The latest exploits of Heracles illustrate the advanced stages of the process of purification-liberation or “unveiling” of the divine involuted in matter. After the installation of the seeker in the overmind, these are the first experiences of the supramental transformation.
Heracles fighting Cyknus – Louvre Museum
To fully understand this web page, it is recommended to follow the progression given in the tab Greek myths interpretation. This progression follows the spiritual journey. In particular, the pages dealing with the twelve Labours must be studied beforehand.
The method to navigate in the site is given in the Home tab.
Abilities required for accessing the supramental world:
‘Capacity for indefinite expansion of consciousness on all planes including the material.
Limitless plasticity, to be able to follow the movement of becoming.
Perfect equality abolishing all possibility of ego reaction.’
Mother’s Agenda, Volume 3, 12 January 1962
The preceding volume was left off with the last of Heracles’ twelve ‘labours’, the ‘athloi’. These adventures of the hero were followed by the ‘praxeis’, or free acts, which are not however temporally situated ‘after’ the labours.
In fact, it must be remembered that the hero had raised the famous pillars at the beginning of the tenth labour when journeying towards the ‘misty’ island of Erythia, situated at the confines of the ocean at the far reaches of the Occident, to bring back the Cattle of Geryon. The eleventh labour, the quest for the apples of the Garden of the Hesperides, involved an acquisition of Knowledge which proved to be an endless endeavour, and the twelfth labour, the Capture of Cerberus at the threshold of Hades, a preliminary groundwork for the work in the body, a becoming conscious of that which impedes its transformation into a supramentalised body.
The last three labours were therefore considered by the Elders of ancient times to be realisations of a future humankind, this being corroborated by their mythical settings. The last labour to be set within a geographically identifiable location was the ninth, that of the Girdle of the Queen of the Amazons.
As the initiates made forward progress, the experiences undergone on the path of these three last labours must have allowed them to give some complementary indications.
However, since no greater synthesis could be formulated the chronology of the corresponding myths remains very uncertain. We have attempted to organise them from the point of Heracles’ sack of Troy, which would have logically had to have taken place during his ninth labour. It must be remembered that the complete adventures of Heracles represent the theory of the process of purification and liberation till the ultimate point of what Sri Aurobindo refers to as ‘the liberation of Nature’.
The sack of Troy
We must resume our discussion of the adventures of this hero from the moment in which he returned to Troy with a fleet of six ships to pillage the city, an episode which has been discussed in its first elements in chapter 3 of this work.
Heracles sought to avenge himself on Laomedon, who had refused to grant him his recompense for the liberation of Hesione, consisting of the greatest horses on earth which his grandfather Tros had received from Zeus in exchange for Ganymedes ‘who cares for joy’. According to Apollodorus, all of Laomedon’s sons were killed except for Podarces, ‘he who sets aside incarnation’, who was bought again by his sister Hesione and took on the name Priam, ‘the repurchased’. Homer on the other hand names some of his sons still living during the War of Troy which took place later on.
This episode indicates that the seeker who has achieved joy in the spirit – for Ganymedes was abducted by Zeus to become the cup-bearer of the gods – is granted a second chance to find the right path, that of a yoga which does not separate spirit and matter, but rather one within which it is no longer the ego that is at the origin of action but the divine. This corresponds to the second phase of yoga described in the Gita, the first being based on attaching oneself to neither acts nor the fruits of such acts, and the second being to conclusively eliminate the ego which carries out action to instead allow the divine to take action through one’s individual self.
This episode also makes clear one of the reasons behind the coming Trojan War, which is that the seeker has remained within an erroneous evolutionary path due to a lack of consecration.
This sack of the city occurs roughly two generations before the Trojan War, for Hector was not yet born and at the time of the war, Priam will be too advanced in years to actively take part as a warrior.
This gap between generations places the sack of Troy at the same period as the Calydonian boar hunt, long before the war led by Agamemnon. It could be deduced that the initiates of ancient times wished to indicate either that that the Trojan error had its roots in a lack of purification of the deepest vital nature, or that the seeker could detect the coming Trojan error within the theoretical process of purification and liberation long before being capable of carrying out the yogic reversal described by the war.
If conversely initiates had taken the trouble of specifying that the adventures which had followed the labours were praxeis or ‘free acts’, it was to indicate that the corresponding level of realisation was that of a liberation in the spirit and psychicisation, and therefore a liberation from fear, desire and ego (of the mental and vital), the seeker having perfectly accomplished the nine first ‘labours’ of which the essential goal was defined by the Nemean Lion and the Lernaean Hydra. These ‘praxeis’ concern those seekers who have come to the end of the ancient forms of yoga and are on route towards the great reversal of the Trojan War. This chapter therefore covers a wide period spanning either side of the Trojan War, which is why it has seemed preferable to place it following the study of the war.
However, there is an episode which along with the sack of Troy can still be associated with the athloi, for it occurs two generations before the Trojan War: the detour at Kos.
The detour at Kos
Upon leaving Toy, Heracles was subjected to a storm unleashed by Hera with the aid of Boreas. The goddess bade Hypnos to cast Zeus into sleep while the hero was dragged towards Kos, far from his own people.
Upon awakening Zeus first turned his anger towards Hypnos, but the latter sought refuge by the side of Nyx. The king of the gods then suspended Hera within the ether, securing two anvils to her feet and tying together her hands with an unbreakable gold chain. When, taking pity for this sight, any of the other gods came near to set her free, Zeus would throw him upon the earth where he would lie immobilised.
When Heracles reached the island of Kos its inhabitants believed that they were under attack. The hero was then obliged to fight to disembark, and slew king Eurypylus in the ensuing fray. He was himself wounded by Chalcodon, but Zeus removed his son far from the site of conflict.
(Pindar mentions the defeat of the Meropes on this occasion).
Then, with the king’s daughter Chalciope Heracles fathered Thessalus, who in turn fathered two children, Pheidippus and Antiphos, who later led the contingent from Kos to Troy.
The beginning of this story reveals a battle within the supraconscient of the seeker between the movement which seeks an indefinite extension of consciousness on all the planes (Zeus) and that which ensures that nothing is left behind within divine laws (Hera).
During a first period it was Hera who persecuted Heracles with her hatred, for she is the force which compels the right movement that can only be obtained at this stage through a deep purification. This is why Boreas, the wind of asceticism, granted its support to the goddess to test the hero.
As part of this trial, the power of the extension of consciousness is first inhibited (Hypnos casts Zeus into a deep sleep).
The seeker is then pulled towards a new opportunity for the opening of consciousness which is far from his customary mode of functioning (he is pulled towards the island of Kos, governed by Eurypylus, ‘a vast doorway’, and led far from his own people). This opening is the result of a work of the subconscient in the establishment of ancient structures (for Eurypylus was a son of Poseidon and Astypalaea, ‘the ancient city’).
When the highest aspect of the seeker situated at the level of the overmind emerges from the slumber in which it had been plunged, it aspires from the highest part of his being to overcome this possibility of a return into the inconscient, but this struggle is still destined to fail for this ‘hypnotism’ is still powerfully linked to the night of the primordial inconscience (Hypnos sought refuge by the side of the daughter of night, Nyx or ‘Night’).
The movement of extension of consciousness then presses down with all its strength against that which continually counterbalances it so that a new possibility of evolution may finally be settled for (Zeus constrains Hera’s capacity for movement). It even puts a stop to any other power of the overmind which would wish to support that which ‘limits’ (Zeus stops the other gods from freeing Hera).
But this first contact with the new path reveals a lack of inner understanding, and the seeker misses the passage of the ‘great doorway’ (the inhabitants of the island believed that they were under attack, and king Eurypylus was killed).
(This event seems to be linked to the conclusive end of the intervention of the logical mind within the process of yoga, the Merops vanquished by Heracles being homonymously associated with the wife of Sisyphus).
Once this lack of understanding has been surmounted, this new opening offers ‘an incontestable and powerful vision’ (Chalciope, ‘a vision of bronze’) for the pursuit of the path (Thessalus). These are the results of the work of the hero in the accomplishment of this vision, associated to a greater humility and discretion despite the importance of his realisations, which will participate in the great movement of yogic reversal of yoga (the Trojan War): ‘a self-limitation in the recourse to one’s own power’ (Pheidippus) and ‘a veil that masks its light’ (Antiphos).
The murder of Cyknus and the wounding of Ares
Heracles came into conflict with a son of Ares named Cyknus, who had entered into a union with Themistonoe, daughter of Ceyx, to whose home the hero was travelling.
The encounter took place at the sanctuary of Apollo at Pagasai, where accompanied by his father, Cyknus, shining resplendently in his armour, stole the sacrificial victims bought by believers (according to Stesichorus, he beheaded travellers to build a temple to Apollo with their heads).
Iolaus, the coach-driver of Heracles’ chariot, drove Heracles’ horses towards Cyknus, amongst them the horse Areion. Just before the conflict began, Athena advised the hero to slay Cyknus and to then attack Ares without attempting to rob the former of his battle-gear. He was however neither permitted to seize the god’s horses, nor his battle-gear.
Heracles then reminded Cyknus that he had already thrice in sandy Pylos struck with his spear his father Ares, who had fallen face downwards to the ground.
The city of the Myrmidons and Iolcus, Arne, Helike and Antheia resounded with the clamour of battle, and Heracles slew Cyknus.
Athena could not restrain Ares who leapt forward to avenge his son, but she did however lessen the power of the god’s spear thrown against the hero’s shield.
Heracles then wounded Ares on the thigh, and he was transported to vast Olympus by his children Phobos and Deimos.
According to Stesichorus, Heracles was first defeated by Cyknus and was obliged to return to defeat him. Pindar only mentions his defeat however.
According to Apollodorus Heracles twice faced a character named Cyknus.
The first time was when he had gone in search of the Apples of the Hesperides on Atlas in the land of the Hyperboreans. On the way there he reached the river Echedoros where Cyknus, son of Ares and Pyrene, provoked him and was instantly killed.
To avenge his son, Ares set up a duel, but Zeus made lightning strike the ground between the two adversaries to put an end to their fighting.
A second encounter occurred following the attempted rape of Deianira by the centaur Nessus, when Heracles came face to face with Cyknus, in this instance the son of Ares and Pelopeia, and slew him.
Amongst the other characters by the name of Cyknus, one was a Trojan son of Poseidon and Calyce, and was killed at Troy by Achilles. (He is however not mentioned by Homer).
The episode recounted here is taken from Hesiod’s poem ‘Heracles’ shield’, which also describes the other great trials of the yogic path. His interpretation rests on an accurate understanding of the character Cyknus, ‘the swan’.
The swan is a bird emblematic of Apollo; at the time of the god’s birth, seven swans were said to fly above the island on which he was born. Although it is closely related to the psychic being (for Apollo is the son of Leto), it is not however its symbol, which is the rose.
White as a dove, the swan symbolises the intuitive and inspired luminous mind resulting from a purified vital, while the former is more closely associated with a pure mind established within a state of peace. This mental light is therefore associated with the manifestation of the psychic being which allows the evolution of yoga beyond asceticism; the swans assisted the birth of Apollo, and were then harnessed to his chariot to bring the god to Hyperborea, the country beyond Boreas, the Northern wind of asceticism.
However, within this myth this mental light originates from the spiritual power which works upon the renewal of forms and strives to develop right thought (Cyknus is a son of Ares, and is united with Themistonoe, ‘thought which follows the law of rectitude, that which is just’). This is not a psychic light but only a light from very high within the world of the spirit, which still belongs to the world of duality and claims to take the place of the light of the heart. It reclaims for its own glory and justification a number of potentialities and energies which in all good faith the seeker wishes to consecrate to psychic growth (the encounter takes place in the sanctuary of Apollo at Pagasai, where Cyknus stole away sacrificial victims). This is the same symbolism that is proposed when the seeker accumulates the ‘trophies’ marking what he has slain within himself whilst thinking that he is establishing a structure appropriate for developing the psychic being (Cyknus beheaded travellers to built from their skulls a temple to Apollo).
Here it is not only a matter of the realisation of mental silence which halts the discursive mind, but of the suppression within the seeker of all mental light still belonging to the world of duality.
The battle then draws near to the very origin of this duality, and the seeker succeeds in weakening its force within himself (Heracles is pitted against Ares, who is wounded on the thigh). This struggle between Ares and the hero also signals the seeker’s first establishment on the overmind plane of the gods and his ability to dominate the forces which rule there. But these forces which manage the world of forms cannot disappear; the seeker must in fact move beyond them and into the supramental.
There are other homonymous characters by the name of Cyknus, all slain by the hero at an advanced stage of the yoga and generally situated around the Trojan War. They symbolise ‘mental lights’ which still belong to the world of duality.
The first of these homonymous characters was a son of Poseidon and Calyce, and ruled over Troad. He was killed by Achilles in the Trojan War. In this instance he is associated with a great nascent light generated by the subconscient within the heights of the mental plane (Calyce, ‘a bud’, can be associated with a heroine who is a daughter of Aeolus within the genealogical lineage of Iapetus).
Another Cyknus described by Apollodorus is linked to the quest of the apples of Knowledge obtained beyond asceticism (in Hyperborea). This concerns the evolution of the inner fire through a work of the right evolution of forms within duality (in this instance, Cyknus is the son of Ares and Pyrene, ‘the evolution of fire’) in the extension of the acquisitions resulting from concentration (Cyknus challenges Heracles on the shores of the river Echedoros, ‘which has boons’, and is killed). If this imperfect light can be put out, time has not however come yet for a confrontation of the seeker with the movement of the destruction of forms (Zeus made lightning strike the ground between Ares and Heracles to put an end to their duel).
The second Cyknus alluded to by Apollodorus, a son of Ares and Pelopeia, intervenes after the attempted rape of Deianira, ‘detachment’, by the Centaur Nessus, ‘that which is not purified at the root of the human mental plane’, and therefore soon before the hero’s death. He too is killed by Heracles.
Hera and Hades wounded by Heracles
We find in the path followed by Heracles several indications that the seeker has at least partly attained the plane of the overmind, sometimes illustrated by the wounds which he inflicts upon the gods.
The wound to Ares’ thigh has already been mentioned here. In the Iliad it is also mentioned that the hero wounded Hera and Hades as well.
It is at Pylos, ‘the doorway’, that Hades was wounded at the shoulder. This event therefore refers to the ‘doorway of the gods’ (which is symbolically linked to the shoulder or clavicles), and therefore to the access to the supramental level.
There are within the yogic process several ‘doorways’ to be crossed, and therefore several cities by the name of Pylos. That of Messenia where Neleus, supported by his father Poseidon, fought Heracles, marks the entry point to the yogic process. It can of course not be identified as the one mentioned here, often referred to as ‘the sandy Pylos’ to indicate that no vital element subsists (linked to water and therefore to vegetation). Passing over the threshold of the gods in fact allows for a descent into the corporeal inconscient (into Hades’ abode) and the beginning of a realisation of unity at that level (the god’s wound).
This entry into the unity of spirit and matter is the source of great abundance and divine wealth. It explains why in certain representations Hades appears to be handing the horn of plenty to Heracles (while the hero is depicted holding the horn himself in other illustrations).
