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Winged Atlas-Hercules

200s CE
Overall: 38.1 cm (15 in.)
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This figure combines the attributes of Atlas, Hercules, and Vajrapani.


In Buddhist art of the Gandharan region during the time of heightened contact with the Mediterranean world, the figure of Atlas was adopted, but given wings so as to appear superhuman. This figure has been conflated with the image of Hercules, who wears the skin of the Nemean lion, and relieved Atlas of his duties for a short time. Repeated images of composite Atlas-like figures surrounded the base of the monuments called stupas, which were solid domes, and can be understood as symbols for the sky, which would have appeared as though supported by rows of titanic figures. Other examples of this figure hold a thunderbolt (vajra) in one hand, suggesting that he could also allude to Vajrapani, an early protector divinity of the Buddha. Images of Vajrapani can combine attributes of Hercules, Zeus, and Hermes.
Winged Atlas-Hercules

Winged Atlas-Hercules

200s CE

Pakistan, Gandhara, Gandhara period

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