In Market Place in Durham centre stands the impressive heroic figure of Neptune. The life size lead statue depicts the bearded figure standing over a dolphin and raising his trident as though to strike. The beautiful sculpture is surmounted upon a corniced column of sandstone and now stands in its original site thanks to an appeal fund organised by the Durham Trust. The statue was originally given to the city in 1729 by George Bowes of Gibside and represents Durham’s link to the sea. The sculpture was restored in 1986 and following its move to Wharton Park, Neptune was returned to its current location in May 1991.
In classical mythology Neptune was the Roman god identified with Poseidon. As one of the twelve Olympians (Iliad 15. 187-192), Neptune ruled over the waters (Metamorphoses 13. 854-858) and was originally a freshwater divinity who acquired his attributes from Greek mythology. The first historians, who wrote in Latin, were familiar with Greek mythology and many of the Roman legends are adaptations that stem from Greek myths. The Olympian Neptunus was equated with Poseidon, one of the twelve principle Roman gods, by the poet Ennius. Although the development of railway transport improved links with the city and the coast, Durham had aspired to be linked to the sea via the river Wear. As such, the personification of water was erected to symbolize Durham’s ambitions.
Hercules is the latinized form of the Greek Heracles who Homer describes in the Odyssey: “I saw mighty Heracles – his ghost, but he himself delights in feasting among the immortal gods, with fair-ankled Hebe for his wife” (Homer, Odyssey 11.601-603). Hercules was a Greek hero, son of Zeus and exemplar of strength and patience. Such a diverse character attracted a variety of interpretations and uses. His virtues became significantly used by the moralists and philosophers to whom he became a model of unselfish fortitude, labouring for the good of mankind and achieving immortality by his virtue (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). He was especially important as a paradigm of virtue in Roman Stoicism who set high value on the Heraclean qualities of endurance and self-reliance. The iconography of Hercules was firmly established by the Archaic period with the major identifying symbols of the lion skin cape and hood, his club and his bow and arrows. The geographical distribution of his cult was as wide as his legends and Hercules was adopted by individuals or states as a symbol or protecting deity (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). The above relief was found in the west Principia strongroom and depicts the second of Hercules’ Twelve Labours which made him a hero in both the Greek and Roman worlds. A natural patron of emperors and soldiers struggling on behalf of the empire, the carving show Hercules attacking the Hydra (a serpent with snake-headed tentacles, mainly lost but one tentacle is around the demi-god’s forearm). His patroness, the goddess Minerva, stands on the left watching over him. The west Principia was a headquarters building which was divided by arches onto three bays, each entered by one of three doors in the facade. The shrine from the Principia was packed with brightly coloured altars, statuary and standards with the above panel forming one of a series (Hodgson, 2015).