Although in the Iliad it is mentioned just before the wounding of Hades, the wounding of Hera, caused by a triple-tipped arrow to her breast, cannot be precisely situated. It corresponds to the end of the intervention of spiritual consciousness which watched over the right evolution in duality, implying a destruction of forms followed by a reconstruction through the work of her two sons Ares and Hephaestus. But the new movement of evolution, under the impulse of the supramental which must bring the power of Love when the rule of Truth will have been established, must allow for a transformation of forms without the need for their destruction. The equilibrium between the movement of expansion and the force of limitation will then be surpassed by the exactness and direct power of transformation.
In the entry from January 10th 1960 of Mother’s Agenda (Vol 2), one can read:
‘Love is obviously the mightiest, the most integral – integral in that it applies to all cases. It’s even mightier than the power of purification which dissolves bad wills and is, in a way, master over the adverse forces, but which doesn’t have the direct transforming power; because the power of purification must FIRST dissolve in order to form again later. It destroys one form to make a better one from it, while Love doesn’t need to dissolve in order to transform: it has the direct transforming power’.
The light brought into the being by purification and aspiration is however indispensable for attaining this exactness; this is the meaning of the story about Leto’s children Apollo and Artemis, who must become greater gods than Hera’s children and by this mark the first stage of evolution in the yoga of the future.
Eurytion, ‘a vast widening of the highest consciousness’, is a Centaur who carries the same name as the guardian of the herds of Geryon. It would therefore make sense to place this episode within the tenth labour. But in the second volume of this work we have seen that some writers recounted this episode as taking place during the fifth labour at Olenos in the dwelling of Dexamenos, ‘a receptive soul’, who was about to forcefully marry his daughter Mnesimache, ‘she who remains within the logic of battle’, to the Centaur Eurytion.
Irrespective of when it occurred, it is clear that Heracles killed a Centaur who was acting inappropriately, either by forcing himself upon the daughter of his host or by demanding a marriage by force.
It has been said that Centaurs express certain kinds of realisations, at times very advanced, and obtained despite the persistence of a part of the unpurified vital.
If we situate this myth among the last adventures of Heracles, it would also refer to the reversal of yoga.
Augeas and the Molions; the sack of Elis
Heracles sought to avenge himself on Augeas, who had refused to pay him the remuneration agreed upon for having cleaned his stables during the sixth labour.
He had to first face the twin brothers Eurytus and Cteatus, known as the Molionidae and the strongest of their generation, and kill them. Their divine father was Poseidon. They carried the name ‘Molionidae’ from their mother Molione, but were also known as the ‘Actorions’ after their mortal father Actor, brother of Augeas their uncle (in the tradition existing before Homer’s time they were described as Siamese twins, who some sources claim to have been born from a silver egg).
They had previously defeated the army of the hero at Elis. Nestor had faced them at Pylos and had mastered them, but they were then young boys not yet hardened by battle.
Being ill, Heracles first made a truce with the Molionidae. But the latter did not abide by the agreement and slew many amongst the hero’s companions. When came the time of the third round of the Isthmian Games, Heracles ambushed them near Cleonai and killed them. He then marched to Elis and seized the city. There he slew Augeas, king of the Epeians, and all of his sons with the exception of Phyleus, whom he installed back upon the throne.
According to Apollodorus and Pindar, Heracles then established the Olympic Games.
Like the two following ones, this exploit was carried out in the Peloponnese prior to the hero’s residence in Calydon with Deianira, and therefore refers to a process of yoga occurring before the reversal of the Trojan War.
In the sixth labour of Heracles the manure which had accumulated in Augeas’ stables has been interpreted as slag, caused by the ego, of the first ‘luminous experiences’ (Augeas, signifying ‘brilliant light’ or ‘flashes of light’).
Amongst this waste there can be found the consequences of the first great spiritual experience as it is recounted in the Quest of the Golden Fleece, consequences which the seeker must dispose of to avoid the error of the Minotaur and the labyrinth. However, even if within these first stages of the path the seeker agrees to partly purify the consequences of his experiences, he does not renounce reaping profit from these (Heracles agrees to the task in exchange for a certain remuneration). The will, even be it subconscient, of wishing to secure the ‘advantages’ of the spiritual path endures for a very long time under the form of more or less conscious ‘negotiations’ with the Divine.
Even if he cannot enjoy the ‘results’ of these first experiences the hero all the same keeps something of the order of this light, for the son of Augeas pledges allegiance to Heracles and leaves Elis with him (his name, Phyleus, seems to indicate a notion of solidarity, or could be associated with the root phil, ‘love’).
During a more advanced stage of yoga the seeker effaces even the memory of the importance of these first experiences and their repercussions, with the exception of that which causes him to grow in love or in the feeling of unity (Heracles killed Augeas and his sons, with the exception of Phyleus).
Augeas was the king of Elis, a city of the province of Elis to which also belonged the sanctuary of Olympia, symbolic of psychic and spiritual realisations. It therefore seems logical to follow the account of Apollodorus here, who places this anecdote after the sack of Troy.
To put an end to the glorification of past experiences the seeker must first vanquish two oppositions originating from the subconscient and, according to some, closely associated, the Molionides (or Moliones), whose divine father was Poseidon. These obstacles have grown in parallel with the experiences, for the Molionides are the nephews of Augeas, and Nestor, ‘the right evolution of rectitude’, had faced and defeated them when they were still young boys.
