Friday, March 8, 2013

The Gallic Cult of Hercules

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC

In Mirabilium auscultationes (837 a) Aristotle wrote:

Εκ τῆς ᾿Ιταλίας φασὶν ἕως τῆς Κελτικῆς καὶ Κελτολιγύων καὶ ᾿Ιβήρων εἶναί τινα ὁδὸν ῾Ηράκλειαν καλουμένην, δι᾿ ἧς ἐάν τε ῞Ελλην ἐάν τε ἐγχώριός τις πορεύηται, τηρεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν παροικούντων, ὅπως μηδὲν ἀδικηθῇ· τὴν γὰρ ζημίαν ἐκτίνειν καθ᾿ οὓς ἂν γένηται τὸ ἀδίκημα.


"It is common knowledge that from Italy to the Celtic country, among Celts from Ligurie and Iberians, there is a path called Heraclian: When a Greek or a native uses this path, he is protected by the people who live close by, so that no harm accrues to him, for those who do him harm will pay a fine".

Table de Peutinger, copy dated 1264, Berlin, Postmuseum.
© akg-images.

To accomplish his Tenth labor, Hercules had to journey to the "end of the world". Eurystheus ordered the hero to bring him the cattle of the monster Geryon. Geryon was the son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe. Chrysaor had sprung from the body of the Gorgon Medusa after Perseus beheaded her, and Callirrhoe was the daughter of two Titans, Oceanus and Tethys.

Medusa with tiles, Athens Archelogical Museum

 Geryon lived on an island called Erythia, which was near the boundary of Europe and Libya. On this island, Geryon kept a herd of red cattle guarded by Cerberus's brother, Orthus, a two-headed hound, and the herdsman Eurytion. Hercules set off on for Erythia, encountering and promptly killing many wild beasts along the way, and he came to the place where Libya met Europe. Here, Apollodorus tells us, Hercules built two massive mountains, one in Europe and one in Libya, to commemorate his extensive journey. Other accounts say that Hercules split one mountain into two. Either way, these mountains became known as the Gates or Pillars of Hercules (Latin: Columnae Herculis, Greek: Ἡράκλειοι Στῆλαι, Arabic: أعمدة هرقل‎, Spanish: Columnas de Hércules)

Hercules carries the Two Columns, mid 16th century, painted enamel on copper, by Couly Nouailher (1514–1574), Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, United States

The strait Hercules made when he broke the mountain apart leaving what is now called the Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.


Jebel Musa, the North African Pillar of Hercules, as seen from Tarifa, at the other shore of the Strait of Gibraltar.
Sailing in a goblet which the Sun gave him in admiration, Hercules reached the island of Erythia. Not long after he arrived, Orthus, the two-headed dog, attacked Hercules, so Hercules bashed him with his club. Eurytion followed, with the same result. 

Heracles fighting Geryon (dying Eurytion on the ground). Side from an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 540 BC., Le Louvre Museum

Another herdsman in the area reported these events to Geryon. Just as Hercules was escaping with the cattle, Geryon attacked him. Hercules fought with him and shot him dead with his arrows.

Munich 2620, Attic red figure kylix, c. 510-500 B.C.
On this side, Hercules, Geryon, the dog Orthros
Photograph copyright Staatl. Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, München

Munich 2620, Attic red figure kylix, c. 510-500 B.C.
Detail of Hercules
Photograph copyright Staatl. Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, München

Hercules had to bring the cattle back to Greece, and after gathering the herd,


RISD 26.166, Apulian red figure rhyton (drinking cup), c. 400-300 B.C.
Drinking cup in the shape of a bull's head.
Photograph by Brooke Hammerle, courtesy of the Museum of Art, RISD, Providence, RI

He set out on a land path along the Mediterranean coast.

Along the way he would cross the Pyrenées, travel through Southern Gaul, cross the Alps and travel South through "Italy" to the Ionian Sea
 [At Rhegium, a bull got loose and jumped into the sea. The bull swam to Sicily and then made its way to the neighboring country. The native word for bull was "italus," and so the country came to be named after the bull, and was called Italy]

Hercules made it to the edge of the Ionian Sea, with the end of his journey finally in sight. Hera, however, was not about to let the hero accomplish this labor. She sent a gadfly to attack the cattle, and the herd scattered far and wide. Now, Hercules had to run around Thrace gathering the escaped cows.Finally, he brought the cattle of Geryon to Eurystheus, who sacrificed the herd to Hera.

It is on that very path in Southern France that the oppidum of Glanum was founded by a Celto-Ligurian people called the Salyens in the 6th century BC. Archeological excavations have revealed multiple altars dedicated to the worship of Hercules.

Autel d’Hercule du site de Glanum

© Centre des Monuments nationaux / Philippe Berthé

Head of bearded Hercules found in Glanum

The cult of Hercules extended as far North as Lutecia.

'''Le pilier des Nautes''',Smertrios, Musée National du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny, Paris

It should be no surprise that briar carvers of Saint-Claude would be equally inspired by Hercules.

Hercules briar pipe from Saint-Claude, ca. 1900, Courtesy Private Collection

Hercules briar pipe from Saint-Claude, ca. 1900, Courtesy Private Collection

Hercules briar pipe from Saint-Claude, ca. 1900, Courtesy Private Collection

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