Joy of Museums

Exploring Museums, Art & Historic Sites

Head of a Cypriot Herakles (Hercules)

Hellenic Museum, Melbourne - Joy of Museums - Head of a Cypriot Herakles

This “Head of a Cypriot Herakles” is the head of a statue of Herakles wearing a lion’s head with a wide-open muzzle as head-gear.  It belongs to a series of Cypriot sculptures in which the Herakles is represented holding a club in his right hand.

Heracles (Greek: Ἡρακλῆς), was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus. He was the great hero of the Greeks, a paragon of masculinity and the ancestor of many royal clans who claimed to be Heracleidae, meaning descendants of Heracles. In the late sixth century B.C. the local Cypriot god was assimilated with the powerful Greek hero, Herakles. In Cyprus he was represented bearded or beardless, wearing a lion’s skin and a short tunic and holding a miniature lion in his hand. Herakles was the divinity most often represented in Cypriot sanctuaries.

Hellenic Museum, Melbourne - Joy of Museums - Head of a Cypriot Herakles 2

This historic art piece has traits which are similar to statutes of the Phoenician god Melqart. Melqart was the god and guardian of the Phoenician city of Tyre. Melqart was often called “Lord of Tyre”. The Phoenician kings at Kition eventually identified Herakles with the Phoenician god, Melqart.

Phoenicia map-en

The ancient Phoenician city states

The Greeks, interpreted and identified Melqart with Herakles and as Tyrian trade and colonization expanded, images of Melqart may have been influenced by this Cypriot image of Herakles as much as this image may have been influenced by Tyrian art forms.

Herakles-Melqart, inizi V sec. a.C., da Cipro

Phoenician Melqart Statute from Museo Barracco, Roma 

In Rome and the modern world, Heracles is known as Hercules, with whom the Roman emperors, often identified themselves. The Romans adopted the Greek version of his life and works essentially unchanged, but added anecdotal detail of their own and his cult was adapted to Rome.

Other historical antiquities at the Hellenic Museum, Melbourne include:

Essential Facts:

  • Name:                 Head of a Cypriot Herakles (Hercules)
  • Date:                    500 BCE
  • Period:                Cypro-Archaic II
  • Providence:       Cyprus
  • Material:            Limestone
  • Museum:            Hellenic Museum, Melbourne

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“Honour is priceless and glad be he who has it.” Greek Proverb

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Archeologo (Museo Barracco, Roma (Italia)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Kordas, based on Alvaro’s work (This map) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons