The worship of Hercules or Heracles at Rome and in Italy worship is connected by late, especially Roman writers, with the hero's expedition to fetch the oxen of Geryon; and the principal points are, that Hercules in the West abolished human sacrifices among the Sabines, established the worship of fire, and slew Cacus, a robber, who had stolen eight of his oxen.1 The aborigines, and especially Evander, honored the hero with divine worship.2 Hercules, in return, feasted the people, and presented the king with lands, requesting that sacrifices should be offered to him every year, according to Greek rites. Two distinguished families, the Potitii and Pinarii, were instructed in these Greek rites, and appointed hereditary managers of the festival. But Hercules made a distinction between these two families, which continued to exist for a long time after; for, as Pinarius arrived too late at the repast, the god punished him by declaring that he and his descendants should be excluded for ever from the sacrificial feast. Thus the custom arose for the Pinarii to act the part of servants at the feast.3
The Fabia gens traced its origin to Hercules, and Fauna and Acca Larentia are called mistresses of Hercules. In this manner the Romans connected their earliest legends with Hercules.4 It should be observed that in the Italian traditions the hero bore the name of Recaranus, and this Recaranus was afterwards identified with the Greek Heracles.
He had two temples at Rome, one was a small round temple of Hercules Victor, or Hercules Triumphalis, between the river and the Circus Maximus, in the Forum Boarium, and contained a statue, which was dressed in the triumphal robes whenever a general celebrated a triumph. In front of this statue was the Herculis Invicti Ara Maxima ("Great Altar of Unconquered Hercules"), on which, after a triumph, the tenth of the booty was deposited for distribution among the citizens.5 The second temple stood near the Porta Trigemina, and contained a bronze statue and the altar on which Hercules himself was believed to have once offered a sacrifice.6 Here the city praetor offered every year a young cow, which was consumed by the people within the sanctuary.
The Roman Hercules was regarded as the giver of health,7 and his priests were called by a Sabine name Cupenci.8 At Rome he was further connected with the Muses, whence he is called Musagetes, and was represented with a lyre, of which there is no trace in Greece. The identity of the Italian with the Greek Heracles is attested not only by the resemblance in the traditions and the mode of worship, but by the distinct belief of the Romans themselves. The Greek colonies had introduced his worship into Italy, and it was thence carried to Rome, into Gaul, Spain, and even Germany.9 But it is, nevertheless, in the highest degree probable that the Greek mythus was engrafted upon, or supplied the place of that about the Italian Recaranus or Garanus.
In the imperial period Hercules was regarded as the destroyer of disasters and catastrophes on earth and as the personification of bravery and courage. Emperor Commodus identified himself with Hercules and had himself portrayed in the hero's image.
- Dionysius, i, 14.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid viii, 51, 269.
- Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 21; Dionysius, i, 39 ff.; Livy. The History of Rome i, 40; v, 34; Cornelius Nepos. On Hannibal, 3; Plutarch. Roman Questions, 18; Ovid. Fasti i, 581.
- Macrobius. Saturnalia i, 10; Augustine. City of God vi, 7.
- Livy. The History of Rome x, 23; Pliny. Naturalis Historia xxxiv, 7, 16; Macrobius. Saturnalia iii, 6; Tacitus. Annals xii, 24; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid xii, 24; Athenaeus, v, 65; comp. Dionysius, i, 40.
- Dionysius, i, 39, 40; Plutarch. Roman Questions, 60; Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xxxiii, 12, 45.
- Ioannes Lydus. De Mensibus p. 92.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid xii, 539.
- Tacitus. Germania, 2.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.