Heracles

All posts tagged Heracles

An odd thought about Heracles

Published June 21, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

This is coming totally out of the blue, but lately I’ve been looking at some posts talking about some of the less well-known exploits of Heracles (less well known in modern times, anyhow), and a few minutes ago I had a…well, it wouldn’t be right to call it an epiphany (especially as it’s rather odd and probably wrong) but it struck me with that kind of lightning-like speed, and at the moment I had the thought I was sure it explained everything.  (Though giving it a little more thought made me realize that it didn’t make a lick of sense.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share it, in case anyone else found it interesting, but I’ll put it in context first.

Heracles, as most Greek myth enthusiasts know, was either born in Thebes, or born in Tiryns and then his family moved to Thebes when he was an infant.  (The former is the standard version, I believe.)  Either way, the point is that Heracles was raised in Thebes, and was a Theban hero who protected the city.  Particularly he defended it against the Orchomenians, who had conquered the city earlier, and now were demanding a huge payment from Thebes each year.  In some versions, he received the hand of King Creon’s daughter, Megara, in repayment for his victory over the Orchomenians.

All well and good, yes?

Except if you look at Heracles’ interactions with the other major mythic cycles.

Heracles was an Argonaut.  Heracles sacked Troy when Priam was a youth (and called Podarces in some versions of the tale).  And Heracles has no interaction whatsoever with the Theban Cycle.  And yet, two of the Epigoni fought at Troy, placing the earlier actions of the Theban Cycle squarely during Heracles’ lifetime.  (A fact made all the more glaringly evident by the fact that the king of Thebes in Heracles’ day goes by the name of Creon…which is actually a generic name for a king in ancient Greece, but…)

So, the thought that occurred to me was that the Thebes in Greece is not the only Thebes.

What if Heracles was originally from the Egyptian Thebes?

Heracles bears considerable similarities to certain Middle Eastern figures, particularly Mesopotamian and Phoenician ones, and in classical times there was an Egyptian figure believed by the Greeks to be Heracles.  (Though the latter isn’t saying much, since it was the traditional Greek practice to assume that all foreign gods were actually the Greek gods by the wrong names, and the mortal Heracles was deified upon his “death.”  (Though it’s actually much more complicated than that, considering his Mesopotamian forebear was never mortal, and in the Odyssey, the shade of Heracles appears along with the other dead, implying that during the Archaic era, Heracles was not considered to have become an immortal after death.))  So what if originally his parents fled all the way to Egypt, instead of simply to Thebes?  Cadmos, after all, was both a Phoenician and the grandfather of Dionysos, so it’s not as though the Greeks couldn’t admit foreigners into their divine family.  And the Greeks admired the Egyptians, while the Phoenicians were still “barbarians” to them.  (Though obviously more acceptable “barbarians” than, say, the Persians.)

There’s also one more Thebes, but I doubt it could ever have been Heracles’ homeland:  it’s a town near Troy, sacked by Achilles during the Trojan War (like so many others), and the birthplace of poor Andromache.

Of course, the Anatolian Thebes brings up another point:  just because in historical times there were only two Thebes, the Greek one and the Egyptian one, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been more of them in the Mycenaean era in which the myths began to form.  Perhaps there used to be another Thebes in Greece, and it was to that city that Amphitryon and Alcmene moved when they left Tiryns.

Given the utter disconnect between Heracles and the Theban Cycle (how could his entire life come in the gaps while Creon was ruling?), I think it seems most likely that he was not originally associated with the same Thebes as Oedipus and his family.  Maybe there used to be an Argive Thebes, which would make a lot more sense in many ways:  for good or ill, Heracles is always connected to Hera, and Argos was her region of Greece, plus then his family wouldn’t have fled so far.  On the other hand, if he was Peloponnesian, it would make less sense for him to be an Argonaut, since the Argo‘s crew was largely Thessalian — at least originally.

I’d have to check the Catalog of Ships in the Iliad to see if there are any other cities named Thebes listed, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t, so if I’m right and Heracles used to come from an entirely different Thebes, it was already lost and forgotten by the time the Catalog of Ships was first composed.  And that was a part of the Iliad that the poet inherited from generations of earlier bards, considering it’s describing the Mycenaean power landscape, not the Archaic one that was in place when the epic itself was composed.  So if there isn’t another Thebes in the Catalog of Ships, then for Heracles to have originally been associated with a different Thebes, his story would have to be really freakin’ old.  Unless he was originally from Egyptian Thebes.  That’s an entirely different matter…but I don’t know if the Greeks ever assumed that the Egyptian cities were city-states like their own, so…yeah, that’s a problem.

Another problem, of course, is that fact that Tiresias is lightly involved in the story of Heracles’ conception, at least in some versions, which rather requires him to have been born (and conceived) in that Thebes.

Ultimately, what bothers me about this little conundrum is how I’m going to handle the life of Heracles in my myth re-tellings.  I need to figure out what to do about that, because if he’s from the same Thebes as Oedipus, then why doesn’t he get involved in all of that?  What’s the timing?  If he’s from a different Thebes, then it’s a little easier to work out the chronology.  Or rather, the precise chronology is of little relevance, so I don’t have to stress about it.  (I just have to explain what Tiresias is doing in a Thebes other than the one he lives in.)

