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Coins of mythological interest

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Herakles and the Nemean lion

1. The coin:
Maximian AD 286-305, AD 308
AE - Antoninian, 23mm, 3.88g
       Lyon AD 289 (pre-reform)
       Bust, draped and cuirassed, helmeted, r.
      Hercules, nude, stg. r., strangling the Nemean lion; behind him Victory flying and
      crowning him with a wreath, his club behind him on the ground.
RIC V/2, 462; C.654
scarce, VF, nice green patina

2. Mythology:
At the northern edge of the plain of Argos, in a short distance to Tiryns and Mykenai, mountains are rising over which the street goes to Corinth. The highest is the Apesas mountain where Perseus has sacrificed to Zeus the first time. Below the Apesas mountain the valley of Nemea is situated with several caves nearby. In this region a lion resided and made the whole landscape unsafe. The skin of this lion was immune against iron, bronze and stone. A god had sent him against the inhabitants as punishment. According to one of the tales the snake goddess Echidna was the mother of the lion from her own son, the dog Orthos. Thus he was the brother of the Thebean Sphinx. Hera is said to have him brought to her own land. Some say Selene has born him and has let him fallen on the Tretos mountain, or she has created him from the foam of the ocean and Iris has brought him to the Nemean mountains.

Certainly this lion was a very particular animal. He was well connected to death and the underworld in a special manner. The lions which were set on tombs by ancient artists remind on this ideas. As an hunter Herakles not has exterminated the usual animals of the earth like f.e. Orion and he never has played the role of a master of the underworld as hunting god but he seemed to have chased the death. He conquered and captured weird animals which belonged to gods sometimes to the gods of underworld too. When after his victory over the Nemean lion he took his head and skin over his shoulder he turned something evil which
previously has threatened the mortals with perdition into the promise of their rescue.

When Herakles moved out against the lion he came to the little town of Kleonai on the edge of the Nemean forests. According to a later tale his host was a poor farmer and peon named Molorchos originally probably an aborigine and founder of the city of Molorchia. His son was killed by the lion und now he wanted to sacrifice a ram for his guest. But Herakles gave order to wait for thirty days. If after this time he would not return then the lion has killed him too and he should sacrifice the ram to him as heroe. But if he would return then the ram would belong to Zeus Soter, the saver. Molorchos told him how he had to fight against the lion. It had to be a wrestling match because sword and spear would have no effect against him. To do that Herakles must enter in the lion's cave which had two entrances. One of them Herakles stopped up. After sword and spear proofed to be useless he gave the lion a bash with his club that it break apart. The lion tumbled and refused in his cave. In the following fight Herakles pressed the lion's neck so that the beast sufficated. In this fight the lion bit one of Herakles' fingers. Thirty days he needed for all. Not to go from Kleonai to Nemea. But probably to get the depth where the beast was living. Or was it the sleep in which he felt after struggling the lion? It is told about this sleep (Diod. Sic. 45. 4) and one should not forget it, the brother of death. The pictures of Herakles' works on the metopes of the Zeus-temple in Olympia shows the heroe almost half-sleeping, reminding of this dangerous slumber. When he awoke on the thirtieth day he crowned himself with celery like those who came out of a tomb; because the tombs were decorated with celery. The same wreath thereafter was borne by the winners in the Nemean games and later of Isthmos too.

Molorchos already wanted to sacrifice the ram to the heroe when he appeared alive. On his back he bore the lion. So the ram was sacrificed to Zeus Soter. On the next morning he went over the pass to Argos. From there he sent back a mulus to his host - as promised - and adored him highly. With the lion he came to Mykenai, the residence of Eyrstheus. The king frightened deeply about this uncanny deed and forbade Herakles to enter the castle with his prey now and in the future. Furthermore he let build an iron barrel under the ground and each time when Herakles approached he hid in this barrel. And from that time on he communicated with Herakles only by his herald Kopreus.

The invulnerable skin of the lion Herakles removed after he has cut it with the claws of the beast. Zeus put the beast as constellation to the sky to honor his son.