Poseidon ‘the force which governs the subconscient’ was their divine father, and Actor, ‘the leader of guide’ or ‘the right movement of the opening of consciousness towards the spirit’, their human father. These brothers therefore represent the indissociable and subconscious consequences of a potent impulse to establish a union in the spirit and in the heart. The first is a ‘vast opening of the spirit’ (Eurytus) probably associated here to a kind of will for power, and the second a will for conquest (Cteatus). When the seeker has achieved these two realisations, these two other movements must be defeated. But when they are but poorly established within the seeker the quest for rectitude is enough to master them (Nestor had defeated them when they were but young boys). On the other hand, having picked up strength the right movement cannot defeat them in a first confrontation, for they were ‘the mightiest of their generation’ (they challenged Heracles at Elis).
Once liberation has been accomplished they are eliminated by the right movement of liberation-purification, though not without having temporarily weakened specific forces of the seeker dedicated to the yoga (they were finally killed by the hero after having slain many of his companions).
The death of the Molionidae and that of Augeas, as well as the sack of Elis, marks the realisation of liberation in the spirit, and therefore the end of the personal yoga, for Heracles established the Olympic Games.
The yoga which had begun with the crossing of a narrow doorway or threshold (the Isthmian games founded by Sisyphus) had continued with the discovery of the task at hand and the entry into the process of purification (the Nemean Games established when the Seven leaders departed for Thebes), followed by the discovery and coming to the first place of the psychic being (the Pythian Games), here sees its accomplishment with the liberation in spirit, the associated experiences of the Self and the entry into the overmind (the Olympic Games).
But while this liberation constituted an apotheosis for most spiritual paths, Homer as well as several other authors probably considered it to only be the beginning of another adventure.
This episode, which took place after to the sack of Elis, has been discussed in chapter 3 as part of the royal lineage of Sparta.
Auge and Telephus
Auge, ‘a brilliant light’, is the daughter of Aleos, ‘growth in the direction of freedom’, and belongs to the royal lineage of Arcadia which brings to light the developments of ‘endurance’ and ‘detachment’ in yoga.
Heracles entered into a union with her while returning to claim the horses of Laomedon, and she bore him a son by the name of Telephus.
Telephus therefore belongs to the fourth generation originating from Arcas, ‘he who endures’, united with Leanira, ‘who is free from attachment’.
In the preceding chapter we have seen that Telephus had followed his father on the Mysian throne, and had been wounded by Achilles during the first attempted expedition to Troy which led the Achaeans to disembark at Mysia two years after the abduction of Helen.
Here we will go over the main points again.
On their way to Troy, the Achaeans confused this city with the city of Mysia governed by Telephus. Having been wounded, the latter was healed after having indicated to them the path towards their destination.
Well before the reversal of yoga intervenes – for ten years separate one disembarkation from the other, which is to say a full symbolic cycle – the seeker believes that he is fighting against the structures which block evolution, but here it is actually only a matter of a secondary inner structure raised after a powerful experience of light which serves as an orientation for the work of purification-liberation (Heracles in a union with Auge). The seeker has in fact confused:
An inner construction originating from an ascension through the planes of consciousness which has turned back from a complete consecration or ‘surrender to the divine’ (the city of Troy governed by the royal Trojan lineage, symbolic of the illumined mind)
with an inner construction turned towards consecration (the city of Mysia), elaborated by the process of purification-liberation striving to illuminate the being (Telephus is a son of Heracles and Auge, a descendant of Taygete through Leanira who united Arkas).
This union has opened ‘a vast doorway’ which will be closed again during the tipping over of the yogic process (Eurypylus, son of Telephus and of the Trojan Astyoche, will be killed by Neoptolemus at Troy).
Union with Deianira
According to Bacchylides, Heracles wed Deianira upon the completion of his labours, in accordance to the promise made to her brother Meleagros at the time of the hero’s descent into Hades.
Other sources state that following his campaign against Hippocoon the hero decided to settle down in Aetolia in the province of Calydon, for he wished to wed Deianira, daughter of Oeneus and Althaea.
In both of these cases this anecdote can be placed, as it has been seen, in relation to the tenth labour.
The wedding of the hero consecrates the accomplishment of ‘detachment’, a fruit of the work carried out in view of joy (Deianira, ‘she who destroys attachment’ or ‘detachment’, daughter of Oeneus ‘the winegrower’, in a union with Althaea within the lineage of Protogenia), concomitant to the work of purification in the vital (Deianira is the sister of Meleager).
This episode is evocative of a passage from a letter written by Sri Aurobindo to his brother in 1920 and cited in Mother’s Agenda, Volume 3, 21 July 1962, in which he states:
‘So far I have been transforming all the objects and perceptions of the mind and the senses into delight on the mental level.’
But the hero had to first defeat the river Achelous, which had taken the form of a bull to court Deianira.
When the seeker draws near to detachment (to liberation), the movement of cosmic consciousness which aims to take humanity towards a liberation of the spirit of course wishes to take possession of this realisation for its own ends (Deianira was courted by the river Achelous, a current of energy-consciousness which could signify ‘advantageous pain’). The river Achelous was the eldest son of the Titan Oceanos, and therefore the very first current of energy-consciousness to intervene in an evolution in accordance with nature from the beginning of yoga, even before were opened the capacities for concentration which were to engage the process of purification-liberation. The ‘favourable pain’ could then be understood as a suffering which is the motor force of evolution as long as the seeker remains unawakened, and a tool for attaining detachment (when Achelous courts Deianira).
