Herakles Inside and Outside the Church: from the first Apologists to the Quattrocento explores the reception of the ancient Greek hero Herakles (the Roman Hercules) in the predominantly Christian cultures which succeeded classical antiquity in Europe. Each chapter takes a particular literary or visual incarnation, grappling with the question of the hero’s significance within the early Church, in less formal contexts, and beyond Christendom in his unexpected role as Buddha’s companion in Gandharan art.
The volume is one of four to be published in the Metaforms series examining the extraordinarily persistent role of Herakles-Hercules in western culture up to the present day, drawing together scholars from a range of disciplines to offer a unique insight into the hero’s perennial appeal.
Under the vault of the belfry, at the western entrance to the cathedral of Split, there is a Romanesque arch with relief scenes depicting human figures devoid of any characteristics of holiness, and various animals, both real and imaginary. The reliefs were probably carved by the master Otto who signed his name on the reliefs of St. Domnius, St. Peter and St. Anastasius. In the mid-nineteenth century Eitelberger defined the reliefs on the arch generally as hunting scenes. Such an interpretation currently prevails among contemporary art historians. This paper provides an iconographic analysis of two reliefs at the endings of the arch.
On the basis of a comparison with other European examples and in accordance with medieaval polysemy, Čapeta Rakić associates the scene on the left side of the arch with the Constellation of Hercules struggling with a dragon from the Garden of the Hesperides, and also links the scene on the right side of the arch to this classical hero and his struggle with the Nemean lion.
Scafoglio gives an overview on the ‘Hercules-theme’ in Dante Alighieri’s thoughts and poetry, paying special, but not exclusive, attention to The Divine Comedy.
Dante explicitly mentions his sources in the Convivio as Ovid, Lucan and ‘other poets’, among whom Virgil must number and treats specific incidents from Hercules’ life, e.g. Hercules’ killing of the Lernean Hydra (Epistle 7), where the hero becomes a model of virtue and strength, an example to emulate, for addressee, Emperor Henry VII, with the divine origin of Hercules providing feedback on the divine origin of imperial power (as asserted by Dante in the treaty De monarchia).
In The Divine Comedy, two short references to Hercules’ death due to Nessus’ posthumous revenge (Inf. 12.67-69) and Hercules’ love for Iole (Par. 9.101-102) seem to be no more than cultural allusions, aimed demonstrating mythological erudition. It is significant, however, that Dante does not express a moral judgment on Hercules’ love for Iole, remains silent on adultery and does not refer to lust; instead, he points to this love as a (positive) example of a strong and deep feeling.
On the other hand, the references to the capture of Cerberus (Inf. 9.98-99) and the killing of Cacus (Inf. 25.25-33) are far more important to the moral background of the poem, since Hercules is viewed as the champion of Good defeating Evil. Although Dante shows this more frequently through Hercules’ fight against the giant Antaeus (Inf. 31.112ff. and in particular 132; but cf. Conv. 3.3.7-8; De mon. 2.7.10 and 2.9.11). Thus, in Dantes’ thought and especially in The Divine Comedy, the Hercules-figure is a symbol of Good in the eternal struggle against Evil, although the hero is not an allegorical pre-figuration of Christ (as he is already in some Medieaval texts, and will be, increasingly, in the Renaissance).
Finally, Dante’s Hercules works as a trait d’union, a connecting and mediating figure, between the hero of flesh and blood of classical antiquity (sometimes already interpreted as champion of Good, e.g. in the Aeneid) and the symbol of Christ, as he will become in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Since the extant sources clearly indicate that the image of Herakles remained a favourite with panegyricists well into the early Byzantine era and beyond, this paper traces the appearances of Herakles in his political role as exemplum virtutis for rulers of a Chritianised empire from the late 4th to the 9th century.
The hero played a prominent role in the Theodosian era, with the princeps christianus Theodosius I being eulogized as [Herakles] Kallinikos and the arch leading to the Forum of Theodosius in Constantinople being dominated by columns shaped like the club of Herakles, thereby mirroring the victorious Theodosius’ role as Alexikakos and pacifier after the defeat of the usurper Magnus Maximus, with Herakles protecting the dynastic monument and thus the emperor and his sons.
Herakles continued to be utilised as a flattering comparison in Claudian’s praise of Honorius and Stilicho, before Sidonius compared the heroic deeds of the younf Avitus to those of Herakles and addressed the emperor Majorian as Tirynthius alter. This shows beyond a doubt that, regardless of his origins in pagan myth and the vilifications of the apologists, Herakles was deemed a fitting exemplum for a Christian emperor, and that eulogists could count on their audiences (including the addressees) being familiar with and favourably disposed towards him, in accordance with the traditional use of Herakles as a topos of encomiastic literature.
This use of the hero continued after the end of antiquity, with the emperor Heraclius surpassing the deeds of Herakles in the works of George of Psidia, and the Carolingian Charles the Bald reportedly being crowned on a throne decorated with scenes of the dodekathlos (Twelve Labours), which ought to be understood as presenting him with an example to be emulated and perhaps exceeded.
Set close to the northern and southern corners of the west façade of the church of San Marco in Venice, there are two reliefs representing Hercules. Although the presence of the pagan hero on the exterior of a Christian church may seem puzzling at first, the decision to include Hercules in the fabric of the Venetian state church can be approached and interpreted through the medieval understanding of the hero as an exemplum virtutis.
Kouneni demonstrates that the presence of the two Herculean reliefs in such a prominent place goes beyond a Christian interpretation. The reliefs are linked to the city’s image, history and values; allude to a pre-Roman heritage for the Republic, to military conquest, political authority, cultural and religious legacy; and played a crucial role in reflecting Venetian ideologies.
Arousing and allaying the passions of the Byzantine court were the hallmark of the imperial panegyrist. The genre of panegyric poetry known as the basilikos logos, an imperial oration in prose presented to the Emperor on festal events such as Epiphany, was the favoured rhetoric of George of Pisidia. His Heraklias extols Emperor Herakleios’ wondrous deeds, likening them to those of Herakles; a synkrisis (comparison) that was de rigueur at the Herakleian court. Like the quintessential Greek hero, Herakleios has journeyed to the very gates of Hades. But he has done far more than defeat Kerberos, slay the dragon and overcome the hydra. Instead of simply reviving Alkestis, he has restored the entire inhabited world. In a blend of mythological, biblical and historical imagery, the Emperor rivals Orpheus, Noah and Alexander in his godlike feats.
Whilst it is not possible to entirely reconstruct the performance of this text in its original setting (including aspects such as the speaker’s costume, gestures and intonation), Mellas will investigate how George of Pisidia sought to affect the emotions of his audience by examining the textualisation of passion in the Heraklias. How did he weave together the incredible, the historical and the theological, based on a shared cultural knowledge, to engender or mediate emotion? Although the genre itself and its setting will be considered, the text’s vivid illustrations of Herakleios as analogous to Herakles and other personages, with its appeal to visual imagination, will be analysed. After all, George of Pisidia’s ideological construction of Herakleios as the earthly incarnation of the divine monarchy, as the first Basileus of Byzantium, was built on the cornerstone of pathopoeia.