Showing posts with label Herakles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Herakles. Show all posts

Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Heraklean Hope

The story of Herakles, if we are to accept part of the myth as at least metaphor, has always realized one profound thing for me in my life as a Hellenist. That is, the ideal that there is nothing you cannot come back from, nothing which you cannot make amends for and be a better version of yourself.

In at least one version of the myth that we are today familiar with, Herakles, in a fit of rage, killed His entire family, meaning wife and children. Now we don't know if that was literal or a metaphor to describe the severity of an offense. We should also take into consideration the fact that Herakles was probably a military veteran who could have suffered from PTSD, and didn't hurt innocent people out of His own free will.

But not even the worst crime man could commit meant that He was beyond redemption. The 12 Labors were His opportunity. They were near impossible feats, extremely dangerous, and probably expected to kill Him at some point. But if able to succeed, all of Herakles' crimes would be pardoned. He reached this goal, and was not only exonerated, but made a God, Zeus' own son. In ancient Greek religion, Herakles is worshiped as both a Hero and a God, and is actually considered to be the God of Heroes themselves. Quite an elevation from where He began in life.

When looking at my own shortcomings and mistakes in life, I often think about this story, and say to myself, What I have done isn't even remotely comparable. I know there's a way to put it all behind me. The life, tragedy and triumph of Herakles is not merely mythology. It's an affirmation of hope for all of humankind. There is nothing you cannot come back from, nothing which the Gods are not willing to forgive you for. You need only pick up your sword and start marching. 

Are you determined to kill the monsters? Do you desire to find the universal keys? Can you discover how to tame the wild beasts? And are you willing to even face death if it means you might survive free and accomplished? No matter what's in your past, if you wake up tomorrow and make yourself determined to fight any enemy, endure any pain, and face any fear to become a new person, the Gods will notice you.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
I'll see you at the next Herm down the road,
Chris Aldridge.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Mares of Men

No Labour of the Magnificent Herakles intrigues me more than the Mares of Diomedes, partially because I enjoy finding the truth behind the ancient stories. Diomedes was a King of Thrace, a country above Turkey (then Asia Minor) that just barely crosses the border over into Northeastern Greece. Diomedes ruled a tribe there known as the Bistones. There in a City called Tirida (which is now extinct and scattered in ruins), he kept four magnificent but also terrifying and deadly horses known as the Mares of Diomedes. They were said to breathe fire, foam at the mouth, and eat humans. Not only were they feared by man, but detested by Zeus, and they were kept chained with iron and bronze. What was the deal with these horses? What were they? Let's examine. 

While human flesh is certainly not in the diet of horses, they will consume it if they're hungry enough. We also know it's possible for tortured animals to be bred to violence and barbarism. Like any other creature, when put to the right extremities, their personality and the lengths they are willing to go to can change. The foaming at the mouth is even more intriguing. Rabies first appeared around 4,000 BCE. According to Herodotus, Herakles lived around 1,300 BCE. So the disease would have had ample time to spread among animals and humans and go through mutations, especially with no vaccinations to counter it. Foaming at the mouth is a common symptom of the disease in animals, and the infection, going untreated for a long time, could have turned the horses very hostile. Rabies will cause animals to attack humans and behave out of character (such as an unusual diet perhaps).

In short, yes, the Mares of Diomedes existed. The breathing of fire may be a metaphor, but the existence of a group of horses turned ferocious, is absolutely possible. The story of the Labour comes to a tragic but also a triumphant end. After securing the Mares, Herakles left them alone with His good friend Abderus, unaware of the extent of their barbarism. When He returned, they had killed and eaten him. In revenge, Herakles threw Diomedes to his own man-eating horses. To honor His late companion, Herakles founded a City called Abdera on the grounds of the tomb where His friend rested. 

There are conflicting accounts as to what happened to the beasts. Some say they were sacrificed to Zeus, but He refused to take them, and that they spent their remaining days roaming the countryside. What became of them after that is unknown. Dead now, of course. But perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to think that mares with such ferocity could never again return.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Hunting Hydras Might Still Be A Pastime

All of His Labors were terrifying and near impossible, but one that seems to be remembered easily by most people is that of the Hydra. I have said in the past that monsters are still monsters even if we've grown used to their presence and call them by different names than in times of old. In fact, a monster is simply defined as an animal of great size or ugliness that incites fear and panic into people. So in search of the truths behind ancient Greek stories, I began to study the second Labor of Herakles in a bit more detail, and what I found piqued my interest greater than ever. But before I begin, let me briefly describe this Labor in order to familiarize the reader.

The monster was more specifically called the Lernaean Hydra, after the coastal springs and fresh lake area that formed the waters, known as Lerna Lake. Today, the water source is extinct. It sits right near the ocean shores east of Arkadia. The monster that lived there was said to have nine or ten heads, depending on the source, and that each time one was cut off, more would regrow. Not only was the beast of immense size and power, it possessed deadly and poisonous breath and blood. Herakles managed to defeat the creature by cutting off eight heads and burying the ninth under a rock.

In the picture above, we see an ancient depiction of Herakles fighting the Hydra. We may not think at first glance that the Hydra looks a lot like an octopus. Octopuses have eight arms and one head, making nine ends, and if they lose an arm, it can regenerate the lost limb in pristine condition. The arms even have their own minds. The animals can also grow to immense size and possess incredible strength. They also carry very painful and deadly venom that can be inflicted upon prey or opponents. Is it possible that the Hydra was exactly this, and that Herakles managed to kill after it had haunted the inhabitants of the area with deadly attacks and/or harassment? They can most certainly kill a human very easily with their poison, and depending on size, might even be able to drown a victim. I think the evidence all points to a very menacing, multi-limbed water monster that we today call the octopus, and to take out one of this magnitude on its own turf with bear hands and sword, would be something most definitely unique and Heroic. The only setback is the fact that the Lake was a freshwater source, and these animals cannot live in that. But who knows? In ancient times, there might have been a part that flowed into it from the sea, or perhaps the inhabitants just thought that the creature came from the Lake but didn't always live there. Maybe the actual battle took place in the sea.

Assuming I am correct, these monsters still live with us today in abundant numbers. The hydras have even become a favorite meal, interestingly, in the Mediterranean, and far East. But generally, they are simply beautiful and fascinating creatures to watch and study. They've even been known to create their own communities. They are very intelligent and resourceful, and have been here for nearly 300 million years, which predates modern humans by a long shot. If only they had been able to talk and take notes, what a world of fascination they could reveal to us.

So the next time you take a dip at the beach, don't forget that the Hydra may still be watching, and in the case that you encounter one, it's probably not a good idea to try to be another Herakles if you can avoid it. There was only one.

In the Goodness of the Gods,
Chris Aldridge.