100 AD to 300 AD
3.875″ (9.8cm) high x 1.5″ (3.8cm) wide
Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem
|n a relaxed pose, the youthful, beardless god Herakles leans against his club, the skin of the Nemean lion draped over his head and knotted across his chest. Though the scale of the sculpture is small, we feel the strength of this legendary hero as if it were ready to be released upon the world at any moment. In the fantastic world of Classical mythology, Herakles (or Hercules by his Latin moniker) was the greatest and most revered hero in all of Greece. The scion of Zeus, the supreme deity, and Almene, a mortal woman, Herakles struggled to find his place between the disparate worlds of god and man. From the seed of his divine father, Herakles acquired awesome strength and vigor. He lust for adventure and experience, and yet was bound by the most innate, human emotions. With brawn and club, Herakles conquered man, beast and monster; he suffered victory and defeat, euphoria and madness only to perish at the hands of a woman scorned in love. Yet in death, Greece’s greatest hero found redemption and apotheosis; he was a god made anew, raised to the peaks of Mt. Olympus, fulfilling his birthright in the august halls of Zeus.The legend of Herakles is one of the oldest Greek myths, represented in art from as early as the eighth century B.C. The abundant sources on the hero’s deeds offer a complete construction of the Herakles biography, spurring epic poetry, lyrics, and tragedy. In politics, Herakles’ influence has been no less prodigious. From the time of Alexander the Great until the end of antiquity, Hellenic kings have depicted themselves in coinage and sculpture wearing the Herculean habiliments. The cult of Hercules was especially popular in Rome, where the god-hero was likened to the emperor as a symbol of strength and order. Mark Antony, Julius Caesar’s most infamous liutenant, went to such extremes as to invent Hercules a son—aptly named Anton —from whom Antony claimed descent.
Herakles even penetrated the Classical vernacular, as a common oath in Greek was “By Hercules!”—akin to our saying “By God!” Looking upon this incredible bronze sculpture of the young hero, one’s lips artlessly writhe with that same, archaic refrain, spurring from some atavistic memory the words, “By Hercules!” In this Roman statuette from Jerusalem, dating somewhere between 100 and 300 AD, we are presented with the visage of a young Herakles, festooned in the traditional vestments of his cult. In a relaxed pose, the beardless demigod reclines against his iconic club, exemplifying the Classic contrapposto. He wears the hide of the Nemean lion draped over his head and tied casually across his chest—a sartorial trophy of the hero’s feted victory against the ferocious beast. His body appears soft and limber—hardly the image of indomitable strength. But let that be no mistake. Though absent the hulking muscles of adulthood, the young Heracles is a latent and powerful force, destined since birth for greatness. In one legendary episode, Hera— Zeus’ jealous wife—sent two snakes to kill the charmed boy in his cradle, only to discover that the neonate hero had strangled the serpents in each of his mighty fists.
For the Greeks, Herakles was alexikakos “the averter of evil,” a divine hero invoked against the perils of disaster and disease, summoned to slay dangerous men and vicious beasts. He was the paradigm of the tragic hero, and yet in the many bawdy tales of his clamorous libido, Herakles became a ribald fixture of fun. With this exceptional statue, Herakles comes to life with a youthful innocence nonetheless faithful to the compelling, eternal qualities of his myth. Though the scale of the sculpture is small, the strength of this legendary hero is grand, reminding us that size is rarely a prerequisite for greatness. – (Z.0006)