Olympia, Temple of Zeus, Hydra of Lerna metope, reconstruction (small)

Olympia, Temple of Zeus, Hydra of Lerna metope, reconstruction (large)

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Full side view of the hydra and Herakles

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Detail of hydra

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Detail of hydra's body

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Detail of hydra

Collection: Olympia Archaeological Museum
Title: Olympia Hydra Metope
Context: From Olympia
Findspot: Excavated at Olympia
Summary: Herakles and the Lernean Hydra
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Architectural
Category: Statuary group
Placement: West Metope 2
Style: Early Classical
Technique: High relief
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 470 BC - ca. 457 BC

H 1.60 m (approximately square)

Scale: Under life-size
Region: Elis
Period: Early Classical
In Group: Olympia Metopes

Subject Description:

The second of the canonic Labors was the struggle with the Hydra of Lerna, depicted in the second metope over the West "porch". Herakles, represented by a head fragment, a battered torso and well-preserved right calf, faced right to meet the Hydra, a many-headed snake which normally produced two new heads for every one lost. The Hydra occupies most of the metope. Little of it remains, but the fact that several of the snake heads have dropped to the ground or are otherwise limp suggest that, like the Lion episode, this metope illustrates a moment late in the battle if not after it has ended.

The story is related by Hesiod (Hes. Th. 313ff) but, like the Lion Struggle, has an older history in visual representations. The image can be traced back to the 8th century and appeared first in the Near East. The archaic images show a more complex version, normally with Iolaos as companion to Herakles and the giant Crab as an additional enemy.

Condition: Fragmentary

Condition Description:

Herakles: top of head, fragments of torso and legs; Hydra: several large fragments from the center and lower left corner of the metope.

Associated Building: Olympia, Temple of Zeus

Sources Used:

Stewart 1990, 142 ff.; Brommer 1986; Boardman 1985a, 33ff.; Mallwitz & Herrmann 1980, 161ff.; Robertson 1975, 276 ff.; Ashmole 1972, 27 ff.; Ridgway 1970; Ashmole & Yalouris 1967