An iconographic study of Herakles myths in Attic pottery
Holmes, Linda Heisel
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The purpose of this qualifying paper was to explore the changing religious attitude towards Herakles in sixth and fifth century Attic pottery. The unique mythological position of Herakles as both hero and god was first discussed. Then the iconography of selected vases are described and analyzed to determine the exact nature of ancient belief in the hero. The three final labors of his famous Twelve carry him to the legendary lands that, to the Creeks, connotated death. His successful battle against the three-headed chthonian deity, Geryon, his rape of the golden apples of the Hesparides, and his capture of Cerberus, the hound of Hades, are symbolic of his triumph over death. They were the means by which he achieved apotheosis. A comparison between the sixth and fifth century renditions of the Cerberus and Geryon legends shows that the profound belief In these myths evinced by earlier painters dies out by classical times. This development is further supported by a study of the Indices of Beazley and Brommer, which list many more extant archaic than classical vases depicting these two legends. The reverse is true of the Hesperides legend; to the fourth-century Greeks, the myth is the most popular of Herakles legends. While archaic Greek renditions emphasized the physical drama of the quest for the apples, the late-classical paintings portrayed the labor as symbolic of man attaining paradise through his own efforts. Thus, the myths of Herakles, so vividly dramatic and violent to the archaic Greeks, changed their very natures to become philosophical lessons to the fourth-century Greeks.