The King in the Jar

Today’s miscellany is a picture of some jars. In my defence, they’re beautiful, big enough to fit a fully grown man inside (a certain king comes to mind) and 3500 years old.


The king in the jar was called Eurystheus. Not a name that rolls easily off the tongue – at least not off my tongue – and you’re excused from trying to pronounce it. Eurystheus’s chief claim to fame is that he set impossible tasks for Heracles to perform, the so-called twelve labours. Heracles – Hercules in Latin – of course is one of the better known Greek mythological figures, famous for his great strength as well as the twelve labours. The greatest Greek hero was the son of Zeus from one of his many extra-marital affairs and the supposed ancestor of the Spartan royal houses (they had two ruling together).

Eurystheus’s meanness and stupidity were only surpassed by his cowardice. Several of the tasks he demanded of Hercules required the hero to capture some monster and bring it alive to Eurystheus’s palace. Eurystheus of course never expected Hercules to succeed and whenever he was confronted with one of these horrific monsters in his throne room, he sought refuge in a jar. Entertaining as this sounded, I always considered it wildly fanciful. How would Eurystheus fit into a jar?

Well, it had to be a large jar, like these pithoi in Knossos, Crete:

P1000797.JPG

I would have loved to provide the scale by getting somebody stand next to them but archeological sites – even Greek ones – take a dim view of people jumping over the barrier to pose with priceless, 3500 year old storage jars. Let alone climbing into them. So you have to take my word for it: either of these would have easily fitted Eurystheus inside. The olive oil would have spilled out, of course.

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4 thoughts on “The King in the Jar

  1. You make the classics sound fun. I’ve never got on with the names and didn’t realise Hercules (one of the easier to pronounce) was the same as Heracles. Somewhere I have a children’s version of Greek legends. Maybe I should read it sometime as I never did manage to read it to my children. I was put off the classics by having to read a very dry and boring version of some of the Greek legends at senior school and I’ve never recovered.

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    1. arwen1968

      I got hooked on the classics as a child with reading a children’s version of the Iliad so I suppose you could do worse than trying to read that children’s version of Greek mythology, although you might find it a bit too simplistic as an adult. I reasonably enjoyed reading Atticus the Storyteller and especially Black Ships Before Troy with my own children. The most famous collection of Greek myths is of course Robert Graves’s but I wouldn’t recommend it – it’s excellent for reference but from cover to cover it makes for dull reading because it’s so very dense.

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  2. You have written a classic. Well, guess not since time proves the classics, but as said above, you made the classic sound fun. Nice picture and commentary. And I agree it is not a good idea to hop the rope line to pose in the jar.

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