The subjects used for intaglios are diverse, with depictions of deities and mythical creatures being a favourite theme. In Ancient Roman mythology, Hercules (or Herakles in Greek culture) was famed for his strength, as well as for his far-ranging adventures. Together with the lion skin, the club was the main attribute of Hercules, meaning strength and success against the odds. Widely considered to be the greatest of Greco-Roman heroes, Hercules is often depicted with a heightened masculine physique. As punishment for the frenzied killing of his family, Hercules was ordered to undertake twelve tasks. One such task was the killing of the Stymphalian Birds, sacred to the goddess Artemis. They were man-eating birds, with beaks of bronze. One account of the myth makes mention of the birds escaping a pack of wolfs. Given the unusual nature of the intaglio, which does feature various elements of the myth, perhaps this a portrayal of the story. The female figure, holding a bird, could be either Artemis or Athena, who aided the hero in his labours. The recumbent wolf also features in the myth, whilst the bird represents the mythical foe.
To find out more about intaglios, please visit our relevant blog post: Engraved Gemstones in Ancient Rome.
To discover more about Roman deities, please visit our relevant blog post: Roman Gods in Mythology