Mussolini and the precedent of Commodus-Hercules
This chapter examines the visual repertoire of Hercules during the age of Mussolini. The political and cultural platforms of Mussolini clearly evoked the model of Augustus. The link between ancient Rome and Fascist Italy, and specifically the association between Augustus and Mussolini, was essential for the legitimization of Fascism as the rightful descendent of the Roman Empire.
However, the incorporation and promotion of Hercules into Mussolini’s iconographic programme does not find precedent in Augustan visual media, but rather in Commodus’ Herculean image. Despite various references to Hercules in Augustan literary works, there are no visual self-representations of Augustus as Hercules. Overall, Hercules was not broadcast as one of Augustus’ patron deities. On the other hand, Commodus reinforced the legitimacy of his reign through his association with Hercules to the extent that he even considered himself to be a new Hercules (e.g. Commodus’ title of Hercules Romanus Augustus). He styled himself in the guise of Hercules on his portraiture (e.g. coins and statuary) as well as emulated Hercules’ qualities of physical strength and invincibility (e.g. Commodus fighting as a gladiator).
A comprehensive survey of Mussolini’s artistic agenda reveals a similar assimilation of Hercules. In the same manner as Commodus, Mussolini represented himself in the guise of Hercules in visual media (e.g. medals and statuary). Hercules was also prominently featured throughout Mussolini’s grandiose sports complex, the Foro Italico (e.g. the Stadio dei Marmi and the Palestra del Duce), as an ideal exemplum for the Fascist ‘new man’. Thus, the chapter argues that while Mussolini undoubtedly glorified Augustus, his appropriation of Hercules reflects the precedents set by the so-called ‘bad’ Roman emperors: Nero, Domitian, Caracalla, and, most particularly, Commodus.
Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 1)