tussle with the “earthborn army of Giants,” (οὔθ᾽ ὁ γηγενὴς /​ στρατὸς Γιγάντων, 1058–​ 1059). In Euripides’ Heracles (177–​179), Amphitryon, Heracles’ mortal father, defends his son against slurs by citing his role in the Gigantomachy, riding in Zeus’ chariot and picking off Giants with his arrows. His boast closely echoes the visual representations found on black-​figure vessels of the previous century discussed previously and reminds us that the Gigantomachy was still very much a ubiquitous visual element particularly on the Acropolis at this time.

242   Christina Salowey In the same passage, Euripides, like Pindar, pairs the hero’s accomplishments in the battle with his apotheosis, since the hero celebrates a kallinikos, or “beautiful victory” with the gods (τὸν καλλίνικον μετὰ θεῶν ἐκώμασεν, “he celebrated the kallinikos with the gods,” Euripides, Heracles 180). The word kallinikos is used repeatedly for Heracles in this play (Heracles 570, 582, 961, 1046), most notably by the old men of Thebes who say they will sing a kallinikos in honor of Heracles (673–​681) and call on the nymphs to aid them later on (785–​788). Kallinikos can be an adjective, quite often serving as a cult attribute for Heracles (Pausanias 7.5.5–​8; Plutarch Moralia 58; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.6.4) or, as in this passage, a substantive, referring to a song, dance or flute performance (Pollux 4.99–​100; Lawler 1948, 255–​256). Menichetti takes the association of the kallinikos with the Gigantomachy a bit further by suggesting that it is integrated into the Panathenaea to reinforce the agonistic qualities of this event with the eventual leading of Heracles to Olympus by Athena (Menichetti and Cerchiai 2017, 31–​33). Athena’s role (and most likely that of her protégé) in the victory was incorporated in the robe woven for the goddess at the Panathenaea (Plato Euthyphro 6b–​c; Ridgway 1992, Mansfield 1985) and influenced the narrative’s incorporation into the east metopes of the Parthenon and into the shield of Pheidias’ monumental statue for the temple of Athena Parthenos (see Vian 1952a, 154–​156 for a reconstruction). The Doric frieze on the east side of the Parthenon, thus over the front door, depicts a Gigantomachy. Metope XI of this series has long been identified as Heracles vanquishing a Giant with the aid of Eros (Praschniker 1928, 174, 216, pl. xxiv). Schwab, in the most recent reconstruction of the three-​figure composition, positions the hero in a more reliable pose, striding to the right and holding the bow in his right hand and the club, raised behind his head in preparation for a strike, in his left. She perceptively notes that Heracles joins other notable divine archers, i.e., Apollo and Artemis, in the right (northern) side of the east series. Additionally, she observes that the metope mirrors the one in the same position on the left, where Athena is crowned by Nike (Schwab 1996, 87–​90 and fig. 6). This locational balance on the most significant classical building in Athens reinforces the hero’s connection to the goddess Athena and his importance to victory in this divine cosmic struggle.

Fourth Century BC This century sees shifts in the literary and artistic representations of the Gigantomachy. At the same time as artists adopted a snaky-​legged and sometimes winged aspect for the Giants (LIMC Gigantes 253–​254), a debate between the humanoid and anguiped version of these combatants was going on in historical sources (Vian 1952b, 18–​20). Diodorus Siculus’ excursus on Egypt, an account generally accepted to have been derived from Hecateus of Abdera, a fourth-​century BC historian, discusses a tradition of two Heracleses, one an Egyptian born 10,000 years before the Trojan War, the other

The Gigantomachy  243 the Greek born to Zeus (Diodorus 1.24.2). The older Heracles battled the Giants, characterized as gēgeneis (“born from the earth”) and polysōmatoi (“many-​bodied”), a term that could refer to the hybridity of the half-​reptilian form of the Giants (Diodorus 1.26.6–​8). Ephorus, however, in Book 4 of his Histories (FGrH 70 F34), explains the Gigantomachy at Pallene as Heracles’ battle against the local human inhabitants of the western peninsula of the Chalcidice, during which lightning fell, thus inspiring the idea of Zeus’ participation (Prioux 2017, 148). In the fourth century, the Gigantomachy as a sculptural motif continues to be limited to religious buildings.6 The Classical temple of Hera at Argos, the so-​called Argive Heraion, most likely dated post 423 BC and showing considerable influence from the Parthenon, may have carried metopes with a Gigantomachy (Pfaff 2003, 107, 195; Eichler 1916–​1919; Waldstein 1903–​1905, 149). Pausanias (2.17.3) promisingly offers that the sculptures “above the columns” at the Argive Heraion are “on the one hand, the birth of Zeus and a battle of the gods and Giants and, on the other, the Trojan War and capture of Ilium.” Considering the propitious placement of the birth of Athena and the goddess’ role in the Gigantomachy on the east facade of the Parthenon, it is tempting to envision a similar composition at the Argive Heraion, with Hera’s powerful husband, Zeus, being the focus of the narratives of birth and battle. A prominent representation of Heracles in this composition, in a manner parallel to the sculptural arrangement of the Parthenon, would solidify the idea that the hero’s actions in the battle, in particular the killing of Porphyrion as he manhandled Hera, were key in his reconciliation with the goddess. However, while some sculptural fragments at the Heraion support a Gigantomachy theme, Pausanias’ identification is the only evidence for such a narrative.

Etruscan Period In Etruscan art the hero is found assisting Athena (LIMC Gigantes 411; Lulof 1996, 162–​163), Zeus (LIMC Gigantes 437), and even Hera (LIMC Gigantes, 434). He fights with a club or sword in his right hand, but holds an unused bow in his outstretched left hand; in some uniquely Etruscan versions on bronze relief plaques dated to the first quarter of the fifth century BC, he brandishes, instead of the club, an arm ripped from his gigantic adversary, a predilection that Athena exhibits in this battle as well (LIMC Gigantes 415, 417, 418; Hanfmann 1937, 471–​472, LIMC Gigantes, 268). The extraordinary terracotta statues that stood on the roof ridge pole of the Temple of Mater Matuta at Satricum, dated 490–​480 BC, took the form of pairs of warrior Olympians: Zeus and Hera; Apollo and Artemis, the Letoids; Dionysous and Aphrodite/​Ino-​Leucothea; 6  There is evidence for sculptural remains of a Gigantomachy at: the Argive Heraion, c. 400 BC (Waldstein 1902, 140–​196; Ridgway 1997, 25–​30); the Temple of Athena at Mazi in Elis (Ridgway 1997, 30–​33; Trianti 1986); the Temple of Artemis/​Apollo at Kalapodi (Ridgway 1997, 57); and the Temple of Athena at Priene (Carter 1983).

244   Christina Salowey and finally, Athena and Heracles/​Hercle (Lulof 1996, 157–​166). The terracotta Hercle is reconstructed as attired in a chiton and cuirass; this is not the canonical heroic nudity with lion-​skin cape expected of Heracles, but the identification is unmistakable from the lion-​headed helmet that clearly survives on his head (Lulof 1996, 63–​71, figs. xviii, 109.2). Torelli (2017, 27–​28) associates the construction of the temple and its decorative motif with political motivations, tentatively ascribing its construction and dedication to Publius Valerius Publicola (he of Plutarch’s Vita Publicolae).

Hellenistic Period The outstanding representation of the Gigantomachy in the Hellenistic period is undoubtedly the frieze of the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (LIMC Gigantes 34; Ridgway 2000, 19–​66), a full and emotive compilation of participants and famous episodes in the battle. Heracles is present in the east frieze, in close proximity to Zeus and Athena, and two prominent Giant adversaries, Porphyrion and Alcyoneus. Again the hero survives only in fragmentary form, but is well attested by an inscription, a paw from the lion’s skin, and by the fact that the Giant to Zeus’ left is pulling an arrow out of his chest (Simon 1975, 18). The date of this Gigantomachy frieze has been debated to be between 185 and 165 BC, based on style and historical and archaeological contexts (Ridgway 2000, 21–​22; Coarelli 2017, 194–​195). The building also bore a slightly later, and unfinished, frieze detailing the life story of Telephus, the offspring of Heracles and Auge, daughter of the king of Tegea and priestess of Athena Alea. While Auge is exiled to Mysia and adopted by King Teuthras, Telephus is exposed on the Arcadian Mt. Parthenion, suckled by a deer, discovered by Heracles, raised by nymphs, and eventually goes in search of his mother to end up at Mysia to defend it from the Greeks (Ridgway 2000, 70–​ 71; Strabo C615–​616; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.4, 3.9.1). Coarelli (2017, 199–​200), in a recent reconsideration of the date and context of the altar, reminds us that Heracles is the link between the subjects of its two reliefs. The hero is the necessary mortal participant for the Olympians’ victory and the genealogical link between Zeus and Telephus, a hero in Pergamon. He concludes that “The two representations are therefore inseparable, as they summarize together a unitary concept: the divine origins of the Attalids and the mission to protect the Panhellenic values entrusted to them.”7 Fragments of Heracleiai, epic poems dedicated to the figure of Heracles, show evidence of Gigantomachy sections.8 A narrative variant is preserved in a fragment of the 7  Author’s translation: “Le due rappresentazioni sono dunque inscindibili, in quanto sintetizzano nel loro insieme un concetto unitario: le origini divine degli Attalidi e la missione di tutela dei valori panellenici ad essi affidata” (Corelli 2017, 200). 8  An anonymous author cited by the scholiast to Nicander Theriaca 257b (SH 1166), Rhianus of Crete, and Diotimus of Adramyttium all wrote Heracleiai, although none survive in significant portions (see Prioux 2017, 148–​149, 168–​170).

The Gigantomachy  245 Meropis, a poem usually dated to the fourth or third century BC, in which Heracles “vibrates his bow against the race of the Meropes” (SH 903a, ἔνθ᾿ ὁ μὲν αλ[ . . . ] εν Μερόπιν κατὰ νη[ . . . ] φῦλα/​ νευρῆι ἔπι ψάλλων, ll. 1–​2), but, since he is unable to pierce the skin of Asterion, Athena comes to his rescue. Athena later turns the impenetrable skin of the Giant into her aegis. However, the loss of most of the epic poems contemporary with the Altar limit our ability to interpret the frieze or connect it to political movements. Attempts have been made to find Gigantomachic themes in panegyrics for and narratives of Alexander the Great, but there is not enough material to validate these interpretations (Hardie 1986, 86, n.5).

Roman Period In the lyric poetry of the Augustan period in particular the Gigantomachy is often referred to in recusationes, “refusals,” listing all the themes not appropriate for such verses (Horace Odes 2.12.6–​9; Propertius 2.1.19–​20, 39–​42; Ovid Amores 2.1.11–​18, Tristia 2.333–​ 334; Manilius 3.5–​ 6; Martial 9.50.5–​ 6; Sidonius Carmina 9.76–​93). Horace alone invokes Hercules as the protagonist when cataloguing the theme, “young men of Earth mastered by a Herculean hand,” (domitosque Herculea manu /​ Telluris iuvenes, Odes 2.12.6–​7), as being unwanted “to be fitted to the soft modes of the cithara,” (mollibus / ​aptari citharae modis, Odes 2.12.3–​4). Despite the fact that many poets found the theme unsuitable for a longer treatment, the Gigantomachy was often referenced and used as a comparison for the victories of Augustus (Owen 1924, 74–​75). Ovid, however, seems to allude to his own youthful attempts at a Gigantomachy that remained unfinished owing to criticism (Ovid Tristia 2.61–​76, 331–​338, Owen 1924). The poem remains on lists of his lost works. The Gigantomachy was the subject of other Roman epics, written by poets whose works, for the most part, do not survive: Julius Cerealis (Martial 11.52.17), Dionysius (Livrea 1973), and Scopelianus (Philostratus Vitae sophistarum 1.21.5). Claudian, a poet of the late fourth/​early fifth century AD, wrote one Gigantomachy in Greek early in his career and one in Latin, most likely unfinished, late in his career (Ludwich 1897, 167–​175; Platanauer 1922, 280–​291). Claudian’s frequent allusions to the battle in other poems (De raptu Proserpinae 1.112–​116, Panegyricus de sexto consulatu Honorii Augusti, praefatio 13–​20, Panegyricus de tertio consulatu Honorii Augusti 151–​172) both reference his efforts to write on the theme more fully and make the myth political, equating Honorius with Zeus (Dewar 1996, 56–​60; Gruzelier 1993, 96; Cameron 1970, 404–​406; Ware 2012, 135–​138). However, it is only Florentinus, a notarius in AD 379/​80 and the dedicatee of the second book of the De raptu Proserpinae, that Claudian likens to Hercules (2, praefatio 49–​50), but his allusions to and fuller treatments of the Gigantomachy do not mention the hero. As for Vergil’s incorporation of the theme in his poetry, Hardie (1986, 89) summarizes it well: “Speaking generally, it might be surprising if Virgil did not make a

246   Christina Salowey significant use of Gigantomachic themes . . . given the obvious suitability of the myths as vehicles for the expression of precisely that moral and spiritual dualism which recent writers have seen as central to the poem, in particular the opposition of furor and pietas.” While references to the Gigantomachy in the Aeneid often seem little more than incidental (1.665, 3.578–​580, 4.178, 8.298, 9.716, 10.565), Hardie argues that Vergil merges the elements of his own narrative with “structures and motifs” of the Gigantomachy to create an internal allegory (Hardie 1986, 90). In this scheme, the Hercules and Cacus story is presented as a grand universal battle that precedes human history in the place that is destined to become Rome. Hardie identifies five elements that parallel motifs in the Gigantomachy (Hardie 1986, 113–​117). First Hercules breaks off rocky cliffs above Cacus’ cave just as the Olympians hurled mountains to imprison the Giants. Second, this action brings about a universal disruption to the upper air or heaven, the earth, and water, indicating a cosmic upheaval. Third, there is “an infringement of the natural order” as the Tiber flows backward, an indicator of universal problems. Fourth, Hercules’ final conquest of the creature involves quenching the monster’s fire-​breathing within his cave, strongly aligning the description of Cacus to that of a volcano. The giant, Typhoeus, is similarly tamed by crushing him with Mt. Etna, under which he resides as a volcano. Hercules’ subduing of Typhoeus is mentioned in the invocation preceding the recounting of the Cacus story (8.298). And fifth, stylistically, Vergil goes heavy on the use of words denoting size to highlight the gigantic features of the story. So, in this episode, Hercules is the sole divine savior in a giant-​killing narrative that parallels the more well-​known and often alluded to cosmological battle. Hercules is not merely an oracular necessity, but the primary enactor of the reordering of nature and society. This makes the subsequent religious rites and feasting in honor of Hercules a more integral part of the events that foreshadow the founding of Rome (Aeneid 8 passim). The Aeneid prominently places Hercules at the center of these mythological, religious, and historical events, just as he functions as progenitor of the indigenous Pergamene race and linchpin for the cosmological victory of the gods on the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (Hardie 1986, 142). In later Roman literature, while references to Hercules’ role in the battle still make him an indispensable aid to the Olympians, his profile is somewhat reduced. Horace (Odes 2.12.6–​9), cited earlier, still credits Hercules with a role in the battle, but other Augustan-​ age poets do not even mention him. Seneca’s Hercules Furens and Hercules Oetaeus preserve the longest commentaries on Hercules’ role in the conflict. The Furens uses the trauma of the battle to good effect, making Hercules’ incipient madness take the form of imagining the Giants coming back to life again (976–​991). Earlier in the play, Amphitryon argues to Megara that Zeus’ paternity of Hercules is unassailable because of the role the son played in the father’s struggles at Phlegra (441–​7). This link between Jupiter and Hercules, and the immortality due to the hero because of his efforts on the Olympian’s behalf, is a prominent theme of the Hercules Oetaeus. As the hero dies in agony on the funerary pyre, he predicts that, once he is dead, the Titans will rise again and threaten the

The Gigantomachy  247 realm of heaven (Oetaeus 1137–​1140, 1147–​1148). He begs Jupiter to end his agony by setting the Giants on him, or with a thunderbolt, as if he were a Giant himself (1290–​1301). Hercules is, in the end, granted immortality, but the dying scene reinforces the idea that was first invoked in Pindar that the reward for his participation on behalf of the gods in the Gigantomachy was eternal life on Olympus. The role of Hercules is evoked in panegyrics of the third and fourth centuries AD. A panegyric delivered to Maximian in Trier, AD 289, was composed after the Dyarch’s adoption of the signum Herculius, thus associating himself with Hercules; his co-​ruler, Diocletian, adopted the signum Jovius (Rees 2005, 224–​226; Salway 1994). The speech plays on these theophoric names, invoking comparison to Hercules at several junctures (Panegyrici Latini X.4.2, 11.6, 13.5; Rees 2005, 227). Most notably, Maximian’s accession to the throne is characterized as akin to Hercules’ service to Zeus in the Gigantomachy. Whereas Hercules provided the greater part of victory and did not so much accept immortality from the Olympians as return it to them, so Maximian conferred a greater benefit to Diocletian than he himself claimed.9 The orator was able to manipulate the myth so that Diocletian maintained his Jovian pedigree while allowing Maximian to best him. Claudian, in AD 398, uses Hercules’ prowess at the bow, especially during the Gigantomachy, as a mythological paradigm for Honorius’ own skill (Alcides pharetras Dircaeaque tela solebat /​praetemptare feris olim domitura Gigantes—​et pacem latura polo, “Hercules was accustomed to try out his quivers and Dircaean weapons on wild beasts until these weapons were to conquer the Giants and carry peace to the heavens,” Panegyricus de quarto consulatu Honorii Augusti 533–​535). Claudian’s verses are a long-​ lasting testament to the bow as the hero’s infallible weapon in this battle, a detail that Commodus seems to have forgotten when he reenacted the event in the arena, with legless men costumed as snaky tailed Giants, whom he had killed by means of a club (Cassius Dio 73.15–​20), although the Historia Augusta preserves the information that he used a bow and arrow (Aelius Lampridius Historia Augusta Commodus 9.6). In Roman art, the Gigantomachy continues to be depicted in sculpture, but its appearance in gems and coinage is particularly noteworthy (Vian 1951, 107–​114). The battle becomes a shorthand for conquest, victory, power, and authority. In these media, the battle is reduced to monomachies, duels between one god and a Giant. When Hercules is the combatant, the small scale and round frame compositionally necessitate the use of his club as the weapon (Vian 1951, no. 305). The theme finds its way into mosaic pavements as well. In the early fourth-​century AD villa at Piazza Armerina in Sicily, the mosaics of the triapsidal triclinium, a ceremonial room, encompass the themes of victory, metamorphosis, and immortality (Carandini et al. 1982, 84). The central portion of the room depicts Giants pierced by arrows along 9 

. . . qua tuus Hercules Iovem vestrum quondam Terrigenarum bello laborantem magna victoriae parte iuvit probavitque se non magis a dis accepisse caelum quam eisdem reddidisse, “by which your Hercules, with a large share of the victory, helped your Jove once laboring in a battle of the Earth-​borne ones, and proved that he did not so much accept the sky from the gods as he returned it to them” (Panegyricus dictus Maximiano et Diocletiano 4.2).

248   Christina Salowey with other Herculean Labors. Since the myths chosen center on Thracian events, the design supports the idea that Proculus Populonius, a governor of Thracian provinces, was the owner of the villa, and that the Gigantomachy here alludes to the victory of Constantine over Licinius in Thrace in AD 324 (Settis 1975, Carandini 1982, 85). The threshold in the northern apse depicts Hercules’ apotheosis (Carandini 1982, 315–​318). So, here, Herculean achievement in the Labors and the Gigantomachy lead to a victory banquet with the gods. Here, in a ceremonial dining room, the connection between a Roman feast, epulum, for a heroic victory and panegyric is particularly appropriate.

Conclusions For over 900 years in antiquity, Heracles/​Hercules/​Hercle dominated as the mortal indispensable to the Olympians in their struggle against the cosmic forces of disorder and violence promulgated by the children of the earth goddess Gaia, the Giants. He fights paired with Zeus, his father, or Athena, his mentor, employing his iconic bow, although some compositions require that he wield his characteristic club as well. In art and literature, the myth seems to be used as political allegory, the gigantic enemies referencing Persians, Galatians, or political adversaries to fit the times. Although Heracles/​ Hercules only brings the hoplite or anguiped creatures to the ground by the force of his arrows, the Olympians entomb them back into the womb of their mother earth by means of stones, islands and mountains. Thus, the hero aids in the taming of the almost uncontrollable forces of nature, a skill also he exhibits in many other Labors and deeds.

Abbreviations Barrington Atlas Talbert 2000. DK Diels and Krantz 1951. FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. LIMC Kahil et al. 1981–​1999. PMG Page 1962. SH Lloyd-​Jones and Parsons 1983. SLG Page 1974.

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The Gigantomachy  249 Carandini, A., A. Ricci, and M. de Vos 1982. Filosofiani: The Villa of Piazza Armerina. Palermo: S.F. Flaccovio. Chuvin, P. 2017. “Typhée, ultime avatar des Géants? Pérégrinations d’un mythe à travers l’Anatolie.” In Massa-​Pairault and Pouzadoux 2017, 263–​275. Coarelli, F. 2017. “Il ‘Grande Altare’ di Pergamo: Cronologia e contesto.” In Massa-​Pairault and Pouzadoux 2017, 193–​201. Daux, G. and P. de La Coste-​Messelière. 1927. “La frise du trésor de Siphnos: Dimension et composition.” BCH 51: 1–​56. Daux, G., and E. Hansen. 1987. Le Trésor de Siphnos: Fouilles de Delphes. Vol. 2. Paris: De Boccard. Dewar, M. 1996. Claudian: Panegyricus de sexto consolatu Honorii Augusti; With Introduction, Translation, and Literary Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Diels, H., and W. Kranz, eds. 1951. Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. Vol. 1. 6th ed. Berlin: Weidmann. Eichler, F. 1916–​1919. “Die Skulpturen des Heraions bei Argos.” Jahreshefte des Österrichischen Archäologischen Instituts in Wien 19–​20: 15–​153. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Gruzelier, C. 1993. Claudian, De raptu Proserpinae: Edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hanfmann, G. M. A. 1937. “Studies in Etruscan Bronze Reliefs: The Gigantomachy.” The Art Bulletin 19(3): 463–​485. doi:10.2307/​3045693 Hardie, P. R. 1986. Cosmos and Imperium. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Haubold, J. 2005. “Herakles in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women/​” In The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Constructions and Reconstructions, ed. R. Hunter, 85–​98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jacoby, F., et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Leiden, Boston, and Cologne: Brill. Kahil, L., et al., eds. 1981–​2999. Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae. 9 vols. in 18 pts. Zurich and Munich: Artemis. Lawler, L. B. 1948. “Orchêsis Kallinikos.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 79: 254–​267. doi:10.2307/​283364. Lenzen, V. F. 1946. The Figure of Dionysos on the Siphnian Frieze. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lloyd-​Jones, H., and P. Parsons, eds. 1983. Supplementum hellenisticum. Berlin: de Gruyter. Ludwich, A. 1897. Eudociae Augustae, Procli Lycii, Claudiani carminum Graecorum reliquiae. Leipzig: Teubner. Lulof, P. 1996. The Ridge-​Pole Statues from the Late Archaic Temple at Satricum. Amsterdam: Thesis Publishers. Mansfield, J. M. 1985. The Robe of Athena and the Panathenaic Peplos. Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley. Massa-​Pairault, F.-​H., and C. Pouzadoux, eds. 2017. Géants et gigantomachies entre Orient et Occident: Actes du colloque organisé par Centre Jean Bérard. Naples: Centre Bérard. Mayor, A. 2000. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. Menichetti, M., and L. Cerchiai. 2017. “L’agone della gigantomachia.” In Massa-​Pairault and Pouzadoux 2017, 31–​44. Moore, M. B. 1977, “The Gigantomachy of the Siphnian Treasury: Reconstruction of the Three Lacunae.” Bulletin de Correspondance Hellenique Suppl. 4: 305–​335.

250   Christina Salowey Neer, R. T. 2003. “Framing the Gift: The Siphnian Treasury at Delphi and the Politics of Public Art.” In The Cultures within Ancient Greek Culture, eds. C. Dougherty and L. Kurke, 129–​149. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Owen, S. G. 1924. P.Ovidi Nasonis Tristium Liber Secundus. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Page, D. L. 1951. Alcman: The Partheneion. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Page, D. L. 1962. Poetae melici Graeci. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Page, D. L. 1974. Supplementum lyricis Graecis. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Pfaff, C. 2003. The Argive Heraion: The Architecture of the Classical Temple of Hera. Princeton: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Queyrel, F. 2017. “Les Galates comme nouveaux Geánts? De la métaphore au glissement interpretatif.” In Massa-​Pairault and Pouzadoux 2017, 203–​215. Naples: Centre Bérard. Rees, R. 2005. “The Emperors’ New Names: Diocletian Jovius and Maximian Herculius.” In Herakles and Hercules: Exploring A Graeco-​Roman Divinity, eds. L. Rawlings and H. Bowden, 223–​240. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales. Ridgway, B. 1992. “Images of Athena on the Akropolis.” In Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens, ed. J. Neils, 118–​142. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Salway, B. 1994. “What’s in a Name? A Survey of Roman Onomastic Practice from c. 700 BC to AD 700.” Journal of Roman Studies 84: 124–​145. Schefold, K. 1992. Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Schwab, K. A. 1996. “East Metope XI: Heracles and the Gigantomachy.” American Journal of Archaeology 100(1): 81–​90. Settis, S. 1975. “Per l’interpretazione di Piazza Armerina,” Mélanges de l’École française de Rome–​ Antiquité 87, 873. Shapiro, A. 1992. “Panathenaic Amphoras: Their Meaning, Makers, and Markets.” In Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens, ed. J. Neils, 29–​52. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Simon, E. 1975. Pergamon und Hesiod. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern. Simon, E. 1984. “Ikonographie und Epigraphik: Zum Bauschmuck des Siphnierschatzhauses in Delphi.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologi und Epigraphik 57: 1–​22. Stewart, A. 1997. Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Talbert, R. J. A., ed. 2000. Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Valenza Mele, N. 1980. “Eracle euboico a Cuma: La gigantomachia e la via Heraclea.” In Recherches sur les cultes grecs et l’Occident, vol. 1, ed. R. Martin, 19–​51. Naples: Publications du Centre Jean Bérard. doi:10.4000/​books.pcjb.126 Vian, F. 1951. Répertoire des gigantomachies figurées dans l’art grec et romain. Paris: Klinksieck. Vian, F. 1952a. La guerre des Géants: Le mythe avant l’époque hellénistique. Paris: Klinksieck. Vian F. 1952b. “La guerre des Géants devant les penseurs de l’antiquité.” Revue des Études Grecques 65: 1–​39. Vian, F., and M. B. Moore 1988. “Gigantes.” in LIMC iv.1: 191–​270. Waldstein, C., et al., 1902–​1905. The Argive Heraeum. 2 vols. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin and Co. Ware, C. 2012. Claudian and the Roman Epic Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chapter 20

Oecha l ia , Delphi, and Omphale Kristin Heineman

It is not surprising that the oracle of Delphi features frequently in the myths of Heracles. As a Panhellenic site, the oracular sanctuary often strives to connect the assortment of Greek poleis through a united Greek identity. For Delphi, this is largely achieved by religious sanction and colonization efforts. Likewise, Heracles is a Panhellenic hero, appealing to all Greeks regardless of their particular polis. Heracles, too, unites all Greeks through his various myths and travels and for this reason, the pair have a unique relationship in myth. However, in the case of Heracles, one of the ways he achieves his Panhellenic status is through a variety of opposing characteristics—​he is at once a man and a god, a city founder and city sacker, a killer of monsters and a monstrous killer, capable of both heroic and wicked deeds, a slave and a hero. Although Heracles and Delphi share some key features, the hero and the oracle are polar opposites when it comes to the famous Delphic maxim, “nothing in excess.” Heracles’ appetites are excessive in the extreme when it comes to sex, drink, food, and rage. This rage seems to connect Heracles to Delphi, and three main events highlight this connection: first, the sack of Oechalia follows from Heracles’ punishment (as decreed by the Delphic oracle) for the murder of Iphitus; next, the struggle for the tripod at Delphi; and, finally, Heracles’ enslavement to Omphale, which is again an act of expiation that Heracles must perform, also in accordance with an oracle from Delphi. This series of praxeis will be the focus of this chapter. The exact timeline and details of Heracles’ life are contradictory in our sources. Either before or after his marriage to Deianeira, Heracles visits Oechalia and meets King Eurytus and his children. Our sources give a variety of different accounts,

252   Kristin Heineman but eventually Heracles sacks the city, kills Eurytus and his son, Iphitus, and takes his daughter Iole as a result. These events will unfold a series of horrific actions on Heracles’ part and prove to have severe consequences (see Chapter 21). This is the general outline of a series of events told in a variety of different ways by our sources, but there is little consensus otherwise. Even the precise location of Oechalia was debated in antiquity and variously placed in Thessaly or Arcadia.1 Strabo’s Geography gives us several different possibilities, but seems confident that it is in Euboea: There is also a village Oechalia in the Eretrian territory, the remains of the city which was destroyed by Heracles; it bears the same name as the Trachinian Oechalia and that near Tricce, and the Arcadian Oechalia, which the people of later times called Andania, and that in Aetolia in the neighborhood of the Eurytanians. (Strabo C448)2

To add to the confusion, the reason Heracles gets involved with Eurytus and Oechalia is disputed in our literary sources. The earliest account comes from Creophylus, a Samian poet from the seventh century BC, who wrote an epic poem called Capture of Oechalia. This poem survives in a single, uninformative fragment.3 Homer gives one version of Eurytus’ death: it was the result of his own hubris against Apollo. Eurytus was so confident in his archery skills that he challenged Apollo to a match but, unfortunately for Eurytus, this did not end well and he was killed by Apollo (Odyssey 8.220–​229).4 His bow was given to his son, Iphitus, who eventually gave it to Odysseus, and it was with this bow that Odysseus killed Penelope’s suitors (Odyssey 21.10–​41). However, the more commonly related version of Eurytus’ death puts it at the hands of Heracles. According to different scholiastic accounts, Pherecydes of Athens told that Heracles went to Oechalia in order to seek Iole either for himself or for Hyllus, and that he won a contest established by Eurytus.5 Other authors, most clearly Apollodorus, explain that it was an archery contest: After his Labors Heracles . . . wishing himself to wed, ascertained that Eurytus, prince of Oechalia, had proposed the hand of his daughter Iole as a prize to him who should vanquish himself and his sons in archery. (Bibliotheca 2.6.1)6


See Homer Iliad 2.729–​733 and Pherecydes F82a Fowler, respectively. See also C339, C438. This and all subsequent translations are from the Loeb editions, unless otherwise stated. 3  Gantz (1993, 434). The line (fragment 1 from Bernabé 2007) is spoken to Iole by Heracles and does not indicate a motive or context for the sack of the city. Strabo (C638) tells us “that it was ascribed to Homer because of the story of the hospitality shown him.” See Burkert (1972) for an examination. 4  Odysseus even claims that both Heracles and Eurytus could rival even the gods in archery. For the anachronism of Heracles in Homer, see Prinz (1974), Galinsky (1972), and Crissy (1997). According to Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.4.9, 11), Eurytus is thought to be Heracles’ archery teacher. This is not attested elsewhere. 5  Pherecydes F82 Fowler; cf. Gantz (1993, 436). 6  See also Herodorus F37 Fowler. Diodorus (4.31.1) simply says he wooed Iole. 2 

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  253 Diodorus omits this detail, but does tell us that Eurytus denied Heracles Iole’s hand because he feared the same fate that fell on Megara would fall on his daughter; he thought the madness that overcame Heracles once might return (Diodorus 4.31.1–​2). This slight against the hero was to motivate Heracles to take vengeance on Eurytus, first by killing his son Iphitus and later, as we shall see, sacking the king’s city. Apollodorus gives the same reason for the default, but adds that all of Eurytus’ sons took Heracles’ side. Sophocles’ Trachiniae gives two versions, which will be examined later with the sack of Oechalia. In either case, Heracles became enraged and, for reasons that are not at all clear in our sources, he murdered Iphitus. There are at least four different versions of Heracles’ killing of Eurytus’ son, and they all differ in their account of how and why he did it. Strikingly, no author gives a justification for Heracles’ actions. A general consensus surrounds the business about stolen cattle—​but even then, the accounts vary in specifics.7 In the Odyssey, Homer explains that Heracles stole Iphitus’ horses, and when Iphitus comes looking for them, “Heracles killed him, his guest though he was, in his own house, ruthlessly, and had regard neither for the wrath of the gods nor for the table which he had set before him, but slew the man thereafter, and himself kept the stout-​hoofed mares in his halls” (21.20–​30). Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.6) claims that cattle were stolen from Euboea by Autolycus, but Eurytus thought Heracles was the culprit. Iphitus sided with Heracles and met him to help clear his name. While they were looking for the cattle, Heracles went mad and threw him from the walls of Tiryns. Diodorus (4.31.2–​3) says Heracles drove off the mares of Eurytus because he was angry Eurytus refused his proposal to Iole. Iphitus, this time: harbored suspicions of what had been done and came to Tiryns in search of the horses, whereupon Heracles, taking him up on a lofty tower of the castle, asked him to see whether they were by chance grazing anywhere; when Iphitus was unable to discover them, he claimed that Iphitus had falsely accused him of the theft and threw him down headlong from the tower. (Diodorus 4.31.3)

Finally, Sophocles (Trachiniae 270–​273) tells us that he murdered Iphitus to take revenge on Eurytus, who had shamed him and thrown him from his house, presumably for denying him Iole.8 Although the specifics may vary, the overall outline is clear: Heracles kills Iphitus with very little motive or reason. Perhaps we can glean from Homer’s version that Heracles kills rather than admit to the theft of the mares, or from Diodorus’ account


Sophocles, however, omits any mention of horses. This perhaps makes his portrayal of Heracles’ actions even more petty. As Galinsky (1972, 47) notes, the theft of horses or cattle “though not justifiable, at least had some significance in the agricultural society of Homer’s heroes.” 8  This, at least, was Lichas’ explanation, which turns out to be a lie. This is examined in more detail in what follows.