The Achelous River united with one of the muses, who consequently bore the Sirens, who were, it must be remembered, human-headed birds: this current therefore pulls towards the paradise of the spirit and its too-seductive ‘harmonies’.
If the Achelous is the river of ‘necessary suffering’, its union with a muse transforms the latter into a false harmony in the worlds of the spirit and lies outside incarnation (the Sirens). To accomplish a state of detachment, Heracles must therefore defeat the deep current which links man to suffering.
Hence the seeker who is liberated in the spirit must impede his ‘detachment’ from being pulled towards a rejection of the world and of incarnation, and therefore towards the risk of the Trojan error. The Achelous River having taken the form of a bull, this temptation imposes itself upon him as a realisation of the luminous mind to which the seeker must renounce if he wishes to pursue his yoga.
Some sources claim that when the river-bull had capitulated the hero had torn from it one of its horns, the famous ‘horn of plenty’: when the seeker renounces the illusion of such realisations he receives divine gifts in great abundance (it must be remembered that we have also seen in the study on Zeus that the broken horn was taken to be that of the goat which fed the child god, and which the latter offered to his nurse Amalthea).
Then, as the Centaur Nessus helped Deianira cross the Euenos River he attempted to rape her, and Heracles killed the Centaur with one of his arrows. The dying Centaur offered Deianira a little of his blood, which contained the venom of the hydra with which Heracles’ arrow had been coated, telling Deianira that it would serve as a love philtre.
If he wishes to continue within the path of ‘detachment’ the seeker can no longer remain within the frame of a ‘noble and acceptable evolution’ (Deianira must traverse the Euenos River).
But this crossing into unknown regions of yoga needs the intervention of the Centaur Nessus, who is linked to a progression of the circulation of the two currents (his name is formed from the characters Ν+ΣΣ, similarly as that of Ulysses, Δ+ΣΣ). But as all the Centaurs born from Ixion and the cloud of Hera, Nessus expresses a lack of purification in the depths, ‘that which is not purified at the root of the human mind’, and can therefore not master himself. This anecdote reveals the will of the seeker involved in this path of the reunion of spirit and matter to attain detachment in a forceful manner, which then becomes a renunciation. But the seeker halts this movement without realising that the seed of a new illusion has been sown (Heracles killed Nessus, who before dying gave a supposed love philtre to Deianira).
Before its death, this element of the quest which is not entirely purified perverts the will of detachment, making it gleam with a magical sheen which seems able to maintain it at the first plane of yoga; a poison made of the mixture of the essence of a quest for unity that is not perfectly purified and the root of the desire at the origin of life, or in other words the risk of a universal desire.
It must be remembered that Sri Aurobindo very seriously warns against the temptation of opening oneself to universal love ‘before the achievement of a union with the divine is confirmed in its supreme purity’, for then there always remains the risk that universal love may become universal desire.
Deianira bore several of Heracles’ sons, the most renowned of which were Hyllus, Glenus, Ktesippus and Onites.
It is sometimes said that Heracles spent several years in Calydon, for Hyllus was almost of adult age at the time of his father’s death.
Hyllus is ‘he who is very free’ or ‘the double liberation of the mind and the vital’. This episode in Calydon therefore concerns a deep purification within the depths of the vital initiated by the Calydonian boar hunt, a period which opens upon the widening of the energy centres or chakras (the Theban Wars that follow the hunt of a generation).
The hero’s time in Calydon therefore marks the accomplishment of certain realisations within the frame of ‘detachment’. The major realisation is symbolised by Hyllus, ‘a double or very great liberation, ΛΛ’, which is quite advanced at the time of the hero’s death, for Hyllus was then almost of adult age.
Here are also mentioned Glenus, ‘a shining object’ and therefore ‘luminous body or matter’, Ktesippus, ‘he who masters vital energy’, and Onites, ‘he who is efficient in the spirit’ or ‘he who possesses the higher power of the spirit’.
This very great liberation therefore opens upon possibilities for the most advanced realisations which can be attained by a seeker in the process of purification-liberation on the three planes of the physical, vital and mental (see Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga).
Eurytus, Iphitos and Iole
Around the same period as his life with Deianira, Heracles travelled to Oechalia to visit Eurytus and ask for the hand of his daughter Iole in marriage. The latter arranged for an archery contest of which his daughter would be the prize. Heracles won, but the promised prize was denied to him. Thus when Eurytus’ son Iphitos travelled to Tiryns to search for the lost horses of Eurytus stolen by Autolycos, the hero avenged himself by killing him, even though Iphitos was his guest at that time.
Heracles attempted to purify himself of this crime by Neleus, who refused, but Hippolyte’s son Deiphobe accepted to do so.
Despite this the hero was afflicted by a terrible illness resulting from the murder, and travelled to Delphi to seek counsel. The oracle of Apollo answered that he would be cured if he freely accepted being sold into slavery.
(According to Apollodorus, as the Pythian refused to reply to his query Heracles seized the tripod and founded his own oracle. Apollo then attacked the hero, and Zeus was obliged to separate his two sons with a bolt of lightning. The Pythian then agreed to give an answer to his query.)
