As the first of his twelve Labors, the Greek hero Herakles had to slay the Nemean Lion, a monstrous beast that was ravaging the countryside around the city of Nemea. Since weapons were of no use against the creature’s impenetrable hide, Herakles' only option was to strangle it. Herakles battling the Nemean Lion was the most frequently depicted mythological scene in Greek art. In early depictions, Herakles stands facing the lion, but by the late 500s B.C., the combatants were often depicted wrestling on the ground. On this Athenian red-figure kalpis, a tree bends over Herakles and the lion, indicating that the action takes place outdoors.
The kalpis is the rounded form of a hydria, or water vessel, favored by red-figure artists in this period. The three handles of the shape facilitated pouring and lifting.