Italy's full of culture, history, and pizza, but did you know it's also full of bull(s)? The quadruped kind, that is. Bovines and ancient Greek superheroes play a big role in how Italy got its groove.
You might remember Hercules had Twelve Labors to complete, in which he traveled all around the known world to atone for killing his first wife and kids. After his Tenth Labor, in which he went to an island to capture the cattle of a three-bodied monster named Geryon, Heracles tried to herd Geryon's cows back to his cousin, King Eurystheus, in Greece. That didn't work out too well, as Pseudo-Apollodorus recounts in his Library, because, when he was heading through Italy, one cow broke loose and decided to swim to Sicily.
In order to fulfill the conditions of the labor, Heracles had to get all the animals to his cousin, he went in pursuit of this bad, bad bull. He wound up wrestling and killing a son of Aphrodite named Eryx for the bull, but, forever after, the peninsula was known after that swimming cow, known as italos - or the closely related term, vitulus - in the dialect of the Tyrrhenian people living there. Others claim that Italy got its name from the number of studly bulls it contained.
Hercules was bullishly hunky. Image via iFunny.co/Hercules/Walt Disney.
As is usually the case with etymologies, there are a couple other ancient versions of the same tale. One story tells what happened after the Odyssey ended; Odysseus's secret love child with Circe, Telegonus, came to Ithaca to visit his dad, but, since they'd never met, accidentally killed his royal papa. Then, in a weirdly incestuous twist worthy of the best of myths, Telegonus married his stepmother, Penelope, and Odysseus's heir (and son with Penelope), Telemachus, married his late father's lover, Circe.
These unusual unions formed the basis of all things Italian: Telemachus and Circe had a son named Latinus, who went on to settle much of Italy and gave his name to the Latin language and people, while Penelope and Telegonus spawned Italus, who did the same and got a peninsula named for him.
Feature image via Tristan Savatier/Lou Piote.