BMCR 2021.01.21

Herakles inside and outside the Church

, , , Herakles inside and outside the Church: from the first apologists to the end of the Quattrocento. Metaforms: studies in the reception of classical antiquity, volume 18. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2020. Pp. xix, 360. ISBN 9789004421530 €139,00.

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Herakles inside and outside the Church: from the first apologists to the end of the Quattrocentro is about the reception of the Greek hero Herakles (the Roman Hercules) in the first four centuries CE. The contributions in this edited volume provide snapshots of how Herakles was reworked to fit the context of different movements and ideas for primarily the Greco-Romans and early Christians. These contributions are categorized into four topics – (1) Making Connections: The Early Years, (2) Appropriation: Verbal, (3) Appropriation: Visual, and (4) Beyond the Church. The work starts with a great foreword and introduction by Emma Stafford and Arlene Allan, respectively, who set the stage in summarizing Herakles regarding his twelve labors, the earliest sources on him, and the current state of the field regarding his reception. This volume is one of four to be published by the Metaforms series and Brill on the reception of Herakles-Hercules, and the contributors do a good job demonstrating the need for such scholarship. As this is an edited volume, this review will cover a summary of the four main sections and one entry from each to highlight the contributions of this work.

The first part is called “Making Connections: The Early Years” Here, Arlene Allan and Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides in their respective chapters, 1 and 2, provide early case studies as to how early on “Christ-curious” individuals viewed Herakles. For example, in chapter 2, Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides argues how Augustine responded to the figure of Herakles as a possible Stoic, based on his striving for moral perfection in his labors while simultaneously struggling at the hands of Eurystheus. Part of Augustine’s objection to using Herakles as an exemplar in Christianity was because of how similar his legends were to concepts of grace in Pelagianism, a heresy that believed that followers had the ability to save themselves – perhaps as Herakles thought of himself as well. Since Augustine thought that only God could provide salvation, he wrote against Herakles as a Stoic, which impacted his legacy and use in Christian theology.

The second part is called “Appropriation: Verbal” Here, five chapters from Alexandra Eppinger, Brian P. Sowers, Andrew Mellas, Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, and Giampiero Scafoglio provide contributions on the reception of Herakles regarding his “verbal” use in areas such as panegyrics, polemics, and philosophy. An interesting contribution here is chapter 4 from Brian P. Sowers, who argues how Herakles was repurposed in centros (short reworked poems from classical authors like Homer and Virgil) and how Christians responded to them. He demonstrates how Christian apologists, like Irenaeus, turned against these centros within the lens of their polemical feuds with heretical movements like Gnosticism. Just as heretics take old texts and rework them to have a new meaning, so too did Irenaeus find these centros – reworked old classical texts – to be a violation of the natural order. In making this argument, he pushed for the unassailable ‘true’ way to read and interpret texts, a stance that other Christian apologists like Tertullian and Jerome used as well.

The third part is called “Appropriation: Visual” Here, five more chapters from Gail Thaham, Ivana Čapeta Rakić, Lenia Kouneni, Thomas J. Sienkewicz, and Giuseppe Capriotti provide contributions on Herakles’ reception in areas such as art and architecture. An interesting entry here is chapter 10 from Lenia Kouneni, who writes on the use of Herakles on the façade on the San Marco Basilica in Venice, Italy. Kouneni admits that it may at first seem puzzling to include reliefs of this ancient Greek hero on a late-medieval Christian basilica, but in reality it is not as he was a heroic exemplum virtutis to late-medieval Italians, who linked Herakles to the city’s image, history, and values. Thus, by including images of Herakles, the city of Venice intentionally chose to incorporate him into their history and central basilica.

