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I recently visited the Archeological museum of Antalya, seeing two 'Herakles sarcophagi' like this one, depicting his twelve labours.

I learned some about him like how he reached immortality. I was however confused. In my mind (and I double-checked on Wikipedia), a sarcophagus is a funeral container. But here we have a sarcophagus (in fact multiple) of an a priori fictional character that reached immortality.

As far as I saw, gods and other mythological characters are represented with statues, on frescoes or such supports. But not on sarcophagi.

My question is, what/who was this Herakles sarcophagus for? I thought so far that he is revered through a sarcophagus (I would be curious why), it is actually his sarcophagus and the story around him has been embellished, it is a mere mortal sarcophagus and its owner was compared with Herakles or was proud of himself. These might sound ridiculous but I have so far not found an explanation.

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What made you think the sarcophagi you saw were for Heracles? The example you cited is a sarcophagus decorated with depictions of Heracles, as opposed to being for him. –  Semaphore Aug 16 at 13:15
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@Semaphore good point indeed. I did not pay attention to that when writing the question but I remember the description in the museum was 'Herakles sarcophagus' leaving more doubts on the link between Herakles and the sarcophagus. I updated the question. –  Vince Aug 16 at 14:16

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To answer your immediate question, the sarcophagus would have been for a wealthy Roman. In the case of the Genzano sarcophagus you cite, like many similar ones, the name of the deceased is unknown.

During the high Imperial period of Rome, 200-400 A.D., sarcophagi such as these were popular. They were often decorated in high relief and contained mythological scenes, often involving death or the underworld. The Labors of Hercules was a popular theme. Note that the last of the labors was to retrieve the hound of hell, Cerebus, and bring him out of Hades. Another common theme was Hercules rescuing Alcestis from Hades. The myth of Persephone, who was kidnapped by Pluto and became the queen of Hades, was an extremely popular theme for sarcophagi.

sarcophagus at Antalya

The style you saw at Antalya, shown in the photo above, is typical, with a temple-like roof and high-relief panels separated by Corinthian columns.

Some moderns may find it a little odd to have superhero mythology on a burial container--sort of the equivalent of having Batman comics on your coffin--but for the later Romans such things were common. They also decorated their houses with exactly the same kinds of art: Hercules, myths, scenes from the gods, and so on.

There was a professor at Barnard named Marion Lawrence who devoted her career to studying classical sarcophagi and you can research the topic by reading her papers.

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