Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Let us turn now to the great dragon-slayers, to Sigurd, and Beowulf, and St. George, and, first among them, Herakles, subduer of the deadly Hydra.

In his Histories, Herodotus claims to have evidence that the Egyptians worshipped Herakles, or Hercules, as a god ages before the Greeks venerated the mythical hero.

The Greek myth may preserve clues that the story of Herakles has a hidden cosmic significance. To start with, there are the Twelve Labors--basically the centerpiece of the whole story. What's interesting is that each labor relates to a constellation in the Zodiac, or at least a constellation near a Zodiac configuration.

The millions of people who visit this blog every day have no doubt noticed my fascination with David Ulansey's book on the Mithras cult and its ties to astronomy. The Herakles story, with its connections to the Zodiac, may have another similarity to Mithras worship. The hero's trials may have represented grades of initiation, with the final grade--the final labor--being the key to the most heavily guarded secrets of the cult.

For his final labor, Herakles went into the underworld to bring to the upper world Kerberos, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld. Before undertaking this task, Herakles was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult of Demeter that was supposed to possess secret knowledge of the afterlife and the renewal of vegetative life on earth each year.

The Herakles story is one of cycles; the sun through the constellations of the Zodiac, and the decay and renewal of the seasons. The implication is that death and life themselves are cyclical.

More than the entertaining adventures of a really strong guy, was the real purpose behind the Herakles myth a guide to secret esoteric knowledge? And was that knowledge a guide to navigating the afterlife, or even a set of instructions for returning to life?

There are also several similarities with Gilgamesh story; Gilgamesh's saga ends with its hero, as excessive at the tale's beginning as Herakles is at his, eventually obtaining a plant which allows the old to become young again, but he loses it. Did the authors of the Gilgamesh story and the Egyptian version of the Herakles myth borrow from the same sources?

If someone can figure out how I can turn this idea into a screenplay for Tom Hanks, I'll cut you in for 10% of the eventual gross.

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