by H. Crosthwaite
HERODOTUS writes about Egypt in the second book of his history. In Chapters 42 and 43 he discusses Herakles, reporting that the Egyptians regarded him as one of the twelve gods. Greeks, he says, took the name Herakles from Egypt, that is, those Greeks who gave the name Herakles to the son of Amphitryon. Amphitryon and Alkmene were of Egyptian parentage. Seventeen thousand years before the reign of Amasis, the twelve gods came from the eight, and Herakles was one of them. Such is the Egyptian story.
Herodotus went to Phoenicia and talked to the priests of the temple of Herakles in Tyre, where there were two obelisks, or pillars (stelae). The priests said that the temple was as old as Tyre, at least 2,300 years.
At Thasos, he says, there was a temple dedicated to the Thasian Herakles, built by the Phoenicians who founded Thasos after sailing in search of Europe. This was five generations before Herakles, son of Amphitryon, was born in Greece. There was a story, he says, of Herakles allowing the Egyptians to bring him in bonds to a sacrifice, and exerting his strength (alke) and killing them all.
Herakles as hero is a link not only between god and man, but between sky and earth. From the details of his life story we may learn a little of what was happening in the sky in ancient times, just as his links with Troy may help in the reconstruction of the chronology of the times. The birth stories contradict each other. We read that he was the son of Amphitryo, but we also read that he was the son of Zeus, and incurred thereby the jealousy of Hera. Later in his life she sent Lyssa, madness, to afflict him, and epilepsy was known as the nosos Herakleie, Herakles' sickness. The connection with electricity accounts for the magnet being called the Heraklean stone.
Although the Latin poet speaks of the 'ternox', the threefold night of Herakles' conception, it was still thought necessary to carry out an adoption process when Herakles was finally taken up into heaven. Frazer, The Golden Bough, describes such rites. Hera got into bed, clasped Herakles, pushed him down through her clothes, and let him fall to the ground, imitating a real birth. Such a procedure was usual in Greece.
Just before the annual festival of Herakles at Thebes, offerings were made to Galinthias, daughter of Proteus and a priestess of Hecate. She had been turned into a weasel by the Moirai, who were annoyed that she had assisted at the birth of Herakles.
Mayani, in 'The Etruscans Begin to Speak', quotes an Etruscan mirror engraving. Juno is giving the adult Herakles milk from her breast. Mayani refers to a legend recorded by Diodorus Siculus, that Juno once fed the infant Hercules.
While still in his cradle he killed two snakes sent by Hera. When he grew up, he was given a choice between Pleasure and Virtue. His choice of Virtue accords with his life of struggle against monsters, and against death itself.
In a fit of madness he killed his wife, Megara, and his children. The Delphic oracle told him to serve Eurystheus, lord of Tiryns, for twelve years, and it was Eurystheus who imposed the twelve labours. It was on his journey to fetch the golden apples of the Hesperides that Herakles killed the Egyptian king Busiris. He also killed the dragon Ladon that guarded the apples. When the labours had been accomplished, Herakles led an expedition against Laomedon, king of Troy, which was being attacked by a monster sent by Poseidon. Laomedon promised Herakles a gift of marvellous horses if he rid Troy of the monster. When Herakles was successful, Laomedon refused the reward. Herakles attacked and captured the city. His army included Telamon, father of Ajax, and Peleus, father of Achilles.
To revert to one of his labours: when he killed the Hydra, he dipped his arrows in the blood, and was from then on able to kill opponents with poisoned arrows. He used one to kill the centaur Nessus. The dying centaur told Deianira, wife of Herakles, that his blood, smeared on a garment, would win back the love of Herakles if ever he was unfaithful. Herakles' reputation was such that Deianira kept some of the blood.
When Herakles carried off Iole, Deianira sent him a robe smeared with the blood of Nessus. Herakles suffered so terribly from the burning of his flesh, that he had himself carried to the top of Mount Oeta, and put on a funeral pyre. Poias, father of Philoktetes, was persuaded, by the gift of his bow and arrows, to light the pyre. Herakles was carried up to heaven, where he married Hebe, daughter of Hera.
Euripides' play, The Madness of Herakles, puts the twelve labours before the madness. Herakles is absent in Hades, bringing up Kerberos. Kreon, king of Thebes and father of Herakles' wife Megara, has been killed by Lykus (wolf) and his Theban supporters. Lykus is about to kill Megara and the children at the altar when Herakles returns just in time to save them and kill Lykus.
Hera now sends Lyssa, madness, to attack Herakles, who kills his family. When he recovers his sanity, Theseus takes him to Athens for purification.
At line 1104, Athene hurls a stone to prevent Herakles killing Amphitryon. The blow of the stone causes sleep. This stone was named Sophronister, that which makes sane and wise. It was exhibited in the Herakleion in Thebes.
In line 131 ff., we learn that nobody would buy Herakles as a slave because he had fierce eyes that flashed fire. His children's eyes have augai, flashing beams. He has golden hair.
Although Herakles was famous for his strength, he is described by Pindar as not being a large man. Odysseus meets his ghost in the underworld, Odyssey X1: 601, Herakles himself being with the immortals, married to Hebe.
To the first Herakles, the Egyptian god, belongs the story of the infant killing the two snakes sent by Hera. He crossed the sea in a cauldron. There may be here a reference to Okeanos, the waters in the sky. To the same Herakles we must refer the story that he broke off a horn of Achelous, and that he shot Hera in the right breast, inflicting a wound that never healed.