254   Kristin Heineman because he is falsely accused of theft. Still, these are weak justifications for such dire actions. Perhaps Apollodorus is the most forgiving, and removes any direct guilt by explaining the murder through madness. For Heracles, and all Greeks, intention is not the concern when it comes to murder. Homicide is a crime against the gods, and so Heracles must seek purification from the religious pollution that certainly plagues him. Interestingly, Homer does not mention the need for expiation, which is particularly striking as Iphitus was killed while a guest at his table and thus in a violation against xenia (guest-​friendship). Hubert notes (1923, 330) that “in later times, when murder became a religious offence . . . legend-​makers imported the pollution-​ doctrine retrospectively into pre-​existing legends.” Perhaps this is why Homer omits the other elements of the story. Heracles’ murder of Iphitus is at odds with his more philanthropic Labors, and this hints at the core of his character—​he is inherently ambiguous. Heracles will return to Oechalia toward the very end of his life, as will be discussed later. After the murder of Iphitus, Heracles once again behaved in a manner that was unbecoming: he attempted to steal Apollo’s tripod from Delphi. Heracles was struck with a sickness and needed to seek purification. After attempting to expiate his crime through the help of Neleus (who denied him assistance because of his friendship with Eurytus), he was purified by Deiphobus. This did not seem to work, as he became diseased, and so finally Heracles went to Delphi to ask Apollo how to rid himself of the sickness (νόσος). Here the Pythia refused him an oracle, so Heracles attempted to carry off Apollo’s tripod, the symbol of his prophetic ability. Heracles and Apollo engaged in a battle, but Zeus intervened by throwing a thunderbolt between them. The earliest evidence for this episode comes from art work.9 Indeed, the depiction of Heracles’ Theft of the Delphic Tripod is one of the most popular subjects on vases, beginning around the mid-​sixth century. Von Bothmer (1977) offers the most recent and complete survey of such vases: he lists 156 examples, as well as other depictions in sculpture and bronze.10 Of these vases, there are two broad groups, one depicting the tripod upright between Heracles and Apollo, each pulling on their side of it. Behind them are their respective supporters—​Athena behind Heracles, and Artemis behind Apollo. The other group, representing the greatest number of examples, depicts Heracles carrying off the tripod, often chased by Apollo.11

9  The earliest (c. 700 BC) depiction comes from a bronze tripod leg from Olympia, (Archaeological Museum of Olympia B 1730). See Gantz (1993, 438). 10  See also Luce (1930) and Defradas (1954). Pausanias (8.37.1) also mentions a depiction of a version of the episode on a temple in Arcadia. 11  Pausanias (10.13.7) also mentions seeing a depiction of a version like this at Delphi: “Heracles and Apollo are holding onto the tripod, and are preparing to fight about it. Leto and Artemis are calming Apollo, and Athena is calming Heracles. This too is an offering of the Phocians, dedicated when Tellias of Elis led them against the Thessalians.”

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  255 One of the most significant examples of this struggle is found at the sanctuary of Delphi on the pedimental group of the Siphnian Treasury.12 The east pediment shows Zeus physically intervening in the struggle by grabbing Apollo’s arm and the tripod which Heracles is attempting to run off with. This differs from many of the Attic vases that are preserved in the sense that it is now Zeus in the center of the conflict.13 Von Bothmer (1977, 52–​63) suggests that it may have been the construction and popularity of the Siphnian Treasury that inspired many of the Attic vases that depict this scene. Others have argued that the popularity of the struggle on vases reflects certain political realities, as we shall see. The wide popularity of this episode in various artistic representations does not lend itself to a clear interpretation. The problem is compounded when the literary evidence is examined—​it is all relatively late and diffuse. Each source seems to take the struggle for the tripod for granted—​their audiences would have immediately recognized and understood the reference. Our richest version, paraphrased earlier, comes from Apollodorus, who gives the most complete account of events (Bibliotheca 2.6.2). Strangely, Diodorus does not mention the struggle between the half-​brothers, despite the likelihood that he is relying on the same tradition, since their versions otherwise are very similar.14 The only other detail that is not included in the summarized version of Apollodorus comes from Hyginus, who tells us, When he came to his right mind, he begged Apollo to give him an oracular reply on how to expiate his crime. Because Apollo was unwilling, Heracles wrathfully carried off the tripod from his shrine. Later, at the command of Zeus, he returned it, and bade him give the reply, though unwilling. (Fabulae 32, Mary Grant trans.)

The difference in this version is that the crime he is trying to expiate is not the murder of Iphitus, but the murder of his wife, Megara, and his children. This places the events much earlier in his life than the other authors claim. This could have been a popular version of the story, and as Gantz (1993, 439) notes, it may explain why “Pherekydes and Sophocles’ Trachiniai omit the tale of the fight over the tripod [because] perhaps like Hyginus they placed it earlier in Heracles’ career.” The notion that Heracles’ plan was to set up his own oracle, as recounted by Apollodorus, is also alluded to by Plutarch, in De E apud Delphos, a debate about the meaning of the “E” inscribed at Delphi.15 Plutarch, through his interlocutors, attempts to provide a rational explanation for the presence of the mysterious inscription. Theon uses the episode to demonstrate how, as a young man, Heracles was reckless and acted 12 

Bourguet (1914, 76–​78). For a detailed examination of the pedimental group, see Ridgway (1965) and Watrous (1982). 13  According to von Bothmer (1977), only five of the 156 depictions of the struggle on vases show Zeus. 14  Compare Diodorus 4.31. 15  The Greek name for the letter E is EI, which has several meanings: it denotes the letter five, it is Greek for both the word “if ” and “you are.” This threefold meaning of EI leads Plutarch and his interlocutors to examine a variety of different meanings for this strange inscription.

256   Kristin Heineman irrationally (the murder of his children comes to mind), but in later years he contended even with Apollo in reason and logic: Heracles indeed, not having yet unbound Prometheus, nor conversed with the sophisters that were with Chiron and Atlas, but being still a young man and a plain Boeotian, at first abolished logic and derided this word EI; but afterwards he seemed by force to have seized on the tripod, and contended with our God himself for the pre-​ eminence in this art; for being grown up in age, he appeared to be the most expert both in divination and logic. (De E apud Delphos 387d)

This interpretation of Heracles adds yet another binary opposite to Heracles’ character: madness and rationality. Plutarch also suggests that Heracles rivaled Apollo in divination, and we learn from Plutarch’s De sera numinis vindicta that Heracles “took away the prophetic tripod and carried it to Pheneus” (557c). It seems that the theft of the tripod may also indicate Heracles’ ability to prophesy in his father’s name. Pindar gives us an instance when Heracles “spoke like a prophet” (φωνήσαις ἅτε μάντις) and gave the following “oracle”: “Telamon, you will have the son that you ask for. Name him after the bird that appeared: wide-​ruling Aias, awesome in the war-​toils of the people” (Isthmian 6.51). Also, as noted by Parke and Boardman (1957, 277), Pausanias (3.1.6) tells us that Aristodemus was killed by Apollo because he learned of the return of the Heraclidae, not from his oracle at Delphi, but from Heracles. From this evidence, the struggle for the tripod is clearly a battle for divinatory supremacy. Parke and Boardman (1957) argue that the struggle was used as a symbol for the First Sacred War between Delphi and Cirrha—​where Apollo symbolizes Delphi and Heracles represents Cirrha. Alternatively, Defradas (1972, 134–​136) argues similarly that the episode was appropriated to symbolize instead the installation of the Delphic Amphictyony. Later, Boardman (1978) reversed his view, and sided more with Defradas, suggesting that Heracles symbolized the Amphictyony and Pisistratus. Watrous (1982, 167) suggests, based on the work of Boardman (1978), that the Siphnian Treasury is a propaganda piece and may reflect the contemporary rivalry between Pisistratus (Heracles) and Delphi (Apollo), and the tyrant’s “attempt to usurp the god’s authority by setting up a rival oracular establishment at Athens.” (For Heracles and Pisistratus, see further Chapter 26.) In all reality, each of these suggestions could be equally true. Perhaps each generation interpreted and utilized the myth for their own purposes. This is probably why so many different versions of this episode of Heracles’ myth have come down to us (and similar cases could be made for all its other episodes too). Rather than as reflecting a contemporary political reality, others have viewed the myth of Heracles and the tripod in terms of a historical religious reality. Some scholars have argued that the tripod episode may reflect some sort of historical battle over supremacy of the oracle. Parke and Wormell (2005, 340) argue that Heracles, originally worshiped by the Boeotians, rivaled Apollo by divine standards and set out to take over the oracle. And Suhr (1953, 256) argues that “regardless of its historical

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  257 associations a conflict between two such prominent figures must also reflect a violent religious struggle, one which can only be explained by the invasion of a new god in another province of an old established divinity.” However, Sourvinou-​Inwood (1986, 216) argues that, for most myths, it is unwise to interpret them as reflecting a historical reality. She demonstrates that despite several myths that tell of the overthrow of an earlier deity at Delphi (some tell us that either Gaia or Themis, or both, were the original owners of the oracle there), it is “unwarranted and fallacious” to assume that this reflects a historical actuality.16 Another myth, that of Apollo slaying the Python, has also been viewed in this way. Neer (2001, 293–​295) agrees with this view and argues that it may be going too far to read historical symbolism into the east pediment, and perhaps the entire tripod episode. He suggests that the “pediment presents the settlement of disputes as the exercise of divine justice” and this resolution between Heracles and Apollo, along with the restoration of the tripod “brings with it the opening of the sanctuary (of Delphi) to all” and symbolizes the Panhellenic nature of the sanctuary. Although it may be tempting to read a historical reality into the myth of the tripod, I think a more clearly Delphic aspect of the myth could lend understanding. The battle between Heracles and Apollo at Delphi can also represent a struggle between two of the great Delphic maxims—​“Nothing in excess” and “Know Thyself.” The first tenet, that of moderation, becomes a quintessentially Greek characteristic, and the second tenet suggests that people must realize their station, that they are human and only human. When Heracles battles Apollo for the tripod, he is also battling these Delphic ideals. Indeed, Heracles is the pinnacle of excess in a variety of different ways. Examples that could be cited include his sexual excess in sleeping with the fifty daughters of Thespius, his unquenchable thirst for wine, and his never-​ ending appetite for food, as when he competes in an eating contest with Lepreus.17 Likewise, Heracles is one of a few mortals who became a god and thereby directly challenges the Delphic maxim “Know Thyself.” During the struggle he is a heroic man, but ultimately Heracles becomes a god and worshiped throughout Greece. Perhaps his ambiguity makes this a particularly difficult task for Heracles—​as a half-​ deity and half-​mortal, how can he be expected to “know himself ”? The binary opposites of his character and conduct reflect this dual nature. The fight for the tripod represents Heracles’ struggle with the Delphic morals and a direct challenge to all that Delphi stands for. After Zeus’ intervention, Heracles does finally receive an oracle from the Pythia. He is told that he will be cured from his sickness if he is sold into slavery and ends


For example, Aeschylus, Eumenides 1–​8; Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 1234–​1283; and Euripides Orestes 163–​165. See Fontenrose (1959) and Sourvinou-​Inwood (1986). 17  For the daughters of Thespius, see Diodorus, 4.29, Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.4.10, and Pausanias 9.27.5–​7; for excessive drinking, see Euripides Alcestis 756–​760, 787–​798; for his appetite, see Aelian Varia historia 1.24. For feasting as an important aspect of Heracles’ cult, see Stafford (2011, 175–​197).

258   Kristin Heineman up serving the Lydian queen, Omphale.18 The full account of the story does not appear until Diodorus and Apollodorus, but it is alluded to in Aeschylus, Sophocles, and several Roman authors.19 Our sources differ on the amount of time served, the amount paid, who it was paid to, and who sold him. For example, Pherecydes (fr. 82 Fowler) tells us that it was Hermes who organized the sale for a price of three talents. Apollodorus agrees, but he does not specify the price and he adds that the payment should go to Eurytus (Bibliotheca 2.6.2-​3). However, Diodorus (4.31.4-​8) says that it was an unnamed man that conducted the deal and, rather, that the payment should go to the sons of Iphitus. The marital status of Omphale is also unclear, as Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.6.3) tells us that she had inherited the throne from her husband, but Diodorus (4.31.5) claims she is still unmarried. At any rate, all the sources agree that Heracles ends up being sold to the queen of Lydia, Omphale, the daughter of Iardanos, in order to atone for the murder of Iphitus. Expiation by means of slavery is also seen in Apollo’s enslavement to Admetus, in Euripides’ Alcestis: House of Admetus, wherein I brought myself to taste the bread of menial servitude, god though I am. Zeus was the cause: he killed my son Asclepius, striking him in the chest with the lightning-​bolt, and in anger at this I slew the Cyclopes who forged Zeus’ fire. As my punishment for this Zeus compelled me to be a serf in the house of a mortal (Alcestis, 1-​10).

Just as Apollo must serve as a slave for his murder of the Cyclopes, Heracles must work off his pollution once more, just as he had done after the rage-​filled murder of his children. In both cases, it was Zeus who dispensed the sentence. The punishment for Iphitus’ murder is even more severe as he has to serve a foreign woman, adding exile to slavery.20 The fact that Heracles was enslaved to a woman turns the episode into a common scene for comedy. Although lost, Omphale was the title of at least three comedies as well as two satyr plays.21 Roman authors emphasize Omphale’s domination over Heracles through sex, and manipulate the story to portray his enslavement as one of love, rather than literal servitude.22 In this way, these authors can work the story to suit their misogynist aims—​it is not the slave Heracles that should be mocked, it is 18  Suhr (1953) gives a good summary of nineteenth-​century scholarship concerning the origins of this myth and the divinity of Heracles. 19 Aeschylus Agamemnon 1024–​1025; Sophocles Trachiniae 248–​260; Ovid Heroides 9.57; Lucian Dialogues of the Gods 8.2; Tertullian De pallio 4; Seneca Phaedra 317–​325. Stafford (2012, 132) lists the fragments that survive from fifth-​century mythographers. 20  Cauer (1891, 248) notes that in order for Greeks to appreciate Heracles’ servitude to a foreign queen, there had to be a legal justification (proceeds from the sale to expiate Eurytus) as well as a psychological one (he becomes enamored with Omphale). 21  See Stafford (2012, 132). For an examination of Ion’s Omphale, see Maitland (2007) and Easterling (2007). 22 Palaephatus On Unbelievable Tales 44. See Stafford (2012, 10). See also Ovid Fasti 356; Propertius 3.11.18; Seneca Hercules Furens 466. On the Omphale myth in Rome, see Alonso (1996). For a summary of

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  259 the foreign whore queen that wields far too much power. One way this can be seen is through the swapping of clothes: Omphale forces Heracles to don her luxurious eastern attire, and as Kampen (1996, 235) notes, “The emphasis on sheer and brightly colored dresses and bangles and on sensual pleasure makes it clear that luxury is a term for both the corruption of the East and for the desire that undoes the hero.” Ovid gives us the richest depiction of the two swapping clothes: She arrayed Alcides (Heracles) in her own garb. She gave him gauzy tunics in Gaetulian purple dipped; she gave him the dainty girdle, which but now had girt her waist. For his belly the girdle was too small; he undid the clasps of the tunics to thrust out his big hands. The bracelets he had broken, not made to fit those arms; his big feet split the little shoes. She herself took the heavy club, the lion’s skin, and the lesser weapons stored in their quiver. (Fasti 2.320-​31.)23

This cross-​dressing, in Ovid, has a cultic aspect: the two are worshiping Bacchus while at the same time exploring the fluidity of gender. This form of worship appears at Antimacheia on the island of Cos: the city’s cross-​dressing ritual is described both in an inscription and in an account by Plutarch.24 In addition to religious and gender contexts, the Omphale episode appears to have political overtones on at least two occasions, the first of which is in fifth-​century Athens. Comic and satiric writers used the myth of Omphale as ammunition against Pericles and Aspasia, suggesting that Aspasia had enslaved Pericles in much the same way Omphale did Heracles. Plutarch (Pericles 24.5) tells us that Aspasia “is styled now the New Omphale. . . . Cratinus flatly called her a prostitute in these lines: ‘As his Hera, Aspasia was born, the child of Unnatural Lust, a prostitute past shaming.’ ” The analogy between the two women would have been very clear. A similar analogy is also seen in Augustan-​era Roman politics. Augustus is known for his propaganda against Mark Antony’s eastern affiliations, and some authors have suggested that Augustus compared Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra to that of Heracles and Omphale.25 Here the same Roman tropes are found: eastern luxury, seduction, powerful women, and enslavement to lust. Heracles’ time with Omphale was not simply degrading slavery—​he also battled with some local miscreants who had been terrorizing Omphale’s territory, including Syleus, the Itonoi and the Cercopes. Syleus, who forces people to work his vineyard until he is killed by Heracles with his own mattock, is treated in detail in Chapter 15. All that will be said here is that Heracles has a penchant for slaying his enemies in the

artistic depictions of this myth, see Schauenburg (1960), Gantz (1993), and Kampen (1996). For a detailed examination of Propertius, see Lindheim (1998). 23  Here he is giving a justification as to why worshipers at the Lupercalia are nude. Indeed, Ovid (Herodes 9.53–​118) is our first literary source to mention Heracles in women’s clothes. 24  Stafford (2010, 234). See also Plutarch Greek Questions 304c–​e. 25  See Laubscher (1974), Ritter (1995), and Stafford (2012). Contra, see Hekster (2004).

260   Kristin Heineman same way as they had themselves been terrorizing people, as in the case of Diomedes and his horses (see Chapter 10). Both Diodorus and Apollodorus give details regarding his battles with Syleus, but Apollodorus omits mention of the Itonoi. Diodorus (4.31.7), our only source for the latter, tells us that “from the Itonoi, who had been plundering a large part of the land of Omphale, he took away their booty, and the city which they had made the base of their raids he sacked, and enslaving its inhabitants razed it to the ground.” These inhabitants of Lydia seem to have been resisting Omphale’s rule, and Heracles was put in the queen’s graces by dealing with them. This meager evidence does suggest that, despite some of Heracles’ more dubious actions, he is still a champion of the people in defeating lawbreakers. The most famous of his enemies in Lydia are the Cercopes, who are only briefly mentioned by Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.6.3) and Diodorus (4.31.7). The former explains that Heracles caught and bound them in Ephesus, and the latter that they were committing evil deeds, with the result that Heracles killed most of them, but brought some back to Omphale alive. For the full story, we must rely on later sources. Zenobius (5.10) explains that the mother of the Cercopes warned them to beware of the “Black-​Bottomed One” (Melampygos). When they tried to rob Heracles of his weapons while he was sleeping under a tree, he awoke and tied them up by their feet to a pole to carry them off. From this vantage, they could see Heracles’ bottom and realized it was black from the thickness of his hair. The Cercopes laughed at the fulfillment of the prophecy and told Heracles the story, who was amused and set them free. Despite the lateness of this full version of the story, the myth seems to be far older. Images of the Cercopes strung up on the pole appear in several forms from the early sixth century, and the scene appears around 550 BC in Attic vase-​painting.26 Additionally, some brief mentions in early literature add details to the story, including one by Pherecydes (fr.7 Fowler), who mentions that the Cercopes were turned to stone. Ovid tells us that they were turned, not to stone, but to monkeys: The father of the gods abhorred the frauds and perjuries of the Cercopians and for the crimes of that bad treacherous race, transformed its men to ugly animals, appearing unlike men, although like men. He had contracted and had bent their limbs, and flattened out their noses, bent back towards their foreheads; he had furrowed every face with wrinkles of old age, and made them live in that spot, after he had covered all their bodies with long yellow ugly hair. Besides all that, he took away from them the use of language and control of tongues, so long inclined to dreadful perjury; and left them always to complain of life and their ill conduct in harsh jabbering. (Metamorphoses 14.91–​100)27

26  Gantz (1993, 441) cites a Corinthian cup from Perachora, two Corinthian pinakes, a shield-​band from Olympia, and metopes from Foce del Sele and Temple C at Selinous. See also Stafford (2013, 61). 27  Not surprisingly, the story also turns up in lost comedies by several authors, including Hermippus, Plato Comicus, and Eubulus. See Gantz (1993, 441).

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  261 The reason Zeus is so angered by them is perhaps explained by Zenobius (1.5), who says they tried to trick him. It seems then, that the ultimate end of the Cercopes is an uncertain one. In any case, Heracles seemed to have pacified them and restored order to Omphale’s territory. Like Heracles’ dealings with the Itonoi and Syleus, his defeat of the Cercopes is a symbolic one that resonates with much of Heracles’ earlier career: the victory of civilization over savagery. In defeating Syleus, the Cercopes and the Itonoi, Heracles restores his status as the heroic civilizer. Once again, Heracles triumphs heroically in his deeds as he had done during his Labors. These deeds seem to curry favor with Omphale and as a result she bears him a child, Lamos (who gives his name to Lamia, north of Trachis), and sets Heracles free. After his enslavement to Omphale, Heracles sought to settle some old scores from his past. One of the ways in which vengeance is extracted is through the sacking of cities. Heracles had to pay his dues, and now all of his enemies also had to pay. He sacked Troy to take revenge on Laomedon (see Chapter 17) as well as the city of Pylos to exact vengeance on Neleus for his refusal to purify Heracles after the murder of Iphitus.28 Finally, Heracles returned to Oechalia to seek reprisal from Eurytus for denying him Iole as a bride. Rather than establish a new ruler in the conquered city, Heracles killed all the remaining sons of Eurytus, “who were Toxeus, Molion, and Clytius” and took Iole back to Trachis as booty (Diodorus 4.37.5). Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.7.7) adds that after he buried those who fought with him, he pillaged the city before taking Iole captive. Although the first time Heracles visited Oechalia he was a bachelor, he had, in the meantime, married Deianeira; bringing a mistress back home would prove to have dire consequences (see Chapter 21). As we have seen, the sacking of the city was the subject of Creophylus’ Capture of Oechalia, and it was also mentioned by Bacchylides in the fifth century (Dithyrambs 16). The story is detailed in Sophocles’ Trachiniae, which actually supplies two accounts of Heracles’ motivation for the sack of Oechalia. The first account is a lie told by Heracles’ servant, Lichas, to Deianeira (248–​290). Here, Lichas is trying to avoid revealing that Iole was the motive for the destruction of Oechalia, and instead gives the explanation: when he first came to his house as an old comrade, Eurytus assailed him with many words born of an evil mind, and told him that despite those mighty arrows his own sons could surpass him with the bow; yes, taunted him that he had sunk to being a free man’s slave; and then, when drunk with wine, he cast him out. (260–​270)

Deianeira first learns that it is due to this insult that Heracles returns to sack the city and bring back captives. However, throughout the play (351–​379, 475–​485) the truth is


For Troy, see Diodorus 4.32.1 and Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.7; for Pylos, see Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.3.

262   Kristin Heineman revealed. The messenger explains to Deianeira that he overheard Lichas declare that it was all for that beautiful woman, Iole (351). Finally, Lichas confesses and confirms what the messenger had relayed—​Iole was the direct cause of the sack (475). As Davies (1984) outlines, it is likely that the audience would have recognized the lie and that it would have created a great deal of anticipation as to when the truth would be revealed. Indeed, later authors agree that Heracles sacked the city because he was denied Iole, as we have seen. The destruction of Oechalia and the rest of the cities provides a striking contrast between Heracles the colonizer and Heracles the sacker of cities. On the one hand, this rampage earned Heracles a place among the likes of Ares and Odysseus with the nick-​name “sacker of cities” in Hesiod (fr. 229.17 MW) and Bacchylides (Epinicians 5.45–​50).29 Yet, on the other hand, Heracles is accredited with founding many cities and, according to Stephanus of Byzantium (Ethnica 303–​304), at least twenty-​three were named Heraclea after him. Again, the ambiguity of Heracles comes to the fore. Likewise, Heracles’ colonization efforts once again associate him with Delphi: the Panhellenic roles played by both enable them to connect new colonies throughout the Mediterranean with the mainland of Greece. The relationship between Delphi and Heracles is as ambiguous as the hero himself. Despite their battle, the sanctuary honors Heracles. Although there is no cult site or temple to Heracles at the sanctuary, he has a month of the Delphic calendar named after him.30 He is also present at Delphi through art work, as we have seen on the Siphnian Treasury there is also the marble frieze displaying the Labors of Heracles.31 As we have seen too, the struggle over the tripod symbolizes a direct affront to Apollo and his oracle there—​he challenges not only the authority of Delphi but also the very nature of the oracle with his assumption of excess and hubris. However, Heracles is also Delphi’s champion, who protects it from impiety and invaders. According to Diodorus (4.37.1), “Phylas, the king of the Dyopes, had in the eyes of men committed an act of impiety against the temple of Delphi. Heracles took the field against him . . . slew the king and drove the rest out of the land.” In the Shield of Heracles, attributed to Hesiod, Heracles once again comes to the aid of Delphi. Cycnus had been killing pilgrims on their way to Delphi and stealing their hecatombs (478–​481). Apollo urges Heracles to fight with him. Heracles: with his long spear struck Cycnus violently in the neck beneath the chin, where it was unguarded between helm and shield. And the deadly spear cut through the two sinews; for the hero’s full strength lighted on his foe. And Cycnus fell as an oak falls or a lofty pine that is stricken by the lurid thunderbolt of Zeus; even so he fell, and his armor adorned with bronze clashed about him. (416–​423) 29  As noted by Haubold (2005, 92 n. 40) a likely reconstruction of r. 25.23 MW also refers to Heracles as πτολίπορθος, “sacker of cities” although only . . . ]ρθωι can be read. 30  Defradas (1954, 123). 31  For an examination of the frieze, see Sturgeon (1978) and Weir (1999).

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  263 In turn, Delphi supports the hero. This is most clearly seen through the comment of Arrian (Anabasis 4.11.7), who explains that no divine honors were paid to Heracles, either before or after his death, until an oracle from Delphi had been given. Aelian (Varia historia 2.32) notes that Apollo told Heracles he would have undying fame for bringing so many benefits to men. Heracles (either himself, or through an emissary) consults Delphi on at least six other occasions: after the murder of his children (Diodorus 4.10.7; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.4.12); after his murder of Iphitus, as we have seen; before his war on Pisa (Pausanias 5.3.1); in connection with the dedication of the defeated Dryopes (Pausanias 4.34.9); in connection the settlement of his sons throughout Greece after the completion of his Labors (Diodorus 4.29.1); and finally because of the sickness inflicted by the shirt of Nessus (Diodorus 4.38.3). It is noteworthy that Delphi is the catalyst for the beginning of his Labors, as well as a source of help at the end of Heracles’ life.32 Heracles seeks advice from the oracle not only to expiate his crimes, but for the sanctioning of war, because of sickness, and to legitimize his own honor. Perhaps the most significant oracle given to Heracles by Delphi comes from our later authors, who tell us that he learned of his pending immortality through the Pythia. Diodorus (4.29.1) says “the god revealed to him that it would be well if, before he passed into the company of the gods . . . ” and Apollodorus (Bibliotheca 2.5.12) claims the Pythia told Heracles that “after the labors had been accomplished, he would come to be immortal.” It is not surprising that Delphi would feature in this instance, as it was the preeminent oracle in Greece, and had an established rapport with Heracles. However, this oracle of Heracles’ immortality is told differently by Sophocles. Rather than Apollo at Delphi, it is Zeus at Dodona who gives the ultimate oracle—​Heracles receives an oracle that tells him, as he reports, “When I have been abroad for fifteen months, the moment will have come when I shall either have to die, or else survive to live a life that’s free from pain for ever after. . . . So Dodona’s Ancient oak had spoken, through the mouth of the twin priestesses at Zeus’ oracle” (Sophocles Trachiniae 166–​173). Later, Heracles realizes the significance of the oracle, “They said that at this time. . . . I’d be released from all the labors laid on me. I thought that meant fair days. But all it signified was death—​my death” (1169–​1173). Parke (1967, 60) notices that this is the first instance in which Dodona plays a central role in Greek tragedy. Indeed, this is the only occasion in Greek tragedy in which Delphi is not mentioned alongside Dodona.33 Parke (1967, 62) attempts to explain this divergence from what appears to be the established tradition by associating the savagery of Heracles in the Trachiniae with the remoteness of Dodona. However, a far more convincing argument is made by Castrucci (2012, 1), who argues that “Dodona is the ancient oracle connected to the οἶκος (household) and family ties . . . while 32  It is also significant that Delphi is sought for expiation in both cases involving violence against families—​Heracles’ treatment of Eurtyus and his children as well as the murder of his own children. 33  Cavalli (1992, 49).

