Hello, my name is Luis, and I am a tour guide for the Bridging Binaries tours at the Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology, where this enormous sculpture of Hercules is displayed. The statue is a plaster cast from the original marble sculpture found in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, built early in the third century.
An inscription in the base indicates it was carved by Glykon, an Athenian sculptor. Sculptures were used to spread Roman ideology, and to associate Gods and Mythical Heroes with their rulers.
Therefore, it could be argued that this sculpture also symbolizes the strength and masculinity of the Roman Emperor Caracalla. Hercules is probably the most famous hero from Greco-Roman mythology.
Stories of his achievements are still being told, more than two thousand years after they were first spoken. He is best known for completing the twelve labours of Hercules, which included: slaying the Nemea Lion (whose skin can be seen under his left arm) and stealing the golden apples of Hera (which are depicted in his *right hand).
This statue is known as ‘Hercules at Rest’ or ‘The Weary Hercules’, as he appears exhausted, presumably after holding up the sky for the titan Atlas. Hercules is a paragon of strength and masculinity. Moreover, according to the Greek historian Plutarch, Hercules’s list of lovers ‘went beyond numbering’, including many male lovers, such as Jason, Adonis, or Iolaus. The last of these, Iolaus, accompanid Hercules on his expedition against Troy, as well as on some of his labours, serving as charioteer and shield-bearer. Plutarch also tells us that as late as the second century, lovers went to Iolaus’ tomb in Thebes to ‘plight their troths and make reciprocal vows of their affection’. This tangibly shows romanticisation of same-sex relationships in the ancient world.
Hercules also cross-dressed when captured by the mythological queen Omphale. He was forced to wear feminine clothing while she wore his famous lion skin. Writing about this story, early Christian author Tertullian refers to Hercules as ‘impudicus’, or sexually immodest, and implies that Hercules was made to serve passively as Omphale’s sex slave.Hercules’ position as the very symbol of masculinity was certainly not diminished by this story, nor by his many same-sex lovers.
Although it is impossible for us to know the private lives of those who lived hundreds of years ago, these stories show that the ancients had widespread acceptance of what we now call LGBT+ narratives in their mythology. From Hercules to Achilles, Hermaphrodite to Hysteria (a festival honouring the God Aphroditos):, cross-dressing, gender non-conformity and same-sex relations have always been present in the Mythology and History of Ancient Greece and Rome.