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Storytelling in Miniature

Heinrich Aldegrever
German, 1502–about 1561

Hercules Squeezing Antaeus to Death, from “The Labors of Hercules”

Engraving, 1550
4 3/4 x 2 5/8 in.
Museum purchase, 1923.3166

This myth is part of Hercules’s 11th Labor, the Apples of the Hesperides. The Hesperides were goddesses of the evening and the golden light of sunset. They were the caretakers of a tree which bore golden apples sacred to the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. After killing a many headed dragon and collecting the apples with the help of the Titan Atlas, Hercules was returning to Greece when he encountered Antaeus, son of Gaia (the Earth) and Poseidon (god of the sea), a Libyan giant whose strength appeared invincible. Antaeus challenged all passers-by to a wrestling match. Upon winning, as he nearly always did, he slaughtered his adversaries and used their skulls to build a temple to his father Poseidon.

During the course of their battle, Hercules discovered that Antaeus derived his strength from his mother Earth. As long as Antaeus was in contact with the ground he could not be defeated. Hercules held Antaeus aloft until the giant’s strength was that of a normal man, at which time he crushed his spine and killed him.