We pick up this third part of the Labours series with the second labour Hēraklēs has to complete: slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. The funny thing about this hydra is that no one is really sure how many heads it actually has. The generally accepted number is nine, but ten, or even a hundred are also mentioned. It's also unclear if there was only one head that was supposed to be immortal (as per Apollodorus) or if the creature itself was immortal. The sequence of events, however, is quite clear.
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Oh guys, you know I love you, right? Yesterday I got not one but two e-mail from readers. One was a very sweet note abut the quality of the blog and how much they like reading it, the other was a very simple question, and I really appreciate that the reader (who has opted to remain anonymous) was comfortable enough with me to ask it. The message reads:
In the blog post about sayings which can be traced back to ancient Hellas or Hellenic mythology, I make mention of Oedipus. The saying he is connected to--the Freudian Oedipus complex--introduced Oedipus and explains the saying:
Today, I want to go a little deeper into this myth, to a milestone in the life of Oedipus. I quite recently acquired a little vase with a depiction of Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. It's a replica of a kylix motif. This seems like a perfect opportunity to tackle this story.
When I first started out with Baring the Aegis, one of the first posts I did was on miasma and katharmos--pollution and purification, respectively. The post can be found here. Nearly a year later, I stand behind what I wrote in that post, but it's time for a revisit. Today, I'm talking about katharmos and miasma, the importance they had in ancient Hellenic religion, and the importance they have in its modern equivalent. From the previously linked post:
A little over a week ago, I introduced a new series for the blog: a short series about the labours of Hēraklēs. In that post, I described the life of Hēraklēs up until the point where he set out to complete the tasks. Today, I'm taking you through the first of twelve labours: Hēraklēs' challenge to slay the Nemean lion.
The Leon Nemeios (Λεον Νεμειος), or Nemean lion has been described with a large variety of parents. Selene is mentioned by Aelian and Seneca, amongst others, but one of the drakons is also possible, especially Echidna. Diodorus Siculus, in his Library of History describes the lion so:
Before I address the title, let me first address a fact that was illuminated in some fairly recent conversations: I am old. Chronologically, I'm just a bit over thirty, which isn't really anyone's idea of old --and contrary to the prevalent misconceptions of ancient longevity (which is an average) generally speaking, people who could survive past the age of 15 all through the Archaic and Classical eras could typically expect to live into their sixties, so this isn't even "old" by historical standards, but I'm old. I'm old because I retain this stubborn identity of "Hellenic reconstructionist" even though many people my age and younger, even (sometimes especially) if they practise by the same general methods I do have long eschewed the term because of reasons. I all get to those reasons very shortly. I'm old because I've acquired greater measures of both patience and cynicism in my approach to dealing with others, largely because of persistent misconceptions of who and what I am and am about, and when I don't have the patience to explain it, I don't get angry, I just shrug and think oh well, this isn't news and frankly I don't think they're worth explaining it to, and then I ask the other person "Hey, let's agree to disagree?" But the good thing about being an ageing cynic (but not really a Cynic, though I do appreciate some of their teachings --my philosophy is based largely on Kyrenaic Hedonism with equal parts Empedocles, Democritus, Kirkegaard, Sartre, Camus, Crisp, and Jarman filling in the gaps, and also a huge stress on aesthetic arts bringing joy and meaning taken from famous Dandies including, but not limited to, Beau Brummel, Oscar Wilde, and Lord Whimsy)... [coughs] Yes, the good thing about being an ageing cynic with a blog, is I get to make things as clear as i need to, update and revise as I need to, and point people to said blog when I don't feel like dealing with them right now.
I want to make clear what religious reconstruction is and is not, because in spite of being pretty active for about the last five years in trying to promote this method of practise as both a perfectly valid and relevant "pagan path", it seems I've been met with more gross and appalling misconceptions in this last year than the previous four combined. Now, I have some suspicions on key players who may be a large part responsible for this, but this isn't about naming names, this is about using the position afforded me on PaganSquare to clarify, perhaps even educate. In this, I also want to stress (though I doubt that I could ever stress enough for some people) that identifying with a reconstructionist method is not synonymous with being ultra-conservative, traditionalist, neo-luddite, or regressionist....
The constellation Draco (from the Greek Drakon, meaning dragon) is identified--funnily enough--with some dragons in Hellenic myth but not others. There are quite a few creatures, after all, who would qualify as a dragon in Hellenic myth. For a dragon or hydra not connected to the constellation, think of the one Kadmos vanquished, for example, or the one Apollon vanquished at Delphi, or even the dragon who guarded the Golden Fleece and was slain by Iásōn. In truth, only two dragons were associated with the myth in ancient times, most notably by Hyginus in his Astronomica: Drakon Hesperios, the Hesperian Dragon, and Drakon Gigantomakhios, the Gigantomachian Dragon.