The Giant Cacus

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Cacus was a fire-breathing giant and the son of Vulcan in Roman mythology.

Until Rome was founded, he terrorized the Aventine Hill before being slain by Hercules. On the future location of Rome, in Italy, Cacus resided in a cave. Cacus would pin the heads of victims to his cave’s doors while subsisting on human flesh, much to the terror of the locals. Hercules finally triumphed over him. Solinus claims that Cacus resided in a region known as Salinae, which subsequently became the site of the Porta Trigemina. Evander claims that Hercules made a pit stop to graze the cattle he had taken from Geryon close to Cacus’ lair. The monster, who was attracted to the cattle as Hercules slept, skillfully kidnapped eight of them—four bulls and four cows—by pulling them by their tails and leaving a trail that led in the wrong way. The surviving herd cried out at the cave as Hercules got up and started to depart, and one cow lowered in response.

Hercules dashed toward the cave in rage. In other versions, Hercules himself stands in for Cacus and blocks the entrance with a huge, immovable rock, making it necessary for Hercules to scale the mountain’s summit in order to confront his foe. Hercules fought back against Cacus’ onslaught with millstone-sized pebbles and fire and smoke from his mouth. Hercules eventually lost patience and jumped into the cave, heading towards the place with the most smoke. Hercules was applauded all across the country for his deed when he captured Cacus and strangled the monster. His sister was Caca.

Featured image: Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Hercules killing Cacus at his cave, from The Labours of Hercules (1542-1548). Engraving, 1545.

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