Sunday, January 8, 2017

TFBT: Review of "Initiating Heracles"

I recently received an invitation to read a paper at Academia by Jan Bremmer.  The topic was "initiating Heracles".  I was excited by this; I had been considering the topic for Heracles and Achilles. After some confusion on my part, I finally figured out the topic.  Bremmer was not discussing Eleusis or Samothrace, but rather the more mundane rite-of-passage from youth to adulthood.   

Naturally, this discussion requires a lot of background discussion on the youth of the demi-god.  As Bremmer points out, most of the tales are overshadowed by his labors and adventures as an adult.  As part of the rituals’ separation-from-society motif, Bremmer says, “Naturally, while shepherding in the mountains these youths offered excellent occasions for nymphs and goddesses to take advantage of them.”   I am just saying,  “take advantage of” is a phrase most guys I know would never us. 

Rhadamanthys is the son of Theban Europe  Europa’s brother Cadmus was the founder of Thebes, but I don’t see how that make Rhadmanthys’ mother a Theban.

Bremmer does a great job of surveying all the evidence for Heracles’ rite of passage.  But it is all by inference.  Her survey is convincing.  But we have that issue to the mysterious connection between myth and ritual.  Why did no ancient poet or mythographer not tell us a myth about some hero’s  rite of passage and actually call it that?
Good article.



  1. To me, Achilles had his rite of passage when he, still impersonating a girl, opted for the weapons. Heracles presumably had his at age 8 months, when he strangulated the snakes.

  2. Maya,

    Hiding in the harem would be part of the separation of the youth from society portion of the rite of passage. I just can't think of another hero who did it that way.

  3. Maya,

    Name change! Achilles had a different name in the harem. name change is another standard motif in turning into an adult. Some time I will have to write about how I went from little "Billy" to "Bill".

  4. Bill, I think you have already written this:

    I checked when Heracles had his name change - I thought this was in infancy, but it is actually much later, at least according to Apollodorus:

    "Hercules was driven mad through the jealousy of Hera and flung his own children... and repairing to Delphi he inquired of the god where he should dwell. The Pythian priestess then first called him Hercules, for hitherto he was called Alcides." (2.4.12)

  5. Maya,

    I was thinking about this today.

    Achilles was sometimes called Aeacides after his grandfather (which might have to do with a prophecy about an "Aeacides" being responsible for the fall of Troy.

    Heracles as Alcides; son of Alcmene

    Most patronymic reference the father (son of...) Is there any significance for those named for their grandfather or mother?


  6. Actually, Heracles, like Achilles, was named after his paternal grandfather (Alcaeus father of Amphitrion).

    1. Maya,

      Thank you for the correction. I also found an instance where Odysseus was called by his grandfather's patronymic.