HERCULES: A HERO FOR ALL AGEShercules a hero for all ages

Tom Sienkewicz, Minnie Billings Capron Professor of Classics recently participated in an international conference on the Greco-Roman hero Hercules sponsored by Leeds University in England, June 24-26, 2013 (
http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/homepage/400/hercules_conference_2013). This conference is the first stage of a project entitled “Hercules: A Hero for All Ages”
which will chart and account for Hercules’ significance in western culture from late antiquity via the Renaissance to the present day. The Hercules Project focuses on Hercules’ extraordinarily persistent role in post-classical literature and art and will explore this afterlife in depth, drawing on the expertise of specialists from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, as appropriate to the variety of periods and media involved.
The conference brought classical reception specialists together with scholars from the fields of medieval and later European history, art history, literature and drama, in order to scope the extent of Hercules’ significance as a cultural figure and to provoke interdisciplinary discussion of methodological approaches.

There were papers on Hercules’ appropriation by Christianity; emergence in the Renaissance as the type of virtue; role as political emblem; particular relevance to France, as supposed forefather of the monarchy and paradoxical hero of the Revolution; appearance in Victorian Britain; role as a hero for children; appearance in contemporary popular media from comic books to the modern Greek press; emigration to Australasia; re-workings of Sophokles’ and Euripides’tragedies on Hercules’ death and madness.

An important aspect of the conference was the involvement of contemporary writers and artists talking about their Hercules-themed work. This provided a rare opportunity for academics to interrogate the creators of art-works featuring the hero, posing questions for which no answer is usually available – why did the artist choose to focus on Hercules, what influenced their treatment of the story?
Two writers talked about very different dramas, both produced in 2010: George Rodosthenous’ “The Wife of Heracles” was a re-working of Sophocles’ tragedy Trachiniae, while Helen Eastman’s Hercules was a comedy based on the twelve labours. Marian Maguire’s series of lithographs and etchings “The Labours of Herakles,” exhibited in New Zealand 2008-12, aptly casts the hero as a European colonist, superimposing an image taken from ancient Greek vases onto nineteenth-century New Zealand landscapes.

Sienkewicz’contribution to this conference was a paper entitled “Herculean Transformations in Florence” in which he
illustrated the history of Herculean iconography in the history, art and literature of the city of Florence, Italy, from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance and into the twentieth century. He provided a brief chronological overview of selected literary texts from Late Antiquity and the Renaissance whichhelped to mould or to articulate Renaissance attitudes towards the hero and then surveys some specific public representations of the hero in Florentine art.