Missing Letter Monday – No “H”

Published January 18, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

“Alcides”

Strongest son of Zeus,
Bane of lions and boars.
(Drunken boor!)
Persistently targeted
By papa’s jealous wife.

Wooer of Amazons,
(And lover of pretty boys,)
Groom of two wives,
Sire of many sons.
(But no girls?)

Argonaut,
Completer of Twelve Labors,
(And sometimes 13,)
Killed by a centaur’s trick,
And a friendly pyre.


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Last minute posts are last minute posts.  “Clever” and “good” do not apply.

 

New Year’s Myth Planning

Published January 1, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m trying to get a handle on the way I want to deal with the myth re-tellings in the coming year.  I’ve told most of the major stand-alone myths at this point (there are still a few, of course, and there are lesser stand-alones, too) and I want to start diving into the remaining cycles:

  • The Voyage of the Argo
  • The Life of Heracles
  • The Life of Theseus

Technically, the Trojan War should be counted as one of the remaining cycles, but I want to leave that for last.  (Since I talk about it so frequently anyway, and I’ve already written a (terrible) book about it.)  Anyhow, on the subject of planning, one of those three cycles is not technically on the table just yet.  On Cyber Monday, I used a 30% off coupon code to order the Loeb Classical Library version of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, in the new(ish) translation, and I want to read that before I write my own version of the story.  (I know it’s not supposed to be all that great, plus it’s fairly late, but the voyage of the Argo is one of those stories where I’ve never read a whole ancient text dedicated to it; I’ve read ancient texts that allude to it, and I’ve read modern summaries, but never a complete text.  In part because Apollonius’ is the oldest remaining complete narrative on the topic, as far as I know.)  I’m not planning on basing my version on Apollonius, but I’d still rather wait ’til I’ve read it.  (It’s third on my to-read list, after the two library books.  I just need to spend more time reading, and less time working on my doll projects.  And getting dragged over to my parents’ place or my brother’s place to watch stuff…)

So that leaves me with Heracles and Theseus, both of whom have already made some appearances, of course.  (And, naturally, the life of Heracles will have a big hole in it until the voyage of the Argo is told, but…)

I’ve talked about the problems with Heracles’ life before, most of them stemming from “how can he be from Thebes and yet have missed the whole Theban cycle?”  I still don’t have any answer for that, unfortunately.  (Well, no, the answer is that surely at some point in the distant past, he was from somewhere else, probably Argos.  But all the surviving versions of the tale have him born in Thebes, because at some point the city co-opted him.)  So the question becomes whether to defy all existing texts and make him born elsewhere (probably not a good plan) or to find some way to order his story such that he couldn’t possibly have shown up to take part in any of the events of the Theban cycle.  Hmm, you know, I think my book of Greek Epic Fragments has stuff from epic accounts of the life of Heracles, as well as the lost Thebaid.  I should check that out before I structure the story.  (There are also lesser concerns about the order in which various things took place, and if there are any tales that should be omitted due to lack of material.)

As to the life of Theseus, the problem is more one of Minos than of Theseus, really.  Because Minos — as you may be aware — was one of the three judges in the afterlife, along with his brother Rhadamanthys and his half-brother Aiakos (grandfather of Achilles).  All three men were awarded the position due to their just natures in life.  That doesn’t really jive with the whole “annually sacrificing a dozen or so Athenian youths to his wife’s monstrous offspring” thing.  But as far as I know (and I admit that I haven’t consulted Gantz about this yet) we don’t have any ancient versions that feature another explanation.  Maybe there was no other version; maybe the story of the Minotaur was an exclusively Athenian myth.  (If so, it seems unlikely that it would have been inspired by the Minoan “bull cult” and the confusing layout at Knossos!)

So my main concern in trying to deal with Theseus is trying to find a good balance there.  Minos — in all the myths not dealing with the Athenians Theseus and Daedalos — is supposed to be wise and just (by ancient Greek standards), but in the tales of the Minotaur, he’s rather of a tyrant.  (Which again smacks of an exclusively Athenian tale, since their aversion to kings was stronger than that of many of the other city-states.)  Theseus, in his youthful exploits, is brave, noble and heroic, but by the end he’s a lecherous old man; is the change gradual as he ages, or is it more sudden, or perhaps is it at the influence of his friend Pirithoos?  (I think I like the latter explanation, actually…)

Really, Minos is the main worry; given the time involved, it’s easy to see Theseus descending from hero to lecher.  But Minos!  The problem is that I can see an easy way to cover the tale while making him minimally responsible, but I don’t like it.

The Minotaur is a result of Pasiphae’s divinely inspired yet unholy desire for a bull, which was in its turn vengeance by Poseidon for Minos breaking his word about sacrificing the bull in question.  Well, Minos’ role in that part is easily dealt with (even the most noble person can forget, or be tempted into minor acts of greed), but it also suggests a manner in which the myth may have been dealt with in antiquity, one which I don’t want to emulate:  they may have originally made Pasiphae the one responsible for many of the most terrible acts, either directly or by forcing her husband into them.  Because Pasiphae is the full sister of Circe and Aeetes, one a liminal figure who could be quite terrible or quite helpful (at least to men she actually wants to sleep with), and the other practically a full-on villain.  There’s a tale of Pasiphae getting jealous of her husband’s adultery, and using her sorcery to…hmm, I’ve forgotten the specific details.  It definitely involved magically-created spiders and genitals.  I’m just not sure if the spiders were coming out of Minos or his mistress.  Either way, eew.  I’m pretty sure there are other tales of Pasiphae being rather terrible as well; in fact, probably some of the myths now about Medea may originally have been about her aunt Pasiphae.  (Particularly the one in which she’s cursing the Cretans to be always taken for liars because one of their kings (it may have been Idomeneus, in fact) had judged her less attractive than Thetis.  What would bring Medea to Crete?  I don’t know of any other tale involving her being there, unlike Pasiphae, who freakin’ lives there.  (And as she’s just as immortal as her siblings and niece, there’s no reason Pasiphae wouldn’t still be around by the time of the Trojan War.  Which is actually only a generation removed from Theseus anyway.))

But!  I don’t want to make Pasiphae into the villainess.  I like Medea, and Circe can be a fun character, and — in general — I prefer not to make out mythic females to be evil/cruel/monstrous unless there’s really no alternative.  (Like, for example, it’s hard not to make the Gorgons monstrous when you’re telling the original stories.)

So that leaves me with a quandary regarding what to do with Minos and the Minotaur.  How far can I go to equalize the stories about him before I’m being too inaccurate?

I have one idea in mind that could work, regarding the sacrifice of the Athenian youths, but I’m not sure if it’s going further than I really ought to.  Now, the annual levy of Athenian youths is a penance being paid by Athens due to their having caused the death of one of Minos’ sons, and then having lost the subsequent war on the subject, right?  Okay, so far so good; that’s acceptable as ‘normal for the time period,’ so long as the youths aren’t human sacrifices the way they are in the version we’re all familiar with.  (I say this because after the Trojan War, Athene’s wrath is not assuaged just by killing Aias of Locris for having desecrated her temple with rape, and so the Locrians have to send maidens every year to serve that temple.  And that supposedly went on for hundreds of years.)

So maybe I could have it that as far as Minos knows, the Athenian youths are simply serving in his palace, and then sent back at the end of the year, but someone — perhaps whoever was assigned to look after the Minotaur — had been secretly dumping them into the labyrinth as food(?) for the beast.  Again, in ancient versions, that someone would probably have been (acting on the orders of) Pasiphae, the thing’s mother, as mothers (particularly immortal ones) in Greek myths often go to extreme lengths for their children, heedless of all else.

So the question is, would that be going too far?  Would it be violating the myth to ascribe ignorance rather than callous cruelty to Minos in this instance?

Words Crush Wednesday Metamorphosed

Published September 23, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Well, okay, it’s just a quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but I thought that was a snappy post title.  So a couple of weeks ago for Words Crush Wednesday, you may have noticed that I highlighted a bit from Nestor — from the Iliad, naturally — mentioning Heracles laying siege to Pylos and killing all of Nestor’s brothers.

Well, the reason I wanted to quote that particular line was so I could quote this bit of Ovid.  Ovid follows Homer in making Nestor quite the long-winded chap (even more so than in Homer, in fact!) and Nestor is in the midst of telling the tale of the battle against the centaurs at the wedding of Pirithoos.

So from Book 12 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A. S. Kline translation:

As the hero from Pylos told of this battle between the Lapiths and the half-human centaurs, Tlepolemus, son of Hercules, leader of the Rhodians, could not keep silent in his indignation at Hercules, the descendent of Alceus, being overlooked.  He said “Old man, it is amazing that your recital forgot to priase Hercules:  certainly my father often used to tell me of the cloud-born centaurs he defeated.”  Nestor answered him sternly.  “Why do you force me to remember wrongs, to re-open wounds healed by the years, and to reveal hatred for your father and the injuries he did me?  He has done deeds beyond belief, the gods know, and filled the earth with his praises:  that, I wish I could deny.  But we do not praise Deiphobus, or Polydamas, or Hector; for who would praise an enemy?

“That father of yours razed Messene’s walls; destroyed the innocent cities of Elis and Pylos, and overthrew my household gods with fire and sword.  I say nothing of the others he killed:  there were twelve of us, sons of Neleus, outstanding young men, all except myself fell to Hercules’ s strength.”

Of course, that’s not actually the end of the speech, ’cause he then goes off into a tangent about a transformation in the battle, but…well, that is kind of the schtick of the whole work.  But the thing is, when I was reading this as research for my Trojan War novel, I was really struck by the fact that Ovid had sat down and thought about the fact that despite serving side by side with a son of Heracles (uh, for a little while longer, anyway), Nestor should only view Heracles as the hated enemy who killed his brothers.  The odd thing there is that in the Iliad, Nestor doesn’t seem to view Heracles as any kind of enemy:  he talks about the death of his brothers surprisingly casually.

