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The name "Cypriot Herakles" concedes some distance between the Greek mythological hero Herakles (as represented in Greek art) and the images found in Cypriot sanctuaries associated with a male divinity. Representations of this Cypriot god—characterized by a lion headdress and lionskin—first appear during the CA I period and persist well into the Hellenistic age. At the early stages of the iconography’s development, the god is depicted in the role of an archer (as he appears in Homer, e.g., Od. 11.717-–725), armed with a bow in one hand and carrying a bundle of arrows in the other; a quiver is often rendered slung over the back. Both the lion headdress (AAP-AM-851) and lionskin, which is worn as an over-garment and tied at the chest in a knot, are present. From the late sixth century until the end of the fourth century BCE, however, Cypriot sculptors began to combine various aspects of Herakles’s Greek iconography cast with the guise of a Near Eastern master of animals. The figure advances forward in a Smiting God pose, raising in the right hand a club that is attached to the back of the head. In the left hand, a miniature lion is mastered, grasped by the tail/hind legs or scruff of the neck (AAP-AM-3350) and held against the left leg. The figure's head is enveloped by a lionskin. The open mouth of the lion frames the face, with the lower jaw split to either side (cf. AAP-AM-851). The remainder of the skin falls down the back of the figure, with the front paws draped over the shoulders and tied at the chest in the a characteristic Herakles knot; the hind legs continue down the back side, terminating at the calves of the figure, where the paws are shown attached (AAP-AM-120). When preserved, the tail of the lion's skin can be seen between the legs hanging from the back.

Without inscriptions to identify this figure, he is often referred to in scholarship as Cypriot Herakles, Herakles-Melqart, and, more recently, the Master of the Lion; regardless of the theonym suggested, it seems quite likely that the iconography has been adopted and adapted to represent a local male divinity. The iconography of the Cypriot Herakles type is far more common at sanctuaries in the central and eastern part of the island within (and around the edges of) the Mesaoria, such as at Kition, Idalion, Tamassos, Lefkoniko, Golgoi-Ayios Photios, and Athienou-Malloura.

Suggested Citation

Derek B. Counts. "Divine Images: Cypriot Herakles". (2020) In Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3D Models. Derek B. Counts, Erin Walcek Averett, Kevin Garstki, Michael Toumazou (Eds.) . Released: 2020-07-28. Open Context. <http://opencontext.org/types/69af6d8f-304b-4004-b1ec-7b625d95a3c4>

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