264   Kristin Heineman Delphi is the oracle of expiation, offering the motive and aim of the wandering.” So, in Sophocles, Dodona provides the conclusion to his travels and a return to his proper home. Perhaps, too, it was more fitting for Heracles’ father, Zeus, to provide the oracle that predicted Heracles’ homecoming to Mount Olympus. Heracles’ exploits after his famous Labors depict Heracles in a number of different ways. He does unthinkable acts, such as murdering Iphitus, sacking several cities, and directly challenging a god. On the other hand, he continues to perform noble Labors that improve humanity. These deeds provide another lens through which to view the ambiguity of the hero: sacker of cities and colonizer, murderer and savior, man and god. Particularly, Heracles’ relations with Delphi demonstrate a direct challenge to his own mortality.

References Alonso, F. W. 1996. “L’Histoire d’Omphalè et d’Héraklès.” In IIe rencontre héracléenne: Héraclès les femmes et le feminine, ed. C. Jourdain-​Annequin and C. Bonnet, 103–​120. Brussels: Brepols. Bernabé, A. 2007. Poetae epici Graeci: Testimonia et fragmenta. Berlin: de Gruyter. Boardman, J. 1978. “Herakles, Delphi and Klesithenes of Sikyon.” Révue archeologique Fasc. 2: 227–​234. Bourguet, E. 1914. Les ruines de Delphes. Paris: Fontemoing. Burkert, W. 1972. “Die Leistung eines Kreophylos: Kreophyleer, Homeriden und die archaische Heraklesepik.” Museum Helveticum 29: 74–​85. Castrucci, G. 2012. “Dodona versus Delphi in Greek Tragedy: The Wanderings of the Hero between Expiation and the Ties of γένος.” Logeion: A Journal of Ancient Theatre 2: 1–​25. Cauer, F. 1891. “Omphale.” Rheinisches Museum Für Philologie 46: 244–​249. Cavalli, M. 1992. “Tragedia e cultura oracolare: Alcune osservazioni.” Dioniso 62: 49–​68. Crissy, K. 1997. “Herakles, Odysseus, and the Bow: Odyssey 21.11–​41.” Classical Journal 93: 41–​53. Davies, M. 1984. “Lichas’ Lying Tale: Sophocles, Trachiniae 260 ff.” Classical Quarterly 34: 480–​483. Defradas, J. 1972. Les thèmes de la propagande delphique, 2nd ed. Paris: Les Belles Lettres. Easterling, P. 2007. “Looking for Omphale.” In The World of Ion of Chios, ed. V. Jennings and A. Katsaros, 282–​292. Boston: Brill. Fontenrose, J. 1959. Python: The Study of Delphic Myth and Its Origin. Berkeley: University of California Press. Fowler, R. 2000–​2013. Early Greek Mythography. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galinsky, G. K. 1972. The Herakles Theme. Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Haubold, J. 2005. “Heracles in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women.” In The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Constructions and Reconstructions, ed. R. Hunter, 85–​98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hekster, O. 2004. “Hercules, Omphale, and Octavian’s ‘Counter-​Propaganda.’” Bulletin Antieke Beschaving 79: 159–​166. Hubert, T. 1923. Poine: A Study in Ancient Greek Blood-​Vengeance. London: Longman.

Oechalia, Delphi, and Omphale  265 Kampen, N. 1996. “Omphale and the Instability of Gender.” In Sexuality in Ancient Art, ed. N. Kampen, 233–​246. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Laubscher, H. P. 1974. “Motive der augusteischen Bildpropaganda.” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 89: 242–​259. Lindheim, S. H. 1998. “Hercules Cross-​ Dressed, Hercules Undressed: Unmasking The Construction of the Propertian Amator in Elegy 4.9.” American Journal of Philology 119: 43–​66. Luce, S. B. 1930. “Studies of the Exploits of Herakles on Vases: II. The Theft of the Delphic Tripod.” American Journal of Archaeology 34: 313–​333. Maitland, J. 2007. “Ion of Chios, Sophocles, and Myth.” In The World of Ion of Chios, eds. V. Jennings and A. Katsaros, 266–​281. Boston: Brill. Neer, R. T. 2001. “Framing the Gift: The Politics of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi.” Classical Antiquity 20: 273–​344. Parke, H. 1967. The Oracles of Zeus. Oxford: Blackwell. Parke, H., and J. Boardman. 1957. “The Struggle for the Tripod and the First Sacred War.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 77: 276–​282. Parke, H., and D. E. W. Wormell. 2005. The Delphic Oracle. Chicago: Ares Publishers. Prinz, F. 1974. “Herakles.” In Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. A. Pauly et al., Suppl. 14: 137–​196. Stuttgart, Munich: J. B. Metzler; Alfred Druckenmuller. Ridgway, B. 1965. “The East Pediment of the Siphnian Treasury: A Reinterpretation.” American Journal of Archaeology 69: 1–​5. Ritter, S. 1995. Hercules in der römischen Kunst von den Anfängen bis Augustus. Heidelberg: Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte. Schauenburg, K. 1960. “Herakles und Omphale.” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 103: 57–​76. Sourvinou-​Inwood, C. 1986. “Myth as History: The Previous Owners of the Delphic Oracle.” In Interpretations of Greek Mythology, ed. J. N. Bremmer, 215–​241. London: Routledge. Stafford, E. 2010. “Herakles between Gods and Heroes.” In The Gods of Ancient Greece, ed. J. N. Bremmer and A. Erskine, 228–​244. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Sturgeon, M. C. 1978. “A New Monument to Herakles at Delphi.” American Journal of Archaeology 82: 226–​235. Suhr, E. G. 1953. “Herakles and Omphale.” American Journal of Archaeology 57: 251–​263. von Bothmer, D. 1977. “The Struggle for the Tripod.” In Festschrift für Frank Brommer, ed. U. Höckmann and A. Krug. Mainz: P. von Zabern. Watrous, L. V. 1982. “The Sculptural Program of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi.” American Journal of Archaeology 86: 159–​172. Weir, R. 1999. “Nero and the Herakles Frieze at Delphi.” Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 123: 397–​404.

Chapter 21

De ia nei ra , De ath, and A p oth e osis Dámaris Romero-​G onzález

The character of Deianeira plays a key part in the life of Heracles, especially at the end, when she brings about his death. Although classical authors concur that she was the one who caused his death with the tunic soaked in Nessus’ blood, there is no real consensus over whether she was directly responsible for his death: some portray a scheming Deianeira who is fully conscious of her actions, while others depict an innocent Deianeira who believes she is simply casting a love spell on him. Other supporting roles in the Heracles-​Deianeira drama are played by the river god Achelous, against whom Heracles wrestles to win Deianeira’s hand, and Nessus the Centaur, who gives Deianeira the blood used in the spell which leads to Heracles’ death and his apotheosis in Olympus, where he marries the goddess Hebe.

Deianeira According to myth, Deianeira was the daughter of Oeneus and sister of Meleager.1 When Heracles goes down to Hades, he meets Meleager’s soul, and is moved to tears by his sad story. After hearing out the tale, the hero inquires—​à la Lady Macbeth (“what is done, is done”)—​whether he has a sister like him he can make his radiant


Some authors, such as Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.8.1, or Hyginus Fabulae 129, consider her to be the daughter of Dionysus rather than Oeneus.

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  267 bride.2 Meleager replies that he has left behind “Deianeira, the bloom of youth on her neck, still without experience of golden Cypris, that enchantress of men” (Bacchylides 5.172–​175).3 Deianeira is presented throughout the tradition as a thoughtful or a cunning woman ([Hesiod] Cataloge of Women fr. 25.17 Merkelbach-​West: epiphrona),4 with a bright neck (Bacchylides 5.172), which suggests youth and beauty (Sophocles Trachiniae 25), and as similar in nature to her brother (Bacchylides 5.168), who is a “staunch wielder of spears” (5.70) and a “steadfast warrior” (5.170).5 She is described as steering a chariot and practicing the art of war, as a sort of Amazon-​like figure therefore (Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.8.1),6 and as a warrior (Nonnus Dionysiaca 35.89), but she is also ignorant of Cypris and the power she has to cast a spell on mortal men (Bacchylides 5.172–​175), which points to Deianeira’s initial ignorance of how Aphrodite’s power can destroy mortals through spells, which she eventually uses herself to destroy Heracles.7 The etymology of her name reflects this aggressive, destructive characteristic: “killer of men” or “husband-​slayer.”8 Once she has married Heracles—​in the Hesiodic Cataloge of Women she is described as being vanquished by him (fr. 25.18 Merkelbach-​West)9—​the impression she gives is, partly, of a luckless woman who has experienced the strange courtship of a suitor who was a fluvial deity, Achelous; the wrestling match between Heracles and Achelous over her hand in marriage; the abuse of a centaur; and the frequent absence of her chronically unfaithful husband, despite her love for him (Sophocles Trachiniae 6–​35; Ovid Heroides 9.48–​55). On the other hand, she is also portrayed as a faint-​ hearted woman, terror-​stricken by the dangers her husband faces in his Labors10 that leave her knowing not whether he is dead or alive, but she is unable to take decisive action (Trachiniae 36–​48).


Lefkowitz (1969, 85) stresses Heracles’ pragmatism: he is more concerned about perpetuating his own and Meleager’s characteristics through the children born of the union with Deianeira than about the influence of the gods on human destiny, which is what Meleager had in mind. 3  Campbell (1992) trans. 4  See Most (2007, 77), Carawan (2000, 194). 5  March (1987, 52). 6  A scholium to Apollodorus (loc. cit.) confirms this comparison of Deianeira to an Amazon: “And Heracles was brought to such a pitch of necessity that she was wounded in the breast at that time”; cf. March (1987, 52). 7  Lefkowitz (1969, 86), García Romero (2012, 82). 8  Levett (2004: 31); García Romero (2012, 79); Lefkowitz (1969: 86), who links part of the root of the name (daï-​) with daïphrōn, the epithet used by Meleager to refer to his mother and to Artemis. 9  This recalls the violent way in which Heracles took her as his wife when he won the contest against her suitor Achelous (Sophocles Trachiniae 17–​27). After that act of domination, she bears him children, which, once again, brings to mind the comment made by Deianeira in Trachiniae 32–​33, in which she compares Heracles’ arrival to the preparation of a field for sowing. 10  On the divergent worlds of Heracles (outdoors/​wild) and Deianeira (indoors/​civilized), cf. Segal (1999, 60–​108).

268   Dámaris Romero-González Another quality of Deianeira’s character which is highlighted, particularly in Sophocles, is her empathy toward the hostages brought by her husband after the destruction of Oechalia—​in particular Iole, who stands out from the rest for her air of dejection, her noble poise, and her beauty (Trachiniae 307, 308–​309, 462–​467).11 Deianeira keeps up this empathy even when she discovers who Iole is, because she sympathizes with her because of her beauty: after all, the same thing has happened to her too, and her very presence is initially justified by the power of Eros over Heracles.12 However, this empathy is distinctly lacking in Seneca, who presents Deianeira “like a madwoman, glaring grimly”13 (Hercules Oetaeus 240), dominated by jealousy and passion when confronted with her husband’s new wife. Such is the fury of her madness that she desires Heracles’ death and then Iole’s, who is now pregnant with the hero’s child (345–​347). Ovid shows a similar lack of empathy, although he depicts her as struggling between surrendering to the pain and leaving Trachis or committing a crime by slitting Iole’s throat (Metamorphoses 9.147–​151).14

Deianeira, Heracles, and Achelous In her father Oeneus’ palace, in Pleuron, a strange courtship is played out by Achelous,15 a fluvial deity noted for his repellent physical appearance and his ability to metamorphose into different animals (Trachiniae 13–​14). Just as she is preparing to be delivered to this strange suitor, Heracles arrives at Pleuron and wrestles with Achelous to win the prize: Deianeira, who apprehensively awaits the outcome of the fight.16 Ovid reminds us that there were other suitors too, who, in the light of the recommendations made by Heracles and Achelous about themselves to her father Oeneus, wisely retired. Achelous comes with the recommendation of being a god and an inhabitant of the lands of Oeneus, the lands where his waters flow. Heracles can


The words used by Deaineira in Trachiniae 299–​302, when she puts herself in the position of the slaves, recall Andromache and Hector’s farewell in the Iliad 6.407–​465. 12  On the character of Deianeira, cf. Webster (1969, 74–​90); Scott (1995, 17–​27); Scott (1997, 33–​47). 13  Fitch (2004) trans. 14  In Ovid, Deianeira invokes her brother Meleager, recalling that she is his sister when the idea of the crime comes to her mind (Metamorphoses 9.149–​151), thus associating it with the crimes committed by her brother. In Heroides 9.131–​132 Deianeira laments that Iole strolls haughtily through the city rather than hiding in terror or being kept in captivity. 15  Philostratus the Younger Imagines 3.4 describes a picture in which Achelous appears as Deianeira’s suitor and recalls the prologue of the Trachiniae (10–​14). Pausanias 6.19.12 notes that there was a temple in Megara where Heracles’ fight was depicted: in this image he was aided by Athena, while Achelous was assisted by Ares. 16  See also Apollodorus Bibliotheca 1.8.2; Nonnus Dionysiaca 43.12. For images of the wedding, cf. Seaford (1987, 106–​130). On images taken from nature to express romantic experiences, cf. Parca (1992, 175–​192).

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  269 boast of being the son of a god and recommends himself with all the successful Labors he has accomplished on Hera’s orders (Metamorphoses 9.10–​20). Finally, the suitors are narrowed down to two, but as neither is to the father’s liking, he proposes that they should fight for her as a prize (Libanius Progymnasta 2.1). In that fight, Achelous, unable to withstand Heracles’ assault, like that of a prize wrestler, resorts again to his ability to metamorphose, turning first into a snake, which Heracles derides, given his past experience at dealing with snakes and the Hydra of Lerna (Metamorphoses 9.75–​76).17 Next, he turns into a bull, but Heracles defeats him by sheer strength and tears off one of his horns, which he presents to Oeneus as a gift.18 This horn has been linked to the horn of Amalthea, since Achelous recovers his own horn in exchange for his handing over of that of Amalthea.19 It is also associated with the Nymphs or the Hesperides, who fill it with fruit, from which it is named the Cornucopia, or Horn of Abundance (Hyginus Fabulae 31).20 Ovid and Propertius set the whole episode in a romantic context to exemplify hapless love. At Ovid Heroides 13.267–​268 Paris resorts to combat as a means of winning Helen, just as Heracles had won Deianeira as his bride on defeating Achelous. Achelous’ demise also echoes a lover’s feeling of sorrow at the absence or loss of their partner. Similarly, Propertius 2.34.33–​34 reaffirms the feelings of Achelous, whose waters are shattered by a great love, and Ovid Amores 3.6.35–​38 compares the distance between the two lovers to the gap between the two banks of a mighty river and asks the river to lower his flow because rivers also experience love, like that which Achelous felt for Deianeira. More rationalizing explanations are given by Cephalion and Strabo. Cephalion (fr. 8) interprets the myth as a war between two kings, Oeneus and Achelous, son of Poseidon, because of the abduction of Deianeira, in which Oeneus allies with Heracles and defeats Poseidon. The motif of the breaking of Achelous’ horn is interpreted to symbolize the defeat of his father Poseidon’s fleet. Achelous, after the battle, sinks into the river and this is how the river gets its name. Strabo C458 takes a more


According to Ovid Metamorphoses 9.23–​26 the fight began when Heracles could not contain his anger when he heard Achelous insinuating that his mother had committed adultery, either with Zeus himself or with someone other than Amphitryon. These verses contrast the twin forces of rhetoric and brute force. 18  According to Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 495–​498, Heracles defeated Achelous with his club. From the blood that fell on the ground, the sirens were born (Libanius Progymnasta 2.1). This genealogy (Achelous and Ge) appears also at Euripides Helen 168. 19  See Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.5, where the horn of Amalthea, daughter of Hemonius, according to Pherecydes (fr. 42 Fowler), had the power to provide as much food and drink as the owner desired. Also cf. Strabo C151 on Amalthea’s horn and prosperity. For a more rationalized account of the horn of Amalthea and Heracles, see Palaephatus 45. 20 Ovid Metamorphoses 9.85–​88 has the Naiads consecrating it with fruit and fragrant flowers, to make Good Abundance spring from the horn; cf. Fasti 5.115–​128. Pomponius Porphyrio, in his commentary to Horace Odes 1.17, explains that it was to Fortuna that Heracles gave the horn of Achelous, hence its popular name of Cornucopia.

270   Dámaris Romero-González historical-​geographical approach, referring to the struggle between the Acarnanians and the Aetolians on the plain known as Paracheloïtis, where the borders between the regions were regularly flooded by the river in spate. Since there was no one to mediate in these wars, the myth of the battle between Heracles and Achelous over Deianeira was invented to explain them. The horn symbolizes the meanders of the river and the abundance represents the benefits accrued from building earthworks and draining the land around the river.21

Deianeira, Heracles, and Nessus However, without a doubt, one of the best-​known episodes of the marriage of Heracles and Deianeira is Nessus the Centaur’s attempted rape of Deianeira as she crosses the river on his back, which leads to the murder of Nessus by Heracles.22 Nessus, in his death throes, gives Deianeira some of his blood, which is now mixed with the blood of the Lernaean Hydra (it had been smeared on the tip of the arrow that Heracles fired at him),23 and gives her detailed instructions about how and where to use it,24 so that in future years she can deploy it as a love charm to keep Heracles faithful.25 Dio of Prusa (60.8.1–​3), who saw Heracles as the paradigm of a suffering and beneficent hero, rationalizes the episode and rejects the attempted rape by Nessus. He tells that what really happened is that Nessus, who was aware of Heracles’ brutal, wrathful nature, plotted against him to make him change his ways, not with potions, but with care and kind words, in order to weaken him so that Deianeira could control him; and so Heracles, realizing that nothing good could result from this conversation, slew Nessus. 21  Strabo rationalizes the metamorphoses of Achelous as follows: bull = angry waters; snake = length of river; figure of a bull = ox-​shaped prow. A similar historical exegesis is found at Excerpta Vaticana 6. 22  Attempted rape: Sophocles Trachiniae 565; Archilochusfr. 286 West, at Dio of Prusa 60.1; Hyginus, Fabulae 31, 34; Eusebius, Praeparatio evangelica 2.2.36. Attempted abduction: Ovid Metamorphoses 9.101, 120–​121; Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 515–​517. The reason for Heracles’ trip is usually given as his exile after killing the cupbearer Eumonus, son of Archiloteles: cf. Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.6, Diodorus 4.36.2–​3; Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica 2.2.36. Sophocles Trachiniae 38–​40 seems to imply he was traveling to Trachis after killing Iphitus, although it is not made totally clear. 23  Nessus gives her the blood: Bacchylides, 16.34–​35; Ovid Metamorphoses 9.129–​133 (in some blood-​ stained veils); Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 521–​523 (he picks it up in a helmet and passes it to her); Hyginus Fabulae 34.2. Deianeira takes the blood: Sophocles Trachiniae 569–​577 (in her hands); Diodorus 4.36.4 (he adds his semen, which he has collected in a vessel); Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.6 (adds his semen spilt on the ground); Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica 2.2.36 (he adds oil). 24  Nessus gives instructions: Sophocles Trachiniae 685–​688; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.6; Diodorus 4.36.4; Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 521–​523; Hyginus Fabulae 34.2. Nessus does not give instructions: Ovid Metamorphoses 9.132–​133. 25  For the irony of this faithfulness, cf. Buxton (1984, 18).

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  271 Years later, Deianeira is in Trachis awaiting Heracles’ return. After waiting for fifteen months, she hears the news not only about the plunder and destruction of Oechalia by Heracles but also of a group of young people sent to Trachis as war booty, among whom is King Eurytus’ daughter, Iole.26 When Deianeira discovers who this young woman really is,27 she at first sympathizes with Heracles (who is sick with love) and Iole,28 but, finally, prey to jealousy and anxiety about her future, she decides to take action. She then remembers Nessus’ blood and the properties as a love-​philter he had claimed for it and decides that the time is right to deploy it.29 The Hesiodic Catalog of Women recounts the deadly power of the potion (fr. 25.22 Merkelbach-​West), although it does not mention that it was given to her by Nessus or was linked in any way with Iole.30 The description of Deianeira in Bacchylides 16 is where the link between Nessus and Heracles’ death is first mentioned, but it is Sophocles who first remarks the power of the potion. His Deianeira tells the chorus of women what steps she has followed to soak the tunic in the potion (Trachiniae 580, 685–​692)31 and she asks Lichas to give the garment to Heracles so that he will wear it when carrying out the victory sacrifices.32 In Seneca, however, it is the nurse who suggests that Deianeira should resort to magic (Hercules Oetaeus 452–​453, 527–​533), as the nurse is an expert (463–​464), although it is Deianeira, nonetheless, who has the centaur’s blood. To make the love-​philter more effective, the nurse increases the power of the poison with incantations (565–​566). The question now is whether Deianeira is fully aware of her actions when she decides to use the magic, and therefore guilty of Heracles’ death, or whether she is only partly to blame, because she is tricked about the nature of the power of Nessus’ blood.33 The Hesiodic Catalog of Women (fr. 25.20–​21 Merkelbach-​West) states unequivocally that she is guilty because she uses the potion. However, Bacchylides 16.29–​35 takes an ambivalent viewpoint: she is partly to blame for her jealousy of Iole,34 but she is also exonerated since she is merely a player in the obscure future that has already been predicted (“the murky veil of the future”).35 Sophocles maintains this ambiguous position: she is guilty in that she resorts to magic and causes death, but also not

26  At Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 345–​346, 1496, Iole is pregnant by Heracles, and at Ovid Metamorphoses 9.279–​280 she is pregnant by Hyllus. 27  Sophocles says a messenger, and then Lichas, is responsible; however, at Ovid Heroides 9 and Metamorphoses 9.137, it is Fame, the goddess of Rumor. 28  On the evolution of this sickness in Sophocles, cf. Galinsky (1972, 50); Mitchell-​Boyask (2012, 319–​ 320, 323–​324). On the nature of Heracles’ and Deianeira’s love, cf. Mattison (2015, 12–​24). On the lexicon of love, cf. Douterelo (1997, 195–​206). 29  On her hurried-​decision making, cf. Hall (2010, 318–​319), Hall (2009, 69–​96). 30  Gantz (1993, 458). 31  Diodorus 4.38.1, Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.6.8; Hyginus Fabulae 34.2, 36.1. 32  This tunic was normally worn by Heracles at sacrifices: Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica 2.2.40. 33  Wohl (2010, 33–​70); Carawan (2000, 189–​237). 34  Levvet (2004, 33). 35  Campbell (1992) trans.

272   Dámaris Romero-González guilty because she is unaware of the effects of the poison and has no intention of killing Heracles.36 Seneca leans more toward her guilt, on the basis that it was her intention from the start to hurt Heracles, fueled by the fury she feels at his deception over Iole: she is a victim of her passion and wants to use first physical force and then magic. Finally, when Hyllus tells her what is happening to Heracles, she offers no apologies, but pleads guilty to murder despite having been deceived by Nessus (939–​940, 964–​ 965). Ovid also agrees with Seneca’s line in his Heroides 9: she is guilty because she is led on by passion to the point of causing Heracles’ death, and so resolves to take her own life; however, he also mentions that she is tricked by Nessus.37 When Heracles puts on the tunic, it leads to his death, because, as Deianeira herself discovers, the poisoned blood is activated when it comes into contact with heat.38 Shortly after her own discovery, she hears the news that Heracles, by donning the tunic beside the flames of the sacrificial pyre on Mount Cenaeum, has begun to be eaten away by the poison. It is her son Hyllus who brings her the news and blames her for the state in which his father finds himself. Realizing the consequences of her actions, Deianeira walks into her chamber in silence and, with no one following her, she commits suicide without anyone being able to prevent it, her feeling of despondency made worse by her son’s reproaches (Sophocles Trachiniae 815–​820).39 Seneca, however, has Deianeira’s nurse and Hyllus trying to convince her not to take her own life because she is not guilty: it has all been a mistake. She, however, insists on her own guilt and urges her son to commit matricide. Like a new Orestes, Deianeira has a hallucination in which the Erinyes who have come to take her to Hades show her Megara, Heracles’ first wife, and some of the occupants of Hades who have committed crimes of passion (Hercules Oetaeus 984–​1024). In contrast to Sophocles’ account, however, she flees in terror, with her son hard on her heels. Hyllus himself confesses to his father that she has taken her own life because of the pain she feels for him (1465–​1467).40 However, two authors try, each in their own way, to exonerate Deianeira from the crime she has committed. Cicero, at De natura deorum 3.70, argues about the different uses that can be made of a benefit between the one who gives it and the one who receives it—​sometimes a person intending to do good causes trouble; he gives the 36 

Hall (2009, 88–​89). A similar duality is found at Hyginus Fabulae 240, where Deianeira is included in the group of women who have killed their husbands; however, in this case, the author specifies that she did it at Nessus’ request. At 243.3 Deianeira takes her own life for having sent Hercules the tunic, and adds, “after being deceived by Nessus.” 38 Sophocles Trachiniae 693–​704; Seneca Hercules Oetaeus 722–​728. 39  At Sophocles Trachiniae 930–​932 she takes her life with a sword; at Diodorus 4.38.3, with a noose, as also at Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.7.7. Pausanias 2.23.5 situates Deianeira’s tomb in Trachis, at the foot of Mount Oeta. 40  She commits suicide from shame or grief, but not because she repents; cf. Littlewood (2014, 620). Ovid does not mention Deianeira’s suicide at all in the Metamorphoses. For differences between Sophocles’ and Seneca’s treatment of Deianeira, cf. King (1971, 218–​219). 37 

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  273 example of Deianeira, who has no intention of harming Heracles when she gives him the tunic soaked in Nessus’ blood. Meanwhile Hyginus, at Fabulae 36.2, has Deianeira, when she sees the reaction of Nessus’ blood in the sun, try to prevent Heracles’ death by sending a messenger to ask Lichas to return with the tunic. Finally, seeing that he has already given it to Heracles and what she has done to him, Deianeira takes her own life (36.6).41 The effects of the poisoned tunic are also mentioned in other contexts. In Ovid, the presence of the poisoned tunic which eats away the flesh and makes the blood flow out of the body is one of the many curses used against his enemy in Ibis: “as the gore ran diffused through the limbs of Hercules, so may pestilent poison devour thy frame” (605–​606),42 while Horace light-​heartedly compares his own aches and pains—​brought on after a meal liberally seasoned with garlic given by Maecenas—​to the burning sensation felt by Heracles with the tunic: “nor did that present burn more fiercely on the shoulders of Hercules who had done so many deeds” (Epodes 3.16–​17).43

Heracles’ Death, Apotheosis, and Marriage to Hebe Sophocles’ hero, meanwhile, unable to bear the pain as his body is burned by the poison, screams and cries like a woman,44 and falls to the ground in a fit.45 The searing pain is so intense that he hurls himself into a river to extinguish the flames,46 but instead of the water putting out the fire, his body heats up the water, which is why from then on the waters between Thessaly and Phocis were given the name Thermopylae.47 He blames Deianeira for his suffering, until Hyllus discovers that the real culprit is Nessus. After that, his attitude changes, as the true meaning of an oracle given by


Lichas is killed by Heracles when, writhing in pain, he grabs him and throws him up in the air, after which he falls and dies: Sophocles Trachiniae 779–​785; Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.6.7. Plutarch Moralia 1062a recounts how Lichas is transformed into a stone while flying through the air, and Hyginus Fabulae 36.4 tells how a rock arises in the place where he falls after being thrown into the sea, which is then given the name Lichas. Ovid Metamorphoses 9.220–​230 compares the shape of the rock to Lichas’ silhouette. 42  Mozley (1929) trans. In the same work, there are further allusions to deadly blood that causes death: lines 404, 490–​491. 43  Rudd (2004) trans. 44  On the feminization of Heracles, cf. Cawthorn (2013, 79–​97); on the peplos, cf. Llewellyn-​Jones (2005, 51–​63); Beer (2004, 92); Loraux (1990, 33–​40). 45  Polybius 39.2.2 refers to a painting showing Heracles tormented by Deianeira’s tunic. On his spasms, cf. Galinsky (1972, 50). 46  The same thing happens at Hyginus Fabulae 36.3, with the result that the waters make the flames grow higher. 47  Pseudo-​Nonnus, oration 4, story 3.

