Part 4 L’antiquité tardive

Naked head of Hercules

Naked head of Hercules
Naked head of Hercules
Naked head of Hercules
Date de création
End of the 3rd century
Saint-Béat marble (Haute-Garonne)
H. 31 x l. 22 x P. 20 (cm)
Inventory number
Ra 28 a

This juvenile head was undoubtedly part of the cycle of the Labours of Hercules. It is most probably the first of them, that is the slaying of the Nemean lion in the Peloponnese (missing reference). Because the lion’s fur was impervious to weapons, Hercules was obliged to strangle it, then use the beast’s own claws to skin it. This lion’s pelt became an armour that was to protect him in the future.

Thus, Hercules’s hairless face and the absence of the lion’s fur that he used to cover his head and was obliged to wear in all subsequent Labours are so many clues towards identifying the hero’s ordeal, which took the form of an initiation test. There are similar stories to the myth of the hero fighting the lion in the most ancient civilisations, namely in the Near East with the legendary tale of King Gilgamesh. The lion represented all the forces of nature that only a hero, in other words a being embodying human supremacy, could oppose before dominating them. This can be compared to the precepts of an aristocratic Greek-style education (paideia), in which fighting against a fantastic being, or one reputed to be invulnerable, allows the victor to rise above the others and move on to a higher level of action C.P. Presicce, « Eracle e il leone: paradeigma andreias (Pl. XVIII-XXV), » C. Bonnet, C. Jourdain-Annequin, V. Pirenne-Delforge (eds.), Le Bestiaire d’Héraclès : IIIe Rencontre héracléenne (Kernos suppléments), Liège, 2013, pp. 141–150, pp. 141-142.. Hercules, who was still young, was therefore allowed to pursue his highly heroic rather than valiant mission.

P. Capus


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    fig. 111 b
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    p. 250, fig. 120
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    no 28 a

To cite this notice

Capus P., "Naked head of Hercules", in The sculptures of the roman villa of Chiragan, Toulouse, 2019, online <>.