Diomedes devoured by his horses – Moreau

Today I thought I would have a look at the roots of abstract art.  I know…this painting doesn’t look abstact in the slightest…more renaissance or romanticism, but Gustave Moreau saw his work very differently.

This was painted in 1865, Moreau broke away from that styles of those around him, reconciling the expression of his own ideas to that of a conceptual and more universal language.   In later works Moreau took an increasingly abstract approach, moving away from his peers of his time.

The scene that is laid out in this picture is that of the eighth labour of Hercules.  This particular challenge was for him to retrieve the flesh eating horses of Diomedes.   The labours were set for Heracles as a punishment for killing his own wife and children in a fit of madness which that sneaky goddess Hera had orchestrated.  On coming out of the madness Hercules was devastated by his actions and prayed to the God Apollo for guidance, he was then told via the Oracles that he has to serve the king Eurystheus for 12 years.  As the 8th labour Hercules was told to get the horses and bring them back to Mycenae.

Heading off, Heracles drops by on his old friend Admetus, but on arrival he finds that the house hold is in mourning.  Ademetus lies, saying that it was the death of someone unimportant, but as Heracles indulges in the hospitality of the house, the servants look in appalled and eventually Ademetus tells Heracles the truth, that his wife has died, but before her time, taking his place.  Heracles, feeling the pangs of guilt and remorse storms off in to the underworld and battles Thanatos to bring home Ademetus’ wife.

Leaving his friend, Heracles performs a surprise attack on the stables where the carnivorous horses are kept, overthrowing the stables and taking the horses.  On his return to Mycenae, Diomedes has his own surprise attack on Hercules, and wanting to head in to battle, he leaves the horses with his friend Abderus while he defeats Diomedes.  Heracles is triumphant in the battle, and on returning to collect the horses finds that they have eaten Abderus.  Offering the horses the body of Diomedes they eat it and become tame as their master as been vanquished.  Heracles brings the horses to Eurystheus, and goes on to build a city in honour of Abderus.  But what happened to the horses????  I hear you screaming at me, well, they were released on to mount Olympus.  Due to their reformed personalities they were killed by the wild animals that lived there.

So why have I gone in to so much detail over the Greek myth for this particular painting? Because to truly get to grips with this picture, you as the audience need to know the facts, which then brings the painting to life.  We see as the central focal point the 3 horses eating the body of Diomedes.  His crown fallen to the right foreground of the scene.  There are dead bodies in the court yard that the scene takes place in, these are victims of the horses and not bodies fallen in battle.

The horses are adorned with the Royal wears and look violent, while the kings body looks pained and defeated, although at an awkward angle to the horses as his body is flung around by them.

In the background we see Heracles looking on, sat on the wall.  Serene and his vision downcast, in rememberance for his friend and lost family.

It is said that this painting was a homage to Da Vinci and Michelangelo, in the detailed scenery and the anotomically correct form of the horses and people, their muscles painted in movement and well defied in the tension and pressure that they hold.  The homage recognises the advancement of these two artists being more advanced in their studies of the human body than doctors of the time, using cadavers to understand how the human body worked.

So why is this heralded as a piece of abstract art? Well… firstly unless you are told the title of the painting, it is easy to assume that the subject matter is actually a guy being trampled to death by deranged horses while a really unhelpful guy looks on from the wall.

There is an element of absurdity of the piece, as the story of flesh eating horses, especially those who would go out of their way to eat flesh is not a digestible concept in normal everyday life, though accepted in mythology as it is just that….myth.

Moreau’s technique masks the unusual theme with a classical air bringing this myth to a universal audience (lets remember the timing of the work, lots of people would not have learnt to read and would have relied on visual representations for story telling).

I like this piece as a forerunner for Moreau’s later work where the classical definitions were abandoned for bolder brush strokes and less refined central focuses.


One thought on “Diomedes devoured by his horses – Moreau

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul

The Devil's Playground

The journey through mental health by a sardonic soul

Fort of melancholy

Art & Photography

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Memoirs of Miss Salt...........

Memories of past and present antics!

A Voice in the Dark

An Independent film company

Rich Pieces

Obsessed with film since 1982

BENLEANDER_Design Studio

Branded Storytelling and Visual Design

Big Art Theory Blog

a place where art meets literature in a way unseen before

Zhiguai Translations

Classical Chinese tales of the strange and anomalous, translated (roughly) by Geoff Humble.

Bitchin’ in the Kitchen

..because the thoughts that fall, kicking and screaming from my head need a safe place to land..


MarkovichUniverse AT gmail.com

Finding French Charming

Finding True Love.. Even After Forty

My expressions

unexpressed thoughts

Channel Zero Archives

Analysis, images, meta & more, celebrating the surreal horror classic, currently streaming on Shudder

Quaint Revival

quirks, quips & photo clicks

It's Turpintime!

Stuff & Bits For The Muddled and Addled.


Things that happened on this date in history. Probably.

Eerie Unsolved

A Mix-Up of Mysteries, Conspiracie and All Things Spooky!

The Battles of Frankie

The failings and anecdotes of an average Aussie woman

The Indy Diarist

A Day in the Life

Leggings & Tea

Books. Art. Life.


Tiling.Renovation. Restoration.Photography

High Lumen

lighting design blog

Lady with Black Lipstick

Hopeless romantic speaking her thoughts.


This is the page where I will share my thoughts about football, my memories and funny stories.

The Latent Being

Believer of Freedom of Mind


A panorama is defined as an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer. My panorama includes a jumbled mess of ideas and thoughts waiting to be typed out. Welcome to my panorama.

Marina Baker

marketing, social media, & business development

Chef Dave, Esq.

Lawyer by trade -- Cook by passion

Dr. Eric Perry’s Blog

Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Cryssy’s Blog

Loving YOU without the Mask!


just a regular human trying to survive in the city


Your Source For The Coolest Science Stories

Amdall Gallery

Artwork, data analysis, and other projects by Jon

The Planet According to Dom

Where humour and adventure collide

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

%d bloggers like this: