Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TFBT: Apotheosis of Heracles

This is a continuation of the series of papers generated by the continuing conversations of WilliamMoulton2 and Maya M.  This paper discusses the apotheosis of Heracles. 

The usual story is that the oracle told Heracles he would be immortalized after completing his famous labors. (Historian Diodorus Siculus, mid 1st century B.C. says Hercules sent Iolaus to the Delphic Oracle) [i] However, this prophesy seems to reflect just temporal relationship, not causal. Gods have no gain from most labors. (Two of Hera’s foster children were slain, a deer sacred to Artemis grabbed, the golden apples from Hera’s garden picked and Hades’ hound carried off.) And Hera is allowed to interfere with them. Still Heracles fulfills what seems to be the destiny of most ancient Greek heroes; slaying monsters in Greek mythology.  We have a precedent of Zeus' son completing a labor and then left to die (Perseus). Moreover, Heracles is not immortalized immediately after completing the Labors, and not even after the Gigantomachy. He is left to get in more and more trouble, until the low point at the funeral pyre. 

 Why is he rescued from there? Why doesn't Zeus let him burn? Once allowed to Olympus, Heracles is adopted by Hera and is given Hebe as appeasement.[ii] Which, again, makes me wonder why Zeus allowed him there in the first place? Possibly humans were becoming so great a danger that the gates needed a stronger guardian?  Ha ha!   

 At: The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology,  Martin P. Nilsson Nilsson  thinks that the wounding of Hades by Heracles mentioned in the Iliad reflects an older version of Heracles' immortality, where he was not apotheosized but immortalized himself by defeating Hades in single combat.  

As to the divinity of the Heracles, the whole issue gets confused by the seven different characters by that name and the absorption of all the he-man local heroes (and gods) into the myth of the Heracles we know.  

Let’s not let all these details confuse the single all telling fact; Heracles defeated Death to save Alcestis! ( Euripides, Alcestis )  Did you see “Bob and Ted’s Bogus Adventure”? If you defeat death you are a god!  

Let’s start at the beginning. Zeus spent three days “building” the ultimate weapon against the Giants by “prolonging the night threefold, made love to Alcmene.” [iii]  Heracles mother is the daughter of Anax, the daughter of Princess Hipponome of Thebes. Hipponome is the sister of Creon & Jocasta and wife to Heracles’ earthly paternal grandfather Alcaeus. The child was named after his grandfather Alcaeus and often called Alcides. The name change, indicates his absorption into the Olympian family.  

So he has a little Theban ichor[iv] flowing in his veins and is built of a triple dose of Zeus. I don’t know how the math works out, but that makes Heracles more than a demi-god. So whatever mortal fraction remains in the Heracles, it was made divine by the last three labors.

·      Geryon's Cattle; Geryon lived at the far end of the known world on the shores of the great river ocean where the line between this world and the next get vague. There is lots of argument that the cattle of Geryon are the same as the cattle of Hades. (Both kings had shepherds of similar names and multi-headed dogs.) This would be the event the Iliad mentions where Hades got shot with one of Heracles’ arrows. Heracles defeated Death! In Greek mythology it is a “once and for always” thing. You can’t die after that.

·      The Apples of the Hesperides; These were the apples that the Fates gate Typhon, the apples that Iduna gave the Aesir, the witch to Snow White and that Eve gave to Adam. They are extremely powerful, one way or the other. Heracles acquired them but didn’t take a bite. “There the Moirai (Fates) deceived the pursued creature, for he ate some of the ephemeral fruit on Nysa” (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 39 – 44) Aaron J. Atsma argues this is a reference to grapes, but I don’t recall elsewhere grapes being called an “ephemeral fruit”.

·      Defeating Cerberus; Heracles went to Hades and back again with a three headed monster. Most gods can’t even go to Hades and back.   

Heracles defeated Hades but never defeated Geras according to ancient literature. Geras was the daemon or personification of Old Age.  Did Hebe save him from the fate of Tithonus?  According to Shapiro there are five Athenian vase-painting between 490-450 documenting Herakles’ combat with Geras and presumed victory.[v]    Hebe didn’t have to save her hubby from Geras. Heracles was a god, by birthright (much greater than 50% divine), deed and acclaim.  



  1. Heracles indeed fought with Geras! Here is one of the paintings:

  2. "The myth about the dragon's blood was also known to the Armenians. The so-called "treaty" between Constantine and Tiridates, which is an old but spurious document, says that Constantine presented his Armenian ally with a spear which had been dipped in the dragon's blood. King Arshag, son of Valarshag, also had a spear dipped in the blood of "reptiles" with which he could pierce thick stones... Such arms were supposed to inflict incurable wounds."
    (M. H. Ananikian, Armenian Mythology, p. 87)

    I wonder, common origin or curious coincidence?

  3. I've recently written a post about Eve's "apple":

    BTW, my son did not believe me that his textbook was wrong.