Canova, Hercules’s frenzy and Lichas’s terror
In Book IX of the “Metamorphoses”, Ovid tells the story of when Hercules put on the shirt poisoned with Nessus’s blood: driven mad by the pain – and not knowing it was a scheme by the centaur, his enemy – he assumed his servant Lichas had betrayed him.
According to Ovid’s work, Hercules shouted at him, in the rage of pain, “Was it you, Lichas, brought this fatal gift? Shall you be called the author of my death?”. The poor servant trembled and mumbled a few words, then “groveled at his feet, and begged for mercy”. But Hercules “whirled him thrice and once again about his head, and hurled him, shot as by a catapult, into the waves of the Euboic Sea”.
To immortalized this moment of mythological violence in marble, Canova took approximately twenty years: the sculpture was commissioned to him by Onorato Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona in 1795, but was not completed until 1815 due to constant interruptions, mostly tied to political reasons.
The magnificent statue is now kept in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.