274   Dámaris Romero-González Zeus some time ago sinks in: “I should never die at the hand of any of the living, but at that of one who was dead and lived in Hades” (Sophocles Trachiniae 1160–​1161).48 However, he also now understands another oracle which had foretold a rest from his Labors, which he had taken to mean the end of them whereas it in fact meant his death (1169–​1171). Finally, he orders his son to build him a funeral pyre on Mount Oeta and take him there, and to marry Iole. Hyllus rejects both orders, the former because it would mean killing his own father and the latter because Iole was to blame for his mother’s death. Eventually, though, Hyllus agrees to marry Iole through filial duty and because Heracles predicts a great future for the offspring of that union. Finally, Heracles dies as Philoctetes helps him by lighting the funeral pyre (Sophocles Philoctetes 801–​805) and he is taken up to Olympus.49 The first mention of Heracles appearing in Hades is at Iliad 18.117–​119, where he is led there by the Moira and the wrath of Hera. At Odyssey 11.602–​604 Heracles is also situated in Hades, although, as Homer points out, it is only his shade that resides there, as he himself is enjoying the company of the gods on Olympus. Hesiod too refers to his pleasant life on Olympus free from pain and the effects of old age at Theogony 950–​955, although these last two passages are considered spurious by the commentators. The Hesiodic Catalog of Women (fr. 25.24–​29 Merkelbach-​West) mentions Heracles’ death as a result of the potion, his visit to Hades and his subsequent entry into the halls of Olympus as a god,50 but does not give any particular reason for his apotheosis. At fr. 229.6–​13 Merkelbach-​West of the Hesiodic Catalog we are told of his reconciliation with Hera and the affection the goddess feels for him now he has become a god and is married to Hebe. This dual persona of Heracles, with his eidolon (ghost or shade) in Hades and his body on Olympus, was first expressed by Pindar (Nemeans 3.22), who refers to him as the “hero-​god.” This duality was subsequently parodied centuries later by Lucian, at Dialogues of the Dead 11, when Diogenes debates with Heracles in an attempt to understand how there can be two of him: the first, his shade, in Hades, and another, the real Heracles, living with the gods and married to Hebe. The explanation given for Heracles’ eidolon is his dual nature as a mortal (as son of Alcmene) and as a god (as son of Zeus), and so each part of him has returned to its corresponding place.51 While Sophocles narrates the process leading up to Heracles’ death in detail in the Trachiniae, neither his death nor his apotheosis is mentioned, as this was not the main aim of the tragedy, which was more focused on suffering.52 It is in his 48 

Lloyd-​Jones (1994) trans. On apotheosis, cf. Stafford (2010, 228–​244) and (2012, 171–​198); Currie (2012, 331–​348); Shapiro (1983, 7–​18); Linforth (1952, 255–​268). In favor of apotheosis in Sophocles, cf. Holt (1989, 69–​80); Segal (1999, 99–​101). 50  On the apotheosis in lost literature, cf. Holt (1992, 38–​59). 51  Contra Plutarch Moralia 944F. 52  Galinsky (1972: 51); Easterling (1981, 67–​69). 49 

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  275 Philoctetes, however, where the playwright shows how Philoctetes was responsible for helping Heracles to die and was given the bow as a reward (800–​804).53 He also refers to Heracles himself, now transformed into a god (1414–​1415), observing that the immortal glory he now enjoys is a result of all the arduous Labors he has completed (1419–​1423). In Apollodorus (2.7.7), instead of Heracles being cremated, a dense cloud covers the burning pyre and Heracles is raised up to heaven amid loud claps of thunder. Diodorus (4.38.5), on the other hand, rationalizes the myth by having the whole pyre burned by lightning, which causes Iolaus and the other bystanders to deduce that he has ascended to the heavens. Diodorus 4.39.2, on the other hand, goes even further and recreates Heracles’ “birth” as a god, having him slip through Hera’s dresses, mimicking the real process of childbirth.54 It is in Seneca where we find a lengthier account of Heracles’ death and apotheosis, as the tormented Heracles is transformed into a serene Heracles, more typical of the image of the Stoic sage. After the pyre is lit and Heracles is lifted onto it, the hero, despite being consumed by the flames, calmly gives comforting words and advice to the onlookers and asks them not to weep, until he finally breathes his last (Hercules Oetaeus 1725–​1757), in archetypal Stoic fashion. Ovid, however, at Metamorphoses 9.236–​239, lambasts this image by comparing Heracles to a banquet as he lies on the pyre, echoing, in a comic scene, the traditional rituals of the banquet.55 But when Heracles notices the despairing attitude of his mother Alcmene, he speaks to her from the heights of the pyre telling her that he is already a god, thanks to his courage (virtus), and that he is not being retained in Hades. Then, just as in the Homeric verses, he recounts how his mortal part will remain in his ashes on earth, while his immortal part is already with its father Jupiter (Hercules Oetaeus 1940–​1969).56 Alcmene is convinced and announces to all that he has become a god (1980–​1982). His apotheosis is variously conceded to him as a reward for his participation in the battle against the Giants (Pindar Nemeans 1.67–​72), for his Labors (Diodorus 4.10.7) or for his virtus, which Cicero insists on at De natura deorum 2.62: “Human experience, moreover, and general custom have made it a practice to confer the deification of renown and gratitude upon distinguished benefactors. This is the origin of Hercules.”57 On the other hand, as already mentioned earlier in connection with Nessus, Dio of Prusa 60.4–​5 interprets Heracles’ death from a more rationalizing perspective and completely ignores his apotheosis. Dio develops his interpretation of the tunic as 53 

Also Hyginus Fabulae 36.5. Rasmussen (2005, 30–​39). 55  Strafford (2012, 99). 56  Also in Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.263–​265; Consolatio ad Liviam 287; Silius Italicus Punica 3.43; Pliny Natural History 35.139. 57  Rackham (1933) trans. Cf. Gantz (1993, 460), Galinsky (1972, 140). Similar references are found at Cicero Tusculan Disputations 1.28, 1.32, 2.19–​20, 4.50, Pro Sestio 143, De legibus 2.19; Phaedrus Fabulae 4.12; Apuleius Apology 22.29. For the opposite view, cf. Cicero De natura deorum 3.15,16,19. 54 

276   Dámaris Romero-González representing a change in Heracles’ life: at Deianeira’s request, Heracles wears the tunic and exchanges his rough life for a life of luxury, which makes him weak and manageable. Seeing himself in such a pitiful state, accustomed to luxurious living, he commits suicide by setting himself on fire. Once Heracles is admitted to Olympus, and after being reconciled with his detested stepmother, Hera,58 he is rewarded with marriage to Hebe, the goddess of Youth. Homeric Hymn 15.7–​9 ends with a euphoric Heracles enthroned beside Hebe in Olympus.59 We have already seen how the Catalog of Women (fr. 25.30 Merkelbach-​ West) mentions this marriage between Heracles and Hebe, the one of the beautiful ankles. There are also three later references to the marriage in Pindar (Nemeans 1.69–​ 72, 10.17–​18, Isthmians 4.55–​60 [77–​79]). The Heraclidae of Euripides contains an epiphany of Heracles and Hebe, in which they rejuvenate Iolaus and help him fight in battle (853–​857) against Eurystheus, who is still harassing Heracles, in this case, his relatives.60 Near the end of the play, the hero’s divinity and marriage to Hebe are referred to again (910–​918). Iolaus’ rejuvenation is also mentioned at Ovid Metamorphoses 9.400–​401. The marriage of Heracles and Hebe is taken as a love motif and treated light-​ heartedly by the Latin poets.61 Catullus alludes to the sudden end of Laodamia’s love, situating it at the same time as one of the Labors of Heracles, whose aim was to ensure that “the door of heaven might be frequented by more gods, and that Hebe might not long be unmated” (68.115–​116).62 Propertius 1.13.23–​24 compares Gallus’ affection for his loved one with that of Heracles and Hebe, but implies that Hercules’ love pales in comparison, as Gallus’ love is much stronger. Athenaeus 6.245e was the first to draw sexual connotations from the marriage of Heracles and Hebe by making a pun on the name “Hebe,” in an overt sexual reference where he observes that Heracles has exchanged his Omphale (navel) for Hebe (female sexual organs).

Deianeira and Magic Deianeira is often compared with Medea in her use of magic, as both women use this means of harming their husbands in a similar way, with a garment soaked in a magic potion. However, Medea is a sorceress, while Deianeira only follows the instructions for the magical rituals given by another sorcerer, in this case, Nessus. In fact, Deianeira


Diodorus 4.39.1; [Seneca] Octavia 201–​208. Goold (1929). Cf. Galinsky (1972, 15–​16) 60 In Orestes 1687, Euripides already names Hebe as Heracles’ wife. In Heracles 655–​664, there is an indirect reference to marriage with Hebe. 61  Cf. Galinsky (1972, 156). 62  Cornish et al. (1995) trans. 59 

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  277 can be seen in the light of the tradition of Greek women who resort to magic to recover their husbands’ affection, a common practice in the classical world. The main problem lies in the fact these love potions supposedly worked by weakening the husband and making him more accommodating and obedient, and thus keeping him by his wife’s side. Plutarch recounts how Philip of Macedon refrained from sharing his marriage bed with Olympias for fear that she would use enchantments (mageias) and potions (pharmaka) against him (Alexander 2.6) “to turn him into a coward and a lesser man.”63 Dio of Prusa 60.1 echoes this idea when he suggests that Deianeira would have been able to weaken Heracles and control him more with tenderness and kind words, as if they were love-​philters. This resembles the story of Antony and Cleopatra: she was accused of having him under a spell, using potions or witchcraft, when Antony rushed into war with the Medes in order to spend the winter with her (Plutarch Antony 37.6, 60.1). However, Cleopatra’s real weapons were her charms and personal allure (25.6). To test how effective the potion was, it was usually administered in small doses, so that the body’s reaction to it could be gauged. And this was one of Deianeira’s mistakes: she failed to calculate the right amount and had not tested it out previously. In Sophocles’ Trachiniae the chorus reminds Deianeira of her error: “you must know when you take action (drōsan), since even if you think you have [sc. a philter], you have no way of testing it unless you try it” (592–​593).64 However, Deianeira, in her haste (her second error),65 believes it can work despite not being able to test it: “My faith extends so far, that I can believe it, but I have never put it to the test” (590–​591).66 Nevertheless, she follows a series of instructions when measuring out the dose. Deianeira herself tells the chorus that Nessus gave her instructions (thesmōn, 682) to achieve her purpose and that she has followed them to the letter (683).67 These instructions consist of two basic steps, the use of potions (= action) and the repetition of spells (= words). As regards the potion, Nessus tells her the different steps she should follow, almost like a recipe: Deianeira must take Nessus’ blood from a particular place, where it has fallen from the arrow wound, since this blood contains the poison, the blood of the Hydra of Lerna (572–​574). Next, she should keep the container with the pharmakon (the mixture of the two bloods) in a dark place, away from the light of the sun, until she makes use of it (685–​688). In the Trachiniae three words are used to refer to the potions. The most ambiguous of these is pharmakon (685), since its meaning can be both positive, signifying 63 

This is a paraphrase of Homer Odyssey 10.341. Lloyd-​Jones (1994) trans. 65  On making hurried, wrong decisions, cf. Hall (2009, 95). 66  Cf. Carawan (2000, 209), on testing and believing that it can work. Easterling (1982, 147) on the different senses of dokeō in these lines. 67  At l. 570 Sophocles uses the verb peitho (to persuade). For the importance of persuasion in magic, cf. Segal (1995, 34, 223 n.46). 64 

278   Dámaris Romero-González something that can cure people (as in the case of Helen at Homer Odyssey 4.219–​ 239), and negative, signifying something that can hurt people, as in this case.68 The second word is philtron (584, 1142), or “love-​philter,” which is used when Heracles is told who gave the love potion to Deianeira (1142);69 however, this too can have a more general meaning and refer to any magic potion,70 sometimes appearing in the formula “potions and spells” (philtrous kai goēteias).71 Finally, a third, more specific word, stergēma (1138), also meaning “love-​philter,” is deployed as well. Nessus himself already indicates the purpose of Deianeira using his blood as a potion: so that Heracles will not love (sterxei, 577) another woman more than her. Hyllus, too, while he defends his mother against Heracles as he wants to kill her, argues that she simply gave him a love-​philter (stergēma, 1138). Deianeira hoped that by giving him this love-​ philter she the would recover Heracles’ affection.72 Together with the giving of the philters, words of spells or love charms are chanted. In the Trachiniae Sophocles alludes to them by using two words. First, the word thelktron (585)—​more commonly found in the form thelktērion—​has a more general meaning, just like pharmakon, and may refer to both the spell and the potion alike.73 However, the meaning here may go deeper than that,74 if we consider that Nessus puts Deianeira under a spell with words so that she will take the blood (710), thus blending the two types of magical resources.75 The second word, kēlētērion (575), or “spell,” is used by Nessus when he says that the use of his blood will be like casting a spell over Heracles’ mind. This spell could be compared to those used to “bind” a loved one’s affections, some examples of which can be found in the Greek Magical Papyri.76 This spell could also be compared to the spell Orpheus casts through his music. Thus, the charming effect of Orpheus’ music is said to be like a kēlētērion by Euripides’ Alcestis when, in the moments before her death, she expresses the wish to fetch her husband from the Underworld after enchanting (kēlēsanta) the gods with her voice and with music, like Orpheus, rather than having to go there herself and wait for him (Alcestis 357–​362). The potions and spells produce the expected result: Heracles does not set eyes on another woman again. But this is what sometimes happens with love-​philters: the short-​term result is not the permanent one. As Plutarch warned: just as fish caught with poisoned bait are spoiled, men enchanted by magic spells are ruined (Moralia 139a).

68  69  70  71  72  73  74 

75  76 

Medea uses pharmaka in both senses at Plutarch Theseus 12.2.3. Ogden (2002, 106); Faraone (2001, 25). Faraone (2001, 25). Thus, for instance, in Plutarch; cf. Aguilar (2002, 151–​152), Romero-​González (2011, 499–​501). Jebb (1892, 164); Easterling (1982, 215); Douterelo (1997, 202–​203), Faraone (2001, 25, 111). The term is used in both ways at Euripides Hippolytus 480 (words) and 511 (potions). Easterling (1982, 146), García Romero (2012, 78–​79); contra, Jebb (1892, 92). Also found at Euripides Hippolytus 509. Dickie (2003, 35–​36); contra, Segal (1995, 223; 1999, 97).

Deianeira, Death, and Apotheosis  279

References Aguilar, R. 2002. “Magia y brujería en Plutarco.” In El dios que hechiza y encanta: Magia y astrología en el mundo clásico y helenístico, ed. J Peláez, 143–​154. Córdoba: Ediciones El Almendro. Beer, J. 2004. Sophocles and the Tragedy of the Athenian Democracy. Westport, CT: Praeger. Buxton, R. G. A. 1984. Sophocles. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Campbell, D. A., trans. 1992. Greek Lyric. Vol. 4. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Carawan, E. 2000. “Deianira’s Guilt.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 130: 189–​237. Cawthorn, K. 2013. Becoming Female: The Male Body in Greek Tragedy. London: Bloomsbury. Cornish, F. W., et al., trans. 1995. Catullus, Tibullus, Pervigilium Veneris. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Currie, B. 2012. “Sophocles and Hero Cult.” In A Companion to Sophocles, ed. K. Ormand, 331–​ 348. Chichester: Wiley-​Blackwell. Dickie, M. W. 2003. Magic and Magicians in the Greco-​Roman World. London: Routledge. Douterelo, E. 1997. “El léxico y el tema del amor en “Las Traquinias” de Sófocles.” Cuadernos de Filología Clásica: Estudios griegos e indoeuropeos 7: 195–​206. Easterling, P. E. 1981. “The End of The Trachiniae.” Illinois Classical Studies 6(1): 56–​74. Easterling, P. E. 1982. Sophocles. Trachiniae, ed. P. E. Easterling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Faraone, C. A. 2001. Ancient Greek Love Magic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Fitch, J. G., trans. 2004. Seneca: Tragedies. Vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Galinsky, G. K. 1972. The Herakles Theme. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. García Romero, F. 2012. “Ironía trágica en Baquílides.” Cuadernos de Filología Clásica: Estudios griegos e indoeuropeos 22: 73–​90. Hall, E. 2009. “Deianeira Deliberates: Precipitate Decision-​Making and Trachiniae.” In Sophocles and the Greek Tragic Tradition, ed. S. Goldhill and E. Hall, 69–​96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hall, E. 2010. Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Holt, P. 1989. “The End of the Trachiniai and the Fate of Herakles.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 109: 69–​80. Holt, P. 1992. “Herakles’ Apotheosis in Lost Greek Literature and Art.” L’Antiquité Classique 61: 38–​59. Jebb, R. C. 1892. Sophocles: The Plays and the Fragments. Vol. 5: The Trachiniae. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. King, C. M. 1971. “Seneca’s ‘Hercules Oetaeus’: A Stoic Interpretation of the Greek Myth.” Greece and Rome 18: 215–​222. Lefkowitz, M. R. 1969. “Bacchylides’ Ode 5: Imitation and Originality.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 73: 45–​96. Levett, B. 2004. Sophocles: Women of Trachis. London: Duckworth. Linforth, I. M. 1952. “The Pyre on Mount Oeta in Sophocles’ ‘Trachiniae.’” University of California Publications in Classical Philology 14: 255–​268.

280   Dámaris Romero-González Littlewood, C. A. J. 2014. “Hercules Oetaeus.” In Brill’s Companion to Seneca, ed. A. Heil and G. Damschen, 515–​520. Leiden: Brill. Llewellyn-​Jones, L. 2005. “Herakles Re-​Dressed: Gender, Clothing and the Construction of a Greek Hero.” In Herakles and Hercules: Exploring a Graeco-​Roman Divinity, ed. L. Rawlings and H. Bowden, 51–​69. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales. Lloyd-​Jones, H., trans. 1994. Sophocles: Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Loraux, N. 1990. “Herakles: The Super-​Male and the Feminine.” In Before Sexuality. The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, ed. D. M. Halperin, J. J. Winkler, and F. I. Zeitlin, 21–​52. Princeton: Princeton University Press. March, J. R. 1987. The Creative Poet: Studies on the Treatment of Myths in Greek Poetry. London: Wiley. Mattison, K. 2015. “Sophocles’ Trachiniae: Lesson in Love.” Greece and Rome 62: 12–​24. Merkelbach, R., and M. L. West. 1967. Fragmenta Hesiodea. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mitchell-​ Boyask, R. 2012. “Heroic Pharmacology: Sophocles and the Metaphors of Greek Medical Thought.” In A Companion to Sophocles, ed. K. Ormand, 316–​ 330. Chichester: Wiley-​Blackwell. Mozley, J. H., trans. 1929. Ovid: Art of Love, Cosmetics, Remedies for Love, Ibis, Walnut-​Tree, Sea Fishing, Consolation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Ogden, D. 2002. Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press. Parca, M. 1992. “Of Nature and Eros: Deianeira in Sophocles’ Trachiniae.” Illinois Classical Studies 17: 175–​192. Rackham, H., trans. 1933. Cicero: On the Nature of the Gods, Academics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Rasmussen, T. 2005. “Herakles’ Apotheosis in Etruria and Greece.” Antike Kunst 48: 30–​39. Romero-​González, D. 2011. “¿Qué es la mujer? Hechizo de perversidad.” In Plutarco transmisor, ed. J. M. Candau Morón, F. J. González Ponce, and A. L. Chávez Reino, 495–​504. Seville: Universidad de Sevilla. Scott, M. 1995. “The Character of Deianeira in Sophocles’ ‘Trachiniae.’” Acta Classica 38: 17–​27. Scott, M. 1997. “The Character of Deianeira in Sophocles’ ‘Trachiniae,’ ii.” Acta Classica 40: 33–​47. Seaford, R. 1987. “The Tragic Wedding.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 107: 106–​130. Segal, C. 1995. Sophocles’ Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press. Segal, C. 1999. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Shapiro, H. A. 1983. “Hêrôs Theos: The Death and Apotheosis of Herakles.” The Classical World 77: 7–​18. Stafford, E. 2010. “Herakles between Gods and Heroes.” In The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities and Transformations, ed. J. N. Bremmer and A. Erskine, 228–​244. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stafford, E. 2012. Herakles. London: Routledge. Webster, T. B. L. 1969. An Introduction to Sophocles. London: Methuen. Wohl, V. 2010. “A Tragic Case of Poisoning: Intention between Tragedy and the Law.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 140: 33–​70.

Part IV


Chapter 22

Epi c Elton Barker and Joel Christensen

An Epic Heracles? By almost any reckoning, Heracles stands as the forefather of all ancient Greek heroes. Whether it is in defeating monsters, fighting foes, achieving divinity, or simply having an insatiable appetite, Heracles excels, dominating all kinds of artistic outputs, as this volume attests. Yet, when it comes to early Greek hexameter poetry, his lasting appearances are few and far between, even if his associations with epic run deep. In part, this must be due to the accident of which poems have survived. Still, just why no full-​length orally derived epic poem celebrating Heracles’ Labors is available from antiquity is something of a conundrum. In this chapter we sketch out the evidence for an epic Heracles and speculate on how his depiction in those poems may help to account for this absence. First, we provide a survey of all references to Heracles in early Greek hexameter epic, whether surviving or not, and use that list to establish some common narrative elements for the epic Heracles. Then, we consider Heracles’ characterization in the fragmentary remains and testimonies of those epics devoted to him, before turning to his depiction in the extant Hesiodic Shield. Finally, we focus on the moments when Heracles appears in the rest of Hesiod and Homer, and explore the significance of these references, both for the poems themselves and, more importantly, for our impression of Heracles as a hero.

284    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen

The Heracles Fabula When looking at any one myth in its entirety—​that is to say, by taking a diachronic overview rather than a single representation at a particular moment—​it is useful to think in terms of its basic narrative or thematic details, or its fabula.1 As is clear from this volume, Heracles’ mythical fabula ranges widely across space and over time as well as through genre and medium. Even if we limit ourselves solely to his mention in early Greek hexameter poetry, a lengthy list emerges of a potential epic career, which we chart here in roughly biographical order:2 1. Thebes and Zeus’ Impregnation of Alkmene: Shield 1–​ 28; Zeus’ lust for Alkmene, Iliad 14.323–​324; Odyssey, 11.266–​268. 2. Marriage to Megara: Odyssey 11.268–​270; Panyassis fr. 1 West (Pausanias 9.11.2). 3. Killing of his children: Panyassis fr. 1 West (Pausanias 9.11.2). 4. Eurystheus: Periphetes the son of Copreus the messenger of Eurystheus to Heracles, killed by Hector, Iliad 15.637–​644; Trick of Hera at Heracles’ birth, 19.95–​130. 5. The Nemean Lion: Hesiod Theogony 314; Pisander, fr. 1 West (Ps.-​Eratosthenes, Catastasterisms 12); Panyassis fr. 4 West; Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Bembina. 6. Lernean Hydra: Hesiod Theogony 314; Pisander fr. 2 West (= Pausanias, 2.37.4); Panyassis, fr. 6 West. 7. Cerynean Hind: Pisander fr. 3 West (= schol. Pindar Olympians 3.50b). 8. Erymanthian Boar: Panyassis, fr. 7 West. 9. Geryon: Hesiod Theogony. 287; Panyassis fr. 9 West. 10. Stymphalian Birds: Pisander fr. 4 West (= Pausanias 8.22.4). 11. Cattle of Helios: Panyassis fr. 16 West (schol. Homer Odyssey 12.301). 12. Sailed across the Ocean in a Cup: Pisander fr. 5 West (= Athenaeus 469c); Panyassis fr. 12 West (= Athenaeus 469c). 13. Antaeus: Pisander fr 6 West (= schol. Pindar Pythians 9.185a). 14. Hesperides: Panyassis fr. 11; fr. 15 West (= Hyginus Astronomy 2.6.1). 15. Cerberus: Homer Odyssey 11; Iliad 8.365–​369. 16. Journey to Hades: Homer Odyssey 11.602–​628 [reference to Cerberus]; Panyassis fr. 17 West (= Pausanias 10.29.9); Panyassis fr. 18 (= schol. Antimachus Thebaid 1 

Burgess (2009). Heracles’ myths: Gantz (1993, 374–​463). The ancient tradition in summary: Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.59–​160. For Heracles as a hero and a god, see Shapiro (1983); Stafford (2010). 2 

p. 442).

Epic  285 17. Heracles and Achelous: Panyassis fr. 14 West (= Pausanias 10.8.9; cf. fr. 14.); Panyassis fr. 2 West (= Pausanias 10.8.9); Panyassis fr. 13 (= “Ammonius” on Homer Iliad 21.195). 18. Hera waylaid Heracles on Cos: Homer Iliad 14.242–​263; 15.24–​30. 19. Heracles kills the crab: Panyassis fr. 8 West (Ps.-​Eratosthenes Catastasterims 11); Panyassis fr. 26 West (= Clement of Alexandria Protrepticus 2.36.2). 20. Conflict with Centaurs: Pisander fr. 9 West (= Hesychius nu 683). 21. The Sea Monster: Homer Iliad 20.144–​149. 22. Sacking of Troy with Telamon: Pisander fr. 10 West (= Athenaeus 783c); Homer Iliad 5.637–​643. 23. Battle with Cycnus: Hesiodic Shield. 24. Eurytus and Oechalia: Odysseus will not compete with those who challenge immortals in archery, Heracles and Eurytus, Homer Odyssey 8.222–​228; Banquet in Oechalia, Panyassis, fr.16. 25. Killing of Iphitus: Homer Odyssey 21.14–​30. 26. Heracles’ attack on Pylos: (1) killed the best men except for Nestor—​Homer Iliad 11.690; wounded Hades—​Homer Iliad 5.395–​400; Creophylus frr. 1, 4, 8 Bernabé. 27. Heracles shot Hera: Homer Iliad 393–​395; Panyassis fr. 26 West (= Clement of Alexandria Protrepticus 2.36.2). 28. Heracles and Iole: Creophylus, fr. 1 West. 29. Apotheosis (and Death): Hesiod Theogony 950–​955; Hesiod fr. 25.30 M​W; Bacchylides Dithyrambs 16; Heracles dead, by fate and Hera—​Homer Iliad 18.117–​119; Odyssey 11.602–​605; Homeric Hymn to Heracles. 30. Father of Tlepolemos of Rhodes: Homer Iliad 2.653–​670; 5.638–​662 (killed by Sarpedon). There are three types of sources for this list. In addition to the complete epics of Hesiod (the Theogony) and Homer (the Iliad and Odyssey), there are two incomplete Hesiodic poems, the Shield and Catalog of Women, and works by Creophylus, Panyassis and Pisander. Even from just these sources, without evidence from iconography, lyric poetry, or Athenian tragedy, it is clear that many of the Heraclean motifs and details catalogued by later mythographers were already present at an early time. Already part of the fabula, for example, are accounts of Heracles’ divine parentage and death, and the episodes that would constitute Heracles’ famous Twelve Labors, as pictured elsewhere on temple friezes and pottery. Yet, while those common details were potentially known to audiences of early epic, for the most part they go unmentioned in the Homeric poems. (We have italicized those elements that are.) Let us take a closer look at the different types of evidence in turn.

286    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen

The Lost Heracles Epics As we have just mentioned, ancient evidence attests to three early epics that chronicle aspects of Heracles’ heroic career: the works of Pisander, Creophylus, and Panyassis (whose name also appears as “Panyasis”). However, it should be noted that all the testimony for these epics comes much later than when the works were purportedly composed, with attestations coming largely from compilers of myth, like Athenaeus and Pausanias, late antique grammarians like Hesychius, and post-​Hellenistic scholia and commentators. Moreover, when dealing with fragments, we are faced with the problem of not having the complete source (by definition); the fragments are frustratingly brief, tantalizingly axiomatic, and frequently bereft of context. On the contrary, the lines from these early epics—​if that’s what they are—​have survived as quotations, paraphrase or simply as references because of the particular interests of the later authors. One important consideration is the claim to antiquity for certain narrative motifs and themes. It is quite possible, for example, that the pervasiveness of Heracles’ “Twelve Labors” in these early epics results from the biases or assumptions of ancient (and modern) scholars, looking for evidence for the well-​known tales—​who then either overlook contrary evidence or privilege minor details that conform to their prior expectations. Certainly, it would be unwise to take the surviving evidence as proof that Heracles’ whole story (singly or in sequence) would have been told by these epics. The expectation that they would (or should) is importantly countered by Aristotle, who notes in the Poetics (23–​24), approvingly, that Homer didn’t try to tell the whole story of the war at Troy or of Achilles’ epic career, but only one episode within it. Incidentally, this criticism might seem to suggest an aesthetic reason for the failure of possible Heracles poems (like those of the so-​called Epic Cycle) to make the transition to canonical texts.3 So much for the caveats. More positively, we can say that ancient testimonia link the authors named previously to Homer, as if their poems could be considered as sharing a similar (if not the same) stock of story patterns, themes, motifs, and language. (This will be important in what follows.) So, the later Proclus ranks Panyassis and Pisander along with Homer as among the five best (epic) poets, while Homer is also connected to Creophylus in various ways.4 What then can the fragmentary remains tell about these Heracles epics and their authors? According to the Byzantine encyclopedia, the Suda (s.v. Peisandros), Pisander of Rhodes wrote about the “deeds of Heracles” in two books in the seventh century BC. He has been credited as the first to collect Heracles’ canonical Twelve Labors into one


No comprehensive Herakleia covering his whole career: West (2013). The stylistic inferiority of the Epic Cycle (and, by implication, non-​Homeric heroic poems generally): Griffin (1977). 4  Panyassis, Pisander, and Homer among the five best poets: Proclus Vita Homeri 2; Tzetzes on Hesiod Works. Homer linked with Creophylus as his teacher (Photius Lexicon s.v. Kreophylos), father-​in-​law (schol. Plato Republic 600b) or guest-​friend (Strabo C638–​639; Proclus Vita Homeri 30).

Epic  287 narrative, and even with providing the hero with his famous club.5 Unfortunately, only a paltry three lines from his Herakleia remain. While these lines tell us very little about the subject matter of this epic, they do provide enough evidence to suggest that its language is similar to what we see elsewhere in early epic, with formulaic phrases like “the goddess grey-​eyed Athena” (fr. 7 West = schol. Aristophanes’ Clouds 1051a) or “there’s no criticism for . . . ” (fr. 8 = Stobaeus 3.12.6).6 Creophylus of Samos is also at times said to be the author of the cyclic Little Iliad, which, along with his close affiliation to Homer in the biographic tradition, suggests a close relationship between their epic outputs.7 A mere three lines remain too of Creophylus’ Heracles epic, titled the Sack of Oechalia. These are: a fragmentary line spoken to a woman, allegedly Heracles speaking to Iole, whom he claims as his wife (“Woman, you can see these things with your own eyes”); a paraphrase by Strabo (C438) and Pausanias (4.2.3), who both appeal to Creophylus as an authority for the location of Oechalia; and another paraphrase by a scholium on Sophocles’ Trachiniae (266), in which Heracles appears to be cited as the sacker of Pylos. So far, so disappointing. More promising is the recorded output of the poet Panyassis, typically placed at Halicarnassus in the early part of the fifth century BC.8 According to the Suda, his poem on Heracles ran to nine thousand hexameters divided into fourteen books. Like Pisander’s poem, it supposedly represented (in some form) the canonical twelve deeds of Heracles, though in this case the assertion is supported by surviving references to the following Labors: the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, the Hesperides, and the journey to Hades. Yet the longest fragment of Panyassis, and by far the longest of any of these early Heracles epics, strikes a very different note:9 Friend, come and drink! For this itself is also a virtue, Whoever drinks the most wine at the feast Using the best techniques, and also encourages his friends. Yes, the man who is fast at the feast is equal to one in war, Working through the grievous battles, where few people Are actually brave and withstand the rushing war. I think that his glory is equal when someone delights Being there at the feast and encourages the rest of the people too. For a mortal does not seem to me to live or to have the life Of a mortal who knows pain, if he sits there Restraining his heart from wine—​no, he’s an idiot 5 

For Pisander, see Benarbé (1996, 165–​171); cf. Davies (1988, 129–​135), West (2003, 176–​187). A third, which describes Heracles sailing across the sea in a cup (fr. 5 = Athenaeus 469c), possibly suggests elements of a comic trope. 7  The biographical tradition as being useful for thinking about not “real” figures but their poetry: Graziosi (2000). The fragments of Creophylus: Davies (1988, 94); Bernabé (1996, 157–​163). 8  An overview: McLeod (1966). For his fragments see: Benarbé (1996, 171–​187); Davies (1988, 113–​129); West (2003, 188–​215). 9  Panyassis fr. 19.1–​11 West = Stobaeus 3.18.21 (also cited at Athenaeus 37a). 6 

288    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen The fragment celebrates the ability to drink. It exploits tropes from heroic poetry—​ the “man who is fast” (θοὸς ἀνήρ) in war and at the feast echoes the familiar characteristic of Achilles as being “swift of foot” (ποδώκης), “knowing well” (εὖ καὶ ἐπισταμένως), or “restraining one’s spirit” (θυμὸν ἐρητύσας)—​as well as concepts such as “excellence” (ἀρετή), being brave (θαρσαλέοι), and, that ultimate signifier of epic, “fame” (κλέος). All this functions in the service of praising the man who can perform at the feast. Such a man has “equal fame” to the man who leads an army. Seen in these terms, these lines strike a very different note from our extant epics, represented by Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. In contrast to those epics, this passage chimes with other genres, especially elegy—​with its focus on the context of the feast and the value of drinking—​which has prompted scholars to posit a sympotic context for Panyassis.10 It is notable, too, that such a picture of Heracles—​if that is who is speaking—​would not be out of place in his post-​epic appearances on the Athenian stage—​Heracles the glutton and drunkard, big on ego and in appetite. But should we view these lines in these terms, as somehow anti-​epic? Two other fragments of Panyassis moralize about drinking: combined, these passages could as equally correspond to a philosophical Heracles who chooses not to indulge in worldly delights (as made famous by Prodicus: see Xenophon Memorabilia 2.1.21–​29) as it might signal a comic one. Without more of a context it is difficult to understand how these lines actually functioned. In short, the fragments of Heracles’ epics give us little to work with, unlike the Hesiodic Shield.

The Shield and the Catalog of Women The Shield (also: Aspis, Scutum) is the one early Greek hexameter poem dedicated to exploring Heracles’ heroic exploits to have survived. Miniscule in comparison to the length of either of the Homeric epics, running to a little over four hundred lines, it better resembles the short episodic poems performed in the Odyssey by the Phaeacian bard, Demodocus, than the poems of Homer and Hesiod. Most notably, the Shield has an obvious point of comparison with the famous “shield of Achilles” episode in Homer’s Iliad. Indeed, both shields are examples of ekphrasis, where the work of art being described itself carries an image engaging with the work in which it is embedded.


Bowie (1986).

Epic  289 Most obviously, where the shield of Achilles is but a short (if significant) episode in a (much) larger poem, the shield of Heracles dominates (or at least represents itself as dominating) a poem that describes the hero’s birth and his battle with a certain Cycnus, for which he needs the armor in question. Moreover, not only is the Shield a short self-​contained episode; its first fifty-​six lines are identical to a portion of Hesiod’s Catalog of Women (Hesiod fr. 195.8–​63 M​W). Whether the Shield or the Catalog has priority is impossible to tell and beside the point anyway; what the overlap offers is a peek into the operations of oral poetry, whereby poets-​in-​performance draw on a traditional and common stock of story patterns, themes, and language to create their compositions in competition with each other. In the case of the Shield and the Catalog of Women, what is different is the fact neither composition has managed to erase the other, leaving the working out of their intertraditional rivalry for all to see.11 It is worth reflecting on just how different the two shield scenes are. As a tale about one of Heracles’ battles, the Shield has three parts, which both echo and depart from Homer’s “shield of Achilles”: the story of Heracles’ birth (shared with the Catalog), his arming, and an ekphrasis of his shield that features tribes warring against Heracles (161–​167), the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs (161–​167), and the adventures of Perseus (216–​234). In the Iliad Thetis is the primary agent for securing Achilles’ divine armor, by (again) calling in a debt owed to her, this time by Hephaestus. As previously with the promise she secured from Zeus, however, her divine connections only go to emphasize her son’s mortality: Zeus’ promise to honor Achilles condemns him to stay at Troy and seals his fate; that commitment to fight and die is confirmed here with the creation of the armor that he will carry back into battle. Contrast the Shield’s opening focus on Heracles’ mother, who, though mortal, bestows on her son godhead by virtue of having conceived him with Zeus; as the son of Zeus, Heracles will qualitatively be a different kind of hero from Achilles, the son Zeus never had.12 Different too are the ekphraseis themselves. Where Achilles’ shield depicts the whole cosmos, and in its representation of a scene of conflict in the agora appears to appeal directly to the audience of Homer’s poem, the scenes on Heracles’ Shield remain in a world of myth. Further, its depiction of the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs and the adventures of Perseus implicitly enroll Heracles’ endeavors among the narratives that predate the passing of the heroic age. Indeed, the Heracles that is depicted in the Shield resonates with the kind of martial hero depicted in Homeric epic. The Hesiodic Heracles in this case carries the warrior’s shield, helmet, and sword rather than the lion-​skin and club of his popular

11  The derivativeness of the Shield: Martin 2005, 173; as “consciously post-​Homeric”: Stamatopoulou (2017, 14). Intertraditionality: Bakker (2013, 149–​160). For Achilles’ shield, see Hardie (1985), Becker (1995), and Scully (2003). 12  Thetis is fated to give birth to a son greater than the father, a prophecy that wards off Zeus from sleeping with her: Pindar Isthmians 8.29–​38; see Slatkin (1991, 63–​66). As a result, Thetis (in the Iliad at least) comes to represent, ironically, her son’s mortality: Slatkin (1991, 80–​85 and passim).

290    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen iconography. Moreover, the language used of Heracles (he is a “guardian against war” ἀρῆς ἀλκτῆρα, Shield 29; and a figure of “wondrous deeds,” θέσκελα ἔργα, 34) seems related less to his legendary Labors than to the depictions of strife and war in early Greek epic poetry, notably those that coalesce around Achilles himself. Both heroes emerge with the capacity to protect their communities or immerse them in ruin. In theme, then, the Shield’s depiction recalls Heracles’ appearance at the end of the Theogony with other heroes like Perseus, as the physical manifestation of Zeus’ will on earth, clearing the world of monsters and establishing the Olympian new order, even as it also dresses Heracles as a hero from the Iliad. Insofar as it also depicts cities at war and at peace, festivals, farming, and athletic contests, it is tempting to think of the Shield developing through a process of engagement with the Homeric tradition. From this perspective, the Shield’s choice of adversary for Heracles is interesting. There are few references to the story of his conflict with Cycnus in surviving myth.13 One might even suspect that an adversary who attacks people and decorates Ares’ temple with their skulls would be more of a job for a hero like Theseus. Yet, according to Athenaeus, there was another Cycnus, a son of Poseidon, who once fought in single combat against Achilles.14 Moreover, this Cycnus had a certain notoriety: invulnerable except in the head, he was the first person Achilles was said to have killed at Troy. It is quite possible that even the Shield’s story of Heracles’ duel with Cycnus reflects a reworking of a duel between Achilles and Cycnus at Troy. Striking in the Shield is also its local coloring. The contested lines shared by both the Shield and the Catalog tell the story of Heracles’ mother Alcmene. These lines in the Shield have the effect of grounding this Heraclean epic in Thebes.15 When the Shield makes geographical references, it focuses on the Boeotian and southern Thessalian cities of “the city of the Myrmidons, and of Iolcus, Arne, and Helice, and grassy Antheia” (379–​380). The cities reappear in (the disputed) lines 472–​476, where reference to Ceyx may again relate to local ties in Thessaly. This local coloring is important because it has long been recognized that both Hesiodic and Homeric epic positioned themselves as Panhellenic. They represent values and institutions that appeal to Greeks everywhere and, as Herodotus implies, even establish them as the inheritance for all different kinds of later Greek societies.16 Their Panhellenism may even be explanatory and not only descriptive, in determining (at least in part) their successful canonization. Heracles too, of course, is a Panhellenic hero, most notably in being associated with the founding of that most Panhellenic of all events, the

13 Apollodorus Bibliotheca 2.5.11; Hyginus Fabulae 31.3; cf. Stesichorus fr. 207 Davies and Finglass. For

this pair in early Greek Art, see Shapiro (1984). 14  Deipnosophists 393d–​e; cf. Apollodorus Epitome 31. 15  Janko (1982, 43–​48); cf. Larson (2007, 81–​84). 16  Homeric epic as a “Pan-​Hellenic canon of epic song”: Tsagalis (2008, xiii). The broad definition of Panhellenism: Snodgrass (1971). Homer and Panhellenism: Nagy (1999, 7; 1996, 52), Mitchell (2007), Barker and Christensen (2019, 29–​32).

Epic  291 Olympic games. Yet, for all that, his Shield seems to play to a local, Theban audience, foregrounding local, regional concerns.

Heracles in Homer and Hesiod We have seen the limitations of trying to write about the epic Heracles based on the fragmentary poems devoted to him, when much (if not most) of what they purportedly account seems to be shaped by late chroniclers and references conditioned by their reception of a canonical Heracles. More promising has been the Shield, which, though brief, at least presents a Heracles narrative in action. Its representation of an Iliadic-​looking Heracles fighting one of Achilles’ antagonists and of a Theogonic Heracles bringing order to Zeus’ cosmos, while at the same time being rooted in local traditions around Thebes, suggests rivalry with the eventually dominant story-​worlds of early Greek heroic epic, the poems of Hesiod and Homer. Our final evidence for an epic Heracles comes from these poems.17 Heracles’ significance in the epic cosmos is evident from the role he plays in Hesiod’s Theogony. He features prominently in the roll-​call of heroes that brings the poem to some kind of conclusion, as Zeus’ newly won power is disseminated in the shape of divine-​born heroes who bring order to the world. These heroes thus replay Zeus’ role in the cosmos by ridding the earth of monsters and figures of disorder. Chief among these is Heracles, the son of Zeus himself. On the one hand, then, Heracles belongs to the heroic age, the race of heroes whom, as Hesiod’s Works and Days makes clear, Zeus will wipe out in two great conflagrations, the wars at Troy and Thebes.18 On the other hand, Heracles also stands apart from the other heroes. In anticipation of his future deeds, he is the promised slayer of fearsome creatures, Geryon (Theogony 287), the Lernean Hydra (314), and the Nemean Lion (332), while he is also said to free Prometheus from the eagle which torments him (526). Above all, Heracles achieves a status that by definition is denied any of the other “godlike” heroes: he becomes like a god. So, the poem ends with Heracles listed as the husband of Hebe, with whom he is said to live “painless and ageless for all days” after he has completed his difficult tasks (950–​955). Other heroes may receive cult ritual, in some kind of recognition of their persistent presence among, and protection of, human communities.19 Others live on in heroic poetry, their good name and deeds preserved by the glory, kleos, of epic

17  Heracles prior to the archaic age: Gantz (1993, 274–​381), Fowler (2013, 261). Heracles in Homer: Barker and Christensen (2014, 2019); cf. Mackie (2008, 1–​11). 18  Works and Days 156–​165; cf. Cypria fr. 1 West. Nagy (1999, 159–​160), Graziosi and Haubold (2005, 38–​39), Barker and Christensen (2019, 2–​10 and passim). 19  For Heracles’ cult, see Chapters 33 and 34 in this volume and Verbanck-​Pierard (1989); cf. also Farnell (1920, 95–​98).

292    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen song. Some of those are even said to escape the fate of Hades to live in the “isles of the Blessed.” But only Heracles lives on like a god. So it is that Heracles appears in the corpus of poems, the so-​called Homeric Hymns, which praise the characteristics of the Olympian gods and assign each of them their dues. In the Hymn dedicated to him, Heracles is praised as a hero who is honored like a god and who enjoys his life on Olympus as the consort of Hebe, the embodiment of eternal youth.20 The core characteristics of the hero established by the Theogony are confirmed by the Hymn: he is the son of Zeus and the best of all the people born on earth (1–​3), who came to suffer, and inflict, terrible things (6–​7) before he took Hebe as his wife. Now he lives on distributing excellence and happiness. The idea of the hero as both the recipient and deliverer of great suffering applies archetypally to Achilles and Odysseus in their epic representations. Heracles is different, however, in his additional power to bestow blessings as a god. Accordingly, Heracles represents a problem figure among Homer’s heroes, for whom eternal life means the kleos of their deeds wrought by epic poetry.21 Indeed, at the beginning of his epic, Odysseus is offered the opportunity to live with the goddess Calypso “painless and ageless for all days”—​like Heracles—​and he rejects it in favor of returning to his wife back on Ithaca, the narrative of which the Odyssey will sing.22 The first thing to note about Heracles’ appearances in the Iliad and Odyssey is the brevity and compression by which it is possible for Homer to refer to an episode from Heracles’ fabula. Consider the following passage from Heracles’ address to Odysseus when the two meet during the Nekyia (Odyssey 11.630–​626):23 I am a son of Zeus, Kronos’ son, but I have endless Suffering. For I am a servant to a much worse man Who has been assigning difficult tasks to me. And he has sent me here in order to bring back the dog. He could not Conceive that any other tasks would be more difficult than this. And now I am leading it up and taking it from Hades, Hermes is sending me and so is grey-​eyed Athena.

For this narrative to make sense the audience must have at least known the identities of the “lesser man” (Eurystheus) and the “dog” (Cerberus), and in all probability would have been alert to the broader context in which Heracles is made to serve out these tasks. The omissions not only suggest a broad familiarity with the story in general but also provide a glimpse into how the Homeric narrator selects and crafts detail to serve his own narratives. The emphasis on Heracles’ “endless suffering,” for example, aligns him with the hero of this epic, “much enduring” Odysseus, who is 20 

The pairing of Hebe and Heracles: Hesiod frr. 25 M​W and 229 M​W. On this theme in Homeric poetry, see Rubino (1979), Schein (1984). 22  On the magical formula of being “deathless and Ageless”: Barker and Christensen (2014, 258). 23  For this as an engagement with a lost Heracles epic, see Currie (2006, 22); cf. also Danek (1998, 231). 21 

Epic  293 being helped by the same two deities (the only ones to appear in the Odyssey assisting its hero directly) and at this very moment is accomplishing the same task for which Heracles was famous—​going into Hades and making it back alive. In fact, we owe the description of what Odysseus sees in Hades and the heroes, like Heracles, whom he meets, to Odysseus himself. In the very act of telling this story, Odysseus is inviting comparison to this other hero. This is by no means an unbiased account. Frequently references to Heracles within Homer are combined with the fragments (attributed to Pisander, Panyassis, and Creophylus) that have survived elsewhere to assemble a précis of Heraclean epic. The assumption goes that either the Homeric epics draw on earlier material that is now lost, or else that this other material is somehow indebted to or derived from Homer.24 Yet the example we have just looked at suggests the difficulty or even risk of using Homer to reconstruct Heracles’ epic career as it existed independently of the Iliad and Odyssey. Odysseus and, through him, his poem are in rivalry with Heracles and his. Instead of a hierarchical model, where one poem is said to be the direct antecedent of another (Homeric epic as the source for all other heroic poetry, or derivative on it), it is more attuned to an oral tradition that existed over centuries to posit that Heracles epics belonged to the same performance culture as Homer’s epics, each responding to evolving social and political concerns and to each other.25 With the almost entire erasure of epics about Heracles we are left with only one side of the story: but we can use that—​Heracles in “other” epic than his, the Homeric poems—​to explore how such a rivalry may have operated and, specifically, shaped the epic Heracles who comes down to us. One way to approach Homer’s Heracles is to note the formulaic language that defines him. Unlike the heroes of Troy, Heracles is not assigned an epithet like Achilles (“swift-​footed”), Hector (“tamer of horses”), or Odysseus (“of many turns,” “much enduring,” etc.). Instead, the most popular way of naming him is periphrastically as the “Heraclean force.” This noun-​adjective combination, where his name is attracted into the adjectival position by virtue of the emphasis on the noun, has the effect of foregrounding his power.26 Indeed, referring to Heracles indirectly appears to be a Homeric strategy: elsewhere he is called “the strong son of Zeus” or simply “that man.”27 Even in the way in which he is named Heracles appears distinct from the other heroes, those currently fighting at Troy.

24  Neoanalysis and Homer: Kakridis (1949), Kullman (1960). Overview and assessment: Burgess (2001), Montanari, Rengakos, and Tsagalis (2011). 25  Orality and performance culture in Homer: Foley (2002); cf. Bakker (1997), Lord (1960). Nonhierarchical rivalry or agonism: Barker and Christensen (2006) (Homeric epic and Archilochean elegy), Barker and Christensen 2015 (the Odyssey and other epic traditions), Barker and Christensen (2019) (Homeric and Theban epic). 26 Homer Iliad 2.658, 672; 5.628; 11.689; 15.640; 18.117; 19.98; cf. Odyssey 11.601. “Heracles figure and bie are traditionally linked on the level of theme”: Nagy (1999, 318). 27  See Homer Iliad 5.648.

294    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen At the same time, Heracles is an important touchstone for those other heroes. He is mentioned most frequently in Homeric epic in character-​text. Readily on the lips of Homer’s characters, he performs for them the role of some kind of mythological paradigm, whereby they can assess or try to understand their own situation. Importantly, his function as a figure to think with is as a consistently negative force.28 The product of a moment of intense lust (Iliad 14.323–​324), his birth is a source of continual anguish for Zeus, as Hera tricks him into granting Eurystheus power over his son (19.95–​130, where Agamemnon confesses that he similarly has been deceived); Sleep hesitates to help Aphrodite remembering Zeus’ anger when he backed Hera against Heracles (14.242–​263; cf. 15.24–​30); Nestor reveals that he was the sole survivor of Heracles’ attack on Pylos (11.690); Dione uses Heracles’ wounding of Hades and Hera as a consolation for Aphrodite, who has been wounded by Diomedes (5.390–​395). On each occasion, Heracles represents a dangerous example, which is used to inform or influence current affairs; simultaneously, his performance of epic deeds is set in a past that appears to lack relevance to or significance for the ongoing situation. Where the quarrels of Zeus and Hera over Heracles previously caused divine discord, and threatened to replay Theogonic battles among the gods, now such examples register as threats or warnings; Zeus’ power and authority are unassailable. Where before one man could sack a city, now it takes a coalition to bring down Troy: after all, Nestor relates his story about Heracles to Patroclus, in an effort to persuade him and the Myrmidons to return to battle, if not Achilles himself. Far from being a hero for our time, Heracles is just another figure, albeit a fearfully powerful one, from the past: he is one among several mortals whom Dione calls out for wounding gods; he is one among many illegitimate offspring born from Zeus’ affairs; he is one dead hero among many whom Odysseus interviews in Hades. Heracles’ narratives are not merely selective in the service of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but are selected as entries in groups of like tales which these epics supersede. Arguably the most obvious feature that he shares with the heroes of the Iliad is his sacking of Troy. According to Pisander fr. 10 West (= Athenaeus 783c), Heracles sacked the city with Telamon. In fact, Heracles appears to be something of a “sacker of cities” in myth, including, beyond Troy, Orchomenus, Elis, Pylos, Sparta, and Oechalia. Undoubtedly, much of the interest in this theme must have lain not only in the ranking of Heracles as a great warrior alongside other heroes (the more strategic “city sacker” Odysseus, for example), but also in the tension between his civilizing acts—​ridding the world of monsters, instituting the Olympic games—​and these other acts of devastation, where civilizations are toppled and brought low. Regarding such motivation the Iliad is silent. Indeed, only once does the poem even acknowledge that Heracles has already sacked Troy. This is when Tlepolemus uses his father’s example

28 Mythical paradeigmata: Willcock (1964, 1977); cf. Braswell (1971), Held (1987), Andersen (1987),

Alden (2000).

Epic  295 as a form of one-​upmanship in his fighting exchange with Sarpedon, where barbed words are hurled before the spears.29 Yet, his claim that Heracles had sacked Troy with fewer men in a much shorter amount of time merely has the effect of downplaying the significance and impact of that earlier expedition, as Sarpedon’s cutting response makes clear. This son of Zeus (re)asserts the predominance of this Troy story over all others, a siege now into its tenth year and involving heroes from all around the Greek world. And, with that retort, Sarpedon’s spear does the rest and silences the representative of a Heraclean tradition about the sack.30 As a final proof of the Homeric appropriation of Heraclean myth, we turn to examples taken from both protagonists: Achilles’ claim that even Heracles had to die (Iliad 19) and Odysseus’ claim to have seen an “image” of Heracles in Hades, whereas his real self lives on (Odyssey 11). While Heracles is not often mentioned, his presence stalks Achilles throughout the Iliad. This is to make use of oral traditional theory, by means of which modern readers of Homer can listen out for echoes of units of utterance—​from story patterns like the sack or return home, to type scenes or themes, to individual phrases or words—​which resonate throughout the early Greek epic corpus and enable audiences to invest meaning when those units are (re)used in particular contexts. The epic resonance between Achilles and Heracles operates on many different levels, which extend far beyond the simple but effective shared use of the epithet “lion-​hearted” (Achilles at Iliad 7.228; Heracles at Iliad 5.639 and Odyssey 11.267).31 We have already noted that Agamemnon cites Heracles as an example when Zeus himself was a victim of Deception (Ate): though he intends to draw a comparison between himself and Zeus, the dynamics of his tale position him as the Eurystheus figure to Achilles’ Heracles, a man forced by the exigencies of fate to serve a lesser king. At the level of narrative thematics, the very depiction of a socially isolated warrior, as Achilles withdraws from the fighting, recalls the lone figure of Heracles from myth. Indeed, when Achilles returns to battle, one way in which Homer characterizes his exceptional ferocity is through a sustained, if subtle, comparison to Heracles. Here we see the hero of the Iliad not only fight with a river god (Book 21), as Heracles is famous for doing, but we hear the river Scamander ward off the dangerous Achilles with the phrase loigon alalkoi, “ward off ruin,” three times in close proximity (21.138, 250, and 539) in an echo of Heracles’ cult title alexikakos, the warder off of evil.32 And, when he returns to the Achaean fold after killing

29 Homer Iliad 5. 638–​662; cf. 2.653–​670. Kelly (2010, 266–​274), Barker and Christensen (2014, 263–​268). 30  The only other possible reference to that earlier expedition comes when the narrator mentions a wall that Heracles built when he battled a sea monster at Troy (20.144–​149). Whether this is an allusive reference to the debt that the Trojans owed him (which would give him the motivation to sack the city when snubbed), or to some other encounter lost from the canon of Heraclean fabula, is impossible to tell. 31  For lion imagery in the Iliad, see Wilson (2002). 32  Christensen (2013, 277–​278).

296    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen Hector, Achilles institutes games (to be held in honor of Patroclus) as if appropriating the one great civilizing act attributed to Heracles. Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that, at the point when he determines to re-​ enter the fighting, Achilles’ thoughts turn to Heracles. It is as a consolation for his mother, who is already mourning his coming death, when he says: “For not even violent Heracles escaped his fate—​though he was most dear to lord Zeus, son of Kronos—​but fate tamed him and the anger of Hera, hard to endure” (Iliad 18.117–​ 119). In many ways this is a remarkable statement, which is made even harder to read by virtue of Thetis passing over it without comment. How could a hero known for becoming a god have to die? If we are being fair to Achilles, perhaps he understands that Heracles did in fact have to die in the sense of escaping his mortal form in order to become an immortal god. Understood in these terms, Achilles’ assertion echoes the rhetoric of heroism that pervades the Iliad, namely, that a short mortal life is exchanged for immortal glory. On the other hand, this sentiment is normally understood as signifying a contrast between the brevity of human existence and the longevity afforded by epic poetry itself. Heroes live on, but only on the lips of poets. Coupled with the fact that in the Iliad it is Achilles who paradigmatically both articulates and represents this dynamic—​a short life for everlasting glory—​Achilles may be pointedly downgrading Heracles’ kind of immortality, if not explicitly denying it. For him, there will be no apotheosis; rather there is kleos, the immortal story provided by epic itself. The question of Heracles’ immortality is addressed again in Odyssey 11, when the hero of that epic explores what it means to live on in song. As we noted earlier, Odysseus inserts Heracles into a catalog of the dead, where he presents a basic kernel of Heracles’ story—​a hero-​god married to Hebe who suffered great toils. The same dynamics are at play here as in the Iliad: Heracles and Homer’s protagonist are brought into comparison, in ways that promote the hero and narrative currently in composition. If anything, the Odyssey is even more pointed in its rivalry. First, the detail that Heracles suffered great toils resonates with one of the key formulae of the epic, which denotes the very essence of this epic’s hero, the “much enduring-​suffering Odysseus”: while Heracles suffered greatly, Odysseus has suffered more, is still suffering, and, consequently, is even more worthy of epic song. Even more particularly, the example used to demonstrate Heracles’ great suffering—​his entry into and return from the underworld—​is exactly the task that Odysseus is at this very moment enduring. It should also be remembered that this whole episode, including the reference to Heracles’ great suffering, occurs in Odysseus’ song to the Phaeacians: the hero himself is drawing the comparison to his great epic rival. No wonder, then, that his Heracles is made to recognize Odysseus’ preeminence as the long-​suffering hero. There is too a suggestion of the Iliad’s displacement of Heracles to a previous, more savage era. Heracles is—​Odysseus tells us—​a terrible sight to behold, a figure who inspires fear and dread with his frightening weapons and fierce visage. Would that his like never be seen again.

Epic  297 It is in this context that Odysseus draws a distinction which can be read as a more explicitly metapoetic reflection on Achilles’ passing comment with respect to Heracles’ immortality. The distinction is between Heracles’ “image,” or eidōlon, which lurks here in the underworld, and his actual self, his autos which lives among the immortals with Hebe as his wife (11.601–​603). While this description is in all likelihood part of a broader (now lost) discussion on views of the/​this hero’s immortality, it also reflects on his troubled (or troubling) status and role within Homeric epic.33 The autos signals what we can imagine is the existence of Heracles outside the text, where the son of Zeus lives on as a god in hero cult. It is an existence that the Homeric poems deny all the other heroes, though many must also have enjoyed ritual honors. Their immortality depends instead on those poems of the heroic epic tradition in which Odysseus is engaging and into which he is enrolling himself, where the heroes persist only as shadowy images, eidōla, as witnessed in this Odyssean underworld. While cult practice no doubt privileged a divine Heracles over his epic representation, Homeric poetics emphasizes the persistence of the eidōlon, the representation of the hero, as a thing on its own.

Summary Hesiod’s description of the generation of heroes and its demise at Works and Days 156–​165 includes reference to the destruction brought on by two wars, one at Thebes and one at Troy. Read metapoetically, along with evidence from the opening of the cyclic epic Cypria, which details how Zeus planned the destruction of the race of heroes, Hesiod’s account suggests at least two distinct heroic epic traditions dedicated to representing their glories and suffering and ultimate destruction. While the epic poems associated with Thebes are lost, those about Troy survived through the poems of Homer, and together with Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days map out an epic cosmos which explains and establishes Zeus’ world order and, through the destruction of the heroes, the separation of gods from humankind.34 The Theban hero Heracles at once typifies the hero of epic, as a larger-​than-​life semidivine figure who metes out suffering and endures it in equal measure, and fails to conform, at least to the kinds of grand coalition narratives that seem to typify that final generation of heroes mentioned in Hesiod’s Works and Days. Where heroes band together to fight a monstrous boar (the Calydonian Boar Hunt) or attack a city (Seven against Thebes and the Epigonoi), go on an adventure to get a valuable fleece (Voyage of the Argo), or mount an expedition to sack a city (the Trojan War), Heracles comes 33 

Andersen (2012, 139–​149). Graziosi and Haubold (2005); cf. Clay (2003), Mackie (2008, 30–​40), Barker and Christensen (2014, 251–​252). 34 

298    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen across as an essentially antisocial hero whose extreme excellence and personal excess precludes his participation in group quests and, thus, symbolically, marginalizes him from the type of civic and political participation which is represented and examined by Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey.35 While both Achilles and Odysseus represent challenges to their communities in different ways, Heracles is a figure who seems to move between notional poles of the civilized and the wild, representing a constant threat to those around him.36 Heracles’ main thematic associations from his fabula are either challenges to or precursors to be superseded by Homeric narrative. Where Heracles’ journeys provide a mythical geography of the world to match up with expanding Greek understandings of trade routes and foreign peoples (cf. Chapter 30), Odysseus’ journey replicates some of it while also appropriating elements of the earlier hero’s suffering. And, where Heracles’ apotheosis furnishes ample opportunity to think about the impossibility of immortality for most mortals, the Homeric epics address his divinity with a seemingly pointed indeterminacy.

References Alden, M. 2000. Homer beside Himself: Para-​ Narratives in the Iliad. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Andersen, Ø. 1987. “Myth Paradigm and Spatial Form in the Iliad.” In Homer beyond Oral Poetry: Recent Trends in Homeric Interpretation, ed. J. Bremer and I. J. F. De Jong, 1–​13. Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner. Andersen, Ø. 2012. “Older Heroes and Earlier Poems: The Case of Heracles in the Odyssey.” In Relative Chronology in Early Greek Epic Poetry, ed. Ø. Anderson and D. T. T. Haug, 138–​151. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bakker, E. J. 1997. Poetry in Speech: Orality and Homeric Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Bakker, E. J. 2013. The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Barker, E. T. E. 2009. Entering the Agon: Dissent and Authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Barker, E. T. E. 2011. “The Iliad’s Big Swoon: A Case of Innovation within the Epic Tradition.” Trends in Classics 3: 1–​17. Barker, E. T. E., and J. P. Christensen. 2006. “Flight Club: The New Archilochus Fragment and its Resonance with Homeric Epic.” Materiali e Discussioni per l’Analisi dei Testi Classici 57: 19–​43. Barker, E. T. E., and J. P. Christensen. 2014. “Even Herakles Had to Die: Epic Rivalry and the Poetics of the Past in Homer’s Iliad.” Trends in Classics 6: 249–​277. 35  Heracles’ antisocial individualism: Galinsky (1972). His individual preeminence: Cook (1999, 112). Coalition politics: Hammer (2002), Barker (2009), Elmer (2013). The madness of Heracles was likely an early motif: see Chapter 2 in this volume, Fowler (2013, 269) and (West 2013, 276). 36  Loraux (1990, 24); cf. Kirk (1973, 16).

