HERCULES Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


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Hercules is the Roman name for the mythical Greek hero Heracles, son of Zeus and       
the mortal Alcmena.                                                                   
Hercules' Latin name is not directly borrowed from Greek Herakles but is a             
modification of the Etruscan name Hercle, which derives from the Greek name via       
syncope. An oath invoking Hercules (Hercle! or Mehercle!) was a common                 
interjection in Classical Latin.                                                       
In Roman works of art and in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art that adapts         
Roman iconography, Hercules can be identified by his attributes, the lion skin         
and the club: in mosaic he is shown tanned black, a virile aspect. He is an           
example of action and masculinity, and thus embodies characteristics such as           
great strength, great courage, and great appetites, including erotic adventures       
with both women and boys or young men. These qualities did not prevent him from       
being regarded as a playful figure who used games to relax from his labors and         
played a great deal with children. While he was a champion and a great                 
warrior, he was not above cheating and using any unfair trick to his advantage.       
However, he was renowned as having "made the world safe for mankind" by               
destroying many dangerous monsters. His self-sacrifice obtained him the ascent         
to the Olympian realms and he was welcomed by the gods.                               
In popular culture the Romans adopted the Etruscan Hercle, a hero-figure that         
had already been influenced by Greek culture especially in the conventions of         
his representation  but who had experienced an autonomous development. Etruscan       
Hercle appears in the elaborate illustrative engraved designs on the backs of         
Etruscan bronze mirrors made during the fourth century BC, which were favoured         
grave goods. Their specific literary references have been lost, with the loss of       
all Etruscan literature, but the image of the mature, bearded Hercules suckling       
at Uni/Juno's breast, engraved on a mirror back from Volterra, is distinctively       
Etruscan. Also a two way mirror. This Hercle/Hercules the Hercle of the               
ejaculation "Mehercle!" remained a popular cult figure in the Roman legions.           
The literary Greek versions of his life and works were appropriated by literate       
Romans from the 2nd century BC onwards, essentially unchanged, but Latin               
literature of Hercules added anecdotal detail of its own, some of it linking the       
hero with the geography of the Western Mediterranean. Details of the Greek cult,       
which mixed chthonic libations and uneaten holocausts with Olympian services,         
were adapted to specifically Roman requirements as well, as Hercules became the       
founding figure of Herculaneum and other places, and his cult became entwined         
with Imperial cult, as shown in surviving frescoes in the Herculanean collegium.       
His altar has been dated to the 6th or 5th century BC. It stood near the Temple       
of Hercules Victor. Hercules became popular with merchants, who customarily paid       
him a tithe of their profits.