I suspect that as someone who had witnessed civil war and its aftermath in Rome, that’s the kind of thing that struck Ovid a bit more deeply than it struck “Homer”; presumably that poet never witnessed the kind of internecine bloodshed that the final years of the Roman Republic and early years of the Empire presented.

I’m not fond of the misogyny in some of Ovid’s work — his version of Medusa’s transformation literally stopped me from reading the whole Metamorphoses straight through back when I bought this copy at Borders goodness-knows-when — but his grasp on the classic Greek texts was exemplary, and he clearly put a lot of thought into the interpersonal relationships between the major mortals.  (Not that there aren’t also oddities.  He has Poseidon (sorry, Neptune) being one of the gods most strongly pushing for Achilles’ death, despite that said deity was fighting on the Greek side, and was one of the gods who rescued Achilles from the angry god of the River Scamander.)

Still, I’m probably not going to be quoting Ovid here very often.  I may do some week-to-week comparisons of some sections of the Aeneid and the bits of the Iliad and/or Odyssey they’re imitating, though.  (Well, I am doing a research paper on Virgil and the Aeneid this semester.  So there’s gonna be more Roman stuff on the blog than usual for the duration of the semester…)

wcw

Trying to figure out where to take the myths

Published September 6, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

I’m starting to feel like I’m running out of myths to re-tell because I can’t start the major cycles–Heracles, the voyage of the Argo, the Trojan War–without deciding how to make the life of Heracles intersect with his time as an Argonaut, and without figuring how in the heck the life of Heracles works with the Theban cycle, considering he’s supposedly Theban, and yet why wouldn’t he have interfered in all that stuff?

There are also many other myths I’ve left out because I have to figure out how to handle them, not so much in chronological concerns like with the major cycles, but because the variations are so variant.  There’s the conflicting birth of Athene and birth of Hephaistos stories, for example.  Was Hephaistos the one to crack open Zeus’ skull to let Athene out, or did Hera give birth to him without the aid of Zeus because she was jealous that Zeus had give birth to Athene without the help of a woman?  For that matter, is Athene the daughter of Zeus alone, or did he swallow Metis because she was pregnant, not because he wanted her wisdom for himself?  These are all genuine variants from ancient sources, so each is just as “real” as the other.

I also still haven’t done Typhon yet, but that ties into the previous concern, because there are versions where Hera gave birth to Typhon–seemingly impregnated by Gaia!–because of the same jealousy over the birth of Athene that led to the birth of Hephaistos in the other variation I mentioned earlier.  So basically I see the following possible versions:

  1. Zeus gives birth to Athene -> Hera gives birth to Hephaistos unaided -> Typhon just happens
  2. Hephaistos is born to Zeus and Hera -> Zeus gives birth to Athene with Hephaistos’ help -> Hera gives birth to Typhon in jealousy over the birth of Athene

Hmm, I thought there were going to be more than two, but I’m not thinking of further combinations, for some reason.  (Which is annoying, because I’m pretty sure I’d thought of more of them before I started writing them down!)

The problem is that I’ve been preferring to go with lesser known variants, right?  So in both cases, we have a mix of lesser known and commonly known ones.  I guess the first one actually has two lesser known versions, and one more commonly known one, but the one where Hera gives birth to Typhon is a pretty huge variant.  On the other hand, it’s also a variant that paints poor Hera as the villainess once again, so maybe I should avoid it for that reason.

I don’t have to worry about this just yet–the minor myths of Dionysos will keep me covered for a few more weeks–but then I do need to start figuring this out.

Oh, yeah, I need to figure out how Theseus fits into the chronology of various other places and people, too.  I keep leaving him out for some reason, but knowing his chronology is important given his abduction of the underage Helen, and Medea often plays a role in his return to Athens after Crete, though I’m not sure I want to have that happen, given the way Medea’s usually depicted in that story…

So…yeah…I don’t know quite what to do.  Any thoughts?

Athene, Hephaistos, and Other Early Myths

Published July 4, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So I thought I’d discuss some of the problems I’m having trying to sort out the chronology in my myth re-tellings.  (What, you thought I was going to write something about this being the 4th of July?  You don’t know me very well, do you?)

The problem is this:  in some versions, when Zeus swallows the pregnant Metis, and then has the horrible headaches as Metis (or Athene) is forging Athene’s armor within his head, it’s Hephaistos who splits his skull open to let the fully grown Athene out.  (Wow, Zeus has a big head!)  In other versions, Hera has Hephaistos without Zeus’ assistance, because she’s jealous that Zeus produced Athene without female assistance.  Because in some versions he swallowed Metis purely to gain permanent access to her clever wit, not because she was pregnant with his child.  (In fact, there’s a version where Metis was pregnant with Athene by one of the Cyclopes, and Zeus wasn’t actually her father.)