The fourth and final part is called “Beyond the Church” and has two chapters from Cary MacMahon and Karl Galinsky. Karl Galinsky’s work, on the comparison of Buddha with Herakles Vajrapani is particularly interesting. This entry provides one of the few comparisons of this heroic figure with a religious or philosophical movement beyond the Greco-Roman and Christian perspective. Herakles’ affinity with royalty in the East dates back to Alexander the Great and the Bactrian kings. In this entry, Herakles is depicted as a protector of the Roman emperors and a symbol of strength and endurance. It is a fascinating contribution and perhaps the most unique in the collection.

The strengths and weaknesses of this book are part and parcel with this edited volume. On the one hand, it provides some great insights and snapshots into how pagans and early Christians reworked the concept of Herakles for their own purposes. These case studies are helpful and promote the field further. On the other hand, case studies only provide a snapshot, thus requiring additional research to fill the gaps and provide a more comprehensive, and continuous study on Herakles’ legacy. To be fair, this limitation was not the initial aim of the authors and it is a natural byproduct of edited volumes generally. Additionally, the title suggests that the legacy of Herakles will be considered “inside and outside the Church,” although this refers to mostly Greco-Roman paganism and early Christianity. More chapters on different religious movements, like Galinsky’s on Herakles’ comparison to Buddha, would have been welcome. Perhaps the upcoming future volumes on the reception of Herakles-Hercules within the Metaforms series will cover some of these topics.

Overall, it is a great contribution for graduate students and scholars working on the change and transformation of Classical Antiquity in Late Antiquity. It provides several case studies on how the legacy of Herakles was reworked in different contexts. In a vein similar to Peter Brown regarding the transformation of pagan elements in Christianity, this work adds more to scholarship using a similar methodology.

Table of Contents

Front Matter  VII
Acknowledgements  XIV
Notes on Contributors  XVI

Arlene Allan, “Introduction,” 1–17

PART I Making Connections: The Early Years
Chapter 1: Arlene Allan, “Herakles, ‘Christ-Curious’ Greeks and Revelation 5,” 21–44
Chapter 2: Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, “The Tides of Virtue and Vice: Augustine’s Response to Stoic Herakles,” by 45–69

PART II: Appropriation: Verbal
Chapter 3: Alexandra Eppinger, “Exemplum virtutis for Christian Emperors: the Role of Herakles/Hercules in Late Antique Imperial Representation,” 73–93
Chapter 4:  Brian P. Sowers , “Herculean Centos: Myth, Polemics, and the Crucified Hero in Late Antiquity,” 94–115
Chapter 5: Andrew Mellas, “Herakleios or Herakles? Panegyric and Pathopoeia in George of Pisidia’s Heraklias,” 116–132
Chapter 6: Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, “Herakles in Byzantium: a (Neo)Platonic Perspective,” 133–154
Chapter 7: Giampiero Scafoglio, “Dante’s Hercules,” 155–170

PART III Appropriation: Visual
Chapter 8: Gail Tatham, “Hercules in the hypogeum at the Via Dino Compagni, Rome,” 173–197
Chapter 9: Ivana Čapeta Rakić, “The Constellation of Hercules and His Struggle with the Nemean Lion on Two Romanesque Reliefs from Split Cathedral,” 198–218
Chapter 10: Lenia Kouneni, “From Antiquity to Byzantium to Late Medieval Italy: Hercules on the Façade of San Marco,” 219–247
Chapter 11: Thomas J. Sienkewicz, “Transformations of Herculean Fortitude in Florence,” 248–270
Chapter 12: Giuseppe Capriotti, “Ovid’s Hercules in 1497: a Greek Hero in the Translation of the Metamorphoses by Giovanni Bonsignori and in His Woodcuts,”  271–290

PART IV Beyond the Church
Chapter 13: Cary MacMahon, “Wearing the Hero on Your Sleeve: Piecing Together the Materials of the Heraklean Myth in Late-Roman Egypt,” 293–314
Chapter 14: Karl Galinsky, “Herakles Vajrapani, the Companion of Buddha,” 315–332

Arlene Allan, “Conclusion,” 333–339
Index Locorum, 341–350
Index of Terms, 351–360