Following the initial post on the meaning of Hero in the concept of the Hellenic religion, by Professor Gregory Nagy, the below post will discuss in brief the theological and archaeological meaning of Herakles. The commentary is based on the previous post on the concept of Hero, the “Herakles as Hero and the Story of Herakles in the Iliad” by Professor Nagy and the article “Herakles: from the prehistoric hunter to the Pan-Hellenic savior” by Demetrios Garouphalis and Stauroula Masouridis in Corpus periodical (2004: 28-41).
We can start by referencing Professor Nagy’s three basic characteristics of a Hero. The Hero “is extreme, in both good and bad ways;” as well as “un-seasonal;” and finally, “has a ritually antagonistic relationship with the god or goddess most like him/her.” Indeed, we can argue that all the three characteristics are part of Herakles’ self. He is ‘extreme’ and ‘wild’. He was the one Who slaying His wife,
Herakles is ‘extreme’ because is a divine persona of the prehistoric past. He is the hunter of beasts / monsters and then, after a cultural alteration the domesticator of wild animals. An example can be the capture of the wild Cretan Bull, which the later story argues that Herkales had to return it back to King Eurystheus. However as Garouphalis and Masouridis (2004) argues, there is another, an earlier version of the myth, in which our Hero slain the Bull. Slaying a powerful bull, a ‘wild animal’, and the tender of its body in the community is obviously a hunting custom. A custom existed in the very early communities of men.
When the community stopped to be seasonal – pre-Historic hunters’ economy uses hunting camps and base camps in combination of seasons of occupation – and stopped to hunt and gather resources, hunters became settled family men. Herakles a family man, a man living in the community without extremities has to be transformed into the primordial hunter. The labors present the purity of wildness and metaphysical magical power of the pre-historic hunter. And as the pre-historic hunters had to be initiated in the ‘magical art’ of hunting by externalize their menace, thus, Herakles had to start like that.
Thus in the later version of His life – during the classical era – Hercules became un-seasonal, but it was not like that before. Professor Nagy points out that “Herakles is unseasonal is seen in his name and life story [we must add here ‘later’ story]. The ancient Greek word for natural time, natural life, natural life-cycle, was hôra. Other definitions: 'season, seasonality; time; timeliness'. (The English word hour is derived from Greek hôra.)” He continues by explaining that, “[t]he goddess of hôra (plural hôrai) was Hêra (the two forms hôra and Hêra are related to each other). She was the goddess of seasons, in charge of making everything happen on time, happen in season, happen in a timely way, etc. Herakles = Hêraklês 'he who has the kleos of Hêra'.” But Who was Herakles – what was His name – before He was re-born as “kleos of Hera”?
In the Mycenaean and Minoan religion and pantheon except of the Great Goddess known as ποτνίας θηρῶν we witness the Young God or the Infant God. He was in the Minoan religion, the companion of the Great Goddess – the concept of the divine great mature female, the everlasting, and the youthful immature male, the deceased and reborn, can be meet in Aphrodite and Adonis, in Demeter and Iaseon (S. Aleksiou, The Minoan Civilization, 19??, 80, 83). The Young God is the πότνιος θηρῶν – potnios theron – the ‘lord of the beasts’ according Nilsson (1968, 357, fig. 168, see here for full referent work) in both the Mycenaean and Minoan religious culture. We can see the connection in between the iconography of Herakles’ labor of the Nemean Lion and the Minoan seals of potnios theron. For instance the depiction of Herakles’ strife with the Nemean Lion in the amphorae in
Therefore we can agree with Nilsson when in his eminent work The Mycenaean Origin of the Greek Mythology stated that “Mycenaean art corresponds so well to the exploits of Heracles that this coincidence strongly corroborates their Mycenaean origin.” (1932: 218) And as a result we must accept the connection and / or relation of the ‘later’ Herakles with the ‘earlier’ potnios theron as well as Their bond with the primordial hunter and his metaphysical – magical powers against the beasts in favour of the community. Thus, in each cultural period, the myth of Herakles altered. He started as a hunter / collector – a seasonal super-human being, protector of the community, the “averter of evil” (ἀλεξίκακος) – and then the un-seasonal hero who defies the divine rule and elevates the human self-power (ήρως θεός).
Finally, the third characteristic stated by Professor Nagy can explain the attitude of the later heroes who basically illustrated the wish of the classical and later man to develop his / her self-strength. Herakles was the excellent example of self-strength. He did all of his labors by Him-self. His relationship with Hera, however, is not a relationship of antagonism and / or hate as is broadly accepted. Hera and Herakles are acting together throughout the Hellenic mythological and religious structure. If Hera can be the Minoan-Mycenaean Mother-Goddess then She must have a young male companion. Zeus was not Her companion in religious and / or social principles but Herakles was the one caries Her name as the ancient Greek male receives the name of his mother. As Garouphalis and Masouridis points out, Herakles’ life “is an ierogamia [in between Him and Hera], a relationship which was reversed at the historical era with Zeus’ dominant role in a concept of gradual contrast in between the matriarchic Goddess and the patriarchic God” (2004: 41).
Heracles has a limited relation with the meaning of hero in the Homeric notion, as Walter Burkert stated (1979). He is not a localized hero because does not have a tomb, because as Nilsson articulates “the myth told that he vanquished Death.” (1932: 193)