Also, I kind of got carried away at the end of the Titanomachia, and had Zeus and Hera get married right away, instead of having Zeus marry Metis first, even though that’s usually how the story is told.  Now, on the other hand, I’m totally cool with telling the lesser known versions, so I’m cool with having him swallow Metis just to absorb her intelligence–which would help to have him transform from the more teenage-like Zeus of the defeat of Kronos and the Titanomachia–and then having Hera produce Hephaistos unaided in jealousy, but…I don’t know.  Maybe I’m trying to write this too early in the morning.

There also seems to be some disagreement in the sources about Typhon, but not too much, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Let’s see, what were the other myths I was worried about?  Oh, well, there are also those that have alternate versions where there’s only one myth.  That is to say, something like the birth of Aphrodite.  Because the Hesiodic version has a myth attached, while the Homeric version does not.  Because the Homeric version–daughter of Zeus by Dione–has no story, but being attested in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, it’s either older then or equally as old as the born from seafoam version in Hesiod’s Theogony.  And, frankly, I like the Zeus + Dione = Aphrodite equation better, though perhaps that’s somewhat irrelevant.  Actually, I could perhaps tell a number of slightly salacious tales about Aphrodite–her adultery with Ares and being trapped by Hephaistos, her marriage to Anchises, et cetera–by means of a more unusual narrative structure, like a tale-telling contest among what seems to be merely a group of drunkards, at least one of whom turns out to be someone like Hermes or something.  (Let’s see, Hermes, Odysseus, uh, who else in Greek myth is famous for being a liar?)  The point being that it would be okay that some of them would contradict each other, because at least some of them would have been made up by the contestants.

I guess the main worry, chronologically speaking, was always how to work the major epic strains.  Because the narratives of Heracles and the Theban cycles just don’t cross paths, despite that Heracles is allegedly born and raised in Thebes and keeps going back there.  But if Heracles really was born in Thebes, then there’s no way he or his father, half-brother or nephew wouldn’t become involved in all the stuff with the Sphinx, Oedipus and the warring sons of Oedipus unless they were all dead before all that started, or unless all of that was over before they first arrived.  Neither of those is possible.  Therefore, Heracles cannot actually have been born in Thebes, and Gantz was right in pointing out that Heracles was not originally a Theban hero, and was at some point hijacked by the Thebans and made their own.  (Okay, I may be losing my mind.  I was sure that was in Early Greek Myth somewhere, but I just spent like twenty minutes looking for it, and couldn’t find it.)  Uh, anyway, so I’m thinking of just sort of going back to the birth of Heracles and changing the name of the town where he’s born.  (Maybe Corinth?  It also has a Creon, and not much else going on (until Medea gets there) oh, no, wait, that’s where Oedipus gets found, that’s too…ugh.  Well, I’ll think of something.)  I know that’s horrible, but…seriously!  How are we supposed to believe he and his family don’t get involved in all that mess otherwise?

I still have to figure out some relative chronologies regarding the voyage of the Argo and Heracles’ life–even the order of his Labors isn’t set in stone–but…

At the Antique Mall

Published May 5, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

So, on Sunday the museum ended up closing early, because of the ball game down the street.  (Or rather, it closed early so we wouldn’t get stuck in the traffic when the game ended.  The director is nice like that.)  So, I thought I should take advantage of my newly free time to do something on the way home.  Because I really didn’t want to dive into my reading, ’cause it’s on the dull side.  (I’m so glad this class is almost over!)

A few weeks back, I tried to stop in at an antique mall that’s a bit outside my usual stomping grounds (actually, I only rarely stomp) but as I pulled into the parking lot, I’d seen the sign that said it closed at 5:00.  And it had been 4:45 at the time.  So I decided that was the day to go back and check it out.  ‘Cause you never know what you might find.

I was surprised to see that there was a lot of activity going on; there was some kind of sale in the parking lot and on the sidewalk in front of the store.  (Discount prices from some of the people who sell things inside, I suppose.)  I looked around at the outside stuff, but most of it didn’t really appeal.  (Translation:  most of it was not vintage toys, and what few toys they had weren’t things I collect.)

So I went inside to look around.  I had a little luck on the toy front, which I’ll post about on my other blog.  But what I want to tell you about is something else I saw there.  Something wonderfully apropos for this blog, and which struck me as more than a little funny.

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L is for Lemnos

Published April 14, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I apologize for this, but we’re jumping into the (early) middle of the voyage of the Argo, just for this one tale.  Because this seemed the most interesting way to handle Lemnos.  To introduce the cast of characters a bit, the Argonauts always include Heracles, Hylas, Peleus, Telamon, and Orpheus, and usually the Dioscuri, Castor and Polydeuces.  Zetes and Calais, the winged sons of Boreas, the North Wind, are also always among their number.  Some traditions have added Meleager to the list, so he’s here, too (since I mentioned him as being an Argonaut in the story of the Calydonian Boar Hunt), and some late versions added Menoitios, father of Patroclos, to the crew of the Argo, as well.  (Though most of those men don’t actually enter into this telling of the story, but they might have done!)


