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Storytelling in Miniature

Heinrich Aldegrever
German, 1502–about 1561

Hercules Killing Cacus, from “The Labors of Hercules”

Engraving, 1550
4 1/4 x 2 3/4 in.
Museum purchase, 1923.3162

Although Heinrich Aldegrever included this image of Hercules killing Cacus as its own event in his set of Labors, it is in fact only a part of the 10th Labor. The Greek hero was charged with stealing the red cattle of Geryon, a three-headed monster having six legs that lived on an island called Erythia (Spain). On his return trip to Greece with the herd of cattle, Hercules passed through Italy. It was there that Cacus, the fire-breathing giant son of Vulcan (the Roman god of fire), rustled four bulls and four heifers, dragging them back to his cave by their tails (as shown in the background of this print) so as to leave no traceable footprints. The cave, located on the Aventine Hill of Latium (which was to become the site of Rome), was sealed by Vulcan. Finding no entrance, Hercules tore through the roof, exposing Cacus and the stolen cattle.