Tom Sienkewicz, Monmouth College’s Minnie Billings Capron Professor of Classics, participated in an international conference last month on the Greco-Roman hero Hercules.
Hosted by the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, the conference was the first stage of a project titled “Hercules: A Hero for All Ages,” which will chart and account for Hercules’ significance in western culture from late antiquity via the Renaissance to the present day. The Hercules Project, which focuses on the hero’s extraordinarily persistent role in post-classical literature and art, will explore this afterlife in depth, drawing on the expertise of specialists from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, as appropriate to the variety of periods and media involved.
The opening conference brought classical reception specialists together with scholars from the fields of medieval and later European history, art history, literature and drama, in order to scope the extent of Hercules’ significance as a cultural figure and to provoke interdisciplinary discussion of methodological approaches.
Sienkewicz’s contribution was a paper entitled “Herculean Transformations in Florence,” in which he illustrated the history of Herculean iconography in the history, art and literature of the city of Florence, Italy, from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance and into the twentieth century. He provided a brief chronological overview of selected literary texts from Late Antiquity and the Renaissance, which helped to mold or to articulate Renaissance attitudes towards the hero. He then surveyed some specific public representations of the hero in Florentine art.
Also presented were papers on such topics as Hercules’ appropriation by Christianity; emergence in the Renaissance as the type of virtue; particular relevance to France, as supposed forefather of the monarchy and paradoxical hero of the Revolution; appearance in Victorian Britain; role as a hero for children; and appearance in contemporary popular media from comic books to the modern Greek press.
An important aspect of the conference was the involvement of contemporary writers and artists talking about their Hercules-themed work. This provided a rare opportunity for academics to interrogate the creators of artworks featuring the hero, posing questions for which no answer is usually available – why did the artist choose to focus on Hercules and what influenced their treatment of the story.