Who's who in 'The Triumph of Fortitude'?

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Identified Characters

Please note that we have used the common name to identify each character. Where this differs from the name given on the tapestry, the latter is given in brackets.

Alexander| | Cocles| | Holofernes and Judith| | Chloelia| | Mutius Scevola| | Eleazer| | Cinope| | Lions| | Sicinius Dentatus (Dentatus)| | Marcus Cassius Sceva (Sceva)| | Eagle| | Fortitude (Fortitudo)| | Penthesilea (Penthesieea)| | Queen Thomyris (Thamaris)| | David| | Hercules or Samson| | Nehemiah (Neemias)| | Phinehas (Phnees)| | Jael and Sisera (Jahel and Sisaram)| | Joshua|


Alexander

The name 'Alexander' on the tapestry may refer to Alexandria, the great conquering city in Egypt, built 332 BC by Alexander the Great.

Or it may refer to Alexander the Great, chief commander of the Grecian states in the 4th century BC . This could be Alexander himself who can be seen climbing the walls of a besieged tower in the top right-hand corner.

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Cocles

Publius Horatius Cocles was a celebrated Roman who lived in the 3rd century BC . He can be seen about halfway up the far left of the tapestry.

Cocles is swimming in the River Tiber|, having just jumped from the bridge he alone was defending against the whole of the Etrurian army. 'Cocles' is Latin for 'one-eyed man'. Publius Horatius Cocles got this nickname as he had the use of only one eye.

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Cocles
Holofernes and Judith

Holofernes and Judith

Judith was a rich and beautiful widow who lived in the city of Bethulia. Her story is found in the Old Testament of the Bible.

When the Assyrian army laid siege to Bethulia, Judith devised a scheme to save the city. She pretended to have deserted her people and was accepted by the enemy army. Having caught the attention of the general Holofernes, she was invited to a banquet, after which he intended to seduce her. However, Holofernes fell into a drunken sleep. Judith took her opportunity to kill him and the tapestry depicts the moment when she struck off his head with two blows, using Holofernes' own sword. The news of Holofernes' death caused the Assyrians to panic and they fled. (The Old Testament, Judith 13)

You can see Judith cutting of Holofernes' head near the top left of the tapestry.

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Chloelia

Chloelia was the fearless and headstrong daughter of an important Roman family who lived in the 3rd century BC .

As part of a hostage deal with Porsenna, the King of Etruria, the Romans agreed to give him ten children from their most important families. In the tapestry, to the far left, we are shown the moment when one of these children, Chloelia, escaped from Porsenna's camp by crossing the River Tiber on horseback, only to be returned to Porsenna by the Romans. In admiration of her courage, however, Porsenna gave Chloelia a horse and set her free.

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Chloelia
Mutius Scevola

Mutius Scevola

Mutius Scevola was a young Roman, determined to save his city from Porsenna, King of Etruria in the 3rd century BC . You can see him standing at the front of the taperstry in the bottom left-hand corner.

Mutius sneaked into Porsenna's camp disguised as a Tuscan and entered the king's tent, but mistakenly attacked a secretary, rather than Porsenna himself. Mutius was seized and brought before the king. As proof of his fortitude, Mutius placed his hand on burning coals and informed the king that he was one of 300 young Romans who had conspired against his life, entered the camp in disguise and were determined to destroy him or die in the attempt. Porsenna was alarmed by this confession, and consequently made peace with the Romans and left their city.

Mutius Scevola obtained the name 'Mutius' (meaning 'mutilated' or 'maimed') having lost the use of his right hand as a result of the burns he sustained in this incident.

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Eleazer

Eleazer is an heroic character in Jewish history. His story appears in the 'Apocrypha', a collection of writings produced by Jews during the centuries following the close of the Old Testament and prior to the beginning of the New.

In 163 BC , the enemy king Lysias, with 120,000 men and 32 war elephants, met with the Israelite leader Judas and his army close to Jerusalem. Although Judas' men killed 600 enemy soldiers, they were forced to retreat into the city. During this battle, Judas' younger brother, Eleazer, died when he single-handedly attacked a large elephant that he believed to be carrying the enemy king. (1 Macabees 6:46).

You can see him stabbing the elephant at the top of the tapestry, slightly left of centre.

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Eleazer
Cinope

Cinope

Cinope (or Sinope) was Queen of the Amazons around 1300 BC . She was renowned for courageously leading her warriors in battle and for remaining a virgin.

Here she is shown riding one of the lions near the centre of the tapestry.

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Lions

Lions symbolise fortitude| and also the Resurrection of Christ.

In this piece they are shown pulling the chariot of Fortitude herself.

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Lions
Dentatus

Sicinius Dentatus (Dentatus)

Sicinius Dentatus was a Roman tribune| and warrior who died in about 405 BC and is described by Pliny, the famous classical Roman writer, as an example of courage.

Sicinius Dentatus was celebrated for his courage in battle during a career in the Roman army lasting around 40 years. He could show the scars of 45 wounds on his chest, all received in battle. However, he was hated by Appius Claudius, a Roman senator, who arranged for 100 men to attack him. Sicinius Dentatus resisted, killing 15 men and wounding 30, but finally died in a barrage of darts and stones thrown at him from a distance. He has sometimes been called 'The Roman Achilles'. Here you can see him riding a lion alongside Cinope.

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Marcus Cassius Sceva (Sceva)

Sceva was a centurion| in Julius Caesar's| army during the 1st century BC .