Epic  299 Becker, A. S. 1995. The Shield of Achilles and the Poetics of Ekphrasis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. Bernabé, A. 1996. Poetarum epicorum Graecorum. 2nd ed. Leipzig: Teubner. Bowie, E. 1986. “Early Greek Elegy, Symposium, and Public Festival.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 106: 13–​35. Braswell, B. K. 1971. “Mythological Innovation in the Iliad.” Classical Quarterly 21: 16–​26. Burgess, J. S. 2001.The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Burgess, J. S. 2009. The Death and Afterlife of Achilles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Christensen, J. P. 2013. “Innovation and Tradition Revisited: The Near-​Synonymy of Homeric ΑΜΥΝΩ and ΑΛΕΞΩ as a Case Study in Homeric Composition.” Classical Journal 108: 257–​296. Clay, J. S. 2003. Hesiod’s Cosmos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cook, E. 1999. “Active and Passive Heroics in the Odyssey.” Classical World 93: 149–​167. Currie, B. G. F. 2006, “Homer and the Early Epic Tradition.” In Epic Interactions: Perspectives on Homer, Virgil and the Epic Tradition, ed. M. Clarke, B. Currie, and R. Lyne, 1–​45. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Danek, G. 1998. Epos und Zitat: Studien zur Quellen der Odyssee. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Davies, M. 1988. Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Elmer, D. 2013. The Poetics of Consent: Collective Decision-​Making and the Iliad. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Farnell, L. R. 1920. The Cults of the Greek City-​States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Foley, J. M. 2002. How to Read an Oral Poem. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Fowler, R. L. 2013, Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2: Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galinsky, G. K. 1972, The Herakles Theme. Oxford: Blackwell. Gantz, T. 1993. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Graziosi, B. 2000. The Invention of Homer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Graziosi, B., and J. Haubold. 2005. Homer: The Resonance of Epic. London: Duckworth. Griffin, J. 1977. “The Epic Cycle and the Uniqueness of Homer.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 97: 39–​53. Hammer, D. 2002. The Iliad as Politics: The Performance of Political Thought. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Hardie, P. R. 1985. “Imago Mundi: Cosmological and Ideological Aspects of the Shield of Achilles.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 105: 11–​31. Held, G. 1987. “Phoinix, Agamemnon and Achille: Problems and Paradeigmata.” Classical Quarterly 36: 141–​154. Janko, R. J. 1982. Homer, Hesiod, and the Hymns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kakridis, J. T. 1949. Homeric Researches. Lund: Gleerup. Kirk, G. S. 1973. “Methodological Reflections on the Myths of Herakles.” In Il Mito Greco: Atti del convegno internazionale (Urbino 7–​12 maggio 1973), ed. B. Gentili and G. Paioni, 273–​284. Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo and Bizzarri. Kullman, W. 1960. Die Quellen der Ilias. Hermes Einzelschriften 14. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner. Larson, S. 2007. Tales of Epic Ancestry: Boiotian Collective Identity in the Late Archaic and Early Classical Periods. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

300    Elton Barker and Joel Christensen Loraux, N. 1990. “Herakles: The Super-​Male and the Feminine.” In Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, ed. D. M. Halperin, 21–​52. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Lord, A. B. 1960. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mackie, C. J. 2008. Rivers of Fire: Mythic Themes in Homer’s Iliad. Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing. McLeod, W. 1966 “Studies on Panyassis—​An Heroic Poet of the Fifth Century.” Phoenix 20: 95–​110. Martin, R. P. 2005. “Pulp Epic: The Catalogue and the Shield.” In The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Constructions and Reconstructions, ed. R. L. Hunter, 153–​175. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mitchell, L. 2007. Panhellenism and the Barbarian in Archaic and Classical Greece. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales. Montanari F., A. Rengakos, and C. Tsagalis 2011. Homeric Contexts: Neoanalysis and the Interpretation of Oral Poetry. Berlin: de Gruyter. Nagy, G. 1999 [1979]. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Rubino, C. A. 1979. “ ‘A Thousand Shapes of Death’: Heroic Immortality in the Iliad.” In Arktouros: Hellenic Studies Presented to Bernard M. W. Knox on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, ed. G. W. Bowersock, W. Burkert, and M. C. J. Putnam, 12–​18. Berlin: de Gruyter. Schein, S. 1984, The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press. Scully, S. 2003. “Reading the Shield of Achilles: Terror, Anger, Delight.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 101: 29–​47. Shapiro, H. A. 1983. “Heros Theos: The Death and Apotheosis of Herakles.” Classical World 77: 7–​19. Shapiro, H. A. 1984. “Herakles and Kyknos.” American Journal of Archaeology 88: 523–​529. Slatkin, L. 1991. The Power of Thetis: Allusion and Interpretation in the Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press. Stafford, E. J. 2010. “Herakles between Gods and Heroes.” In The Gods of Ancient Greece, ed. J. N. Bremmer and A. Erskine, 228–​244. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stamatopoulou, Z. 2017. “Wounding the Gods: The Mortal Theomachos in the Iliad and the Hesiodic Aspis.” Mnemosyne 70: 1–​19. Tsagalis, C. 2008. The Oral Palimpsest: Exploring Intertextuality in the Homeric Epics. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. Verbanck-​Pierard, A. 1989. “Le double culte d’Héraklès: Légende ou réalité.” In Entre Hommes et Dieux: Le convive, le héros, le prophéte, ed. A.-​F. Laurens, 43–​65. Centre de Recherches d’Histoire Ancienne 86. Paris: Annales Littéraires de l’Université de Besançon. West, M. L. 2003. Greek Epic Fragments. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. West, M. L. 2013. The Epic Cycle: A Commentary on the Lost Troy Epics. Oxford. Willcock, M. M. 1977. “Ad hoc Invention in the Iliad.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 81: 41–​53. Wilson, D. F. 2002. “Lion Kings: Heroes in the Epic Mirror.” Colby Quarterly 38: 231–​254.

Chapter 23

T r age dy Michael Lloyd

Heracles is a central character in two of the thirty-​two surviving Greek tragedies. Sophocles’ Trachiniae (Women of Trachis) deals with his accidental poisoning by his wife Deianeira, and ends with him being carried off to the pyre on Mount Oeta on which he will end his human life. The precise date of the play is not known, but it was probably first produced in the 450s or 440s BC. Euripides’ Heracles, dated to about 415 BC on reliable stylistic grounds, deals with his killing of his wife and sons under the influence of madness sent by Hera. Heracles is a secondary character in two other extant tragedies, and a significant offstage presence in a third. In Euripides’ Alcestis (438 BC), he rescues Alcestis from death by wrestling with Thanatos (Death). He has been deified by the time of the action of Euripides’ Children of Heracles (c. 430 BC), where an epiphany of him with Hebe in the form of stars is associated with the miraculous rejuvenation of his former companion Iolaus (lines 847–​858). In Sophocles’ Philoctetes (409 BC), he appears at the end of the play as a god, giving instructions to Philoctetes and predicting the future. Heracles is also mentioned in several tragedies. Clytemnestra encourages Cassandra to endure her slavery by saying that Heracles too was once sold as a slave in Aeschylus, Agamemnon (1040–​1041); it is assumed that both Cassandra and the audience understand the reference to his servitude to Omphale. His passion for Iole is evoked allusively as an example of the power of love in Euripides’ Hippolytus (545–​554). His sack of Troy is mentioned three times in Euripides (Andromache 797–​801, Suppliant Women 1197–​1200, Trojan Women 799–​819), and his deification and marriage to Hebe are mentioned by Apollo at the end of Euripides’ Orestes (1686–​1687).

302   Michael Lloyd So far as lost tragedies are concerned, the appearance by Heracles about which we know the most is in the Prometheus Unbound attributed to Aeschylus.1 In the extant Prometheus Bound, it is allusively predicted that he will “free Prometheus from sufferings” (771–​774, 871–​873); this definitely included shooting the eagle that was feasting on his liver, but it is not certain that Heracles also released him from his bonds (Griffith 1983, 295–​296). Prometheus gave Heracles directions for his journey to the Hesperides, of which eighteen lines are extant (fragments 195–​199). In two fragments of Aeschylus’ Children of Heracles, Heracles seems to describe being placed on the pyre (73b) and then being drenched as the fire was extinguished (75a); he is presumably now a god.2 Sophocles’ lost tragedies include two on subjects related to Heracles (Amphitryon, Iphicles), about which almost nothing is known, and he saved Athamas from being sacrificed in one of the two plays called Athamas. Sophocles also wrote four plays about Heracles’ son Telephus, perhaps a tetralogy, but there is no evidence that Heracles himself played any part in them. There are two lost tragedies by Euripides in which Heracles is known to have played a significant role. The late play Auge deals with the consequences of his rape of Auge, daughter of his host Aleus. The resulting child, Telephus, was exposed, and Auge threatened with death by her father. Heracles arrives in time to rescue Telephus and placate Aleus. Two fragments seem to come from a scene in which he plays with the baby (272, 272a), and in another he confesses that he acted under the influence of wine (272b). In Pirithous, variously ascribed to Euripides and to the notorious oligarch Critias, Heracles rescues Pirithous and Theseus from the underworld while he is there on his Labor to bring back Cerberus. One fragment has Heracles politely rejecting Theseus’ offer to help him overcome Cerberus (TrGF 43 F7.8–​14). There is some evidence for plays about Heracles by other Greek dramatists, but little is known about them. The Byzantine encyclopedia known as the Suda (tenthcentury AD) attributes a play called Heracles on the Pyre to one Spintharus (TrGF 40 T1; cf. Wright 2016, 183), but we do not know its date. We have brief fragments of a satyric Omphale by Sophocles’ contemporary Ion of Chios (TrGF 19 F17a–​33a), who also wrote an Alcmena and a Children of Eurytus. It is possible that these three plays, together with another unknown play, formed a Heracles tetralogy (Wright 2016, 33–​34). This chapter will focus on Heracles in Greek tragedy, but mention should also be made of two tragedies about Heracles that have come down among the ten plays attributed to the Roman philosopher and politician Seneca (c. 4 BC–​AD 65). It is generally supposed that these works were composed for recitation rather than for staged


On the question of authenticity, see, e.g., Griffith (1983, 31–​35), suggesting a date in the 440s or 430s. Fragments of Greek tragedy (i.e., words, lines, or short passages from lost plays) are cited from the standard edition Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (abbreviated TrGF). 2 

Tragedy  303 performance, but they have theatrical qualities that have led to their being frequently performed from the Renaissance to the present day (Boyle 2006, 192–​193). Hercules Furens is a play of unknown date, whose plot is based on Euripides’ Heracles, but whose highly rhetorical style is influenced by earlier Roman poets including Virgil and Ovid. Seneca’s portrayal of Juno also owes much to them. Putting Heracles on the stage presented certain difficulties to Greek dramatists, which will be discussed later, but no such problems seem to have been felt by Seneca. His Heracles is a figure on the grandest scale, who expresses himself in violent and often hyperbolic language. Great conquerors on a world scale had by now been a feature of real life (e.g., Alexander, Julius Caesar). Some of these historical figures attained the final accolade of deification, and the prospect of Heracles being deified is explicit in Seneca’s Hercules Furens (Fitch 1987, 22–​23). Heracles’ madness is psychologically coherent with his violence and megalomania (e.g., 592–​615), in contrast to the sharp break in the middle of Euripides’ Heracles.3 Another play attributed to Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus, is not generally regarded as an authentic work, although it is influenced by his style (Boyle 2006, 221–​223). Its plot is based on Sophocles’ Trachiniae, but it is considerably expanded and contains several additional characters. A notable feature is the extended and graphic description of Heracles on the pyre, after which he makes an appearance at the end of the play as a god.

Heracles as a Tragic Character The view that Heracles was not regarded by the Greeks as an entirely suitable figure for tragedy goes back at least to Richard Jebb’s introduction to his great edition of Sophocles’ Trachiniae (1892, xxi–​xxii). Jebb thought part of the problem was that Heracles was such a stock comic character (e.g., Aristophanes Peace 741–​743) that he was difficult to take seriously in a tragic context. A further difficulty is that much of Heracles’ activity involved fighting monsters, which does not lend itself to tragic treatment. Galinsky (1972, 41) argues that Greek tragedy is “basically a theatre of ideas,” and therefore unsuitable for the “physical, external associations” of Heracles. Victor Ehrenberg (1946, 146) raised a further issue: “Heracles, whether hero or glutton, was always superhuman and therefore essentially untragic.” This view was developed by Michael Silk in an influential article, arguing that Trachiniae and Heracles are the only known tragedies before the end of the fifth century about what he calls “the suffering Heracles,” as opposed to Heracles acting as savior (1985, 3–​4 = 1993, 118–​119). Silk’s


On Seneca’s Hercules Furens, see Galinsky (1972, 167–​184); Fitch (1987); Riley (2008, 51–​91); Bernstein (2017).

304   Michael Lloyd explanation is as follows: “Heracles lies on the margins between human and divine; he occupies the no-​man’s-​land that is also no-​god’s-​land; he is a marginal, transitional or, better, interstitial figure” (1985, 6 = 1993, 121, original emphasis). Silk concludes, “The reason why the tragedians avoid Heracles as suffering hero is that a serious treatment of his sufferings means coming to terms with anomalous status, with crossing the limits, with disturbing contradictions” (1985, 7 = 1993, 122). It is not quite as remarkable as Silk suggests that Trachiniae and Heracles are the only known tragedies to feature Heracles as a suffering hero. He mentions “several hundred known tragedies that were produced before the end of the fifth century” (1985, 4 = 1993, 119), but most of them are by just three tragedians. Bernard Knox (1979, 8–​9) calculates that we have some knowledge of the subjects of 293 tragedies produced in Athens in the fifth century, nearly a third of the total, but 225 (77%) of those are by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. We have no evidence for a suffering Heracles tragedy by Aeschylus, but it is not so surprising that Sophocles and Euripides wrote no more than one each. Trachiniae and Heracles do indeed look like a concentrated effort by each dramatist to do justice in his own style to Heracles’ tragic potential. The most popular myths for the tragedians were (to use Knox’s figures again) the Trojan War and its ramifications (sixty-​eight tragedies), Theban myth (thirty-​three tragedies), and the house of Tantalus “from Pelops through Atreus to Iphigeneia” (thirty-​one tragedies). These are all complex myths, with large casts of characters, which feature the favorite tragic subject matter of contested political authority and conflict within the family (Anderson 2005, 124–​129). On the other hand, Heracles does not appear any less in Greek tragedy than the comparable figure of Theseus, who has nothing of the anomalous (god-​man) status which Silk finds in Heracles. Theseus appears in extant tragedy only once as a suffering character (Euripides’ Hippolytus), and three times as a savior (Euripides’ Heracles and Suppliant Women, and Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus). The rest of this chapter will look in more detail at the four extant fifth-​century tragedies in which Heracles appears.

Trachiniae Sophocles’ Trachiniae is set in Trachis (near Thermopylae), where Heracles has been living in exile from Tiryns after his treacherous murder of Iphitus. The play takes its name from the chorus of local women. Heracles’ wife Deianeira explains that he has been away from Trachis for fifteen months, and it soon emerges that he has been in servitude to Omphale for a year and then campaigning against Oechalia. Heracles’ herald Lichas arrives with a group of female captives including Iole, daughter of Eurytus, king of Oechalia. Deianeira, jealous of Iole, sends him a robe anointed with the blood of the centaur Nessus mixed with the Hydra’s poison from the arrow with which Heracles shot him. She hopes that she will recover his love by these means, but

Tragedy  305 the result of putting on the robe is that Heracles is devastated by the poison. She goes into the house and kills herself. Heracles enters, expresses his agony, and gives instructions to his son Hyllus. He understands that his death is now fated, and is carried off at the end of the play to his pyre on Mount Oeta. Trachiniae has in common with most other fifth-​century tragedies that it is set in one place, which is identified early in the play. This stability of setting is one of the most distinctive features of the treatment of scenic space in classical and neoclassical tragedy (Taplin 1977, 103; McAuley 1999, 98). Furthermore, the conventions of Greek tragedy did not permit violence on stage any more serious than forcible seizure and manhandling (Sommerstein 2010). These conventions presented a challenge for representing Heracles’ characteristic activities, which took place in a wide range of locations and were often extremely violent. Sophocles responds to this challenge by focusing the stage action for most of the play on Deianeira, and describing Heracles’ present and past offstage activities in narratives and reports. Trachiniae is a nostos (= “return home”) play. The pattern of this type of play is that the head of the household is absent, his absence leads to problems at home, and his return is a climactic event in the play (Taplin 1977, 124; Fowler 1999, 161–​165). Heracles enters for the first time at line 971, out of a total of 1278 lines in the play, although he has been the center of dramatic interest up to that point. Homer’s Odyssey is the archetype of the nostos pattern; other examples in tragedy are Aeschylus’ Persians and Agamemnon, and Euripides’ Heracles. The narratives about Heracles are thus brought into dramatic focus by his appearance on the stage. The effect of the poison is that the only action of which he is now capable is verbal, which, unlike physical violence, is suitable for representation on the tragic stage. Sophocles typically presents offstage events in a piecemeal and anachronic fashion, subordinating them to the onstage action and to the focalization of the characters (de Jong 2007a, 276–​282). Deianeira’s opening speech thus deals with her marriage and state of mind, and mentions Heracles’ Labors only in passing (34–​35). She begins with the defeat of his rival suitor the river-​god Achelous, but explicitly states that she is unable to describe it (19–​27; de Jong 2007b, 10–​11). This struggle is later elaborated in elevated lyric style by the chorus (507–​530). Deianeira emphasizes Heracles’ absence from home, illustrated by the simile comparing him to a farmer visiting a distant field only to sow and reap (31–​33). Her account of his killing of the centaur Nessus concentrates on her own experiences, and comes at a point in the play relevant to her plan rather than as part of any coherent account of Heracles (555–​581). We hear various accounts of Heracles’ murder of Iphitus (38, 269–​273), his enslavement to Omphale (69–​72, 248–​253), and his sacking of Oechalia (74–​75, 258–​260, 281–​283, 351–​368), including conflicting reports by Lichas and the Messenger.4 Heracles is thus the center


On the difficulty in reconstructing the offstage story, see Winnington-​Ingram (1980, 332–​333); Lowe (2000, 184).

306   Michael Lloyd of attention even in his absence, but our perception of him is filtered through the attitudes and emotions of the characters on the stage. Trachiniae, like most surviving fifth-​century tragedies, observes Aristotle’s unity of time, and takes place within a single day (Poetics 1449b13). This particular day is especially significant, on which a crucial series of events takes place in a short space of time. There is also opportunity for retrospective narration of selected events from the past. Furthermore, we know almost from the beginning of the play that this is a crucial moment in Heracles’ life, although the precise meaning of the relevant oracles only gradually becomes clear (43–​48, 76–​81, 155–​177, 821–​830, 1159–​1173).5 This is typical of Sophocles’ handling of myth: the wrath of Athena will pursue Ajax for only one day (Ajax 749–​757), and Oedipus received an oracle that he would end his life when he reached a grove of the Semnai (Oedipus at Colonus 84–​95). This concentration of the action into a single day also contributes to the characteristically tragic sense of the sudden reversals to which human life is subject (Lowe 2000, 165). Heracles’ fights with beasts are often seen as a reason why he was regarded as an unsuitable subject for tragedy. He would not be Heracles without the beast-​fights, but in Trachiniae they are all in the past, and the activities with which the play deals most immediately involve humans. This distancing of the beast-​fights is especially striking when Deianeira recalls receiving the philter from Nessus: “I got a gift long ago from an ancient beast” (555–​556; cf. 1141).6 Heracles also says that his current sufferings are worse than anything he has endured before (1046–​1063, 1089–​1106), subordinating the beast-​fights to this human drama. Sophocles’ Heracles is a remarkably unattractive character: “egocentric, brutally callous, violent to an extreme degree” (Easterling 1982, 6). Winnington-​Ingram qualifies this impression: “We are made to see Heracles in a repellent light. But that is not how Deianeira saw him [177], nor Hyllus [811–​812], nor the Chorus [1112–​1113]. They see him as a very great man” (1980, 84; cf. Holt 1989, 77–​80). As in Sophocles’ Ajax, significant aspects of the hero’s greatness are understood from the myth rather than established in the text (Lloyd 2018, 341). Sophocles assumes knowledge of his well-​ known mythical persona. The first reference to him is as “the famous son of Zeus and Alcmena” (19), his Labors are mentioned as well-​known (29–​35, 112–​121, 1089–​1102), and other familiar features are his drunkenness (268), violence (351–​365, 772–​782), and sexual appetite (459–​460).7 Sophocles thus creates an ambiguous heroic figure of a kind that features in all seven of his surviving tragedies: “A man or woman of excess, an extremist, obstinate, inaccessible to argument, he refuses to compromise 5 

See Davies (1991, 268–​269) on possible inconsistencies between various accounts of the oracles. Easterling (1982, 4–​5, 216, note on line 1141) is perhaps rather literal-​minded to insist that these events happened within the adult lifetimes of Heracles and Deianeira. She is right that Heracles himself is not presented as an archaic figure, but it seems clear that the beast-​fights in particular are somewhat distanced from the action of the play. 7  Winnington-​Ingram (1980, 84–​85) notes that Sophocles has made the drunk and amorous Heracles of satyr play and comedy the subject of tragedy. 6 

Tragedy  307 with the conditions of human life” (Winnington-​Ingram 1980, 9; cf. generally Knox 1964). This heroic figure is always contrasted with a more moderate character, and Deianeira fulfills that role here, although her part is longer and more complex than any of the others. She and Heracles are indeed figures of equal tragic weight, and much of the meaning of the play could be expressed in terms of contrasts between them (see especially Segal 1977 and 1981). Sophocles makes no explicit mention of the apotheosis, which was the traditional culmination of Heracles’ human life, but it is now generally accepted that he alludes to it (see especially Holt 1989; also Finkelberg 1996, 139–​143), in particular because it was usually associated with the pyre on Mount Oeta, to which Heracles departs at the end of the play. It is characteristic of Sophocles not to reveal the acts and motives of the gods too explicitly, and also to end plays with unresolved hints about what is to come. The main objection to any reference to Heracles’ apotheosis has been that it would dilute the tragic impact of the play, but against this it has been argued that the possibility of exaltation or reward after death does not necessarily contradict a tragic view of life on earth, an issue which is also relevant to the compatibility of tragedy with Christian theology (Fowler 1999, 173–​174; Williams 2016, 108–​136).

Alcestis Euripides’ Alcestis (for which cf. also Chapters 10 and 24), his earliest surviving play, was first produced in 438 BC. It is not known whether it was earlier or later than Sophocles’ Trachiniae. There are notable similarities between the descriptions of Alcestis’ preparations for death inside the house (Alcestis 158–​196) and of Deianeira’s death (Trachiniae 899–​931), which suggest that whichever author wrote later was aware of the earlier play (L. P. E. Parker 2007, 82–​83). Alcestis is based on a folk tale of which modern folklorists have found many examples from various countries (L. P. E. Parker 2007, xi–​xv). A man is granted the opportunity to escape death if he can find someone else to die on his behalf. His wife agrees to do so. The husband in Alcestis is Admetus, king of Thessaly, who was granted this opportunity because of his good treatment of Apollo when the god was forced by Zeus to serve him for a year. A notable feature of Euripides’ treatment of the story is that there is an interval of unspecified duration between Alcestis’ agreement to die and the day of her actual death, with several references to the day on which the play is set being “the appointed day” (20–​21, 27, 105, 158). This is another example of the way Greek tragedy likes to set the action on a particularly significant day. Heracles arrives, on his way to the Labor of capturing the horses of Diomedes.8 He plays the role of unexpected rescuer, as he does also in Heracles. He is a famous figure, 8  L. P. E. Parker (2007, xiv note 11) questions the view of Galinsky (1972, 67) that it was Euripides who introduced Heracles into the story. A surviving fragment seems to imply that Heracles wrestled with Thanatos in a lost play called Alcestis by the early playwright Phrynichus (about 500 BC).

308   Michael Lloyd immediately recognized by the chorus, but unlike Sophocles’ Heracles he is capable of ordinary social interaction. He is a man of action, but discusses his arduous life with the chorus in an urbanely conversational style. This continues in the dialogue with Admetus that follows, on which A. M. Dale remarks, “all through this interchange we catch echoes of the polite courtesies of everyday Athenian social life” (1954, 97, note on line 544). This is a striking portrayal of Heracles as a civilized and educated aristocrat interacting with his hospitable friend Admetus. They are figures essentially on the same scale, although there is also a significant contrast between Admetus’ anxious clinging to life and Heracles’ belle indifférence to mortal danger (Galinsky 1972, 66–​75). Admetus persuades Heracles to accept his hospitality; he is obviously in mourning, but does not reveal that it is his wife who has died. The next scene involving Heracles begins with a servant of Admetus complaining about his boisterous feasting (747–​ 772). There are elements here of the Heracles of satyr-​play and comedy (for which, see the following chapter). The words describing his singing (“tuneless howling,” 760) are also used of him in a fragment that may well come from Euripides’ satyr-​play Syleus (fragment 907), and there is a similar contrast in Euripides’ extant satyr-​play Cyclops between Polyphemus’ discordant singing and the lamentation of Odysseus’ companions (425–​426). The satyr-​play was a mythological burlesque featuring a chorus of satyrs, half-​human and half-​animal followers of the god Dionysus, which seems usually to have followed the three tragedies by each dramatist at the Festival of Dionysus, the main dramatic festival in Athens. A notable feature of Euripides’ production of 438 BC was that none of the four plays was a satyr-​play. Alcestis seems to have been the fourth play, and scholars have therefore discussed whether it might have satyric characteristics.9 This passage may seem to be an example, but it is also striking how carefully Euripides has integrated Heracles’ feasting into his tragedy. The Servant’s main complaint is that Heracles carouses in a house in mourning for the loss of its mistress, but we have seen that he was reluctant to enter the house at all, and only agreed to accept hospitality because he was deceived by Admetus. His behavior takes place in what he reasonably believes to be an appropriate social context, and he differs in this from the anarchic and disruptive figure of satyr-​play and comedy. Second, Heracles supplies a moral justification for his behavior, in the Greek tradition of living for the day (Bacchylides 3.78–​84; Garner 1988, 68–​70). This is an aspect of the fundamental contrast between him and Admetus. Euripides thus exploits satyric motifs in a purposeful way, and it would be wrong to treat them merely as residual elements reflecting any satyric character of the play as a whole. Heracles is portrayed as a socially sophisticated individual, who is extremely embarrassed by the false position in which he has been placed. Heracles is so impressed by Admetus’ hospitality, when he eventually discovers the truth, that he rewards him by rescuing Alcestis. He does so by wrestling with 9 

E.g., Buxton (2003, 184–​6); L. P. E. Parker (2007, xix–​xxiv); Mastronarde (2010, 54–​7).

Tragedy  309 Thanatos (Death) at Alcestis’ grave, but in the final scene little emphasis is placed on this feat, which is described in the barest and most matter-​of-​fact terms (1139–​1142; cf. 843–​849). The scene deals at considerable length with Heracles deceiving Admetus. He enters with a woman, whom he alleges he has won as a prize in an athletic competition, and asks Admetus to look after her. It is usually assumed that the woman is veiled, because Admetus fails to recognize her and remarks only that she is young to judge from her clothing and adornment (1050). Heracles reproaches Admetus for entertaining him earlier without revealing his bereavement, and now retaliates by deceiving him in return. Admetus is horrified by Heracles’ request, especially as the woman reminds him of Alcestis, and begs him to take her somewhere else. Heracles begins by asking Admetus merely to look after the woman, but then suggests that he take her as a new wife (1087). Admetus eventually accepts her, and discovers that the woman is in fact Alcestis. Heracles’ elaborate practical joke pays Admetus back for deceiving him earlier, but is executed by means of persuasion rather than by the violence with which he is usually associated.