The hero thus became the slave of Omphale, queen of Lydia in Asia, for the duration of a year (or three according to certain variations). According to some sources, it was Hermes who was entrusted with this transaction into servitude.
From the moment he arrived Heracles was cured from his illness.
Just like Deianira, Eurytus and his children Iphitos and Iole belong to the movement of ascension of the planes of consciousness (or the traversing of the mind) which will determine the path of evolution beyond personal yoga. Everything which is till this point necessary in the yogic practice must give up its place to a new movement.
According to the Catalogue of Women, all of these characters originate from a just impulse, albeit a badly oriented one. In fact Eurytus, ‘a development on the plane of the spirit’, was the son of the ‘divine Melaneus’, who is an association of contradictory notions: ‘divine, just’, and ‘black’, and therefore ‘a badly oriented yoga’. The latter had united with Stratonice, ‘victory through combat’, herself a daughter of Porthaon and therefore the sister of Oeneus the winegrower. Eurytus is therefore the expression of a necessary but false movement which leads to an advanced stage of yoga through struggle and separation. He must therefore be transformed, and in fact he and his sons will later be killed.
Eurytus fathered Clytios, ‘a renowned work’, Toxeus, ‘he who aims for the goal’, Iphitos, ‘he who reaches powerfully towards the heights of the spirit’, and Iole, ‘the liberation of existence-consciousness’. He also fathered a son named Deioneus, whose name can probably be understood as ‘he who halts evolution’, being in relation with the accession to the impersonal Self which causes all will for evolution to cease.
During the first phase of yoga the seeker considers that the ascension is better able to bring him to his aim than is the psychic being (Eurytus claimed rivalry with Apollo in archery). But while ‘victory through combat’ brings about positive results (Clytios, Toxeus) as well as a liberation of consciousness (Iole), it also generates a ‘strong separation of spirit and matter (Iphitos) and a ‘halting of evolution’ (Deioneus).
Even if the work of purification-liberation is revealed to be better able to open the new direction of yoga and to contribute to its realisation (Heracles emerged victorious in the archery contest), the seeker from ‘his high consciousness’ cannot yet reach the resolution of evolving in this manner (Eurytus refused to give Iole to Heracles). He must nevertheless proceed to a number of purifications within the depths of his being (in Omphale’s home) before taking the new path.
But at this turning point of yoga the seeker renounces to pursuing the path of the spirit (Heracles slew Iphitos). However, Homer specifies that Ulysses inherited the bow from Iphitos, which suggests that the means of yoga which serve a concentration on the goal and an elimination of obstacles remain valid in the continuation of yoga.
If the ‘aspiration to liberation (in the spirit)’ does not allow the seeker to justify this reversal, ‘the cessation of all fear’ on the other hand originating from the fluidity of a ‘free vital’, supports the seeker and allows him to carry on with his path (Neleus, ‘that which works towards the liberation (in the spirit)’, refuses to purify, but Deiphobe, ‘he who has slain all fear within himself’, son of Hippolyte, ‘a free vital’, accepts). It must be remembered that the purification of an act which may seem despicable to us always indicates that it is just on the yogic plane.
If the seeker is henceforth liberated on the mental and vital planes, he is not yet so on the physical plane, and the reversal of yoga brings about some weakening (Heracles becomes ill).
In Apollodorus’ version, as the Pythian oracle remained silent Heracles decided to establish his own oracle: when the seeker does not receive any indication from his psychic being, he wishes to leap into the new yoga even without its guidance.
(The chronology given for this episode by Apollodorus has not been retained, for it leads to too many implausibilities.)
When the seeker renounces the pursuit of yoga towards the heights of the spirit he can no longer obey the one who had till then ordered the labours, Eurystheus, ‘a great inner force or a great determination’, or alternatively ‘the power of will’. Then, with the ultimate aim of a deepened purification he freely accepts to submit to the most central inner ‘voice’ at the level of the body that could be associated to the corporeal mind (Omphale). It is the psychic light (or the supraconscient) which shines a light upon the conditions for his ‘cure’ or recovery. He knows that once he is engaged in this servitude, there will be no means of escape (according to the revelations of Pythia, Heracles freely accepted servitude at the home of Omphale, ‘the navel’, or ‘the voice for freedom’).
At this turning point of yoga the psychic being does not seem to be able to guide the yogic process. This is perhaps due to the fact that it is linked to individuality, whereas the yoga of the body concerns humankind as a whole. While we cannot give a more extended explanation on this point, Mother’s Agenda gives abundant proof that the new yoga for which no path has yet been traced necessitates a blind groping of the way forwards.
It is a combination of information given by the psychic and an implementation by the overmind which allows the seeker to reposition himself (Apollo’s oracle informs the seeker and Hermes carries out the transaction).
Omphale was the queen of Lydia, ‘the unity which leads to liberation (Λ+Δ)’: henceforth it will be a work in the body and through the unity of body and spirit which will lead towards greater freedom, while till that point the path had been governed by the psychic being, with the dwelling of Apollo at Delos, ‘union through liberation (Δ+Λ)’. Lydia is the easternmost province of Asia Minor, situated to the south-east of Troad and therefore the symbol of the most advanced yoga.
In this phase, which symbolically lasts for a year, the seeker must still proceed to a number of purifications and transformations.
