2. Herculean Labours: enriching the public understanding of our classical mythological heritage
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Unit of AssessmentClassics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Research 2005-12 has opened up new perspectives on Herakles-Hercules,
tracing links between the ancient hero and his post-classical
incarnations, and laying the foundations for further study of Hercules'
long-lasting cross-cultural significance. The impact has three strands:
- on individual public users — enriching lives via novel interpretations
of the quintessential ancient Greek hero;
- on the public engagement practice of Leeds City Museum 2011-13;
- on the planning process for the 2015-16 programme of a range of
museums in the UK, continental Europe and beyond which are to host an
innovative type of touring exhibition.
The case study is based on research published between 2005 and 2012 by Dr
Emma Stafford (Leeds 2000-present, Senior Lecturer since 2005). This
culminated in the monograph , which investigates Herakles' role
in ancient Greek and Roman literature, art, politics and religion, and his
many manifestations between antiquity and the present day. Herakles
has a particularly wide scope, due to the subject's extraordinary range in
the ancient world — in terms of chronology (he is present from the
earliest Greek to the latest Latin sources), of medium (he appears in all
genres of literature, all kinds of artwork), and of weight of narrative
(three times as many episodes attach to him as to any other ancient hero)
— and to Herakles' extraordinary status as both hero and god.
The book's substantial final chapter sketches the hero-god's continuing
presence in literature and art from late antiquity via the Renaissance to
the twenty-first century. It includes consideration of: Hercules'
appropriation by Christianity; his emergence in the Renaissance as a
exemplary figure and a prototype for virtuous living; his role as
political emblem; his particular relevance to France, as supposed
forefather of the monarchy and paradoxical hero of the Revolution;
re-workings of Sophokles' and Euripides' tragedies on Hercules' death and
madness; the hero's appearance in modern popular media. The book's major
contribution is that, by bringing together a wider range of material than
has ever previously been assembled (visual as well as literary, from Homer
to the present day), it has facilitated cross-cultural, cross-media
comparisons, drawing attention to significant continuities as well as
The three papers [2-4] were foundational for the 2012 book,
developing particular themes in more depth than possible in the book.
Paper  enlists the case of Herakles in the on-going scholarly
debate over the relationship between ritual (especially sacrificial)
practice and the character of its recipient, arguing against a recent
trend which has seen the two as unrelated. Paper  focuses on the
issue of Herakles' liminal status as a hero-god, and shows that the
articulation of this status in the story of his apotheosis is the most
distinctive aspect of his multi-faceted mythology. Paper  takes
as its point of departure Prodikos' famous story of the young Herakles'
choice between a life of vice and one of virtue, presented to him by Vice
and Virtue personified. It argues that the Greek hero has a particular
tendency to association with personifications, which is in turn a feature
of his aptness for allegorical narrative — an insight important to the
monograph's narrative of continuity between ancient and post-classical
images of the hero.
The final chapter of  includes discussion of a reinterpretation
of the hero by the contemporary New Zealand artist Marian Maguire: her
series of etchings and lithographs The Labours of Herakles feature
a Herakles inspired by Attic black-figure vases inserted into
nineteenth-century scenes of New Zealand, making witty comment on European
colonisation. Correspondence between Stafford and Maguire arising
from the book led to the artist's agreement to present her work at the Hercules:
a Hero for All Ages conference at Leeds in June 2013 (supported by a
grant from Creative New Zealand) and was crucial to development of the
exhibition detailed below (4b).
References to the research
1. E.J. Stafford (2012), Herakles (Gods and Heroes in the Ancient
World series, Routledge). ISBN 9780415300681. This book is listed in
REF2. Reviews describe it as `important and stimulating... comprehensive,
well-documented... both descriptive and analytical' (Journal of
Hellenic Studies 133, 2013 DOI: 10.1017/S0075426913000608);
`succeeds admirably in combining description and analysis... this book is
now the place to start (and keep returning to) for anyone interested in
the world's most famous hero' (Bryn Mawr Classical Review
2012.09.52). The final chapter is singled out as `particularly
informative... fascinating' (JHS), `the best chapter of the book'
2. E.J. Stafford (2005a) `Héraklès: encore et toujours le problème du heros
theos', Kernos 18: 391-406. DOI: 10.4000/kernos.1912. This
paper was submitted to RAE 2008; it is available online, or a copy can be
supplied on request.
3. E.J. Stafford (2010) `Herakles: between gods and heroes', in J.N.
Bremmer and A. Erskine (eds) The Gods of Ancient Greece: Identities
and Transformations (Edinburgh Leventis Studies 5),
Edinburgh, 228-44. ISBN: 9780748637980. The Bryn Mawr Classical Review
describes the volume as one `that pushes at the boundaries of our
research' (2011.04.55). A copy of the paper can be supplied on request.
4. E.J. Stafford (2005b) `Vice or Virtue?: Herakles and the art of
allegory', in L. Rawlings (ed.) Herakles and Hercules: exploring a
Greco-Roman divinity (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales), 71-96.
ISBN-13: 9781905125050. This paper was submitted to RAE 2008; a copy can
be supplied on request.
