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Greek Mythology at the Service of the Portuguese Inquisition: The Case of Hercules and the Hydra of Lerna

Journal: Athens Journal of Mediterranean Studies (Vol.1, No. 1)

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Authors : ;

Page : 25-44

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Greek mythology has been along the centuries a fruitful source of inspiration to artists and writers, as it possesses the strength of expressing symbolically the most common circumstances of life. Regarding the threats that in every age put in danger human life the most popular figure was maybe the Hydra that infested the region of the Lake of Lerna, in Argolis. This mythical figure may still have an older origin as it is connected with chthonic dangers. Because of its terrifying aspect, reptilian traits and poisonous breath, it was related to the evil and the domains of Hell. Later the Hydra significance became larger and deeper as it represented the heresies that could affect the Christian orthodoxy. According to this point of view, every defender of the Catholic Faith was immediately compared to Hercules, the Greek hero who succeeded in killing the mythological Hydra monster. In this way, it is easy to understand why this representation was often used in connection with the Iberian Habsburg Kings, as it worked as a political strategy of this dynasty, in which the Spanish Habsburgs were faced as the guardians and defenders of the Church of Rome, mainly in times when the Inquisition developed a determinative role. An illustrative example of this was the decoration of the arch built by the Inquisition in Lisbon, when King Philip II of Portugal visited the Portuguese Empire capital. There, allegorical compositions could be seen, exploring the symbolism of the defeat of the Hydra, in a clear allusion to the decisive role fulfilled by Inquisition and the King himself. Thus, within the evolution of the symbolic load of this myth in the Mediterranean basin has to take into account the Christianization of it in the European southern countries emphasizing its religious allegorical meaning.

Last modified: 2015-10-06 14:43:10