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The importance of the ‘Choice of Hercules’ in the art of the Renaissance has been made clear by the work of Erwin Panofsky and its role in the culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has been illustrated by Edgar Wind. From a simple story in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, which coalesced with Scipio’s dream in the Punica of Silius Italicus, neo-Platonist philosophy fashioned a richly-textured, highly sophisticated allegory. This allegory touched on the most vital moral question of the time: the attainment of human wholeness, perhaps the central concern of the Renaissance. My object is to explore the connection of the ‘Choice of Hercules’ with Antony and Cleopatra and to define the effect which this well-known allegory may have on the meaning of the play.
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