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I was astonished when I saw these two tapestries in a museum: Hercules tail in Centaurus wars

Hercules fighting Centaurs

Hercules tail in multi-headed dog fight

Hercules fighting a multi-headed dog

In both of them Hercules/Heracles seems to have a well defined tail with a wisp of longer hair at its end. I went to Wikipedia and confirmed this in two other images:

Hercules tail in Hydra fight Wiki-Link Hercules tail in Achelous Wiki-Link

This made me question:

  • Does Hercules really have a tail? (or is it a trophy attached to his clothes)
  • What kind of tail is that? (which animal's tail resembles the most)
  • Does the tail have a specific symbolism when portrayed in Hercules? (e.g. fight with gods or mythological beasts)
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  1. It was a trophy.

  2. A Nemean Lion's Tail.

  3. It was the 1st labor of Hercules- it was Hercules' first great deed.

The first of Hercules' labors was to kill the Nemean lion. Hesiod, in his Theogony, wrote

Nemean lion, which Hera, the good wife of Zeus, brought up and made to haunt the hills of Nemea, a plague to men. There he preyed upon the tribes of her own people and had power over Tretus of Nemea and Apesas.

Apollodorus, in Library, describes how Hercules killed the lion after attempts to shoot it:

And having come to Nemea and tracked the lion, he first shot an arrow at him, but when he perceived that the beast was invulnerable, he heaved up his club and made after him. And when the lion took refuge in a cave with two mouths, Hercules built up the one entrance and came in upon the beast through the other, and putting his arm round its neck held it tight till he had choked it; so laying it on his shoulders he carried it to Cleonae.

It is well known (see e.g.Theocritus' Idylls) that Hercules then wore the lion's skin as protection - after all, it was impenetrable, and thus made for sound body armor. He did not attempt to fully dismember the body, though; in the final image, you can see the skin from its arms and legs sticking out his back.

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That's the tail of the Nemean Lion, which Hercules killed as a part of his first task for King Eurystheus in absolution for killing his wife and children (due to the manipulation of the goddess Hera). Hercules then skinned the lion and used this skin for a cloak, as it was impervious to mortal weapons (part of the reason why it was so hard to kill).

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