Heracles fighting the Lernaean Hydra
Aryballos. Corinth.
Terracotta. Ca. 600—575 BCE.
11.2 × 11.7 cm.
Inv. No. 92.AE.4.Los Angeles, John Paul Getty Museum, Getty Villa in Malibu

Heracles fighting the Lernaean Hydra.

Aryballos. Corinth.
Terracotta. Ca. 600—575 BCE.
11.2 × 11.7 cm.
Inv. No. 92.AE.4.

Los Angeles, John Paul Getty Museum, Getty Villa in Malibu.

? — Galerie Günter Puhze (Freiburg, Germany).
By 1988 until 1989 — Galerie Nefer (Zurich, Switzerland), sold to Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, 1989.
1989—1992 — Barbara Fleischman and Lawrence Fleischman (American, 1925—1997, New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1992.
Inscription: Inscribed in the Corinthian alphabet with the names of the figures represented: Athena, Herakles and Iolaos. Iolaos is named a second time with his patronymic, Wiphikledas. These inscriptions were translated by Ken Hamma.

On this intricately detailed Corinthian black-figure aryballos (oil-flask), Herakles battles the Lernean Hydra, a many-headed, serpent-like monster. Required to destroy the fierce creature as the second of the Twelve Labors assigned to him by King Eurystheus, the hero grasps one of the snaky heads while stabbing the monster with his sword. One of the Hydra’s heads is about to bite Herakles’ shoulder, and a crab, sent to help the Hydra, approaches the hero’s ankle from behind. The goddess Athena stands behind him, offering her support. Both Herakles and Athena are identified by inscriptions written in retrograde, or right to left, in the distinctive Doric alphabet of Corinth. Likewise, inscriptions on the other side of the vase identify Iolaos, Herakles’ nephew and faithful companion, and Iphikles (written as Wiphikledas), Herakles’ twin brother. One figure holds the Hydra, while the other (under the handle of the vase) is shown as a charioteer, head turned back to face the action while keeping the four-horse chariot ready to carry off the victorious hero. An unidentified female head facing left decorates the handle itself.

Corinthian vase-painters used the black-figure technique—in which figures are painted in black silhouette, with details incised and added in white and red paint—to produce some of the earliest narrative scenes in Archaic Greek art. They excelled, in particular, in mastering the miniature picture frieze, where complex mythological stories were artfully rendered in great detail on the surfaces of small vessels. Although aryballoi, small containers for scented oils, were mass-produced and widely distributed, few are as elaborately decorated or as well made as this example.

(cc) 2019. Photo, text: The J. Paul Getty Museum (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Photographer: Ellen Rosenbery.
Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.
Keywords: κεραμικά ceramics clay terracotta ceramica keramik céramique ελληνική μυθολογία mythologia graeca greek mythology mitologia greca griechische mythologie grecque θεά αθηνά παλλὰς ἀθηνᾶ ἀθήνη athene athena pallas goddess dea atena göttin déesse athéna athéné ἡρακλῆς ηρακλής herakles heracles èracle eracle héraclès ελλάδα grecia graecia hellas greece griechenland grèce ὕδρα λερναία ύδρα hydra lernaean idra di lerna lernäische hydre de lerne technique tecnica vasenmalerei μελανόμορφη black-figure black-figured a figure nere schwarzfigurige schwarzfiguriger à figures noires ἀρύβαλλος αρύβαλλος aryballos ariballo aryballe κόρινθος κορινθιακό κορινθιακή corinth korinth corinthian corinto corinzio corinzia korinthischen korinthische corinthe corinthien corinthienne female dress clothes clothing garment abbigliamento femminile damenbekleidung vêtements pour femmes γυναικεία ρούχα ensis sword spada schwert épée ξίφος σπαθί vagina scabbard sheath fodero guaina scheide fourreau θήκη equus equi horse horses cavallo cavalli pferd pferde cheval chevaux ίππος άλογα taenia tainia band ribbon fillet tenia tänie binden tænia ténia ταινία tack harness finimenti geschirr harnachement rein reins redini zügel rêne rênes guides bride ηνία argilla creta lehm ton argile πηλός bow arco bogen arc τόξο terrakotta terre cuite second feat of seconda impresa zweite kunststück von deuxième exploit d’héraclès crab crawfish crayfish granchio gambero krabbe krebs crabe écrevisse καβούρι καραβίδα quiver with arrows faretra con le frecce köcher mit pfeilen carquois avec des flèches battle and against the inv no 92.ae.4