To the second Herakles, son of Amphitryon, we can attribute the attack on Troy. He also attacked Pylos (Pausanias III: 26); Nestor took refuge in Enope, or Gerenia when Herakles captured Pylos.
Herakles and many other heroes at times seem to be quite plausible historical characters, leaders of migrations and general benefactors, yet at other times they rescue maidens in distress by killing monsters, fly through the sky, and defy what are thought to be the laws of nature and physics.
The confusion may be caused by the fact that terrestrial kings and princes imitated the apparent behaviour of objects in the sky, with a view to increasing their control over their subjects, and found it helpful to blur the distinction between man and god. HERO WORSHIP
The cult of heroes differs from the worship of gods, but in the case of Herakles there is some confusion.
Sacrifices were made to the shade of a hero at his tomb. Such a sacrifice was called an enagisma, as opposed to thusia, sacrifices to a god in the sky. The worshipper at the shrine of a hero did not normally partake of a sacred meal, whereas a sacrifice to a god involved the eating by the worshipper of a shared meal.
At a hero's tomb, blood was poured into the bothros or trench, the victim being held head down, whereas in a sacrifice to a god, the victim was lifted up and the head drawn back to face the sky. The hero's altar, eschara, was lower than a god's altar, bomos, and round. It was for libations (pouring of liquid) only, and the rite was performed on one day only of the year.
There was a hero cult of Herakles at Sikyon in Greece which was an exception. Here there was not only heroic but theistic ritual. His heroon was a rectangular stone base, with a pillar at each corner, and a pediment in front. It was unroofed, presumably for easier communication with the sky.
Herakles was a god to the Egyptians; he was a mortal hero to the Greeks, but he became immortal. He constituted a link between underworld, earth, and sky, with electricity, the divine force that was detected underground, felt in one's own person, and seen acting in the sky, as the common essence of god, man, and hero.
The Greek word for hero is similar to the Hebrew heron, which means conception, or pregnancy. It is at any rate clear that a hero needed a divine parent in order to establish his bona fides.
Herakles was identified in the east with Melqart, and this brings us to another aspect of the Greek hero cult. Apollodorus, III: 4: 3:, tells how Ino, daughter of Kadmos and Harmonia, in a fit of madness plunged her son Melikertes into a cauldron, and fled with his corpse. Another version is that Athamas first killed Learchos, and was about to throw Melikertes into a cauldron when Ino rescued him, fled, and sprang with him into the sea. Yet another version is that Athamas killed Learchos, but his mother put Learchos into a cauldron of boiling water, went mad, and sprang into the sea with Melikertes.
To understand this, we need to recall how Medea, in the play of that name by Euripides, cut up an old ram and boiled it in a cauldron, then magically restored it to life rejuvenated as a young lamb. She promised Pelias that she could rejuvenate him in the same way. He consented, and she asked his daughters to cut him up. She omitted the spells, and Pelias died.
Tantalus killed his son Pelops, and cooked and served his flesh to the gods in a banquet. The gods realised what he had done, and Pelops was restored to life by either Rhea or Klotho. Pelops, on whom a curse had been laid because of a broken oath, had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes. Atreus became king of Mycenae, and his wife Aithra was seduced by Thyestes. Atreus banished him, but later invited him to a banquet for which he had killed and cooked the children of Thyestes.
Another story tells how Thetis plunged her children into a boiling cauldron to test their immortality. None survived.
A Greek inscription from Syria of Trajan's time (early 2nd century A. D.) has the phrase "apotheotheis en to lebeti," having been made a god in the cauldron, and is dedicated to Leukothea, the white goddess who appears in the sea.
I suggest that in all these attempts to achieve immortality we see an attempt to copy occurrences in the sky. We have already mentioned the seething pot looking like a tripod cauldron, or rather the tripod cauldron looking like a seething pot in the sky. Ritual based on imitation of a seething pot was one way of trying to achieve immortality. We shall see in a later chapter that the Egyptian priests approached the problem differently, but in each case electrical theory and experiment led to the belief that the sky-earth relationship was a source of electrical influence and power, and even of life.
It may be relevant that the Greek verb 'zo', I live, 'zen', to live, could easily be confused with the Greek verb 'zein', to boil.
The Cumaean Sibyl is described as living in a jar suspended from the ceiling. Could it be that living in a jar was an attempt to prevent the wasting away of the divine (electrical) force that was associated with inspiration? The ischus ges, strength of earth, wasted away, and the oracles grew old.
THE APIS BULL Pliny writes that in Egypt the Apis bull was killed by drowning. Death by drowning was thought to release the divine element. The dead bull became Osiris, the underworld god.
In Chapter XIII I quoted from the Book of the Dead. Osiris Aufankh refers to the "flame that comes into being from out of the fire which blazes within the water".
The connection between the tripod cauldron and the bull (the cauldron, cortina, could 'moo' and breathe steam) suggests that funeral rites, the heating of water in a cauldron, the washing of the body, and anointing it with oil, are based on a procedure for the resurrection of the soul of the dead hero. See Iliad XVIII: 343 ff., for the funeral of Patroclus.
It also appears that in early times kings of Egypt feasted on the flesh of the bull. The king wished to absorb the strength and divinity of the bull. The running of the bull along land boundaries, and the wearing by the king of a bull's tail, show the connection between the bull and agriculture. The Latin arare is to plough; aratrum is a plough. A derivation from ar, electrical fire, seems possible. The hoof of the bull, like that of Pegasus, had magical power.
The Apis cult is a large and important subject, for which readers are referred to the article in the Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum, Volume Two, "Apis and the Serapeum", by M. Ibrahim and D. Rohl.