Herakles and the Nemean Lion

One of the most venerable myths of ancient Greece is that of the first labor of Herakles, the slaying of the Nemean Lion. The skin of this beast was impenetrable, and Herakles was forced to wrestle and finally strangle him. Using the lion’s own claws, he removed the skin and then wore it as a coat of armor.

Given the popularity of the myth from earliest times, it is something of a surprise to learn that it was only in the Roman period that a connection was constructed between the slaying of the lion and the foundation of the Nemean Games. In other words, in the Greek period a clear distinction was maintained between the Lion on the one hand and the Games on the other.

Herakles and the Nemean Lion from an Attic Black-Figure amphora by Psaiax, ca. 525 B.C.
Alexander Sarcophagus

It is also noteworthy that the Kings of Macedon, who traced their ancestry to Herakles by way of Argos, portrayed themselves wearing the Lion’s skin, including Alexander the Great, here shown on the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus.