The Twelve Works of Hercules

The Twelve Works of Hercules

Zamora (Spain) — January 15, 1483

11 of 12 engravings have been preserved: the story of the ancient hero synthesized with Christian teachings

  1. A synthesis of Greek mythology and Christian allegory meant to inspire virtuous behavior

  2. Written in 1417 by Marquess Enrique de Villena (1384–1434) in Catalan and later translated into Castilian

  3. Printed by Antón de Centenera on January 15th, 1483 in Zamora with 12 engravings, 11 of which survive

The Twelve Works of Hercules

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
The Twelve Works of Hercules

Born the son of Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene, Hercules was a Roman hero famous for his great strength and one of the most popular mythic figures both in the Middle Ages and today. As was common for ancient pagan myths, the tale was reinterpreted as a Christian allegory by medieval authors. Written by a Spanish nobleman, this version of the heroic myth was intended to inspire readers to a lead an honorable life.

The Twelve Works of Hercules

Don Enrique de Villena (1384–1434), Marquess of Villena, was a Spanish author, poet, and theologian who also was reputed to be a necromancer. Although belonging to the former royal house of Aragon, his political ambitions were denied him, and so he committed himself as an author. He is most famous for his Los Trabajos de Hércules, the first edition of which was printed by Antón de Centenera on January 15th, 1483 in Zamora. Originally written in Catalan in 1417, he later translated it into Castilian. The work is a synthesis of Greek mythology and Christian allegory filled with moralizing messages meant to inspire virtuous behavior. It is divided into 12 chapters, which are then divided into four parts, respectively. The splendid engravings are from a Spanish artist, but only 11 of the 12 have survived, with the Battle of the Centaurs missing. Nonetheless, this is an exemplary Spanish incunabulum, i.e. a book printed before 1501.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Die zwölf Aufgaben des Herkules
Die zwölf Taten des Herakles
Die zwölf Arbeiten des Herakles
Los (Doce) Trabajos de Hercules
Size / Format
68 pages / 27.5 × 20.5 cm
Origin
Spain
Date
January 15, 1483
Language
Script
Gothic
Illustrations
11 woodcuts
Content
Medieval version of the legend of Hercules
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
The Twelve Works of Hercules – Inc. 2441 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1995
Limited Edition: 3160 copies
Detail Picture

The Twelve Labors of Hercules

Cerberus

The capture of Cerberus, the three-headed, dragon-tailed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld, was the twelfth and final labor of Hercules. Hades, lord of the Underworld, only agreed to let Hercules take Cerberus to the surface if he could do it without weapons. This woodcut shows Hercules holding a chain, which is secured around one of the necks of the beast. Persephone, Hade’s queen and a sibling of Hercules, stands at the gates wearing flowing robes and looking thoroughly displeased.

Los (Doce) Trabajos de Hercules
Single Page

The Twelve Labors of Hercules

Golden Apples of the Hesperides

After Hercules completed the first ten labors, Eurystheus gave him two more, claiming that neither slaying the Hydra nor cleaning the Augean Stables counted because he had cheated. He was thus sent to steal three of the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides. After learning of its location from the Old Man of the Sea, the shapeshifting sea god, he went to the garden where he slew Ladon, the dragon who guarded the apples.

The woodcut appears at the bottom of a page with a conspicuously blank area where a decorative initial ought to be. Many early printed books did this so that the purchaser could have initials hand painted according to their personal tastes. Similarly, the woodcuts could also be colored by an artist at a later time.

Los (Doce) Trabajos de Hercules
Facsimile Editions

#1 Los (Doce) Trabajos de Hercules

Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1995
The Twelve Works of Hercules – Inc. 2441 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
The Twelve Works of Hercules – Inc. 2441 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1995
Limited Edition: 3160 copies
Binding: Parchment binding
Commentary: 1 volume by Vicente Escartí Soriano
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Please ask for a quote!
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