Not long after they had left Iolcos, the Argonauts put into port on the island of Lemnos, but they were surprised to find only women greeting them at the dock.  Though some of the men stayed behind to guard the ship, the rest followed the women from the port to the palace to greet their queen, Hypsipyle.  She was a beautiful woman, and smiled warmly at Jason as she asked him his business in Lemnos.

“We’re on our way to Colchis, to fetch the Golden Fleece,” he told her.

“Such a long voyage you have ahead of you!” she exclaimed.  “Won’t you stay a while and rest yourselves first?”

“We’ll never get done if we stop to rest already,” Heracles told Jason.  “Let’s just get our supplies and be on our way.”

But Jason liked the way Hypsipyle smiled at him.  “No, we can stay a few days.  There’s no harm in that.”

The women in the court let out a joyous cry, and began to swarm the Argonauts in delight.  “What–what ails these women?!” Meleager shouted in alarm.

“Forgive them,” Hypsipyle laughed, “but we’ve been without male companionship for some years, so we’ve grown quite…lonely.”

“That’s all the more reason to stay a few days, then,” Jason agreed.

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H is for “When Heracles Met Hylas”

Published April 9, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Ahem.  Sorry about the ridiculous title.  I couldn’t help myself.

As I said earlier, I’m not tackling the life of Heracles until I have time to do some complicated figuring, but I just had to use Heracles for H in the A-to-Z challenge!  And as I was looking over the summary of major events, this one jumped out at me as a stand-alone…if a somewhat, er, unusual one.  (Hopefully also a short one.  I have a dentist appointment at 2:00…)


One day, Heracles was wandering in an aimless journey when he came across a pack of satyrs, drinking and whooping it up.  The satyrs offered to let the hero join in their party, and share in their rich, unwatered wine.

Never one to pass up a good time, Heracles joined them gladly, though he did often remark that it would be a better party if there were a few girls about.

By the time the satyrs fell into a drunken slumber and the wine was exhausted, Heracles was raging drunk, and found himself possessed of quite a hunger to match the thirst he had just slaked.  But the satyrs hadn’t had any food on them, so he was forced to set off through the fields looking for something to eat.

Finding a grazing herd, Heracles picked up the nearest ox, threw it over his shoulders, and stumbled away with it.  He came to a cave, where he slaughtered the ox, offering a bit of the meat in sacrifice to his divine father.  In an after-thought, he also offered some to his half-brother Hermes, to thank him for his aid in stealing such a nice meal.  Then he roasted the rest of the ox, and ate it all.

After such a feast, Heracles fell into a a deep, contented slumber, snoring so prodigiously that people for miles around heard him and feared that a terrible monster had taken up residence in the cave.

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The Birth of Heracles

Published March 19, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

We’ll see how well I can type this with a bandage on the tip of my finger.  (Doesn’t help that it’s the ring finger on my right hand, a finger that bears a large burden of the typing responsibilities.)


Zeus, the ever-desirous king of the gods, had long ago noticed Alcmene.  She was one of the most beautiful mortal maids he had ever seen–and he had seen them all!–as well as being one of the most wise.  She would be perfect to bear him the most kingly of all his sons.  After all, the mortal world was once more becoming a terrible place, filled with too many people who held too little regard for the rules the gods had set out for them.  Zeus had tried to wipe the mortals out once before, and since that hadn’t worked very well, this time he thought it would be best to father a great hero who could rule over the mortals, and guide by example even those he didn’t rule.  And who could be a better mother for that hero than Alcmene, granddaughter of his son Perseus?

But there had been the tricky issue of her ardent suitor, Amphitryon.  Since he was another grandchild of Perseus, Zeus hadn’t wanted to altogether ruin the young man’s hopes of a happy future by stealing the girl away.  But she was far too virtuous to share her bed with any man–or god!–while still unwed, and Zeus certainly didn’t want to partake of her bed after Amphitryon had been there first!

Eventually, Zeus came up with a plan that would allow him to father that precious son upon beautiful Alcmene, though he had to sacrifice her father’s life for it to work.

Still, work it had, and Zeus was soon putting on the disguise of Amphitryon so that he could share Alcmene’s bed and father on her the greatest hero of all times…

When Amphitryon finally returned to Thebes victorious, having vanquished the Taphian foes who had slaughtered his brothers-in-law, he found his beautiful wife asleep in the bed they had not yet shared.

As he was removing his garb to join her, she awoke, and looked at him sleepily.  “Did you get up for something?” she asked.

“Get up…?” Amphitryon repeated, perplexed.  “What are you talking about?  I only just arrived home, having avenged your brothers.  Now we can finally be man and wife!”

Alcmene shook her head.  “What are you saying?  You came in here last night and said the same thing, that you had killed the Taphians and were ready to make me yours.  How can you have forgotten the passion we just shared?”

Amphitryon could only stare at his beloved wife in disbelief.  What was she saying?  Had she betrayed him?  Was she making this excuse to explain why she had been deflowered by some man other than himself?

Shaken and enraged, Amphitryon ran from the house half-clad, and wandered the streets of Thebes.  What could he do?  What should he do?  What did a man do when he was cuckolded while avenging his wife’s brothers?

