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Hercules’ Eighth Labor - The Horses of Diomedes

Sale: CNG 76, Lot: 998. Estimate $750. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 12 September 2007. 
Sold For $1450. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

BITHYNIA, Nicaea. Caracalla. AD 198-217. Æ 29mm (14.36 g, 6h). Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / Hercules standing right and holding club, breaking Horses of Diomedes. Weiser, Nicaea -; Voegtli 5f; RG 451 corr. (laureate and cuirassed only); SNG Copenhagen -. VF, green patina with traces of lighter green overtones, light overall roughness. Rare.

From the James E. Cain Collection.

Hercules, made temporarily insane by the goddess Hera, murdered his wife and children. Once recovered, and distressed by his actions, Hercules consulted the Delphic Oracle to find a means of expiating his sin. As a punishment, Apollo replied that the hero would have to serve his cousin Eurystheus, the king Tiryns, a man whom Hercules despised, for a period of twelve years. Because Eurystheus also hated Hercules, he devised a series of ten feats of such difficulty that they would be either insurmountable, or Hercules would die in the attempt. Because Hercules received assistance in completing two of the tasks, Eurystheus added two more. Each labor became more fantastic, and eventually Hercules was compelled to break the bonds of the supernatural in order to complete his task. Once he accomplished the Labors, Hercules was absolved of his guilt, and preceded to perform many other heroic feats.

Assisted by his friend Abderus, Hercules fulfiled his next Labor, the theft of the man-eating horses of the Thracian king, Diomedes. Unaware that the horses were kept tethered to a bronze manger because they were wild, man-eating, and uncontrollable, the young Abderus was left in charge of them while Hercules fought Diomedes, who by now was aware of what the hero was attempting to do. When the horses ate the young Abderus, Hercules, in revenge, fed Diomedes to them. At the spot, the hero then founded the city of Abdera. Another version relates that Heracles, having first scared the horses onto the high ground of a peninsula, quickly dug a trench through the peninsula, which filled with water and created an island. When Diomedes arrived, Hercules killed him with the axe he had used to dig the trench, and then fed the corpse to the horses. Since eating calmed the horses, Hercules used that opportunity to bind their mouths shut, and easily took them back to King Eurystheus, who dedicated the horses to Hera. According to a later tradition, Bucephalus, Alexander’s steed, was supposed to have been descended from one of these horses.