The Figure of Hercules and the Path of Virtus. Spiritual and Iconographical Motifs

Marilena Caciorgna


The French translation of the Heroides is contained in various richly decorated manuscripts. A miniature in a codex now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, accompanying Ovid's epistle from Deianira to Hercules, shows the hero at the moment of his death as though he were Christ, wearing the white tunic worn by Christ during his trial. This iconography bears witness to the influence of texts that equate Hercules with Christ, especially in the final moment of his Passion. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus, on the cross, before breathing his last breath said, addressing the Father, "consummatum est", it is completed, that is, the salvation of the world from original sin. Hercules, too, according to Seneca, at the moment of his death, caused by his wife giving him a tunic soaked in the blood of Nessus, said "peractum est". Moreover, the hero, at the crossroad when he was wondering which path to take in his passage from childhood to youth, had chosen the rough and long path of Virtue. This functioned as a sort of exhortation for patrons who in some cases were influenced by the Stoic ideal calling for the mind’s domination of the passions through the development of knowledge.

Caciorgna-The_Figure_of_Hercules.pdf2.21 MB