Heracles and Antaeus (1819) by Auguste Couder
This week on Mighty Moment In Slash History, we’re going Greek again, but we’re temporarily turning our backs on the pallid pretty boys of the Trojan war to spend some time with Heracles (or Hercules), the one-man metaphor for throbbing muscle.
While completing his legendary Twelve Labours, Heracles took a minibreak to fight with a giant called Antaeus. Antaeus was stupidly strong because he could draw on the strength of his mum Gaia, goddess of the Earth, and liked to challenge passers-by to wrestle with him. When he invariably won, he would use their unfortunate remains to expand his skull collection (well, a guy’s got to have a hobby). Heracles, however, worked out that Antaeus would lose his strength if he was lifted up off the ground, and promptly cuddlesquished him to death. Cool story, bro.
A browse through art history reveals that this myth has become a shameless excuse for painting (or sculpting) a pair of massive men in a scantily-clad clinch. There’s often a lot of flailing, grinding and bum-groping going on, for entirely tactical reasons, and sometimes Heracles is even grabbing Antaeus by the bollocks,
This particular rendition of the tale, which adorns the ceiling of the Apollo Gallery in the Louvre, is my favourite. Rather than a death match, I suspect that we’re actually watching the climax to a showstopping routine from Dancing With The Demigods. Antaeus is pouring his melodramatic soul into his final pose, and Heracles is gazing at him with barely concealed contempt for being such a scene-stealing hussy. And after all the weeks they spent growing those matching hipster beards, too…