Here we see Sceva's death at the Battle of Dyrrhachium. He fought off four legions of the enemy's army for several hours despite being severely wounded by arrows and javelins. He is shown pierced by these right at the front of the tapestry, just left of the centre.

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Marcus Cassius Sceva (Sceva)

Eagle

An ancient symbol of power and victory, the eagle is also the medieval symbol of Christ's ascension. The double-headed eagle is one of the symbols of the Habsburg| family, linking this tapestry to its original owners.

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Fortitude (Fortitudo)

The personification of fortitude.

Fortitude wears a helmet and armour, carries Samson's Pillar in her right hand and strangles a dragon with her left. She rides in a chariot. The chariot was a traditional feature of Renaissance art, emphasising victory.

Samson's Pillar relates to the story of Samson in the Old Testament. After many daring exploits, Samson was captured by the Philistines|, who blinded and humiliated him. One day he was taken to a house full of Philistines, where he grasped the pillars supporting the roof and prayed for vengeance. The house collapsed, killing him and many of his enemies. (Judges 13-16)

The dragon in Christian culture symbolises Satan. Here, its strangulation at the hands of Fortitude represents the conquest of evil.

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Fortitude (Fortitudo)
Penthesilea (Penthesieea)

Penthesilea (Penthesieea)

Penthesilea was the Queen of the Amazons and the daughter of Mars.

Penthesilea fought in the Trojan War against Achilles, who ultimately killed her. Afterwards, when he had stripped her of her arms, the hero was so impressed by her beauty that he wept.

You can see her in the middle of the tapestry, just below the eagle.

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Queen Thomyris (Thamaris)

Thomyris was Queen of the Massagetae. You can see her standing at the front in the middle of the tapestry, holding a sword.

After her husband's death Thomyris followed her son in an unsuccessful march against Cyrus, King of Persia, who threatened to attack her lands. Thomyris destroyed his army and killed him on the spot. She ordered Cyrus' head to be cut off and thrown into a goatskin full of human blood, whilst uttering the words:

'Satia te sanguine quem sitisti'
('That is enough blood to quench your thirst').

In the tapestry we see Thomyris holding the head of Cyrus.

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Queen Thomyris (Thamaris)
David

David

David was the shepherd boy who became King of Israel, ruling in around 1000 BC . David is believed to be the author of the Psalms in the Bible and to have been a direct ancestor of Jesus.

In the tapestry, we see David being offered water from the well of Bethlehem, a scene which illustrates the fortitude of both David and his servants. During a war, David had voiced a desire to drink from a well in Bethlehem, within the enemy camp. Three of his servants forced their way into the camp, drew the water and brought it to David. Yet despite his thirst, David refused to drink, saying

"Is it not the blood of men going there at the risk of their souls?"
(2 Samuel 23:13-17)

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Hercules or Samson

This could be Hercules, the demi-god of Greek myth or Samson, the Old Testament hero.

Eurystheus, King of Argos and Mycenae, was jealous of the fame of Hercules. In an attempt to destroy him, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to perfom a series of dangerous tasks, usually known as 'The Twelve Labours of Hercules'. The first of these was to kill the Lion of Nemea, which had ravaged the country around Mycenae. Hercules choked the lion to death, carried the dead animal to Mycenae and from then on clothed himself in its skin as a trophy.

Samson was renowned for his strength, having single-handedly killed 1000 Philistines and uprooted the gates of the city of Gaza. This scene may show him slaying a lion with his bare hands. (Judges XIV, 5-9) The medieval Church interpreted this action as the struggle of Christ against the devil.

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Hercules or Samson
Nehemiah (Neemias)

Nehemiah (Neemias)

Nehemiah was a trusted Jewish official at the Persian court in the 5th century BC .

When Nehemiah heard that Jerusalem still lay in ruins almost a century after the Jews had returned from exile, he persuaded the Persian king to allow him to go to Jerusalem and undertake the rebuilding there himself.

Beneath the word 'Neemias', towards the top right-hand corner, the tapestry shows four of his warriors keeping watch from the towers of Jerusalem (Hierusalem). A man bent beneath a heavy load climbs a ladder towards them. Nehemiah's efforts had caused such hostility that he had to arm his workers to ward off a possible attack, but he and his men completed the wall and gates of the city after 52 days of gruelling labour. (Nehemiah or 2 Ezra 1-4)

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Phinehas (Phnees)

Phinehas is a character found in the Old Testament of the Bible.

When Phinehas found that a woman had been brought to his brothers in their camp for adulterous purposes, he went after the woman, and the man who had procured her, and stabbed them both to death. (Numbers 25:7) Here we see Phinehas, behind David, with a halberd (a large type of axe), shield and helmet.

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Phinehas (Phnees)
Jael and Sisera (Jahel and Sisaram)

Jael and Sisera (Jahel and Sisaram)

Sisera was a cruel Canaanite leader who ruled the Israelites for twenty years.

Following a successful surprise attack by the Israelites in which 900 of his charioteers were defeated, Sisera escaped and sought refuge in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. She gave the terrified Canaanite food and drink, but when he fell asleep, she drove a tent peg into his brain. (Judges 4:12-24). She can be seen, hammer raised ready to strike, in the bottom right corner.

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Joshua (Josue)

In the Old Testament, Joshua was appointed by God to be Moses' successor as leader of the Israelites.

Joshua accompanied Moses on the long and difficult journey to Canaan, the Promised Land, and remained faithful to God throughout many temptations and difficulties.

The tapestry shows Joshua entering the Promised Land with the Israelites (Joshua 1, Numbers 14:30 and 32:12). He can be seen on horseback towards the top right corner.

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Joshua (Josue)