Heracles Euripides’ Heracles (c. 415 BC) is set in Thebes, where Heracles’ family, threatened with death in his absence by the usurper Lycus, has taken refuge at an altar. Like Trachiniae, it is a nostos play, although Heracles makes his appearance much earlier in the play (line 523 out of a total of 1428). Euripides adapts the myth to two of his favorite story patterns. The first of these is the suppliant play. Five of his other extant plays have an altar or tomb at which characters take refuge (Children of Heracles, Andromache, Suppliant Women, Ion, and Helen). Heracles takes on the well-​established role of rescuer in this plot. Second, Heracles is a recognition and intrigue play, like Electra, Iphigenia among the Taurians, and Helen. In this type of play, family members are reunited and then plot either revenge or escape; Heracles especially resembles Electra (Cropp 2013, 12–​13). The revenge action in Heracles is completed by line 814, at which point the goddesses Iris and Lyssa (Madness) appear in order to drive Heracles mad on the orders of Hera, with the result that he kills his wife and sons. The play is set on a significant day, when Heracles returns home on the completion of his final labor. He has been protected by Zeus from the anger of Hera until now, and this is therefore the turning point in his fortunes. It also gives the opportunity for retrospective narration of his life so far. The play differs from Trachiniae in that there is violence by Heracles inside the skēnē (stage building), in both cases audible onstage, as he kills first Lycus and later his wife and sons. On the other hand, Euripides’ Heracles is on a much more human scale than Sophocles’, which makes it easier for him to engage in dialogue with other characters. The story of the civil war that brought Lycus to power is generally regarded as an innovation by Euripides

310   Michael Lloyd (Bond 1981, xxviii), and this political context is described at considerable length (26–​ 43, 539–​547, 585–​594). Amphitryon’s prologue speech includes a “pleasant little picture of Heracles’ marriage” (Bond 1981, 65, note on lines 10–​12; see also lines 67–​68), and his wife Megara offers homely details of his children asking after their father (73–​ 79; cf. 629–​636). Amphitryon’s political explanation of the Labors, that they were the price of his return to Argos (13–​21), may well be another innovation, contrasting with the more usual story that the Labors were Heracles’ atonement for killing his family (Bond 1981, xxviii–​xxx). The effect of all this is to embed Heracles in a realistic context of family and city. The play gives a comprehensive account of Heracles’ life and character, including frequent references to the possibility that he is the son of Zeus (1–​3, 148–​149, 339–​347, 353–​354, 696, 798–​804, 826). The Labors are referred to several times in general terms (17–​22, 222–​226, 575–​5 76, 827–​832, 851–​853), and described at length in a choral ode (359–​435). Individual Labors are frequently mentioned, especially the Hydra (152, 579, 1188, 1274–​1275), the Nemean Lion (153, 579, 1271), and the visit to Underworld (22–​25, 117–​118, 145–​146, 262–​263, 296–​297, 490–​491, 610–​619, 717–​ 719, 736, 770, 807–​808, 1101–​1102, 1169–​1170, 1276–​1278). We also hear about Hera’s snakes (1266–​1268), victory over the Minyans (49–​50, 220–​221, 560), the fight against the Giants (177–​180, 1190–​1194, 1272), Typhon (1271–​1272), and the centaurs (181–​184, 1272–​1273). Heracles’ archery is much discussed (e.g., 159–​164, 188–​203, 571, 942), and he demonstrates his traditional enthusiasm for athletics (959–​962). It is characteristic of Euripides to combine a great deal of mythical detail with realistic treatment of the actual action. The choral ode about the Labors (359–​435) treats them in a decorative and ornamental style that contrasts with the realistic style of the messenger speech describing the killing of his wife and children (922–​1015; Barlow 1982). The reality of the Labors is accepted by everyone in the play, but they are also somewhat distanced from the action. Euripides presents Heracles’ madness as externally imposed, with a sharp break in the middle of the play when the goddesses Iris and Lyssa (Madness) enter (815). They are sent by Hera, who resents that Heracles was a child of Zeus with a mortal woman (1307–​1310). Hera’s motive is not very prominent in the play, and the emphasis is more on her malignity itself (1127–​1129, 1189, 1253, 1263-​1268, 1311-​1312, 1393). Iris says that Heracles must be punished “so that he may recognize the nature of Hera’s anger against him and may know mine. Otherwise, the gods will be nowhere and mortal things will be great, if he is not punished” (840–​842). This does not seem to be a statement of the gods’ resentment of human prosperity, but rather a rhetorical way of saying that Hera would be demeaned by not getting her way (Cropp apud Bond 1981, xxvi). This is the most extreme example of a favorite theme in Euripides, the malign and unpredictable behavior of the gods, and more generally the role of the irrational in human life. Some scholars have looked either for psychological continuity in Heracles’ behavior, as in Seneca, or for some moral justification of what happens to him, but this

Tragedy  311 is implausible in view of the generally favorable way in which he is presented (Riley 2008, 18, 28–​29).10 Michael Silk offers a rather different explanation of Heracles’ downfall: “The combination of god and man is unstable and must be blown apart to permit a new, simpler and comprehensible stability, whereby Heracles becomes a suffering man in whom we can believe and to whom we can relate” (1985, 18 = 1993, 133).11 In most versions of the myth, Heracles lived his life as a man and was then deified after his death. He was a great hero and son of Zeus, who went to the limits of human achievement, but was not semidivine during his life. In Heracles in particular, he is presented in very human terms. He is clearly distinguished from the gods, and is pious himself (48–​50, 359–​360, 378–​379, 608–​609, 613, 922–​930). He envisages the possibility of death (577–​578), and unlike Seneca’s Hercules needs to exercise caution in his return home (595–​598; Fitch 1987, 274). Other characters increasingly attribute superhuman powers to him, culminating in the chorus’ statement that he is as worthy of paeans as Apollo (687–​700; Swift 2010, 148), but this does not mean either that he himself believes that he is semidivine or that we are encouraged to do so. Such comments may be deluded and portend disaster, as often in Sophocles (e.g., Oedipus Tyrannus 1086–​1109).12 Heracles’ friend Theseus, king of Athens, now enters. Heracles rescued him from the Underworld, where he had gone in order to abduct Persephone but then found that he was unable to escape. He persuades Heracles not to kill himself, and offers him protection in Athens, promising him heroic honors when he dies (1331–​1333); there is no prospect of apotheosis in this play. Theseus exhibits the key Greek virtue of not abandoning a friend in need. It is often argued that Heracles’ acceptance of Theseus’ help shows a new kind of heroism: he exchanges elitist for egalitarian standards, and the solitary, invincible hero learns the values of hopeful endurance and generous reciprocity (Gregory 1991, 121–​154). It is a major theme in contemporary scholarship on Athenian tragedy that it treats heroic myth in terms of the democratic values of the


Contrast Papadopoulou (2005, 70): “The mad Heracles repeats patterns of behavior known from his heroic past; the imposition of madness upon him does not launch him on an activity which is altogether alien to him; the use of violence is an essential part of Heracles’ personality when he is sane, and in his madness he uses the same violence, only against the wrong victims.” 11  Cf. “the now familiar hero-​god” (Silk 1985, 12 = 1993, 127); “his huge god-​ness” (Silk 1993, 128; not in Silk 1985). Both Papadopoulou (2005, 46) and Swift (2010, 147) describe Heracles as “semi-​divine.” 12  Silk (1985, 13 = 1993, 127–​128) compares Heracles’ “I shall first go and destroy the house” (565–​566) with threats by various gods, but a more relevant parallel is with Lycus’ threats earlier (239). Heracles, the great man of action, is typically confident and decisive (compare Alcestis 837–​860). Irene de Jong (1991, 166) argues that Heracles’ use of a word that literally means “shatter with a trident” (946) in his later threat against Mycenae implies a megalomaniac identification of himself with Poseidon (so also Papadopoulou 2005, 47), but it is not clear that any reference to tridents was strongly felt in this verb (see Aristophanes Peace 570; Euripides Bacchae 348).

312   Michael Lloyd polis (Foley 1985, 150, 192–​200). Other scholars, while not denying that there is some development in Heracles, have argued that he exhibits no radically new kind of heroism since even in the first part of the play he is not entirely individualistic and in particular has strong ties to his family (Riley 2008, 40–​45). This ending also illustrates another motif in the treatment of myth in Athenian tragedy, which is to bring important characters from other cities to Athens: Oedipus dies and is buried in Athenian territory in Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, Medea departs to Athens at the end of Euripides’ Medea, and in Aeschylus’ Eumenides Orestes is finally freed from pursuit by the Furies after a trial in the Athenian homicide court on the Areopagus.

Philoctetes Heracles speaks a mere forty-​five lines near the end of Sophocles’ late play Philoctetes (409 BC), but has a decisive effect on the plot. He appears as deus ex machina (“god from the machine”), so called because such characters are thought to have made their entrance by means of a crane. It is not certain that a crane was used in the fifth century, but it does at least seem clear that these characters spoke from the roof of the skēnē (stage building). Heracles, now a god, thus occupies a different and superior space to the human characters. The deus ex machina is common in Euripides, but does not appear in any other of Sophocles’ extant plays. The deus ex machina typically stops the human characters from what they are doing, issues instructions, and predicts the future. Heracles does all these things in Philoctetes. The play focuses on the bow that Heracles gave to Philoctetes as reward for lighting the pyre on which he ended his mortal life. Philoctetes sailed with the Greek army to Troy, but was bitten in the foot by a snake when they stopped on an island on the way. The Greeks, offended by the foul smell of the wound and by his cries of pain, abandoned him on the island of Lesbos. They eventually discovered in the tenth year of the war that they needed the bow in order to capture Troy, and Odysseus and Neoptolemus have been sent to gain possession of it. Philoctetes is understandably reluctant to cooperate, and after a series of plot twists Neoptolemus is about to take him home to Greece, which would be a significant departure from the usual story. It is at this point that Heracles appears, and persuades him to fulfill his destiny of participating in the defeat of Troy. The plot could have been constructed in such a way that he was persuaded to do so by a human character such as Neoptolemus, and it is a problem in the interpretation of the play why Sophocles felt the need to introduce a god (Blundell 1989, 220–​225; Schein 2013, 28–​31). Heracles’ appearance as deus ex machina has been prepared by several references to him earlier in the play, including his gift of the bow to Philoctetes in return for lighting the pyre (261–​262, 670, 726–​729, 801–​803, 942–​943, 1128–​1132, 1406). There is a strong relationship of mutual benefit and gratitude (charis in Greek) between them, which will continue in the future when Philoctetes dedicates spoils from Troy to Heracles.

Tragedy  313 Heracles also identifies himself with Philoctetes as one who gains glory from enduring toils (ponoi, the usual word in Greek for Heracles’ Labors; cf. Knox 1964, 139–​141). “This is the speech of a fighting man to his former comrade-​in-​arms” (Winnington-​ Ingram 1980, 301). On the other hand, Heracles’ tone is Olympian and detached, expounding the will of Zeus and predicting the future but offering little explanation of Philoctetes’ sufferings (R. C. T. Parker 1999, 13).

Conclusion Heracles undoubtedly presented challenges to Greek playwrights as a subject for tragedy, notably because of the comparative absence from his myths of complex political and familial conflict. Much more of this was supplied by the Trojan and Theban cycles, which were in consequence more popular with the tragedians. The prominence of beast-​fights in Heracles’ myths was also a problem. Sophocles addressed these problems in Trachiniae by focusing on human interaction, and in particular by keeping him offstage for most of the play. Euripides’ Heracles, in both Alcestis and Heracles, is on a more human scale, and therefore capable of conversing with other characters onstage like any other dramatic character. His deification is implied at the end of Trachiniae, and we see him as a god in Philoctetes. The rarity of Heracles as a suffering tragic hero should not be exaggerated, and the comparable figure of Theseus appears equally little. It seems plausible that Sophocles and Euripides each chose to write just one Heracles tragedy, which happen also to overlap very little with each other. The two great tragic moments in Heracles’ story were his madness and the end of his life. Euripides offers a comprehensive account of his career up to the killing of his family, while Sophocles’ focus on the sack of Oechalia and its consequences gave him the opportunity to portray another of the mighty but ambiguous heroes who feature in all his surviving plays.

Abbreviation TrGF Snell et al. 1971–​2004.

References Anderson, M. J. 2005. “Myth.” In A Companion to Greek Tragedy, ed. J. Gregory, 121–​135. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell. Barlow, S. A. 1982. “Structure and Dramatic Realism in Euripides’ Heracles.” Greece and Rome 29: 115–​125. Reprinted in Greek Tragedy, ed. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, 193–​203. Greece and Rome Studies 2 (1993). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

314   Michael Lloyd Bernstein, N. W. 2017. Seneca: Hercules Furens. Bloomsbury Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy. London: Bloomsbury. Blundell, M. W. 1989. Helping Friends and Harming Enemies: A Study in Sophocles and Greek Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bond, G. W., ed. 1981. Euripides: Heracles. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Boyle, A. J. 2006. Roman Tragedy. London and New York: Routledge. Buxton, R. G. A. 2003. “Euripides’ Alkestis: Five Aspects of an Interpretation.” In Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Euripides, ed. J. Mossman, 170–​186. Oxford: Oxford University Press. First published in Dodone 14 (1985): 75–​89. Cropp, M. J., ed. 2013. Euripides: Electra (2nd ed.; 1st ed. 1988). Oxford: Oxbow. Dale, A. M. 1954. Euripides: Alcestis. Edited with Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Davies, M. 1991. Sophocles: Trachiniae, with Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press. de Jong, I. J. F. 1991. Narrative in Drama: The Art of the Euripidean Messenger-​Speech. Leiden: Brill. de Jong, I. J. F. 2007a. “Sophocles.” In Time in Ancient Greek Literature, ed. I. J. F. de Jong and R. Nünlist, 275–​292. Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative 2. Leiden and Boston: Brill. de Jong, I. J. F. 2007b. “Sophocles Trachiniae 1–​48, Euripidean Prologues, and Their Audiences.” In The Language of Literature: Linguistic Approaches to Classical Texts, ed. R. J. Allan and M. Buijs, 7–​28. Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology 13. Leiden and Boston: Brill. Easterling, P. E., ed. 1982. Sophocles: Trachiniae. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ehrenberg, V. 1946. “Tragic Heracles.” In Aspects of the Ancient World: Essays and Reviews, 144–​166. Oxford: Blackwell. Finkelberg, M. 1996. “The Second Stasimon of the Trachiniae and Heracles’ Festival on Mount Oeta.” Mnemosyne 49: 129–​143. Fitch, J. G. 1987. Seneca’s Hercules Furens: A Critical Text with Introduction and Commentary. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Foley, H. P. 1985. Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Fowler, R. L. 1999. “Three Places of the Trachiniae.” In Sophocles Revisited: Essays Presented to Sir Hugh Lloyd-​Jones, ed. J. Griffin, 161–​175. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Galinsky, G. K. 1972. The Herakles Theme: The Adaptations of the Hero in Literature from Homer to the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Blackwell. Garner, R. 1988. “Death and Victory in Euripides’ Alcestis.” Classical Antiquity 7: 58–​7 1. Gregory, J. 1991. Euripides and the Instruction of the Athenians. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Griffith, M., ed. 1983. Aeschylus: Prometheus Bound. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Holt, P. 1989. “The End of the Trachiniai and the Fate of Herakles.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 109: 69–​80. Jebb, R. C., ed. 1892. Sophocles: Trachiniae. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Knox, B. M. W. 1964. The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Knox, B. M. W. 1979. “Myth and Attic Tragedy.” In Word and Action: Essays on the Ancient Theater, 3–​24. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Lloyd, M. 2018. “Sophocles.” In Characterization in Ancient Greek Literature, ed. K. de Temmerman and E. van Emde Boas, 337–​354. Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative 4. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Tragedy  315 Lowe, N. J. 2000. The Classical Plot and the Invention of Western Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. MacAuley, G. 1999. Space in Performance: Making Meaning in the Theatre. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Mastronarde, D. J. 2010. The Art of Euripides: Dramatic Technique and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Papadopoulou, T. 2005. Heracles and Euripidean Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Parker, L. P. E. 2007. Euripides: Alcestis, with Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Parker, R. C. T. 1999. “Through a Glass Darkly: Sophocles and the Divine.” In Sophocles Revisited: Essays Presented to Sir Hugh Lloyd-​Jones, ed. J. Griffin, 11–​30. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Riley, K. 2008. The Reception and Performance of Euripides’ Herakles: Reasoning Madness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Schein, S. L., ed. 2013. Sophocles: Philoctetes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Segal, C. 1977. “Sophocles’ Trachiniae: Myth, Poetry, and Heroic Values.” Yale Classical Studies 25: 99–​158. Segal, C. 1981. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press. Silk, M. S. 1985. “Heracles and Greek Tragedy.” Greece and Rome 32: 1–​22. Revised reprint in Greek Tragedy, ed. I. McAuslan and P. Walcot, 116–​137. Greece and Rome Studies 2 (1993). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Snell, B., R. Kannicht, and S. Radt, eds. 1971–​2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. 5 vols. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Sommerstein, A. H. 2010. “Violence in Greek Drama.” In The Tangled Ways of Zeus, 30–​46. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Swift, L. A. 2010. The Hidden Chorus: Echoes of Genre in Tragic Lyric. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Taplin, O. 1977. The Stagecraft of Aeschylus: The Dramatic Use of Exits and Entrances in Greek Tragedy. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Williams, R. 2016. The Tragic Imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Winnington-​ Ingram, R. P. 1980. Sophocles: An Interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wright, M. 2016. The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy. Vol. 1: Neglected Authors. London: Bloomsbury.

Chapter 24

C omedy John Wilkins

The evidence for the comic Heracles in Aristophanes, the only surviving poet of Greek Old Comedy,1 gives a good picture of comedy more widely. Heracles is a well-​ established resident of the comic world: the greedy hero robbed of his dinner is a comic cliché, Aristophanes tells us in Wasps (60); Heracles as a hungry demigod plays a cameo role in a few surviving plays; and allusions to Heracles provide much material for metaphor and thought.2 I survey the essential Heracles in Aristophanes toward the end of the chapter but first the rich comic picture beyond Aristophanes requires some attention. Aristophanes is not the only comic poet to identify Heracles as a comic standby (see also Phrynichus fr. 24 KA and Cratinus fr. 346 KA): comic poets as a whole can show us how the demands of comedy helped to shape myths of Heracles to their own particular purposes. A second class of witness, from later antiquity, Athenaeus of Naucratis, identifies Heracles as the quintessential glutton at the sacrificial feast. Athenaeus’ combining of food, comedy, and sacrifice is explored later. Mythical titles appear frequently in our earliest Heracles comedies, from Sicily; in all periods of comedy the hungry hero expresses on one hand the worst fear in the comic imagination—​insufficient food (the parasite is presented from Epicharmus onward into New Comedy), and on the other the main goal—​feasting. Heracles the mighty son of Zeus was a natural target for comic mockery, in a genre in which there was little reverence for demigods and their monster-​killing heroics. The body of myth surrounding Heracles appears to lend itself readily to comedy. In addition to Aristophanes identifying the greedy Heracles as a stock comic figure,

1  2 

Bowie (2000, 320) lists Heracles plays in Old Comedy. See Olson (2007, 40–​42).

Comedy  317 there are comic aspects too to Zeus’ seduction of his mother Alcmene and the lengthy conception of the demigod, in the Labors (an Amazon and Busiris are attested as plays of Epicharmus), and in the enslavement to Omphale. In this chapter I place such features within dramatic myth in general, and within the mythological and social background of Heracles more widely. Heracles appears regularly in comedy, tragedy, and the hybrid satyr drama written by tragic poets. Comedy has the extra touch that it is a self-​consciously derivative genre, commenting on its borrowing from tragedy. Comic myth may thus be drawing from the mythological corpus, or making a satirical twist on a tragic myth taken from that corpus: we shall see that Heracles and Auge is a particularly fruitful example, with both mother and baby Telephus playing their part in comedy, as they had in tragedy. Telephus is treated in Aristophanes’ Acharnians; Auge in Menander’s Epitrepontes.3 We can find similar features in all three dramatic genres: the massive physique of Heracles, his great appetite for food and drink, sexual prowess, and his journey to the underworld. This chapter will show that a wider enquiry beyond preconceived ideas about what is comic will reap rich rewards. Ancient comedy has five distinct phases, starting with the Dorian comedy of Epicharmus and Sicilian poets early in the fifth century BC. There are three phases of Attic comedy: Old based on choruses; Middle based perhaps on a wider range of mythological stories; and New, with no chorus and with less politicized and popular verse that excluded invective and obscenity. The fifth phase is the translation of Greek comedy into Latin in the plays of Plautus and Terence. There were further adjuncts to these phases, such as, on the stage, the hilarotragoidia of Rhinthon, and, at the symposium, vases representing mythological, tragic, and comic scenes. Of these comedies, Epicharmus survives only in tiny fragments, Attic Old Comedy only in eleven complete plays of Aristophanes, with hundreds of fragments of Aristophanes and his rival poets; Attic Middle Comedy only in hundreds of fragments, Attic New Comedy in one complete comedy of Menander and many fragments of his and his rival poets, Rhinthon only in tiny fragments; and Plautus and Terence in a generous number of well-​preserved plays. Sometimes barely more than a title survives, as in the Heracles with Pholus of Epicharmus: a mythical subject on a drinking theme from Heracles’ travels, but with no details. Plays with a title on a Heracles theme may have treated all or part of that mythological incident, or only a small part before veering off in another direction. Conversely, Heracles may be a character in a play with no mention of him in the title. This fragmentary survival of the majority of comedies clearly calls for caution in making dogmatic statements about the comic Heracles (compare Christenson 2000, 47). The fragments suggest a much broader use of myth in comedy than would be inferred from the plays of Aristophanes and Plautus; conversely, the complete plays show that allusion may be made, for example, to the strength of Heracles, in a


On comic myth more broadly, see Nesselrath (1990) and (1995).

318   John Wilkins nonmythological play, as in Aristophanes’ Knights; Heracles may be a character in a play with no obviously Heraclean title, as in Aristophanes’ Birds and Frogs; features of Heracles might be extended to cognate human beings, such as the hungry parasite of New Comedy; and a tragic version of Heracles’ rape of Auge might be transposed to purely human protagonists in daily life in Attica, as Menander states explicitly in Epitrepontes.4 Heracles appears in plays in all five comic phases, from his marriage to Hebe (probably following apotheosis) in The Marriage of Hebe of Epicharmus early in the fifth century BC to his birth in the Amphitryo of Plautus in the second century BC. Since the majority of the comedy that survives is Athenian or derived from Athenian comedy, it is worth checking the role of Heracles in Dorian Comedy. Epicharmus plays a large role, with a number of Heracles titles, and telling content. Fr. 78, from Heracles with Pholus, appears to feature Heracles undertaking his Labors in servitude: but I am doing all these things under duress. No one is deliberately wicked or commits an act of criminal madness.

We shall look later at Epicharmus on Busiris, on the Amazon queen and on the marriage of Hebe. In a related Sicilian genre in the Doric dialect, the Mimes of Sophron, a character says (fr. 59 Kaibel): Heracles was stronger than you

in fr. 70 Kaibel a character says: Heracles, strangling Nightmare . . .

The fragments are small, but the violent strength of Heracles plays a part in comedy and its relatives. In a further genre, the tragicomic phlyax plays, based in Greek Italy, Rhinthon’s titles include (out of nine known titles) an Amphitryo, a Heracles, and a Telephus. In Heracles fr. 3 Kaibel, somebody says: you guzzled down in a hystiakon-​type cup a fine-​flour flat cake and < . . . > of fine-​ ground flour and of rough-​ground barley.

The eating theme continues in phlyax plays which have titles derived from tragedy and comic content. Their influence on the later tradition of Plautus and Terence (if

4 Menander’s Pseudheracles and Diphilus’ Heracles are further examples of New Comedies full of

potential but no clear indications of Heracles content.

Comedy  319 any) is not known, but they may be related to phlyax vases (see Taplin 1993 and Olson 2007, 5 and 14–​15). In the following sections I try to draw out the comic roles of Heracles, and their considerable intersections with such powerful social and religious concerns as parasitism, symposia, and sacrifice. As mentioned earlier, there is a substantial overlap in Heraclean themes across the dramatic genres of tragedy, satyr drama, and comedy. This is nicely illustrated by the Heracles of Astydamas, a satyr play by a tragic poet—​if indeed the attribution is correct in Athenaeus (Deipnosophistae 411a, with comments by Gulick and by Olson). The Eupolidean meter certainly appears to indicate a comic context for the fragment. Whichever its genre, this extract brings in the interests of the audience: But the smart poet must provide for the spectators as it were the variety of good cheer belonging to a rich dinner so that a person departs after taking in all this eating and drinking in which he takes delight, along with a spectacle of the arts which is not just monotone.

Heracles belongs to all dramatic genres because of his links with sacrifice and strength. He is of comic interest because sacrifice and feasting are at the heart of the genre, many early comedies ending in feasting for the protagonist and chorus, at the expense of such undesirable characters as gods and tax-​collectors who are excluded from the communal eating (Wilkins 2000). The mighty body of the hero (with the emphasis on his jaws in comedy) is found from Epicharmus’ Busiris onward in comedy; in tragedy, his body is wracked by pain in Sophocles’ Trachiniae (1053–​1057), and his strength enables him to defeat Death in Euripides’ “pro-​satyric” Alcestis (cf. also Chapter 23). Heracles the drinker has a violent episode in Trachiniae (with Eurytus, 262–​273), in Alcestis and widely in comedy, apparently from Epicharmus’ Heracles with Pholus onward.5 Heracles is featured in connection with the themes of sex and marriage likewise, from tragic weddings and sexual unions in Trachiniae and Euripides’ Heracles and Auge, to Archippus’ comedy Heracles Married and the Heracles myth adapted in Menander’s Epitrepontes (see what follows). Heracles in the underworld appears too across the genres: in Euripides’ Heracles Heracles’ return from the Underworld precedes his murder of his family; in Alcestis he brings Alcestis back from the Underworld; and in Frogs he is an initiate in the Mysteries (see what follows). The prominence of such themes varies between genres in some (but not all) cases, but there is a common drawing on the mythological corpus, from which a particular dramatist might develop what is needed: metatheatrical and metamythical6 reference in Epitrepontes; the body in agony in Trachiniae; the deranged mind in Heracles (867–​870); the inappropriate funeral guest in Alcestis. 5  Heracles with Pholus fr. 66 KA. Pholus was a civilized centaur with whom Heracles shared wine; battle later ensued with other Centaurs who liked the smell of alcohol. 6  See Wright (2005) for a discussion of these terms in the context of Greek drama, and more specifically, Gutzwiller (2000).

320   John Wilkins Comparison of genres also raises important questions of shared materials and contrasts between them. In some ways Heracles resembles Dionysus in these respects. Henrichs has noted the features of the comic Dionysus, the god of peace, nonviolence, plants, and eating in contrast to the vengeful tragic god of The Bacchae, yet the god remains ambivalent in many genres, being identified even in Bacchae with gentleness as well as terror, and with peacefulness and rural utopia.7 So too with the comic Heracles. He is the big eater and big drinker to be sure, but there are similarities as well as contrasts too, as we shall see in the master of sacrifice, the slayer of monsters and the lover of women. We may consider also the Heracles of Euripides, in which the hero is maddened by Mad Rage personified (867–​870), performs a homicidal sacrifice (922–​1015), and shows physical characteristics such as foaming at the jaw (934). His bastard parentage is discussed at 1255–​1310, while in a remarkable speech (1340–​1393) the gentle Heracles declares that he does not believe in gods being adulterous, even after all his Labors and suffering at the hands of Hera: such stories are the invention of poets, he believes. Comedy has an aggressive or ridiculous Heracles, where tragedy has the magisterial Heracles dispensing his will at the end of Trachiniae and Philoctetes. Heracles feeds powerfully into a number of key comic characters, shaping the choice of myths used in comedy. Violence is often quite close to the surface as we shall see in Aristophanes’ Birds. In a sense we could say that Heracles is a semidivine avatar for all four stock characters of New Comedy, the boastful chef at sacrifice, the hungry parasite, the lover of the courtesan, and the slave (to Omphale). In comedy itself, the journey to the Underworld appears to be the most important of the Labors of Heracles. Some other Labors appear in titles of lost plays, such as Heracles and the Girdle (probably of the Amazon queen) in Epicharmus, and Omphale in Antiphanes and others. A second popular topic is Heracles’ encounter with Busiris, the Egyptian king who sacrificed strangers in a bid to bring bad harvests to an end (in Apollodorus’ account at least: Bibliotheca 2.5.11). Here Heracles takes on his roles as monster-​killer and master of sacrifice, and kills the king instead. Epicharmus’ Busiris seems to be comedy’s way into the foreign king who sacrifices Greeks that Euripides treats in Iphigenia at Tauris and Helen, and to constitute a rare comic foray into Heracles’ use of violence, which is so prominent in the tragedies mentioned earlier. Consideration of comic fragments establishes themes of sacrifice and eating, which take us from the ritualized sharing of the sacrificial victim with the gods and with fellow worshipers to the pleasures of eating and drinking. In this area, Heracles tends to be the sacrificer and the eater and drinker who stands out. Sacrificial equipment is mentioned in Busiris; and Heracles and the meaty athlete Milo are mentioned in Athenaeus, as that author leads us from themes of meat to general gluttony.


Henrichs (1990).

Comedy  321 As mentioned previously, one starting point for the comic Heracles must be the hero admired and mocked for his great appetite. We have noted the ready recognition of this figure in Aristophanes, Cratinus, and Phrynichus. A further overview is provided by Athenaeus of Naucratis in his Deipnosophistae, the doyen of ancient food studies and purveyor of hundreds of comic fragments on themes of eating and drinking, among the vast array of other genres alluding to these themes (Braund and Wilkins 2000). Writing in the second and third centuries AD, Athenaeus provides the common links between Heracles and meat eating: Book Nine reviews almost every imaginable meat eaten by the Greeks in the literary tradition, to which Heracles is added at the beginning of Book Ten as the ne plus ultra of gluttony (adephagos).8 Almost all poets and writers make this clear. Epicharmus says in Busiris (fr. 18 KA): To start with, if you saw him eating, you would die: His throat thunders within; his jaw rings out; His molar grinds; his canine tinkles; He sizzles in his nostrils; he waggles his ears.

Notable are the sound effects as Heracles the great eating machine cranks into action, comparable to his massive physique deployed in tragic scenes; so too the subject of the play, the monstrous Egyptian king who sacrifices foreigners only to be sacrificed himself at the hands of Heracles, potential victim turned sacrificer. Heracles takes on the role of sacrificing priest, mageiros,9 and eater as he engages the muscles of his mouth and jaw. Leaving Athenaeus for a moment, we can see that other Busiris plays10 deploy similar effects: Cratinus Busiris fr. 23 KA (quoted in the lexicon of Pollux) lists: that ox, the sacrificial knife and the barley grains

Antiphanes Busiris fr. 67 KA also has a sacrificial theme: first the sacrificial water-​bowl: the clear procession . . .

In Ephippus Busiris fr. 2 KA Heracles says: HER:  Don’t you know in gods’ name that I am an Argive from Tiryns?   Drinkers always fight every battle. ANOTHER SPEAKER:  That’s why they always flee.


Literally “eating to his fill.” See Berthiaume (1982). 10  Euripides wrote a satyr play about Busiris. 9 

322   John Wilkins Heracles appears to be a character in Mnesimachus Busiris fr. 2 KA: HER?:  I am a Boeotian of few words . . . ANOTHER CHARACTER:  That’s right, that. HER?:  . . . and a big appetite.

A character in the Mysians of Eubulus (fr. 66 KA) addresses Heracles likewise as a gluttonous Theban. Of these plays linking Heracles with sacrifice, only Geryones of Ephippus appears to link him to the myth of driving the cattle of Geryon from an Atlantic island around the coast of the north Mediterranean to Argos. He founded sacrificial cults on the journey, such as that of the ara maxima in Rome, and also founded nations through the descendants of his unions with Pyrene near the Pyrenees, and with other women. Walter Burkert has charted the Master of Animals theme in this Heraclean myth.11 Of Ephippus’ play, all that survives are three fragments on eating themes. Fragment 3 KA concerns a feast at the Amphidromia festival where Athenian children were recognized (legitimate children, unlike Heracles); fragment 4 a sympotic gathering; fragment 5 does, however, refer to Geryon, according to Athenaeus (346–​ 347): Geryon, apparently attended by his “neighbors” from many different places, is served an enormous fish in a giant dish. The fearsome three-​headed king appears to have become in this Middle Comedy a giant consumer of fish, comparable to the fishy fare in Epicharmus’ Marriage of Hebe (where fish are both for eating and for a watery entourage of Poseidon): vast eating overtakes the threat and violence of the mythical shamanistic figure. Geryon’s more fearsome aspect has a comic mention, though, by Aristophanes, at Acharnians 1082, where the protagonist Dicaeopolis taunts the discomfited general Lamachus with the name “Geryon.” Olson (2002 ad loc.) may be right to see his words as an expression uttered by Heracles to Geryon in a tragedy. These passages make abundantly clear the links between “gluttony” and sacrifice—​ the meal follows the offering and butchering of the sacrificial animal. Athenaeus (411a–​413f) takes us further to show that such passages are not exclusive to comedy: Ion, Omphale (TrGF 19 fr. 29): driven by severe hunger he [Heracles] wolfed down the thighs and the charcoal

and Pindar fr. 168b:12 he crowned the charcoal with two hot sections of oxen, their bodies sputtering on the fire.