If he knew what man had played his role between his sheets, Amphitryon could have avenged himself upon the adulterer, but without knowing that…all he could do would be to punish his beautiful wife, the bride he had still never touched.

Having just made up his heart-broken mind to do so, Amphitryon turned back towards the home Creon had given him.  But in his path he soon found a broken-down, old, blind man, hobbling towards him.

“It’s quite late for an old man like yourself to be out without some young relation to help him,” Amphitryon commented.  “Have you no son to look after you?”

“I can look after myself better than most, son of Alcaeus,” the old man responded with a bitter laugh.

“Eh?  How do you know who I am?  Who are you?” Amphitryon replied.

“I am Tiresias, ill-omened and oft-ignored seer, cursed by the goddess Hera for siding with her husband in an argument, if you must know,” the old man snapped at him.  “Now, out of my way.  I’m tired and I wish to go to bed.”

“Wait, you’re a seer?” Amphitryon asked.  “Then perhaps you can explain a mystery to me!”

“Undoubtedly.  Whether or not you will believe my explanation is another matter entirely.” Tiresias cackled.  “What is this mystery of yours?”

Hastily, Amphitryon explained everything, especially the way his untouched, unblushing bride assured him that he had already slept with her that very night, though he had only just returned from avenging her brothers.

Tiresias nodded the whole time he was listening, then laughed coldly.  “You’ve been cuckolded, all right,” he chuckled, “but it was by one of the gods, not by any mortal man.”

“One of the gods?” Amphitryon repeated.  He didn’t like the idea that even a god had made free with his wife, but at least it cleared her of any blame or wrong-doing!  “Thank you, kind soothsayer!” Amphitryon exclaimed, embracing the old man enthusiastically.  “Blessings on your name for this kindness!”

Without waiting for the old man’s crotchety reply, Amphitryon raced home, and explained to Alcmene what Tiresias had told him.  She seemed perplexed, but accepted his word, and the two of them were quickly reconciled, and entered their marital bed as they had always hoped.

Nine months later, Alcmene was terribly swollen with child, such that she could barely rise up out of bed.  Her husband was understandably concerned, but the physicians in the service of King Creon assured him that she had grown so large because she was carrying twins, so the father had little need of worry.

The other father, Zeus himself, was far from worried.  In fact, he was quite euphoric as the day of delivery approached.  On the very day that Alcmene was supposed to give birth, Zeus was proudly speaking to his brother Poseidon, and commented that “Today, in the lands of Hellas, a child with my blood is going to be born, and he will rule over all of the Argolid, perhaps even all of Hellas itself!”

Poseidon was politely appreciative of Zeus’ good fortune, but their sister Hera heard the remark as well.  Realizing that her philandering husband had fathered another mortal bastard, she became filled with rage, and called her  daughter Eileithyia to her.

“What mortal strumpet has my husband been playing around with this time?” she demanded.  “She’ll be giving birth today!  Who is she?”

“Mother, there are hundreds upon hundreds of mortal women giving birth today, just like any day,” Eileithyia replied.

“But this one is somewhere in my own Argos!” Hera replied.  Argos was the mortal land most dearly beloved to her, and to think that her husband would fool around with some mortal wench there of all places…!  “She’ll be someone important, if he thinks her son will rule over my Argolid.”

“Well, the Queen of Tiryns, Mycenae and Argos is pregnant,” Eileithyia said slowly, “but she isn’t due to give birth for several weeks yet.  And she…ah…she isn’t Father’s type.”  She paused.  “Oh, but the exiled grandson of Perseus, Amphitryon, his wife Alcmene is giving birth today.  Her labor pains have already started, in fact.”

“That must be the one!  Stop the birth!” Hera insisted.

“What?  But, Mother, that’s not really–”

“Stall it!  Don’t let her give birth today!  And send one of your attendants to the Queen of Tiryns.  Make sure she does give birth today,” Hera added, with a vicious smile.  This way, her husband’s boast wouldn’t be false, it just wouldn’t apply to the bastard he wanted it to…

Eileithyia sighed sadly.  “Very well, Mother.”  She knew better than to interfere with her mother’s crazed jealousies.

Dutifully, Eileithyia went down to Thebes and found her attendant who was helping Alcmene to give birth.  She dismissed the attendant, sending her to Tiryns to speed along the birth of Sthenelus’ son.  Then Eileithyia left the chamber where Alcmene was groaning in the agony of labor, and sat down outside the door, crossing her arms and legs, and willing the birth to be blocked, the children to be stalled inside Alcmene’s womb, unable to emerge, despite their mother’s groaning and screaming.

Before the sun had set, her attendent returned and told Eileithyia that the Queen of Tiryns had given birth to a son.  But, still obedient to her mother’s command, Eileithyia continued to block the birth of Alcmene’s children.

As the sun was beginning to rise, the worried Amphitryon sent a message to Tiresias, asking if the seer knew why his wife could not give birth.  The old man sent back a message saying that the goddess of childbirth was stopping it for some reason, and she would have to be propitiated if the children were to be born.

