Robert Langdon and Sienna wander in the Palazzo Vecchio in search of new clues, and a very special statue catches their attention.
We are talking about the statue of Hercules and Diomedes in the Hall of the Five Hundred.
This statue—located next to the Genius of Victory by Michelangelo and Florence triumphant over Pisa by Giambologna—belongs to a series of statues representing The Labors of Hercules.
Cosimo I de’ Medici commissioned twelve statues to sculptor Vincenzo de’ Rossi in 1560, but he managed to complete only seven of them.
In the original project, this series of sculptures was supposed to decorate a fountain in the Boboli Gardens.
Since 1592, these statues have been located in the Salone dei Cinquecento, with the exception of a brief period when Florence was capital, when they were moved to the Bargello Palace.
These sculptures represent the following scenes: Hercules and Cacus, Hercules and the Centaur Nessus, Hercules and Antaeus, Hercules and Diomedes, Hercules and the Boar Erymanthian, and Hercules and Hippolyta.
The seventh group, Hercules with the sphere of Atlas, is now at the entrance to the Villa di Poggio Imperiale.
Hercules is the mythological hero that best embodies Greek freedom and heroism: for this reason, the Republic of Florence and the Medici loved the stories of Hercules very much and often celebrated them with art.
Hercules embodied liberty as David—the hero who defeated Goliath— and who, not surprisingly, was chosen to stand at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio.
In Greek mythology, Hercules embodies courage and perseverance. At the end of his twelve labors he conquers immortality, which is the quality of all right and fair creatures.
If you want to know all about Hercules, we have a free e-book to suggest: Myths of Greece and Rome, by Hélène Adeline Guerber.
In his youth, Hercules did not know what to do with his fate. Then two women—Softness and Virtue—appeared to him and offered him a choice between a life of pleasure and joy and one of toil and glory.
Hercules chose the latter and had to face the twelve labors: Hercules and Diomedes is one of these episodes.
During the course of his twelve labors, Hercules, the strongest of the gods, also found time to remedy injustice and abuse.
In the Hercules and Diomedes episode, Eurystheus—to which Hercules was subjected according to the will of Zeus—commanded Hercules to seize the mares of Diomedes and bring them to Mycenae, the city where Eurystheus was king.
Diomedes, son of the cruel god Ares, was a despot and reigned over the Bistoni in Thrace.
He had some wild mares, spitting fire and flames from their nostrils.
As he was cruel, Diomedes used to feed them with the poor who were shipwrecked by storms off the coast of Thrace.
Hercules, with little effort, reached Thrace, captured and tied Diomedes, and fed him to his own mares.
When the horses had eaten their own master, Hercules brought them to Mycenae as promised, and Eurystheus set them free.
The statue in the Hall of the Five Hundred succeeds very well in representing a right punishment for tyrants.
Why? You can find out the description given by Vayentha, the shadow character of Dan Brown’s Inferno:
The sculpture depicted the two heroes of Greek mythology—both stark naked—locked in a wrestling match. Hercules was holding Diomedes upside down, preparing to throw him, while Diomedes was tightly gripping Hercules’ penis, as if to say, “Are you sure you want to throw me?”