Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Life of Hercules: The First Six Labors

Herakles and the Stymphalian Birds
Attic Black Figured Amphora
6th c. BC, British Museum
       Second of a series.  Here's the first: The Life of Hercules: Birth and Childhood.

       Termites, being almost universally neuter in gender, are not capable of sexual adventures.  Heracles himself could be pretty randy, as in the tale of the daughters of Thespius.  A king named Thespius had fifty daughters and, fearing they would make bad matches, he sent each of them in turn to sleep with Heracles when the hero was staying at Thespius's palace.  Heracles managed to engender some 50 sons.  And that was when Heracles was only 18 years old!
        I don't use this episode in my adaptation for obvious reasons!
       So how did the real Hercules get saddled with the Twelve Labors?  Heracles married King Creon's daughter Megara and had several sons by her.  As he was waging various military campaigns, he committed some excessive acts and Hera decided to punish him by driving him mad.  In his madness he attacked his own sons and killed six of them.
       Upon recovering his sanity, he shut himself up in a dark chamber for days, then, after receiving purification from King Thespius, he went to Delphi to ask the Pythoness what he should do.  Here is how Robert Graves puts it in Greek Myths (my principal source): "The Pythoness ... advised him ... to serve Eurystheus for twelve years; and to perform whatever Labours might be set him, in payment for which he would be rewarded with immortality."  Note that this had already been foretold at Heracles' birth (see my first post: The Life of Heracles: Birth and Childhood).  Eurystheus was the child who had been born first, denying Heracles the kingship of the House of Perseus, and Heracles loathed him, but nevertheless Heracles submitted to his punishment.
       I consider the Madness of Heracles and his awful act of killing his children to be a major event in his life and I was able to use it in my adaptation.  At one point the Companions even visit a Seer who sits on a three-legged stool (v.4).  However, I had to figure out how to start the Quest on its way without having Ki'shto'ba commit atrocities at the very beginning of the books.  Bai'go'tha is equivalent to Eurystheus and the story of the first hatched becoming Commander of To'wak (read King) holds.  Only Ki'shto'ba's motivation for undertaking the Twelve Labors is different -- it is in fact a noble act of self-sacrifice.
       Here follows a list of the first six original Labors, with comments.  My purpose was not to engage in a slavish restatement of the myths, but to present an interpretation that allows for a coherent plot progression and most importantly a steady sequence of character development. 
       1.  The Nemean Lion.  An enormous lion was terrorizing a region.  Normal weapons like arrows coudn't dent it, so Heracles strangled it.  Afterward he wore the pelt as armor (hence many statues of Heracles show him draped in a lion's pelt).
            I omitted this Labor.  Somehow I couldn't envision Ki'shto'ba wearing the skin of a big reptile (no mammals on the termite planet).  My Champion isn't barbaric enough; besides termite Warriors have ready-made chitin/armor.
      2.  The Lernaean Hydra, a sea monster raised by Hera as a bane for Heracles, who was dispatched to kill it.  It had eight or nine or as many as 10,000 heads, and every time one head was cut off, two or three more would sprout in its place.  It was also highly venomous.  Only one head was immortal and Heracles finally succeeded in cutting that one off, thus killing the monster.
           This Labor was highly adaptable (see v.2 of my series).  I made the creature a giant cephalopod (the Hydra may have been based on such an animal), able to regrow its legs, which are mistaken for heads.  Of course, the legs don't magically regenerate instantly (my world is based in pretty solid reality), but when the attackers begin to understand that the creature has only one head embedded in the midst of the legs, they realize they can kill it by attacking that one head.
       3.  The Ceryneian Hind.  This is the famous Golden Hind.  Heracles was supposed to capture it alive and bring it back to be kept in Eurystheus' menagerie.  However, the hind was sacred to Artemis and Heracles wanted to free it, so when he handed it over to Eurystheus, he allowed it to "accidentally" escape and run away.
            You may remember the loose but effective adaptation of the myth in Kevin Sorbo's version of Hercules.  I didn't use this Labor.
       4.  The Erymanthian Boar.  Heracles' task was to capture this ferocious creature, but in the course of his pursuit, he ran into a bunch of drunken Centaurs.  In the ensuing melee, one of Heracles' arrows (which were poisonous from having been in the blood of the hydra) struck Cheiron (his old teacher) in the foot and killed him, much to Heracles' dismay.  Heracles went on to capture the boar and possibly kill it.
           I made fine use of this one.  Ki'shto'ba never carries any poisonous weapons (again, out of character) and my version of the hydra is not poisonous, but I concocted a wonderful use for this Labor.  Unfortunately, you'll to wait for v.5 in order to know what it is.
       5.  Cleansing the Augeian stables, a cattle yard that had not been mucked out for years. Eurystheus took great delight in imagining Heracles toting loads of dung.  However, he diverted a river and sluiced out the yard that way.
            I didn't use this one.  I probably could have concocted something, but I couldn't see the point in having Ki'shto'ba clean a dung pit.
       6.  The Stymphalian Birds.  Here's how Graves describes them:  "Brazen-beaked, brazen-clawed, brazen-winged, man-eating birds ... [They] kill men and beasts by discharging a shower of brazen feathers and at the same time, muting a poisonous excrement, which blighted the crops."  Athene gave Heracles a rattle or a pair of castanets, which raised such a clatter that the birds were driven away, although they turn up later in the adventures of the Argonauts.
            Of course I use this (although not the rattle).  One of the Birds appears on the cover of v.2 The Storm-Wing.  I adapted this myth in several ways, and the Marsh Guardians haunt the whole rest of the series, playing an important role in v.6.  Very important!
       Stay tuned for the last six Labors, coming soon!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Special Price on The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head - Limited-Time Offer!

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Each volume is only 99 cents (ebook price)
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I'm working on the final revision of
Volume Four: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear
so stay tuned!