Amphitryon was anguished by the response.  How could he make peace with a goddess he had never insulted?  What gift was appropriate to allow the birth of his son?  He had no knowledge of the ways of the goddess of birth, after all.

But Alcmene heard the message, too, and soon she stopped grunting and groaning in pain.  Instead she let out a cry of joy.  “Let me hold him!” she exclaimed.  “My beautiful son!”

Her attendants were mystified, as she had still not given birth.  But out in the hall, Eileithyia heard Alcmene’s cry of delight.  How could she have given birth while being divinely blocked?  Curiosity getting the better of her, Eileithyia rose to her feet and hurried into the room to see what had transpired.  Because she had been distracted from her task of blocking the birth, Alcmene was finally able to give birth to her twin sons.

Because it was, by now, the next day, Eileithyia figured her duty had been discharged well enough, and returned to Mt. Olympus.

Alcmene was delighted by both her sons.  One was fair, and the other dark, but they were both strong and healthy babies, and she was sure they would grow to be great men, wise and strong.

Amphitryon tried to delight in his good fortune at having two such fine sons born, but he knew that one of them belonged not to himself, but to a god, and he could not feel the same joy that every other man expected him to feel.

Soon, it was the tenth day after the births, and the three infants were named.  The son of Sthenelus, in Tiryns, was named Eurystheus, and was proclaimed by all as the future king of all the Argolid.  The sons of Alcmene were given the names Alcides and Iphicles.

Many months passed, with little of note happening to the infants; an infant’s life is one of blissful tedium, after all.  Zeus was watching over his fair-haired son from Mt. Olympus, delighted at the boy’s strength and courage, even in his infancy, and already planning how to raise him onto the throne of Argos, where he belonged.

But his wife Hera was watching the infant’s growth with considerable rancor.  And soon she could bear it no longer.  She took a pair of poisonous vipers, and slipped them into the bed where the children were sleeping.

Her approach had roused Iphicles, but the baby could only scream and cry as the snakes approached him and his half-brother.  His cries woke Alcides, who looked at the snakes as any other child might look at a new toy.  He gripped the two snakes by their necks, and started shaking them, giggling with glee at his new game.

By the time their mother ran up to her babies, the snakes were quite dead, and Alcides looked very sad to have his toys taken away so soon.

Once more, Tiresias was consulted.  “Only a god or goddess could enter into such a secure home and place those serpents where they could attack those infants.  And only one immortal would dare such a feat, as infants are specially protected by the great goddess Hera.”

“Who?” Amphitryon demanded.  His own son, after all, had been in just as much danger as his wife’s demi-god son!

Tiresias laughed.  “Hera herself, of course!  No immortal would dare to cross her.  It must have been Zeus himself who shared your wife’s bed.”

“What shall we do?” Alcmene asked, cuddling little Alcides against her chest.  “How can I ever raise my son to manhood if he’s being targeted by the queen of the gods herself?  Can’t I apologize to her somehow?  I had no idea it was her husband instead of my own in my bed!”

“Hera is not known to be forgiving, and I bear the scars of her anger myself,” Tiresias replied, shaking his head.  “But you can try to propitiate her.  Make offerings at her temple, give gifts to flatter her.  Perhaps you can win her forgiveness where I could not.”

The worried parents thanked Tiresias for all his help, then discussed what they could do to placate the enraged goddess.  They did, indeed, make many offerings at her temple, and promised that they would always continue to honor her above all the other gods.  As a further step, Alcmene laid Alcides at the foot of the goddess’ statue in the temple, and addressed the goddess:

“Mighty Hera, I beg you to set aside your wrath for my son!  He has committed no sin against you!  If you must avenge your honor on someone, avenge it on me, not my innocent child!  He, too, will beg you for your understanding, once he has words to speak with.  And his name itself will be a prayer to your greatness and glory:  from this day forth, he will be Alcides no longer, but Heracles!”

Amphitryon and Alcmene thought they had done well to placate the goddess, but Hera was not one to forgive so easily.  However, her husband was angry with her over the murderous attack, so she decided to bide her time, and wait until Heracles was an adult before taking her vengeance on him…


Traditionally, it’s one of Alcmene’s attendants who tricks Eileithyia instead of Alcmene herself, but I thought why not give the woman some agency for once?  Especially since she’s supposed to be wise and all.  Likewise, it’s usually a seer who suggests changing his name from Alcides (“(grand)son of Alceus”) to Heracles (“glory of Hera”) but again, I wanted to give Alcmene a role other than womb.

Sometimes the change from Alcides to Heracles is actually quite late, and at the behest of the Oracle at Delphi, but…it would have been really annoying, not to mention confusing,  if I’d had to keep calling him Alcides throughout his early adventures.

Not sure just how many of his adventures I’m going to tell, of course.  Gotta look ’em over and figure that out.  There’s a lot of them, and no definite order to them.  Depending on how things go, I might set Heracles aside for a few weeks and do something simpler next week.

 

Rose B. Fischer

Author. Artist. Evil Genius.

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