Last week I has the pleasure of recording a rather rare folding knife handle found recently in Kesteven. The knife shows Hercules and Antaeus wrestling with each other, and is depicted with amazing detail and action. Hercules is the chap standing behind with his arms wrapped around Antaeus’ waist throwing Antaeus to the ground.
This knife handle represents an ancient myth, and therefore indicates that some people living in the Lincolnshire countryside were well aquained with Classical Roman mythology.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…
There was once a demi-god called Antaues, a giant of Libya, the son of the sea god Poseidon and the Earth goddess Gaea. He lived in a cave in the woods and he compelled all those who passed through the countryside to wrestle with him. He had such great strength that he defeated and killed everyone he challenged. One day, he met Hercules and challenged him to a wrestle. Hercules outplayed Antaeus, yet despite how many times he threw Antaeus to the ground he could not win, indeed the giant appeared rejuvenated from the encounter. Hercules eventually realized that the earth, Antaeus’ mother, was the source of his strength, so he held the giant aloft until all his power had drained away, finally crushing him in a bearhug.
According to Wikipedia, the myth of Antaeus has been used as a symbol of the spiritual strength which accrues when one rests one’s faith on the immediate fact of things. Alternatively the myth can be interpreted as the triumph of art and labour over the barren woodland solitudes that Antaues represents. Taking this latter interpretation you could almost see the handle as representing the percieved dominance of classical religion over the back-water native woodland spirits of Kesteven. Either that or the owner was a male who fancied himself as a sort of Hercules figure.