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XII. certamina Herculis[1]

The twelve labours of Hercules


An allegorical treatment.


Roboris invicti superat facundia laudes:
Dicta Sophistarum laqueosque resolvit inanes.
Non furor, aut rabies virtute potentior ulla est:
Continuum ob cursum sapienti opulentia cedit:
Spernit avaritiam, nec rapto aut foenore gaudet:
Vincit, foemineos spoliatque insignibus astus:
Expurgat sordes, & cultum mentibus addit:
Illicitos odit coitus, abigitque nocentes:
Barbaries feritasque dat impia denique poenam:
Unius virtus collectos dissipat hostes:
Invehit in patriam externis bona plurima ab oris:
Docta per ora virûm volat[2] et non interit unquam.

Eloquence surpasses the fame of untamed strength and unravels the sayings of sophists and their vain tricky problems. No rage nor madness of any sort has more power than virtue. Because of his continual exertion, wealth comes the way of the wise. Virtue scorns avarice and takes no pleasure in theft or usury. It overcomes the wiles of women and robs them of their triumph. It cleans out filth and brings culture to the mind. It hates illicit unions and repels them, with all their harm. Barbaric acts and godless savagery in the end pay the penalty. The virtue of one man scatters massed enemies. Virtue brings many good things from abroad to its own country. It passes from one man’ learned lips to another’s and does not perish ever.


1.  Hercules was accredited with many victories over men and monsters, but eventually a list of twelve major ones was compiled. See e.g. Anthologia Graeca, 16.92. These ‘Labours’ he carried out at the behest of Eurystheus, incited by Hera (see next emblem, note 2). Alciato’s epigram follows this order: i. the Nemean lion; ii. the Hydra; iii. the Erymanthean boar; iv. the golden-antlered Arcadian stag; v. the birds of the Stymphalian Marsh; vi. the belt of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons; vii. the Augean stables; viii. the Cretan bull; ix. the mares of Diomedes; x. the cattle of the three-bodied giant Geryones (see Emblem 218 [A56a218]); xi. the golden apples of the Hesperides; and xii. the three-headed watchdog Cerberus. The Labours were given various allegorical interpretations both in antiquity and later, and Hercules himself becomes a wise man and philosopher, overcoming folly and sin. See Emblem 093 ([A56a093]).

2.  docta per ora virum volat, ‘It passes from one man’s learned lips to another’s’. Cf. the epitaph of the poet Ennius (Epigrams, Loeb edition, p. 402): ‘volito vivus per ora virum’ (still living, from one man’s mouth to another I fly).

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