Head of Herakles represented by a middle-aged man with the head turned to the left and downward gaze. His features are severe and powerful, denoting a strong character. He has a curled beard and hair and we can see a part of a lion skin over the crown of his head.

Many times we can identify Herakles in ancient Greek vase paintings or sculptures simply because he is depicted wearing a lion skin. Ancient writers disagreed as to whether the skin Herakles wore was that of the Nemean lion, or one from a different lion, which Herakles was said to have killed when he was 18 years old. The playwright Euripides wrote that Herakles' lion skin came from the grove of Zeus, the sanctuary at Nemea.


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” (gloria), 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.


- RICHTER, Gisela M.A. 1921. Greek and Roman Accessions. Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 16(1): parallel p. 13.

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