3. Background:
Hera was Herakles' great enemy because he was the son of Zeus who has betrayed her with Alkmene. When Kreon, king of Thebens, gave - after the death of Amphytrite - his daughter Megara as wife to Herakles Hera beat him with madness and Herakles killed his and two other children. Being conscious again he banned himself from Thebens to purify himself from his guilt. But the Pythia of Delphi added another punishment: He had to go as servant to his cousin Eurystheus and Hera challenged him with always new tasks. Various tasks are passed down. The order of the twelf workes today (the so-called Dekathlos) was invented by Apollodor and occurs first on the metopes of the Zeus-temple in Olympia 456 BC. The strangling of the Nemean lion is the first labor in this order and is at the same time the most often depicted. The rarest are the Stymphalic birds and the rape of Diomedes' mares.

4. Character and relevance of Herakles:
The figure of Herakles is disputed until today. On one side there is the noble-brave Herakles of the epos and the tragedy, on the other side the comical-bawdy Herakles of the comedy or the human-altruistic of the philosophers. Because of his human greatness he was the paradigm of the philosophers who made him a moral sufferer. He was a human being and then god again. Point of cristallyzation for the countless features which he got in the course of time seems to be the heros. The heros - originally anthropological conceived - was already in Mykenian times passed down in a more developed form as ti-ri-se-ro-e = tris(h)eros. The struggle with Kerberos and Hades, the tales of the apples of the Hesperids too, let gleam a myth of afterlife. His name means 'glory of Hera'. How does this match the hate by which he was pursuited by Hera? This antinomy could be understand better if it is suggested that it was originally Hera who sent out Herakles for his adventures to achieve fame and glory (kleos) for himself but for Hera too. The originally good relationship between both is confirmed by their joint fight against the Gigants and the Satyrs. The takeover of the Herakles figure by the Romans represents the completion of a long developement.

5. Herakles and Hercules:
Without any doubts the Roman Hercules came from Greece, perhaps about Graeca Magna, but that is not sure. In Middle Italy his cult can be verified since the 6th/5th century BC. It was widespread at the Osci (from where probably the name Hercules), the Latins and the Etruscans. He had a place already in Rome's first lectisternium 399 BC. In Rome he was a god of profit and the traders too and in this role he was a rival of Mercurius. Many inscriptions are evidence for his great worship. Often he is a interpretatio Romana for a local god. So he is Melqart in Africa, or Donar in Germania and Gallia or is called Hercules Magusanus, Saxanus or Deusoniensis.

In the Middle Ages Herakles was understood as antecipation of Christ because of his deeds (descent to the underworld resp. limbo, subdoing of Kerberos = Satan and so on) and because of its personal union of divine and human nature. Like Samson he too appears as one of the pre-Christian heroes.

It is well known that Commodus presented himself as Hercules, but it is known of Trajan too. And during the tetrarchy Diocletianus gave his Co-Emperor Maximianus the name Herculius and so keeping a distance to Iovius under which name he adopted himself into the family of Zeus. This Roman bildtradition (tradition of depiction) was later renewed during the Renaissance and kings like Henry IV and Louis XIV from France presented themself with club and lion-skin again.

6. History of art:
I have added a pic of the western metope from the Zeus-temple in Olympia, now in the Louvre/Paris like all other metopes.

The other pic shows a black-figure neck-amphora. The heroe is depicted nude except for baldric and scabbard. He holds the lion around the neck and strangles it to death. On the left, Ioalos, Herakles' companion, moves away looking back: on the right Athena, in peplos and helmet, holds a shield. This subject was especially popular during the middle and third quarter of the 6th century BC. The picture is origínated from the circle of Exekias, ca. 550-530 BC.
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of Harvard University Art Museums, 1990

Der kleine Pauly
Karl Kerenyi, Die Mythologie der Griechen - Die Heroengeschichten
Robert Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie
Aghion/Barbillon/Lissarrague, Reclams Lexikon der antiken Götter und Heroen in der Kunst

