The infant Herakles strangling the snakes

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, May 16, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    A myth of the infant Herakles:

    The Coin:
    Thracia, Serdica, Caracalla, AD 198-217
    AE 18, 3.52g, 18.25mm, 45°
    struck AD 207-217
    Laureate head r.
    Rev.: CEPΔΩN
    Infant Herakles, chubby, kneeling r., r. hand raised, with l. hand resting on
    ground, strangling two snakes entwining his arms
    Ref.: a) Ruzicka 391 (1 ex., Glasgow)
    b) Varbanov 153 corr. (same dies, but writes ANTΩNEINOC)
    c) Hristova/Jekov No.
    Rare, about VF, olive-green Patina

    This coin shows a scene from the mythology of the young Herakles. Zeus once fell in love with the beautiful Alkmene, the wife of Amphitryon, king of Thebes. When he was on a campaign, Zeus took his shape, went to Alkmene and united with her. When Amphitryon was back the betrayal was revealed. But Amphitryon forgave his unknowing wife and created with her Iphikles, the twin brother of Herakles. Alkmene gave birth to two sons, Herakles and Iphikles (the latter as son of two mortals without exceptional powers). Hera however, the wife of Zeus, became the jealous lifelong pursuer of Herakles.

    Shortly before the birth of Herakles and Iphikles Zeus declared that the first born child of the house of Perseus would become ruler of Mycene. This was the request of Hera to deceive him. She prolongated the labour pains of Alkmene so that Erystheus, son of Sthenelos, uncle of Amphitron, was born first and only after him Herakles. That was the reason that Herakles was tributary to Erystheus.

    Fearing Hera's revenge Alkmene marooned him on the so-called Herakles fields near Thebes. His half-sister Athena, later playing an important role as his guardian goddess, found him and brought him to Hera. She didn't recognize him and pitiful suckled him. But Herakles sucked so strong that he hurt her and Hera pushed him away. But by her divine milk Herakles became immortal. Athena brought him back to his mother who gladly took him and he grow up with his parents. But there too he was pursued by the hate of Hera. When he was eight month old Hera sent two huge snakes to the sleeping-room of the children. Iphikles cried in fear but his brother Herakles took the two snakes and strangled them. The seer Teiresias, called by the astonished Amphitryon, predicted the child an uncommon future. Numerous monsters he would defeat.

    Already very early the antinomy between Herakles' name, that is 'the glory of Hera', and Hera's hate by which he pursued him in mythology was recognized. This antinomy could be solved if we see the old misunderstanding: Herakles like all heroes stood unter the protection of Hera and were sent out to adventures to gain glory for himself and Hera. We know similar from the Tableround of the Artus myth. These hard challenges then were misunderstood as pursuit of Herakles by Hera. The original good relation between Herakles and Hera is proofed by their joint battle against a fire spitting Giant in the Gigantomachia and against four Satyrs. Going with that are some different explanation of the snakes. It is reported too that it was actually Amphitryon who has sent the snakes to get out his own child (mater certa, pater incerta!).

    Another explanation comes from von Ranke-Graves: An old picture from which the post-homeric story of the strangled snake originated probably has depicted how Herakles has caressed the animals while they have cleaned his ears with their tongues. This is reported for the seers Melampos, Teiresias, Kassandra and the sons of Laokoon. Without cleaning their ears it would have been impossible for them to understand the language of vultures.

    This coin obviously resembles a motiv of a series of rare tridrachms which were struck 405/4 BC to celebrate an alliance (synmachikon) of some cities of Western Asia Minor. They were struck for Byzantion, Ephesos, Iasos, Knidos, Lampsakos, Rhodos and Samos.
    Tridrachm from Samos, Barron 1b, 405/4 BC

    It was thought that this alliance came about in 394 after the defeat of the Spartan fleet, but Karwiese, NC 1980, has made a good case for it having taken place 10 years earlier, when the cities threw off Athenian domination with the help of the Spartan Lysander. Lysander then was celebrated as Herakliskos Drakonopnigon, 'Herakles the snake-strangler'. In many ways this seems a better choice, but hoard evidence is inconclusive. Why Caracalla had an affinity for this motive I could not find out.

    I have attached the pic of a column base, found AD 1999 near the Marcellus Theatre in Rome, showing Hercules motivs on all sides.

    (1) Der kleine Pauly
    (3) Robert von Ranke-Graves, Griechische Mythologie

    Best regards
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Great article @Jochen and I must say that's a very cool coin.
  4. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for the extensive article! I've been meaning to write one myself as I've recently added the type:

  5. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    O, what a beautiful coin!

  6. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Incredible coin, AJ!!

    I love this reverse type and have two small ones, one Greek and the other provincial.

    CALABRIA, Tarentum
    Circa 275-212 BC

    AR Diobol. 0.98g, 10mm. Vlasto 1460-1461; HN Italy 1068. O: Head of Athena right, wearing crested helmet, decorated with Skylla. R: Herakliskos Drakonopignon: the infant demigod Herakles strangling two snakes; ΦIN monogram to left, [ΛE (ligate)] in exergue.
    Ex E.E. Clain Stefanelli Collection

    AE16. 2.62g, 16.4mm. THRACE, Trajanopolis, circa AD 198-217. Schönert-Geiss, Augusta Traiana –; Varbanov –; CNG 320, Lot 282. O: AVT K M AYP CE ANTΩNEINOC, laureate head right. R: TΡAIANOΠO-ΛEITΩN, Infant Herakles, kneeling right, strangling a serpent with each hand.
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