This terracotta artwork, made by an unknown artist from 6th-century BCE Greece, was inspired by mythological tales about the interactions between the legendary hero, Heracles, and King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Both men were intertwined by fate, and Heracles was ordered by the gods to complete ten missions for the king of Tiryns. Although it was a hassle and sometimes included humiliating work, the labors that Heracles undertook on Eurystheus’ behalf turned out to be of utmost importance for the hero’s mighty reputation. Many of Heracles’ most famous accomplishments were done as a part of the ten near-impossible tasks (later extended to twelve) that Eurystheus concocted for the warrior of legend. The Ten/Twelve Labors that Heracles performed for Eurystheus included hunting the Nemean Lion, defeating the Lernaean Hydra, obtaining the Cerynitian Hind, capturing the Erymanthian Boar, cleansing the cattle pastures of King Augeias of Elis, driving away the Stymphalian Birds, capturing the Cretan Bull, fetching the man-eating horses of Diomedes, obtaining the belt or girdle of Queen Hippolyte of the Amazons, stealing the cattle of Geryon, acquiring some golden apples of the Hesperides, and borrowing the underworld guard dog, Cerberus, from the realm of Hades.
King Eurystheus, as he watched the wandering monster-hunter take down one storied beast after another, quickly became terrified of Heracles—after all, no amount of city guards would be able to stop the hydra-slaying hero if he went on a rampage in Tiryns. Driven by his fear, Eurystheus made sure to arrange for distance to be maintained between himself and Heracles whenever the hero stopped by the city to turn in a completed mission, or accept a new task. Eurystheus’ extreme measures ended up being quite comical, such as his tactic of hiding in a jar, which is depicted in the artwork. A scholar known as Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century) recorded the curious scene, “Astounded by his bravery, Eurystheus refused him entry to the city from that day forth, and told him to exhibit his trophies in front of the gates. They say, furthermore, that in his alarm he had a bronze jar made for himself to hide in beneath the ground…” (Apollodorus, Library, 2.5.1). It is this tale of Eurystheus, from the safety of his jar, having an audience with Heracles that is depicted on the terracotta artwork. In particular, Heracles is shown bringing back the Erymanthian Boar.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).