Years ago, I used to see an ad for a reproduction of this statue (from Eleganza Ltd.) in the New Yorker and wonder how they got away with printing the picture. If two live humans were photographed in this pose, it would be an obscenity bust in any state in the union. But since it’s a picture of a copy of a sculpture, then it’s all right. In essence, the fact that this item could be shown in the pages of a high-class magazine says everything there is to say about the hypocrisy of pornography laws.
Hercules (or Herakles) is the one standing, and Diomede (or Diomedes) is the one grabbing his goodies. This encounter took place as one of the famous Twelve Labors of Hercules, where he had to complete a number of impossible tasks to please some god or other. Diomede had some horses that ate human flesh (they were mares, by the way – make of that what you will) and Hercules stole them. Diomede tried to protect his property, but Hercules killed him (with an axe, some say) and fed the body of Diomede to his own horses.
The original statue has been at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence since the late 16th century when it was created, bu Vincenzo de’Rossi and his assistants. Nowhere in the literature does the myth specify this unusual wrestling hold. It is the artist’s own inspiration.
With the work turned on its side, you get a better idea of what’s going on.
Duncan Grant painted "Bathing" in 1911 to decorate the wall of the dining room of an educational establishment, the Borough Polytechnic in London. It’s said to depict the sequential motions of one swimmer. Well, okay, but try swimming in the position held by the guy at lower left, and see how far you get.
And the fellow at lower right – where’s his head, in relation to the next swimmer? Turn him the other way round, and he’s writhing in the transports of sensual abandon. One contemporary art critic feared the mural would have a "degenerative influence on the children of the working classes," which is pretty funny, considering that’s exactly where Duncan found his models.