Best regards

Venus Verticordia

The coin:
Mn. Cordius Rufus, gens Cordia
AR - denarius, 19.5mm, 3.82g
         mint of Rome 46 BC
obv. conjoined heads of the Dioscuri r., wearing laureate pilei surmounted by stars.
        RVFVS III.VIR behind
rev. Venus Verticordia standing l., holding scales and scepter, Cupid on her shoulder.
       MN.CORDIVS on r. (MN ligate)
Crawford 463/1a; Sydenham 976; Cordia 2s
About VF
ex Harlan.J.Berk
from Forum Ancient Coins

The Cordia family home, Tusculum, was a center of worship for the Dioscuri twelve miles from Rome. The reverse is a clever play on the moneyer's name and may also compliment Julius Caesar who claimed direct descent from Venus. The particular design of Venus may derive from a statue placed in the temple of Venus Genetrix in the year of issue (FAC).

This issue was struck on a scale commensurate with Rome s requirements at the time of Caesar s quadruple triumph when 5,000 denarii were paid to each legionary and 10,000 to each centurion. The Venus reverse is probably intended as a tribute to Caesar whose gens claimed descent from that goddess (Sear, The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators, p.45. The scales I think are a tribute to the just contribution of the denarii. Usually these are an attribute of Annona and not of Venus.

Verticordia is a cognomen of Venus (Serv. auct. Aen. 1, 720), who has a fanum in the myrtle grove of the vallis Murcia (ibid. 8, 636). During the Hannibalian war (216 BC?) Sulpicia due to the dictum of the Sibyll from Cumae was determined by an heavy examination as pudicissima (Plin. nat. 7, 120. Solin. 1, 126) and a simulacrum was erected by her, quo facilius virginum mulierumque mens a libidine ad pudicitiam converteretur (turned from libido to shamefaceness!) (Val. max. 8, 15, 12). This has happened: At this time three Vestals have broken the laws of virginity and were buried alive. To reconcile the gods the senate due to the instructions of the sibyllinic books picked out hundred matrones and from these ten by fortune, and from these Sulpicia, daughter of Servius Paterculus and wife of Q. Fulvius Flaccus, was found as the most chaste and therefore had to put the picture of the goddess to the simulacrum. AD 114 because of a lightning prodigium an aedes was built (Plut. mor. 284 ab. Oros. 5. 15, 20). Ovid fast. 4, 133ff. connects Sibyllinum and temple with the celebration on April 1st, which were applied to Verticordia and Fortuna virilis and were practized in the baths by matronae as well humiliores (= from low origin) decorated with myrtle wreaths with the purpose of forma, mores, bona fama[//i] resp. harmony and pudicity. The name Verticordia is derived from vertere only by popular etymology (Ov. a.o. 161 u.a.).Ovid, Fasti, book 4, 157-161: In the time of our ancestors, Rome had lost its sense of shame, so they consulted the venerable Cumaean Sibyl. She ordered a temple to Venus to be built; and, this done, the goddess took the name Verticordia.

Der kleine Pauly
Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

Best regards

It took me some time to find the images, because I didn't use this statue in course lectures, but it interested me, precisely because of the motif: Eros on Aphrodite's shoulder.  That means, simply, that this motif was available for Rome to adopt for V. Verticordia, just as the Old Silen dandling the infant Dionysos in his big hands was available for Baroque sculpture to adopt for St. Joseph dandling the baby Jesus.
It seemed worthwhile to hunt down the images, because this motif is not so common.
Pat L.

Your pics are phantastic! Thanks!


--- Quote from: slokind on October 22, 2006, 03:59:18 pm ---It took me some time to find the images, because I didn't use this statue in course lectures, but it interested me, precisely because of the motif: Eros on Aphrodite's shoulder.  That means, simply, that this motif was available for Rome to adopt for V. Verticordia, just as the Old Silen dandling the infant Dionysos in his big hands was available for Baroque sculpture to adopt for St. Joseph dandling the baby Jesus.
It seemed worthwhile to hunt down the images, because this motif is not so common.
Pat L.

--- End quote ---

Pat L.

These images are very interesting.  Thank you for taking the time!

Cheers, Jim (Cleisthenes)


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