Hercules, Thor, and Christ

Hercules, Thor, and Christ, three names which seem unlikely to appear together within the same sentence. While their are some clear and obvious differences between each of these figures, it is the similarities which thread between them that are far more interesting than they more obvious ways in which they are different.

There are some striking parallels that one through each of them, which will be explored and discussed here.

The one element that is of key importance to all three of them, is a shared balanced between divinity and humanity. This is something that plays a crucial part in each of  thier stories and in who they are, and shapes around their myths and how they are perceived by others. Each of them in their own unique ways have come to be heros of the people, those who stand up for the common man and offer some hope and aide both directly as well as through the symbolism of what they represent. They are all popular idols, meaning, embraced by the everyday person. Champions of the struggle of everyday man. Yet the one thing which allows each of them to achieve this goal is they are all also touched by divinity and have that little something extra which exalts them above mortal man.

Now in this regard Hercules and Christ share the most in common between their stories. Both share a God father and a mortal mother, though it came about in very different ways. Both Hercules and Christ, were born upon earth, and as men and because of their birth, set through trails and tribulations upon earth. They both share something of mortality and both end up having their lives guided by the divine powers which helped sire them. Ultimate they both must sacrifice the ability to live as man, and have the simple joys and happiness of men for a greater divine cause.

In the case of Christ he was put upon earth to fulfill a prophcy, to spread the word of God, and thus in the end die for the sake of man. Because of this he was bound to remain “pure” and chaste, and he was destined to be a prophet.

In the case of Hercules, he was driven by his jealous stepmother Hera, the wife of Zeus, who sought to avenge Zeus’ infidelity upon his demigod son. While Christ was denied the ability to ever have a family, Hercules had his family stolen from him, and knew from then he could never risk having one again.

So while living among men, they both had to live isolated from man as well and had to suffer in ways beyond men, while still sharing in earthly struggles which men could relate to. Niether one of them was given true choice over their own lives.

In the case of Thor there is a slight difference. He was a god and lived within the realm of the gods, and yet, sharing in humanity was a very important part of him and who he was, and his role among the people. In spite of the fact that he was a god, he was still relatable to man because he was suciptiable to the same difficulties and struggles as men were. Like men he was at the mercy of the elements of the earth, and like men he could be tricked and deceived.

There is one important myth laid out with the purpose of highlighting this “human” aspect of Thor. He was deceived by an Ogre King who sought to humiliate Thor and thus presented to Thor three tasks which were impossible to complete.

The first task was that Thor was given a horn of ale and told to drink to the bottom of it. Well being a very manly Norse god, Thor thought, no problem. He could easily drink a horn of ale. So he takes it and starts to drink, and drink, and drink, yet never reaches the bottom untill he must finally admit defeat, feeling pretty low about this.

He is then given his second task, he must lift up the paw of the ogre’s great cat. Well Thor is the god of strength, no one is stronger than he is. He marches up to the cat, and struggles against it, but can barely manage to life the paw off the ground, and is pretty upset that he the mighty Thor could not even pick up a cat.

At the thrid task, the ogre plays at feeling sorry for Thor and offers to give him and easy challenge now, since he did so poorly on the first, and presents his grandmother and tells Thor he must wrestle the old woman. Well Thor is a great warrior who does battle against fearsome giants, he can defeat an old man. He goes to fight the woman and she throws him onto the ground.

Well that was it, Thor was crushed, when the Ogre King reveals to him how he had been tricked.  The horn in which he was to drink from was tapped into the ocean, and no man could swallow the ocean.

The cat whose paw he could not lift was really the Midgard serpent which is wrapped around the world, so no one could lift up the whole world.

And the old woman Thor had to wrestle with was old age, which no man can defeat.

So this shows that though Thor is a god, he has the same weaknesses and struggles that men do, and throughout many of his myths, and his battles against the Midgard Serpent, his arch nemsisies the elements often come into play to hinder him.

Another important factor that runs similar in each of these figures is they all in some way act to do a service for man kind and to help better the world for man.  They all have some duty, function, task, which they must do that benifits mankind.

In the case of Christ, he has his miracles which he performs. He turns the water into wine at the wedding, he walks upon water to save the boat of fishermen, he heals the sick with a touch of his hands, resurrects Lazarus from the dead. One of the things which does make Christ stand out the most from these other figures, is the Christians do counter Pagan myth by making a much more humble and passive hero, opposed to the warrior heroes, Christ does act out of a pure selflessness in the things he does which does vary from Hercules in his own works, but the message and concept behind them remain the same.

Hercules has the 12 Labors which has to perform, but as hinted at above, for him these tasks have a double motive, they not only work to benefit mankind but he also must complete them as a form of penance. When Hercules first attempted to live as normal men do, Hera drove him mad, and made him believe his family were his enemies and so he slayed them in the night. While what he did was not his fault, that does not change the fact that he has what Greeks called the “blood guilt” and thus he must try and purify his soul, and through these labors he hopes to do so.

