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Hercules’ Twelfth Labor - The Capture of Cerberus

Sale: CNG 76, Lot: 1004. Estimate $500. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 12 September 2007. 
Sold For $700. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

THRACE, Hadrianopolis. Gordian III. AD 238-244. Æ 27mm (9.66 g, 6h). Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / Hercules standing facing, head right; holding upraised club and Cerberus by vine-shaped lead. Yorukova, Hadrianople 640 (V270/R614); Voegtli -; Varbanov 2358. VF, green patina, 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.

For his final Labor, Hercules was sent to the underworld to capture Cerberus. In order to complete this most difficult task, Hercules was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries so that he could learn how to enter and exit the underworld alive, as well as absolve himself of his past crime of killing the Centaurs in his fourth Labor. Finding the entrance to the underworld, he again enlisted the assistance of Athena, while Hermes, the conveyor of souls, guided him along. While there, Hercules was able to free Theseus, who had been imprisoned by Hades for attempting to kidnap Persephone, but could not do the same for Theseus’ accomplice, Pirithous. Hercules sought the permission of Hades and Persephone to take Cerberus. The gods assented on condition that Hercules did not harm the creature in any way. Wrestling Cerberus into submission he brought it to the upper world through an entrance in the Peloponnese. When he returned with Cerberus to the palace, Eurystheus, was so afraid of the fearsome beast that he once again jumped into a large storage jar to hide. With this, Hercules’ punishment was complete, and he was now freed of his guilt.