Details of the impact
a) Impact on Leeds City Museum's annual programme of events and on the
The research outlined above formed the basis for public engagement
activities which have played a key role in developing the UOA's
relationship with Leeds City Museum. These have helped to increase the
Museum's footfall, and have brought about changes in the type of event the
Museum includes in its programme. Impact on members of the public includes
enrichment of their engagement with cultural heritage.
i) As part of the Leeds-City-Council coordinated Light Night
(October 2010), the event Underworlds Live at Leeds was designed
by Dr Eleanor OKell (Visiting Fellow in Classics since September 2009) and
Stafford, drawing on  and . This walking tour
incorporated Leeds City Museum's Ancient Worlds Galleries and various city
sights into a journey through the ancient Underworld. Oral feedback from
audience members on the night indicated that the event drew new visitors
into the Museum who would visit again.
Building on this success, for Light Night 2011 the same team
designed In the Footsteps of Hercules. Research insights from work
on the monograph  underpinned a presentation of Hercules which
linked ancient versions of his story with artefacts in the City Museum's
Ancient Worlds Galleries and public sculpture around Leeds. Participants
were guided by a map, interpretative poster-points linked each
item/location to an episode — e.g. the Town Hall's lionskin- clad head of
Hercules with the Nemean Lion labour — and actors playing mythological
characters provided live story-telling. One stop on the tour, `Tales of
Hercules' (Stafford and actor), invited the public to hear
Iphikles' comically subversive version of his more famous brother's
The Museum commented that the tour `represented a departure from previous
practice for the Museum' and that they were `keen to repeat' this
innovation [A]; they noted visitor-numbers of c.4000, equivalent to
a whole week's footfall in the peak school holiday period, and commented
that the event `had helped attract new audiences to the Museum on the
night and [had] encouraged them to return to the Museum at a later date' [B].
The Museum was keen to commit to further classically-themed events for Light
Nights 2012 and 2013 (see REF 3a).
ii) As detailed in REF3a, the series Classics in Our
Lunchtimes launched at the City Museum in October 2011. These talks
have included two by Stafford: Olympic Beginnings (June
2012) drew on the monograph's  discussion of Herakles' role as
founder of the Olympic Games; Hercules' Choice: from ancient
Greece to Temple Newsam (May 2013) drew on paper , while
focusing on a particular example in Leeds Museums and Galleries' own
collection. The Museum commented that Stafford's `participation in
the series gave an opportunity for a new exploration of the Greek
collection and its themes' and that someone with her `research expertise
could help bring the collections to life' [A]. Audience feedback
rated both talks `excellent' or `very good' and indicated that almost all
were likely to attend again [C].
b) Impact on exhibition design and event-programming at Leeds City
Museum and beyond
Between May 2012 and July 2013 Stafford began a collaboration
with Prof. John Prag (former Curator at Manchester Museum) working on an
exhibition based on Marian Maguire's The Labours of Herakles
series (above §2). In preliminary designs for the exhibition, Stafford
drew on the research of all four outputs. Discussion with Leeds City
Museum over the same period led to its agreement to host this exhibition
in spring 2015, displaying the modern prints alongside a number of
antiquities and post-classical artefacts depicting Herakles, thus
presenting the same 2,500-year continuum discussed in her monograph.
The impact here is on the Museum's event-programming and on their
exhibition practice. Making this kind of use of modern art in the display
of pre-modern artefacts is an innovation for the Museum, extending the
range of established practice. They have welcomed the `exciting
opportunity... to juxtapose contemporary artworks with objects from the
Leeds and Manchester collections' [A], `to tease out different
stories... and bring to the public items that have rarely been exhibited
or are less accessible' [D].
Between February and July 2013 four other museums have agreed to host the
exhibition after its initial showing in Leeds: in the UK, Liverpool's
Garstang Museum [E] and the Cambridge Museum of Classical
Archaeology; in Germany, the Munich Antikensammlungen [F] and
Würzburg's Martin von Wagner Museum. These form the nucleus of an
international tour which will span a period from spring 2015 to winter
2016; talks are on-going with other institutions, including Newcastle's
Great North Museum, Edinburgh University Library, the Musée Royal de
Mariemont in Belgium and the Nicholson Museum in Sydney.
At each confirmed venue Stafford has been consulted on how the
Maguire prints might be shown alongside a selection of objects from the
local collections, again drawing on the monograph's central argument about
The impact here is again on event-programming, and on the museums'
exhibition practices. For example: `The project that [Stafford] has
developed with the Maguire exhibition in Leeds is a totally new way of
thinking about displaying classical collections. It's not something we
have ever done before and it is a model that we are really interested in,
because it offers a way to help us to interpret our collections and
attract people to the museum beyond the normal range of public engagement'
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. Statement from Curator of Archaeology, Leeds City Museum (16/8/12).
B. Statement from Site Development Officer, Leeds City Museum (23/8/12).
C. Audience feedback from Stafford's Classics in our Lunchtimes
D. Statement from Curator of Archaeology (2012-13 temporary cover), Leeds
City Museum (7/6/13).
E. Statement from Director of the Garstang Museum of Classical
Archaeology, Liverpool (26/6/13).
F. Statement from representative of the Munich Antikensammlungen