Burkert (1979, 78–​98). Fr. 169a is from Philostratus (Imagines 2.24), and reads, “Heracles came to the house of Coronus and ate a whole ox.” 12 

Comedy  323 This brings Athenaeus to the Heraclean eating contest: he lists Heracles as a prodigious meat-​eater (and drinker) in contests with Lepreus, with Theagenes the athlete and with Milo of Croton, the semimythical athlete and prodigious meat-​ eater.13 Athenaeus concludes with a denunciation of athletes in Euripides’ satyr play Autolycus, which moves rapidly to greed in jaw and belly (fr. 282 TrGF): Of the countless evils that are in Greece, none is worse than the race of athletes, who in the first place learn not to live well and never could. How would a man who is slave of his jaw and worsted by his belly acquire more wealth than his father?

These themes of gluttony and athleticism in comedy and satyr plays lead to related areas of eating in which Heracles might appear, including the use of the cookery book, a literary form perfected in the fourth century BC and related to comedy in vocabulary.14 Alexis (Linus fr. 140 KA) has Heracles being educated by the mythical singer Linus. True to his comic form, Heracles is less interested in learning to read than in eating: LINUS: go over there and get whichever book you want and then read it. HERACLES: Great. LINUS: look at the labels calmly and at leisure. Orpheus is there, Hesiod, tragedies, Choerilus, Homer, Epicharmus, writings of every kind. In this way you will reveal your nature and what it’s interested in. HERACLES: I’m going for this one. LINUS: Show what it is first. HERACLES: Cookery, as the label says. LINUS: You are a philosopher clearly, letting go such writing and taking on the art of Simos. HERACLES: Who is Simos? LINUS: a smart person. He is keen on tragedy And of the actors he is far the best cook, according to Those who use him, and of cooks the actor < . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . >. LINUS: the man is ravenous. HERACLES: say what you want. I am hungry, be sure of that.15

In Apollodorus’ version of the myth (Bibliotheca 2.4.9), Heracles killed his teacher16 during a music lesson on the harp. Whatever transpired in Alexis’ play, Heracles stays 13  See, e.g., Galen, An Exhortation to Study the Arts 1.33–​37 Kuhn, where Heracles and Milo are compared, and Detienne (1993, 42–​44). 14  Olson and Sens (2000). 15  On this fragment see Wright (2013). 16  The same passage of Apollodorus cites Autolycus as the wrestling teacher of Heracles: Euripides’ satyr play on Autolycus is quoted earlier.

324   John Wilkins true to comic cooking rather than music, the mageiros becoming in this version the opsopoios or “maker of tasty dishes.” Themes of Heracles, sacrifice, and good eating come together in a further comic stereotype, the parasite, or hanger-​on at social gatherings, who receives a share of food and drink not as an equal but as a pitiful figure tormented by hunger, like the hungry Heracles. The comic parasite is as old as Epicharmus fr. 31, Athenaeus tells us (235f) but our review must begin with the more honourable parasite, the priests who “ate beside” Heracles at his shrine at Cynosarges in Attica. Athenaeus again is our guide.17 His sixth book focuses on social aspects of eating, including the categories of fish-​merchant, flatterer, parasite, and slave, all of whom are satirized in comedy. These are inhabitants of the polis who are likely to deceive the honest comic citizen, and are a social nuisance in the supply and conviviality of food. “Parasite,” Athenaeus tells us (234d), quoting Herodicus, “is now a name without reputation, but among the ancients we find that the parasite was a sacred thing and similar to a ‘fellow-​feaster’ (sunthoinos).” Inscriptions are quoted from Cynosarges, from cults of Delos and Eleusis, and from Pallene and the Attic Tetrapolis.18 Other gods are involved, but Heracles is prominent in the first and last location. At Cynosarges, Pausanias tells us (1.19.3), there were altars of Heracles, Hebe, Alcmene, and Iolaus. There was a gymnasium, and, returning to Athenaeus (234e), the following regulation: “let the priest sacrifice the monthly offerings with the parasites. Let the parasites be from the bastards and their children according to ancestral laws. If a person does not wish to be a parasite, let him be charged in the law-​court over these matters.” These parasites are official priests of Heracles, truly dining beside the semidivine hero at his sacrificial meals and feasts. They share the meat of the massive meat-​eater in an official and honorific role, absence from which is actionable. Apparently similar parasites of Heracles worshiped at the Tetrapolis (Athenaeus 235d, from Philochorus FGrH 328 fr. 73), a shrine further from Athens than the gymnasium of Cynosarges. Bruit Zaidman (1995, 199) argues for the antiquity of these cults—​back into the archaic period—​and argues too that the link between bastard priests and the bastard Heracles is a secondary development. Whether or not this is correct, she bases her argument on the Epikleros, a comedy of Diodorus of Sinope (fr. 2 KA), who presents an argument in favor of the parasite, based on the support of Zeus Philios and Heracles. The parasite explains (lines 22–​35): the city honours Heracles lavishly, offering sacrifices in all the demes. At these sacrifices, the parasites for the god were never chosen by lot, nor did they accept just anyone for the occasion. No, they selected 17  18 

See in particular Bruit Zaidman (1995) and Wilkins (2000, 71–​86). See the comments of Parker (1996, 331–​332).

Comedy  325 from the citizens twelve men, carefully choosing those born of two Attic citizens who had property and lived a good life. Then, later, in imitation of Heracles, some rich people chose parasites. They did not invite the most charming people to feed, but those who could flatter and praise everything . . .

The comic parasite is apparently a parody of this kind of priest, who sponges on the meals of others, but developed from the retinues of rich men in search of supporters. Eupolis had satirized this process in Old Comedy: his play Flatterers parodied Callias, the wealthy friend of Plato. Also in Old Comedy, there are suggestions that the Banqueters of Aristophanes has a chorus of daitaleis, or “dining-​priests” of Heracles (Test. iii KA). Between them, these plays of Aristophanes and Eupolis offer an earlier version of what Diodorus describes. The comic parasite has a most extensive history, evident in surviving plays such as the Dyskolos of Menander, and many of the plays of Plautus and Terence. Numerous examples are provided by Athenaeus (235f–​248c). As with sexual unions based on myths of Heracles (see later), and possibly boastful soldiers,19 “eaters with the god” are secular descendants of Heracles and his travels. A further descendant may be PseudHeracles of Menander’s eponymous play (if the protagonist is not Heracles himself): fragments mention a cook, a parasite, a club, and a courtesan (frr. 409–​416 KA). We might add to Heracles the icon for the stock figure of the parasite in New Comedy his prefiguring also of the comic chef, the mageiros, who begins life as a sacrificial priest, and continues in that role in such plays as Menander’s Dyskolos and Drunkenness, before transforming into the boastful master of all things culinary and arty. In all matters of eating, as indeed of sexual enjoyment, the choice of Heracles in comedy is always toward pleasure (in contrast with the open choice presented in the Heracles tale of Prodicus in Xenophon). In sexual encounters, the comic Heracles is always interested in women, following the pattern of his father Zeus. Omphale appears in comic titles, and Heracles is a happy participant in the comic symposium, where there is none of the menace of its tragic counterpart. In the final section I explore several cases where the Heracles theme has been subjected to comic development. We have seen numerous cases of this in the fragmentary plays, but here I focus on surviving plays and the substantial fragments of Menander’s Epitrepontes. First, the birth of Heracles. The best-​surviving comic treatment of the conception of Heracles is in Plautus’ Amphitryo. It has one likely predecessor20 in the Long Night (Nux Makra) of Plato the Comic Poet. Jupiter’s tricking his way into 19  Plautus’ Pyrgopolyneices, at least, swears regularly by Heracles and is mocked for it (Miles Gloriosus 930 and, in an amorous context, 978, 1004, 1006). Heracles is not the only model for our soldier since Achilles and Mars also serve as points of reference for him in this play. 20  See Christenson (2000, Introduction).

326   John Wilkins Alcmene’s bed disguised as her husband belongs to the myths of the adulterous god who seduces mortal women. There are dire results for the woman, often exploited in tragedy, as we have seen in the case of Auge. Plautus draws on rich comic potential also. Human beings deceived by a god; human confusion between appearance and reality; parallel confusions for Alcmene and for her husband and his slave; the invasion of the marriage bed; and, even more strikingly, the immorality of Jupiter, who is praised as the great god of Rome in an extended satirical prologue. The god’s adultery spurs Hera’s anger and retaliation against the child, leading to her imposing the Labors on Heracles. Heracles the bastard has to serve Eurystheus. Other plays allude to this illegitimate birth, notably Aristophanes’ Birds, in which Heracles’ status is fitted into Athenian law, with suitable comment, as we shall see. At Aristophanes Birds 567 the birds explore how to take over sacrifice from the Olympian gods. The natural avian equivalent to the voraciousness of Heracles turns out to be the gull (for species thereof see Dunbar 1995, ad loc.), who will receive large honey cakes instead of an ox. An Oxford manuscript (Holkam 88) adds boun (an ox) to the text, incorporating an explanatory gloss on Heracles’ favorite food. At 1565–​1693 Heracles is part of the embassy of gods suing for peace with the bird kingdom of Pisthetaerus. As Dunbar notes (1995, 715–​7 16), Heracles is a named character but would be instantly recognizable on stage from his lion-​skin, which plays a similar role in Frogs. Heracles on stage meets Heracles on painted vases, familiar from Athenian sympotic ware. Dunbar observes, “we do not know if the audience had recently seen Heracles in the theatre; it is possible that Euripides’ grim tragedy Heracles had been produced c. 416.” Birds was produced in 414 BC. Heracles enters with Poseidon, who says to Pisthetaerus, the human king of the birds (1573–​1574), “you are much the most barbarous of all the gods that I have seen. Come now, Heracles, what shall we do?” Heracles’ reply is aggressive, “You’ve heard my view, that I want to strangle the person, whoever he is, who has walled off the gods”: the birds have built a wall in the sky to stop the smoke of sacrifice nourishing the gods—​Heracles consequently represents the hungry gods. Heracles is further provoked by Pisthetaerus, who is roasting some dissident birds (an unsettling note in the utopia of the birds). “Where is the meat?,” demands Heracles, responding to the messages from his nose (1583). Pisthetaerus points out that the gods were aggressively warlike until they got hungry, and peace will only come if they hand over the scepter of Zeus to the birds. With peace will come breakfast. Heracles’ instant reply is (1602), “This is essential for me, and I vote in favor.” Poseidon tries hard to dissuade him and appeals to his sexual appetite and fear of the wrath of Zeus. Pisthetaerus wins the day by pointing out that Heracles is a bastard and so under the Athenian citizenship law cannot inherit from Zeus: this nice comic touch brings together the traditional mythical adultery of Zeus with Alcmene and the Athenian legal requirement that both parents be Athenian (Alcmene is Theban). “You are a bastard and no true citizen,” Pisthetaerus declares (1650). A final remark seals it (1672–​1673), “if established as tyrant, I will give you

Comedy  327 the milk of the birds”; in Dunbar’s words (1995, 460), the phrase is “proverbial for an extremely luxurious delicacy.” The plight of the hungry gods is similar to that at the end of Aristophanes’ last surviving play, Wealth, in which the comic chorus has all but disappeared. Earlier, in Peace, the comic paradise is established once Peace personified is brought back to Greece and released from the cave where the gods had put her as they left Greece in disgust at the Peloponnesian War. The play was produced in the same year (421 BC) as the Peace of Nicias, which formally marked a temporary cessation of hostilities. In this play, Aristophanes has the chorus declare his poetic program in the parabasis or “audience-​address” in lyrical meters and recitative; this is a long choral section of song and dance at the heart of Athenian Old Comedy. Aristophanes the producer adopts the role of Heracles (738–​760): Our producer deserves your great praise. First of all he was the only one to put a stop to his rivals Who were constantly mocking rags and making war on lice: He first drove away those Heracleses grinding the barley and always hungry, Quite properly he first freed the slaves who were run-​aways or deceivers or the victims of battering. . . . Removing such themes and grossness and unseemly low humour He made the comic art great for you, building up to towering heights Great words and concepts and jokes out of the ordinary: He didn’t make comic attacks on individual little men and women, But took on the anger of Heracles and attacked the greatest in the land, Striding past the dread stink of hides and the muddy-​spirited threats. First of all I wage war on the shark-​toothed one himself, Whose most dread beams glared from his Cynna eyes, And the hundred heads of groaning flatterers licked around his head; he had the baleful voice of a torrent in child-​birth, The stink of a seal, the unwashed balls of Lamia the child-​scarer and the arse of a camel. Seeing such a monster (teras), he felt no fear.

Aristophanes-​Heracles fights the worst monster in Athenian politics, the all-​ powerful democrat Cleon, who derived his wealth from a tanning business. Tanning accounts for the monster’s smell; but the remainder of the picture is drawn from Heracles’ battles with the Hydra and other monsters. Cleon is combined with Cerberus the jag-​toothed hound of Hades, the hundred heads of Typhon and Lamia, a kind of bogey-​woman. Olson (1998, ad loc.) fills in much detail on Aristophanes’ use of these monsters in this passage, even suggesting that Heracles acts as a mageiros or cook, anticipating the stock character of New Comedy (see earlier). The key point here is that Aristophanes takes on the persona and Labors of the “angry” Heracles usually found in tragedy, in a part of the play which lies at the heart of Old Comedy and sets out his personal claims as writer/​producer through the voice of the chorus in recitative.

328   John Wilkins A second example, this time from Menander, places a Heracles myth at the heart of the comic world. His Epitrepontes concerns the family crisis arising from a husband who discovers that his wife is having a baby conceived before their marriage. He feels compelled to take up with the courtesan next door, Habrotonon, to console himself. The story follows the mythical pattern of the baby abandoned in a wild place and found by shepherds who notice some recognition tokens. It turns out with the help of Habrotonon that the baby is the wife’s child, conceived at the night-​time Tauropolia festival of Artemis at Halae in Attica, when she was raped by none other than her husband to be. Several tragedies are alluded to in the play (such as Sophocles’ Tyro), but the key reference for the present discussion is a quotation from Euripides’ Auge toward the end of the play. The slave Onesimus addresses the disagreeable old man Smicrines with the following quotation (1123-​6 = Euripides Auge fr. 265a KA) “Nature wished it, who has no concern with laws: Woman was born for this.” What, are you still being stupid? I’ll quote you the whole tragic speech from Auge If you don’t take notice, Smicrines.

The plot of Epitrepontes is based on that of the tragedy, in which Heracles raped Auge, a priestess of Athena, who then had to face an angry father. Menander has taken on the religious setting of the violence, and the exposed baby, but has replaced Heracles with the mortal Charisius and Auge with the Athenian wife Pamphila. The two critical points here are, first, the dependence of some New Comedy plots on mythical models, some tragic, and the abandonment of the rumbustious choruses of Old Comedy; and, second, the transfer of sexual violence from the world of myth to the world of Athenian law. A divine rapist can sort out the crisis by divine dispensation, as Heracles probably did in Auge and Apollo does for example in Euripides’ Ion: there, Ion becomes the founder of the Ionian Greeks in this dispensation. But an Athenian wife suffering rape is in a very difficult legal position, as Omitowoju (2002), Lape (2004), and others have discussed. The transfer to the human sphere is deeply worrying to Athenians, for rather different reasons from modern understandings of sexual violence and the impact on the victim. In any event, New Comedy took on the very serious subject of rape in its own distinctive way. My penultimate example of Heracles is his appearance in Aristophanes’ Frogs, which signals comic creativity with the figure, though this time with less reference to the nature of comedy itself. Heracles enters the stage in response to Centaur-​like knocking on his door from Dionysus: he laughs at Dionysus’ costume of lion-​skin and club, along with saffron robe, in partial imitation of Heracles himself. Heracles’ thoughts turn to sex and pea soup (55–​63), but Dionysus explains that he wants to go down to Hades in imitation of what Heracles did in his search for Cerberus (109–​ 115), and asks Heracles’ advice on the journey to the Underworld. Lada-​Richards (1999) has shown convincingly that Heracles’ journey to the underworld reflects

Comedy  329 the hero’s own experiences as an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries. She explores ambiguities of gender in both Dionysus and Heracles (the latter feminized when enslaved to Omphale), and goes on to follow the resonances throughout the play between Dionysus and Heracles, and also the journey to the underworld and reincorporation into the world of Athens (1999, 17–​26). Dionysus needs to do this in the play, as Heracles did in myth, for example in Euripides’ version in the final scenes of Heracles. Suffice it for the present to note Heracles’ reflection of mystic revelation at Frogs 154–​158: HER:  there the breath of pipes will come to surround you   And you will see a beautiful light, as here,   And joyful sacred bands with myrtle branches,   Bands of men and women, and much clapping of hands. DION:  Who are they? HER:  The initiated.

The final word, by way of conclusion, should go to the Amphitryo of Plautus, one of the latest Heracles comedies to survive, and a Latin version of one or more unknown Greek originals. The play, as we have seen, has the seduction of Alcmena by an amorous Jupiter, the conception of Heracles and the outrage of the wronged mortal husband Amphitryo. As alluded to above, much of the humor arises from the baffled human characters around whom Jupiter and Mercury run rings, to the extent that the slave Sosia is forced to say that he is not himself, but that Mercury is Sosia. Against this mythological background, Jupiter puts all right in the divine solution to the crisis that ends the play. Amazingly, though, Mercury has begun the play with a long prologue announcing the amorous activities of Jupiter alongside the god’s supreme role as the god of the Capitol in Rome. The Romans, it seems, were able to tolerate the comic juxtaposition of their supreme god and the invasion of the human household by that same amorous god, albeit a safely Greek household located in mythological times. There may have been a Greek equivalent to this scenario, in the Zeus Worsted of Plato the Comic Poet. A fragment (fr. 46 KA) preserved by Athenaeus has Heracles about to enter a sympotic game of kottabos (flicking wine from a cup at a target), a contest he declares to be better than the Isthmian games. Old habits die hard.

Abbreviations FGrH Jacoby et al. 1923–​. K​A Kassel and Austin 1983–​. TrGF Snell et al. 1971–​2004.

330   John Wilkins

References Berthiaume, G. 1982. Les Rôles du mageiros: Étude sur la boucherie, la cuisine et la sacrifice dans Grèce ancienne. Leiden: Brill. Bowie, A. 2000. “Myth and Ritual in the Rivals of Aristophanes.” In Harvey and Wilkins 2000, 317–​340. Braund, D., and J. Wilkins, eds. 2000. Athenaeus and His World. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Bruit Zaidman, L. 1995. “Ritual Eating in Archaic Greece: Parasites and Paredroi’ in Wilkins et al. 1995, 196–​203. Burkert, W. 1979 Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press. Christenson, D. 2000. Plautus, Amphitryo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Detienne, M. 1993. The Gardens of Adonis. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Trans. of Les Jardins d’Adonis. Paris: Gallimard, 1972. Dunbar, N. 1995 Aristophanes, Birds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gulick, C. B. 1927–​1950. Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae. 7 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gutzwiller, K. 2000. “The Tragic Mask of Comedy: Metatheatricality in Menander.’ Classical Antiquity 19: 102–​137. Harvey, D., and J. Wilkins eds. 2000. The Rivals of Aristophanes. London: Duckworth. Henrichs, A. 1990. “Between Country and City: Cultic Dimensions of Dionysus in Athens and Attica.’ In Cabinet of the Muses, ed. M. Griffith and D. J. Mastronarde, 257–​277. Chico: Scholars Press. Jacoby, F. et al., eds. 1923–​. Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Multiple vols. and pts. Berlin and Leiden: Brill. Kassel, R., and C. Austin, eds. 1983-​. Poetae comici Graeci. 8 vols. Berlin: de Gruyter. Lada-​Richards, I. 1999. Initiating Dionysus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lape, S. 2004. Reproducing Athens: Menander’s Comedy, Democratic Athens and the Hellenistic City. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Nesselrath, H.-​G. 1990. Die Attische Mittlere Komödie. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter. Nesselrath, H.-​G. 1995. “Myth, Parody and Comic Plots: The Birth of Gods and Middle Comedy.” In Beyond Comedy: Transition and Diversity in Greek Comedy, ed. G. Dobrov, 1–​27. Atlanta: Scholars Press. Olson, S. D. 1998. Aristophanes, Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Olson, S. D. 2002. Aristophanes, Acharnians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Olson, S. D.2007. Broken Laughter: Select Fragments of Greek Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Olson, S. D., and A. Sens. 2000. Archestratos of Gela. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Omitowoju, R. 2002. Rape and the Politics of Consent in Classical Athens. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Parker, R. 1996. Athenian Religion: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Snell, B., R. Kannicht, and S. Radt, eds. 1971–​2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. 5 vols. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. Taplin, O. 1993. Comic Angels and Other Approaches to Greek Drama through Vase-​Painting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Comedy  331 Wilkins, J. 2000. The Boastful Chef: The Discourse of Food in Ancient Greek Comedy Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wilkins, J.D. Harvey, and M. Dobson eds. 1995. Food in Antiquity. Exeter: University of Exeter Press. Wright, M. 2005. Euripides’ Escape Tragedies: A Study of Helen, Andromeda and Iphigenia among the Taurians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wright, M. 2013. “Poets and Poetry in Later Greek Comedy.” Classical Quarterly 63: 602–​622.

Chapter 25

Th e Ph i l osophic al Tra dition Philip Bosman

In a time when giants and menacing creatures haunted the earth, Zeus and Alcmene during a thrice-​extended night managed the conception of antiquity’s most versatile figure. Before his eventual apotheosis, their son went on seemingly endless quests and became a benefactor of humankind like no other, cleansing the world of wild beasts and of uncontrolled power. His glory was not to be had from high birth, but gained only through toil, determination, and sheer violence. His stories infiltrated a vast conglomerate of interconnected myth, and over time developed multiple nuances. Allos houtos Hēraklēs (“this is another Heracles”) became a Greek proverb (Paroimiai 1.190), with the late-​fifth-​century BC Herodorus reportedly distinguishing between eight different Heracleses, a number the first-​century BC Varro increased to forty-​ three.1 Among the more surprising of these are the versions of Heracles among the intellectuals2—​surprising because his mythology remains resistant to moralizing even in the late compendium of Apollodorus. A philosophical Heracles may be approached by way of a progression from the archaic age to late antiquity, during which long period the figure added morality and wisdom to his other merits. Heracles gained from the transformation of the notion of aretē (excellence/​virtue) from an aristocratic 1 Höistad (1948, 22–​73), still the most extensive treatment of the topic; see also Galinsky (1972, 101–​

125) and Stafford (2012, 117–​130). 2  Galinsky (1972, 101) and Stafford (2012, 117) correctly speak of the “intellectualised Heracles” for two reasons: it was not only philosophers that contributed to the intellectual figure, and the type of philosophy involved differs from the theoretical intellectual activity moderns tend to associate with the term; cf. the evolution of the term philosophein from Herodorus fr. 14 to Julian Orations 9.536, and the recent discussion by Moore (2017).

The Philosophical Tradition  333 value into a civic or moral one, after which his career was implied to have been the result of moral choice; his mythology was subsequently interpreted as signifying philosophical truths, or his life set up as a philosophical-​ethical paradigm. Interpreters of the figure are mostly not explicit about their hermeneutics: philosophical musings seem to have retained a religious edge and the stories were mostly taken as “real” and self-​referential,3 but, like most Greek mythology, the Heracles myth could be read selectively, expanded on, adapted, rationalized, or interpreted allegorically.4 This discussion can only follow the broad outline of this development, as even the rather unlikely Herakles philosophos had a long and varied reception. It has been observed that the popularity of this Heracles arose in the intellectual hotbed of fifth-​century BC Greece, receded in the fourth, and only made a return again in the early Roman empire.5 While the two periods of prominence are no doubt at least partially due to gaps in the textual transmission, any survey has to make an unavoidable jump from the fifth and an ebbing fourth century (Pindar, Prodicus, Antisthenes, and the Cynics) to a rising first century AD (Cornutus, Dio Chrysostom, Seneca, Epictetus).

The Moral Hero (Typos) In archaic epic the typically martial Heracles goes unrevered for his moral standing:6 when in Homeric Hymn 15 he is meg’ ariston (“most noble”), this is due to his parentage and his exploits, in which he both causes and endures suffering (polla men autos erexen atasthala, polla d’ anetlē). But he has also become the hero-​god to whom suppliants pray for aretē (excellence) and olbos (prosperity). The cryptic song does not draw explicit links between his former suffering and his current Olympic status, but nonetheless unites the recurrent themes of virtue and suffering that mark subsequent developments of the philosophical Heracles. In archaic lyric he does attain greater status as a benefactor: Archilochus’ kallinikos (“of the noble victory”) and alexikakos

3  Few Greeks attempted to disentangle the complex relationship between myth and historical events; differing versions were tolerated and considered on the basis of consistency, plausibility, and suitability. 4  I take “rationalize” to refer to the adaptation or interpretation of a myth in terms better suited to a nonmythical context, such as Diodorus on the battle with Achelous, and “allegorize” to refer to the act of making a myth cohere with a body of knowledge separate from the myth itself but familiar to the interpreter. The Greek term for allegorical writing is ainissomai, “to speak darkly or in riddles,” suggesting that allegorical texts were seen as purposely constructed to convey a message to the enlightened interpreter; Boys-​Stones (2018, 48) calls allegorical reading “the excavation of primitive wisdom.” 5 Höistad (1948, 50). 6  See Chapter 22.

334   Philip Bosman (“guardian against evil”), and Pisander’s dikaiotatou de phonēos (“most just killer”) imply moral evaluations of his erga (“deeds”).7 Pindar’s Heracles shows considerable development from the figure encountered in Homer and Hesiod.8 In his dense network of mythological allusion, Heracles is his personal favorite, to be explained by Pindar’s heroizing poetry and the link to athletic contests that the hero shares with the poet himself and the subjects of his poetry, who participated in them (cf. Pythians 9). Pindar also saw Heracles and himself as sharing their birthplace (Thebes), their traveling careers, and their parallel pursuits of areta (i.e., aretē, “virtue”) and claims to immortality—​the latter, in Pindar’s case, by way of poetry. In the process of identification with the hero, the poet introduces Heracles to his own moral context, with its one leg in archaic heroism and the other in civic aristocracy. Pindaric traditionalist areta emphasizes the inborn aspect (phyā; Olympians 2.86), that is, Heracles’ divine birth and his superhuman strength. But the potential provided by inborn excellence must continuously be realized and enhanced through toil (ponos), training and effort (dapanā; Olympians 5.16)9. This entails suffering, endurance, courage, and noble conduct despite circumstances. Pindar’s areta also entails service to others, so Heracles is a benefactor (euergetēs) by way of altruistic and philanthropic deeds and their civilizing effect (cf. Olympians 10.43–​59). He battles alongside the gods to establish a new cosmic order governed by harmony and peace, a struggle in which his opponents become agents of immorality: in fr. 140a SM an immoral Laomedon is set against Heracles’ piety; in Nemeans 1.63–​65 he is predicted to slay the aidrodikas (“ignorant of justice”) beasts of the sea and bring to doom a “most hateful” (echthrotaton) figure on the path of “crooked insolence” (plagiōi . . . korōi) to establish peace. To sustain an upright Heracles the poet downplays the less attractive aspects of the mythological figure (e.g., Olympians 9.31–​38),10 thus cleaning up Heracles for the role of virtuous exemplum.

The Moral Agent (Autokratōr) Heracles as actively choosing for the good of humankind found two memorable expressions during the fifth century BC. The choosing Heracles of Euripides’ eponymous tragedy needs brief mention in the present context.11 The tragedian’s 7  Archilochus fr. 120 Diehl; Pisander fr. 10 Kinkel; Höistad (1948, 24); Galinsky (1972, 17–​21) on the Hesiodic Shield of Heracles; and Stesichorus (1972, 26–​29) on Bacchylides’ depiction of a just and exemplary Heracles. 8  See discussions of the Pindaric Heracles in Höistad (1948, 23); Galinsky (1972, 29–​38); Pike (1984); Nieto Hernández (1993); Stafford (2012, 121–​122). 9  On Pindar’s notion of aretē, see Nieto Hernández (1993, 81–​86). 10  See Pike (1984, 18); Nieto Hernández (1993, 78–​80). 11  For the tragic Heracles, see Chapter 23.

The Philosophical Tradition  335 penchant for current intellectual and specifically sophistic ideas is well-​known, and his Heracles-​gone-​mad’s confrontation with the morality of the gods, or rather the lack of it, should be read as another such instance. The plot turns on the jealousy and the calculated cruelty of Hera (even Madness herself has reservations about Hera’s machinations) and the chorus utters an implied wish for insight and wisdom (xynesis kai sophia) as understood by humans, to direct the actions of the gods (Heracles 655). When Heracles, after his spell of mania (madness), wakes up to what he has done by her hands, he voices his dismay by a critique of how the poets depict the gods, reminiscent of Xenophanes and Plato’s Socrates (Heracles 1340–​1346).12 Heracles’ true radicalism does not lie in questioning the conduct of Homer’s divinities, but in his choice to dissociate from them.13 In the preceding speech he professes the inscrutability of Zeus and then rejects his fatherhood, opting for the elderly Amphitryon instead (Heracles 1264–​1265). Scholars have noted incongruity in how Heracles accepts that Hera is the cause of his plight but then questions Zeus’ fatherhood (i.e., why would Hera be jealous if Zeus is not his father?), but what really counts in Euripides’ play is his bitter defiance of the gods, his protest against their capricious injustice on the one hand, and his deliberate choice for humanity on the other.14 Heracles’ decision against suicide transforms his aretē from the traditional glory accrued through extraordinary deeds into the enduring of life in the knowledge of past misdeeds.15 The famous Choice of Heracles is recorded in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, where Socrates ascribes the story to Prodicus. The respected fifth-​century sophist from Ceos was not only a famed rhetor, but also a teacher of ethics and language, especially the correct use of words.16 These two aspects of his are notably combined in his story of Heracles at the crossroads. The tale is an extension of the body of Heracles’ myth and elaborates on the young Heracles’ transition from being a child to becoming the master (autokratōr) of how his life should be lived. It reduces the choice to be made to one between aretē and kakia (badness). Heracles retreats to a quiet place to consider his course, where he encounters personifications of these two concepts in the form of two great women, both attractive but the one from good social standing and the other a sensual temptress. They go on to address him with two speaking parts each, in which they describe the courses of life they represent: Kakia is to guide Heracles along a short and easy road characterized by pleasure and the absence of toil and hardship. Her real name, she claims, is Eudaimonia (Happiness). Aretē presents herself as the end of a long and arduous road, the reward of a life of deferred gratification and noble deeds.


Detailed discussion of the passages that follow in Papadopoulou (2005, 8