Herm of Herakles

This sculpture is part of a herm, a square or rectangular pillar of stone, terracotta or bronze, on the top of which stands a bust, usually of the god Hermes. For this reason the back of the head is plain, as it would be firmly attached to a rectangular pillar of the same marble. They were much sought after by the more well-to-do Romans to decorate their homes and villas. They were also used as posts for ornamental lattices in the gardens, in which case the herm was usually adorned with the bust of a philosopher or important person. During the Empire the function of the herms was more architectonic than religious.

Herakles is the most famous hero in Greek mythology and perhaps also in all classic antiquity. His name comes from the goddess Hera and the Greek word “kleos” (glory), meaning “the glory of Hera”. He was considered to be the son of Zeus and Alceme, a mortal queen, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus on his mother’s side. At birth he was given the name of Alcaeus or Alcides, in honour of his grandfather. This very word evokes the idea of strength. It was as an adult that he received the name with which he is known, imposed on him by Apollo through the Pythia, to indicate his condition as a follower of the goddess Hera. In ancient Rome as in Western Europe, he is better known as Hercules, and some Roman emperors, Commodus and Maximian among others, identified with his figure.

His extraordinary strength is the most important of his attributes, but he is also known for courage, pride, a certain candor and formidable sexual prowess. He is considered to be the forebear of the kings of Sparta, and this was one of the reasons for the dissemination of his legend and cult, making Heracles the Dorian hero par excellence. There are many stories in mythology about him, the most important one is that of the Twelve Labours of Herakles. The stories in which he has the leading role form a cycle which is constant through all antiquity and for this reason it is difficult to give a chronological, or even a coherent exposition of them.


- REINACH, S. Repeteroire de la statuaire grecque et romaine, tome IV. « L’ERMA » di BVRETSCHNEIDER. Roma.

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