The Hero Takes the Zenith: This week on the Storyteller’s Night Sky

This season the mighty constellation of the hero Hercules sweeps across the zenith, the uppermost part of the night sky, bearing mystery in his wake.

The constellation Hercules is midway between two of the summer’s brightest stars: Arcturus and Vega; his torso looks like a rhombus; and he’s upside down on bended knee, his left leg kicking west.

It’s curious that the ancients would see their great hero in such a figure, especially since there are no bright stars in this region of the sky.

It’s like some great mystery is hidden there, and it may be this:

On the way to one of his labors, Hercules had to pass through Libya, where he encountered the giant Anteaus. Anteaus was the son of Gaia and anyone who wanted to pass through his territory was forced to wrestle with him. The thing is, as a son of Gaia, Anteaus had a secret super power: he could defeat anyone in a wrestling match, so long as he stayed connected to the Earth, his mother. Unfortunately for him, Hercules discovered the secret source of his power, and simply lifted Anteaus up off the Earth until he perished.

This myth reveals the ancient belief that human beings, in their higher or Hercules-like nature, have their origin in the divine starry world, not with the Earth, like the brute Anteaus. This explains the upside-downness of the constellation: he’s rooted in the stars, not the Earth; and the leg that is bent westward is actually the flailing limb of Anteaus, kicking into the night as he is held aloft by Hercules.

The ancient lesson here is that human beings must wrestle and overcome their lower nature in order to realize their divine or higher nature.

This week’s radio segment can be found here.


“Anteaus” by Seamus Heaney (1939-20130

When I lie on the ground

I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.

In fights I arrange a fall on the ring

To rub myself with sand

That is operative

As an elixir. I cannot be weaned

Off the earth’s long contour, her river-veins.

Down here in my cave

Girdled with root and rock

I am cradled in the dark that wombed me

And nurtured in every artery

Like a small hillock.

Let each new hero come

Seeking the golden apples and Atlas:

He must wrestle with me before he pass

Into that realm of fame