The Labors of Hercules do work as a benefit to man in a duel way, for one thing, for many of his tasks he must conquer over fearsome man eating savage monsters which have been terrorizing people and so he makes the world safer for man by dominating over these blood thirsty creatures. But he also offers a lesson and symbolic message to man.  He stands up to confront his fears and demons, and he never gives up no matter how impossible the task before him appears to be, he always finds the way to persevere against it. In addition not only does he use his courage, and physical prowess but often he must also use his wit to help him through. Hercules becomes an icon for the everyday man. As men in their daily life must struggle, Hercules also must struggle, and if Hercules can do the seemingly impossible, so man can conquer his own difficulties.

Thor also works in the service of the protection of man, for one of his class sole purposes as a god is defeating this horrible giants which if it were not for Thor, they would be set loose upon the world and wreak havoc among men. 

And in the Viking culture in which the sea, and sailing plays such an important role within their lifestyle, Thor helps protect men at sea from the terrors of the Midgard Serpent.

An interesting way that does reflect a greater similarity between Thor and Christ in a way that Hercules lacks, is through the importance of talismans. The cross has become an almost universal symbol for Christ, it is worn both in honor of Christ and his suffering for man as well as a symbol of protection for the people, almost all Christians bare the symbol of the cross.

In the case of Thor, his greatest weapon, his hammer, was a symbol that came to be worn by all of Thor’s worshippers. Medallions baring the symbol of Thor’s hammer were numerous. And the same as with the cross, at the time, everyone knew the symbol of Thor’s hammer, knew what it was and what it represented. It was worn both in worship as well as for personal protection.

The final key factor in all of this, is that ultimately all three figures in the end become Martyr’s for their cause.

Of corse in the case of Christ, he is in the end crucifed upon the cross to die for the sins of man, and thus returns back to his heavenly father once more.

Hercules has a very similar experience as this in his own death. He is ultimate called up to the heavens by his father Zeus. After he manages to complete his 12 Labors at long last, Zeus decides that he has finally suffered enough, and Hera had her fun, but he steps in to finally alieve Hercules of his suffering and ultimately purify him and cleanse the blood upon his hands. Hercules builds up a great funeral pyre on which he stands and Zeus pulls the soul of Hercules up into Olympus, and ultimately makes Hercules a god and spares him hence forth from all mortal sufferings and struggles so he can live the rest of eternity in bliss and peace.

In the case of Thor, at the coming of Ragnarok, a myth with strong similarities to the book of Revelations (but that is a story for another day) Thor has his final and last battle with the Midgard serpent. They finally get to face off with one another without any interruptions or interferences, and as Thor strikes a mighty blow to kill the serpent, from the wound drips his deadly venom onto Thor, and thus they both fall. Thor gives his own life in his last act to protect the world and mankind and fells his arch rival.

The Garden of Hesperides vs The Garden of Eden

 

 

The Garden of Hesperides’ from Greek Mythology bares some strong resemblance to the story of the Garden of Eden, in addition to the similarities there are also some parallels to the story as well, but there can be found a clear link between the story, that go beyond simple coincidence.

The Garden of Hesperide’s is the orchard of the goddess Hera, and is a very idyllic place of great beauty. It was located in a place beyond the mortal world, and was meant to be inaccessible It was from this garden which the gods got their immortality. The prized position of the garden was none else than golden apples. The gardens were inhabited by nymphs known as the Hesperides, and the apple was guarded by a 100 headed dragon known as Landon.

In reflection upon the Garden of Eden, you can see the similarities between the two of them. A sacred garden that belongs to another realm, and cannot be accessed by man, in which there is a forbidden tree whose prized fruit which is not to be touched or disturbed happens to be that of an apple. There is also the serpent connection between the two of them, though here one of the differences occurs. For in the case of the Gardens of Hesperides the dragon is the protector of the fruit, opposed to the popular story in the Garden of Eden in which it is the serpent that seeks to aid in tempting Eve to eat of the apples.

The Garden of Hesprides offers the reverse when Hercules has to battle the dragon to steal of the apple. This is a rather interesting approach to the story, and it reflects the difference in world view between the ancient Greeks and the Bible, in the story of Hesperides, the hero, is cheered on for his action of stealing from the sacred fruit of the Gods, opposed to the story of Even and the apple, in which she is punished for the action.

As a side note in comparing the two stories, one can also draw some similarities between Eve, and the nymphs Hesperides. Before Eve’s falling to temptation, she is actually a very nymph like figure in the way in which she is a daughter of nature, she roams the gardens freely in a state of innocent nudity and does not know shame for the natural state of her body. In way after the seats of the apple she becomes more human, she looses her nymph like nature when she feels the need to conceal herself.

Now as already alluded to above, another one of the important similarities between these two stories is the need for something to happen to the apple, for man to trespasses the realm of the gods by taking that which is most sacred and prized by them, though for very different reasons, which also offers an interesting aspect.

