BAD HORSES: HERAKLES AND THE MARES OF DIOMEDES IN GREEK ART OF THE SIXTH AND FIFTH CENTURIES BCE
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The often-fluid boundaries between human and animal is a common subject in Greek myth, with the hero frequently acting as a representative of humanity against some kind of animalistic force, though the hero can simultaneously embody the animal. Throughout the corpus of myth, animals can act as terrifying adversaries as well as helpers and even friends to heroic counterparts; and of all the heroes, there is none more associated with animals than Herakles. Most, if not all, of his labors, involve non-humanoid creatures in some way, and the hero himself can be identified by his lion skin, enabling him to pass in and out of the “civilized” Greek world and the “wild” world of animals and monsters. Herakles is one of the most, if not the most-depicted figures in Greek art, his exploits recognizable and famous for viewers across the realm of the Greeks and beyond. He is a suitably Panhellenic hero, with deeds to speak of ranging across Greece and the known world. While Herakles is perhaps the most popular human figure in Greek art, the horse is the most popular animal. One might expect the meeting of these two subjects in the Eighth Labor of Herakles, the capture of the man-eating Mares of Diomedes, to be equally ubiquitous. However, this is not the case. It is argued here that the rarity of depictions of Herakles with the Mares of Diomedes is due to the transgressive nature of the horses themselves, who invert established ideals of Greek horsemanship. As a result, the scene was largely avoided by creators as well as consumers of art. This unpopularity in the ancient past has likely contributed to the dearth of scholarship on the subject. I explore how these rare and transgressive images portray the complicated and diverse relationship between the Greeks and the animals that lived alongside them, a relationship that can itself be used to gain insight into how art, myth, and society are inextricably connected, with each equally affecting the other.
Animals; Greek Art; Herakles; Heroes; Horses; Pottery
Barrett, Caitlín Eilís
Master of Arts
dissertation or thesis