Herakles reposing on a raft.
Etruscan scarab, 5th century BC
Cornelian, gold (modern gold ring). 1,2 x 1,6 cm
Inventory number: I16
This gem derives from an Etruscan signet ring. The upper side is in the shape of a scarab, while the underside bears the actual signet. There, the hero Hercules is seen, lying on a float of four amphorae. This motif is frequently encountered in Etruscan pictures, but it is known in neither Greek jewellery nor vases. The way in which he is presented may possibly contain a reference to a particular Etruscan notion of Hercules as a water god. However, the scene could also refer to Hercules’ journey west to the “Pillars of Hercules” (the promontories near Gibraltar), which in antiquity were thought to be the western edge of the world. The workmanship and the club are an early example of the Etruscan “a globolo” style, which was widespread in the 3rd century BC. The gem has been mounted in a modern ring and has probably been used simply as a piece of jewellery as was common practice in Thorvaldsen’s day.