In the case of the Garden of Eden the apple represents of corse the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the knowledge of God himself which is not intended for man to possess, but Eve is ultimately tempted by the serpent and eats of the apple and tempts Adam to join her. In doing this they violate the one rule of the Garden and are exiled but in this action, comes one of the other importance differences between the stories. In the case of the Garden of Eden the folly of Adam and Eve end up being to the benefit of mankind, in spite of being expelled from the paradise, knowledge is passed to mankind and they no longer have to live in ignorance, through this new found knowledge they also are given the fullest ability to exercise their free will.

Now in the case of the Garden of Hesperides the apple is the source of the immorality of the gods, and in the act of stealing of the apple Hercules is acting upon his own personal behalf, in truth the world at large does not really benefit from the steeling of the apple. It is part of an individual quest and he most take the apple as part of his 12 labors, which will absolve of his guilt over the death of his family.

Another interesting twist within the story is the fact that in this case after Hercules slays the dragon Landon, he actually ends up having to tempt Atlas into the actual picking of the apples for him, because of the Hesperide nymphs who are the daughters of Atlas. The way in which Hercules is able to tempt Atlas into doing this, is by offering to literally take the world off of his shoulders and hold it for him while he enters the garden to pick the apple.

So the two stories intertwine in a way that suggests there must be some interaction and relation between the two of them, this sort of thing appears many times, where myths display some suggestion of communication of some sort between vastly different cultures, and the human experiences run on common thread, in stories like this one can understand Jung’s views about the collective conciousness.

Seeking meaning behind Medusa

Medusa by Arnold Bocklin

Medusa by Arnold Bocklin

I have recently discovered a new show called Clash of the Gods on the History Channel, and find it quite interesting as it reviews a variety of myths and explores their real world connections behind the myth. I have most recently watched their exploration of the Medusa myth which provoked some interesting thoughts in my own evaluation of it, as I do not completely agree to the same conclusions they came to in certain aspects of the myth.

Before going into my interpretation of the myth, a brief overview of the myth for those who may not be familiar with the details of it. Medusa began as a young maiden of renowned beauty but who could be obtained by no one because she served as a priestess of Athena, and thus she took a vow of chastity. But there was one man who would not let that stop him. When Medusa was within Athena’s very temple Poseidon approached and raped Medusa upon the temple floor before the eye of Athena. Athena was outraged but Poseidon  himself could not be punished, for one, it was accepted that he was simply acting within his nature as a god and could be expected to behave no differently than he had. Punishing Poseidon for what he had down would have been like punishing a carnivore for eating meat. So it was than that the curse was placed upon Medusa and she became the Gorgon and sent away to be isolated upon the island.

The point where I tend to somewhat vary in my personal interpretation of this myth is to view what became of Medusa as a punishment against her. It may certainly appear like a punishment, to be turned into this hideous monster destined to live exiled and alone forever, but that is the first mistake to make, to try and apply a mortal perception to the gods. They are beyond us, beyond our limitations and they are not bound to mortal conceptions of morality and punishment.

It is similar to the idea of being careful what you wish for, we may not understand the ways of the gods, so they may grant our wishes in ways that are not how we have intended. One can see this in considering Artemis who was known to turn a woman into a tree who asked for her protection against the purists of Apollo. Being turned into a tree might not appear to be the ideal solution, but it had preserved her from falling prey to Apollo, so the gods do not always act in a way we understand or in a way that might appear to be of our best interest when they are turned to.

With this it is time to further examine the Medusa story, and how it may be perceived as anything but a punishment. For one thing, a rather interesting factor in the story is the fact that Medusa’s monstrosity was in fact reflecting upon her exterior the way she would have been viewed by society after what became of her. In spite of the fact that she was the victim in Greek society she would have been exiled for what happened to her, she would not have been able to obtain a normal marriage and no longer being virginal she lost her place in the temple, so she would have been exiled by society and viewed as if she were a monster and she would have nothing to protect her from being subject to the crime again by others.

So what does Athena do? Makes Medusa into one of the most powerful woman there is, she ultimately insures that no man can ever touch of offend Medusa ever again, and gives her the ability to have her revenge at last in her own way. Being that Poseidon himself is beyond punishment, Athena through Medusa punishes mankind for the crime. With nothing more than a look Medusa can turn to stone any man who tries to come near her. She becomes feared, and almost untouchable.

But of course she is in the end fated to meet her eventual death when the young hero Perseus comes along, but even in her death, Medusa is able to have a sort of final revenge and Athena strikes out against the crime which had befallen the priestess. The severed head of Medusa is rather poetically used to protect another woman from having to suffer as she herself once dead.

The mother of Perseus was at the mercy of men whom wished her only harm, first her father whom had locked her away in a tower with the hope she would die because of the prophecy about the death a child by her would bring him, and when Zeus impregnated her, he sends her away out to sea once more hoping she would die without him having to get his hands dirty. But with the aid of Zeus she lives and is brought to an island, there the King decided he wants her and demands to make her his wife against her wishes.

So Perseus goes upon his quest for the head of Medusa to preserve his mother, and after defeated the monster returns just in time to stop the wedding using the head of Medusa to kill his mother’s tormentors, both her father, and her would be husband.

So Medusa’s life might not have been pleasant, not by human standards, but there was nonetheless a sense of divine justice behind it.