Hercules with the Golden Apples
sketch in sanguine pencil from statue in Musei
|The intelligent Hercules
... and the building of Rome...
In Rome's revered Capitoline Museums, the handsome statue in bronze and gold of the
mythic strongman Herakles, dating perhaps from the Republican era (2nd century B.C.),
gave me an opportunity to draw both the classical 1-to-8 (head to body) proportions as
well as the famous "contrapposto" stance of the hero, much like that of Michelangelo's
David. The same drawing session, however, also invited me to think about why
precisely Hercules and no other Greek hero would have been godfathered into the history
of early Rome.... Why did Hercules come here, if he did, and not Theseus or Ulysses or
By far, one of the most engaging names associated with Rome's beginnings is that of the
Greek hero, HERCULES -- who, according to ancient authors such as Livy and Virgil,
visited in person the archaic port of the City a bit before the Trojan War (11th or 10th
In fact, although Romans trace the lineage of their race back to a group of survivors of
the Trojan War --- led by the hero AENEAS -- it is interesting to find repeated mentions
of the hero-strongman Hercules as also contributing to the foundation of the early city.
As Aeneas himself learns when he arrives --- homeless and penniless -- in Rome,
Hercules had passed through the port some time previous to his own landing, on his
return trip to Greece from the last of his Twelve Labours. At that time, Hercules had
helped the local cattle ranchers and merchants in Rome to get rid of a thug named CACO
who was terrorizing market activities in the port area of the city.
I am interested in the Roman myths of Hercules not only because, as Filippo Coarelli
explains in his prestigious archaeological guide, ROMA (2008), several temples and
altar inscriptions from pre-Christian eras provide archaeological evidence of at least a
Hercules "cult" in the early city, but, moreover, because I see this mythical
problem-solver as bestowing his "engineering DNA" to the long and glorious history of
the city. Since I began residing in Rome I have been fascinated by the Hercules presence
in or near the areas of the Isola Tiberina and Bocca della Verita. In my mind, this
particular spot of ancient Rome is the veritable commercial cradle of the City, and the
myths of Aeneas' landing there and of Hercules' own passing through there are more
than "just" myth. My sketch of the bronze Hercules figure above is part of my own
meditations on this subject.
José Grave de Peralta
|Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
This page from my sketchbook reflects my "Hercules research" or walks in Rome --
specifically in the so-called Foro Boario, or Cattle Market. At the top of the page, on the
right, is a plan view of the old Temple of Fortuna Virilis (or of PORTUNUS), taken from
one of the many engravings dedicated to this site by 18th-century artist PIRANESI.
Often when I lead visitors through this site, I talk about the Romans' legacy of the
Republican way of government as inspired in the text of the same name by Plato.
In fact, I owe my close friend and professor of philosophy of Baltimore's Loyola
University, Stephen Weber, my awareness of how Plato uses the famous Twelve Labours
of Hercules to explain the nature of the most just type of city humanly possible.
It occurs to me that the Republican-era Temple of Hercules in the Foro Boario may have
been erected there at that time to reinforce this element in the market area of the city. I
also reflect on the exactitude and order of the tectonics of these temples (their angles,
proportions, and overall harmony) as the embodiment of the very qualities that
Hercules himself seems to defend or make us aware of in his various adventures. Finally,
when I look at how variants of the perfect SQUARE or its multiples constitute the
geometries of both temples in the Foro Boario, it occurs to me that the legends of
Hercules in the Cattle Market talk about the role played by fairness and number in
man's buying and selling of cattle or ...other commodities of life.
On the right in the 18th-century engraving by PIRANESI shown below, one can see the
appearance of the Republican-era temple or shrine of PORTUNUS in those days, when it
was a Catholic church dedicated to Santa Maria Egizziaca (St. Mary the Egyptian). In
the background and to the right, is the Temple of Hercules in its own Medieval form --
Saint Stefano of the Carousel or Saint Mary of the Sun.
While the Medieval names and appearance of these pagan
temples lead our meditations down a significantly different path from that
of Plato's Republic or Hercules Twelve Labours, perhaps even these
transformations of name and structure talk also about city-BUILDING. I
intend to follow this path in coming weeks and add further drawings and
ideas to this topic.