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A Tortured Image: The Biography of Lucullus' Dying Hercules

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Abstract

This essay explores a Roman triumphal monument put up at the heart of Rome by the triumphator Lucullus in the 1st c. BCE, and its Imperial afterlife after the fall of the Republic. We know this monument, a Greek statue of Hercules dying in torment from the poisoned robe sent him by his consort,  from a description in Pliny's Natural History; strong themes of the discussion are how Pliny interprets works of art and history, and addresses the physical city of Rome. The monument had to be put up again twice, by Lucullus' son with the Roman Senate, then by a magistrate, and each of those phases had their own meanings; the inscriptions described in Pliny afford a chance to explore relations between text and image. Accounting for the varied and even contradictory sorts of appeal made by this display of pain, for this particular hero, is key to any full exploration of how Lucullus' Hercules could be an exemplary Roman monument, and one which could stand in Pliny's day for the age of the Republic itself.

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