Cornelis Cort: Hercules Besieged By the Pygmies (1563)


(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

An engraving by the Dutch artist Cornelis Cort (1533-1578). This piece shows a scene from Greek mythology. The Greek hero Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology) was in the service of king Eurystheus of Tiryns. Eurystheus imposed twelve labors of Hercules as an act of penace for Heracles' murder of his own family, in a fit of madness. During one of these works, the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, Hercules encountered the giant Antaeus. Antaeus was invincible as long as he touched his mother, Gaia, the earth. Hercules killed Antaeus by holding him aloft and crushing him in a bear hug. exhausted after the battle with Antaeus, Hercules fell asleep. During his sleep Hercules was attacked by pygmies (from Greek word "Pygmaioi", meaning a fist, or a measure of length corresponding to the distance between the elbow and knuckles - in Greek mythology the Pygmies were a mythical dwarf-like race who lived in India and south of modern-day Ethiopia) who wanted revenge for the killing of Antaeus as the pygmies regarded Antaeus as a brother. Hercules however is unimpressed and when he wakes up, he sweeps the pygmies aside. The print shows various scenes from the legend. On the left is the dead giant Antaeus while the struggle between Anraeus and Hercules can be seen in the sky. On the right side Hercules is sleeping with Hypnos (or Somnus as he is called in Roman mythology), the personification of sleep, is floating above him. The pygmies are shown coming out of the Earth and swarming Hercules. In the upper left background the Greek gods are looking. Engraving from 1563.

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