Heracles carried out several exploits during his servitude.
He razed to the ground the city of the Itonians and turned its inhabitants into slaves, for they were a disreputable, marauding band.
He killed Syleus, who had forced passersby to hoe his vineyard.
He then dealt with the dishonest Cercopes, a vagabond and pillaging group. Although warned by their mother against Melampygus, ‘the man of black buttocks’, the Cercopes attempted to rob the hero of his weapons. Heracles then captured them, suspended them by their heels and brought them as prisoners to Omphale.
Once his enslavement was over, he returned to Oechalia and sacked the city. He killed Eurytus’ other children, while the former fled to Euboea.
Homer adds that Eurytus was killed by Apollo for daring to claim that he rivalled the king in archery.
Then Heracles brought Iole back with him to Trachis, provoking Deianira’s wrath.
If we interpret the term ‘Itonians’ through the structuring characters (Τ+Ν), then this suggests that the seeker must eliminate all the structures which have allowed an evolution towards the liberation in spirit, and which henceforth deplete him of his energy (the Itonians were a marauding band).
He then puts a stop within himself to the constraints instituted upon certain parts of his being in view of purification (Heracles killed Syleus, ‘he who robs or despoils’, who forced passersby to hoe his vineyard).
He then deals with the falsehood at the roots of nature within the depths of the vital (the Cercopes, ‘deceitful men’). These lies strive to utilise the tools of yoga for their own profit (the Cercopes attempted to despoil the hero of his weapons).
In later texts Heracles is sometimes surnamed Melampygus, ‘the man of black or hairy buttocks’, which most probably refers to a powerful vital energy. The Cercopes are then imprisoned and brought to Omphale hung by their heels, which could indicate a possible reversal of this falsehood through its reversal.
Once all of this has been accomplished the seeker can put an end to the last structures and asceticisms linked to the liberation in the spirit (he sacks the city of Oechalia and slays the sons of Eurytus). On its side, the psychic light halts the movement towards the widening of the spirit (Eurytus was killed by Apollo for claiming to be the god’s rival in archery).
The battle of the gods and giants
Sources describing the battle between the gods and Giants are relatively unclear on the point of chronology, even without taking into account that later traditions often confused the Titans and the Giants.
Homer makes no mention of Deianira or of this battle, or even of the rendering divine of Heracles, except in the Nekuia (Canto XI of the Odyssey, which alludes to vanished souls).
It would seem that the term ‘Giant’ has been used in different contexts to describe either dominant forces before the apparition of mental consciousness or at its very earliest beginnings, or to describe specific phases of yoga.
Thus the Giants mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey VII.46 with which there was no question of a battle, evoke realisations obtained due to very advanced capacities or masteries (‘the ardent Giants’), but which must be surpassed for the yoga in incarnation has not reached completion:
‘Eurymedon was once king over the insolent Giants. But he brought destruction upon his presumptuous people and was himself destroyed. The youngest of his daughters was Periboea, the most beautiful of all women. With Periboea Poseidon begat a son, great-hearted Nausithous, who first ruled over the Phaeacians and lead his people to Scheria because he was being attacked by the Cyclops.
Nausithoos, in turn, became the father of Alcinoos who married Arete, daughter of his brother Rhexenor, who was killed by Apollo just after his wedding.
Alcinoos succeeded his father as king of the Phaeacians.
At the opening of this myth Homer in a few words alludes to the passage of a period in which the seeker has acquired powerful capacities governed by a vast mastery (the ardent Giants, of which Eurymedon is king). But this ardour is also linked to a certain degree of presumption, which puts an end to this realisation. However, the last consequence of mastery leads towards ‘all that concerns the process of incarnation’ and is therefore situated within the right path (Eurymedon’s youngest daughter was Periboea, ‘the most beautiful woman of her time’).
The process of yoga is then directed by the subconscient and brings about a fast-paced evolution, allowing for the appearance of forces whose role is to make the seeker cross ‘the barriers of inconscience’ (the son of Periboea and Poseidon is Nausithous, ‘he who sails or navigates swiftly’, first king of the Phaeacians).
At this point of the path the seeker must make a clear distinction between that which is revealed by his power for intuitive vision and by new ‘luminous perceptions’, which he must protect from the former ones by bringing them to the body (by bringing his people, the Phaeacians, ‘the luminous consciousness which opens’, into Scheria, ‘a firm earth’).
Two movements surge forth from this evolution.
‘A powerful intelligent will’ or ‘an indomitable spirit’ which will henceforth govern the passage towards ‘the new supramental light’ (Alcinoos, ‘a powerful spirit’, king of the Phaeacians).
A ‘piercing’ movement which is halted by the psychic light when one wishes to apply it to the yogic work, most probably because it leaves too much behind that is not sufficiently purified (Rhexenor, ‘he who pierces through enemy lines’, was killed by Apollo). However, this movement was to allow the goal of yoga to be identified, for Rhexenor fathered a daughter named Arete, ‘she who is exalted’, who married his brother Alcinoos.
This ‘exaltation of matter’ henceforth becomes the goal of the seeker gifted with an ‘indomitable will’ (Alcinoos married Arete).
The Giants mentioned in this passage of the Odyssey therefore have no relation with those who faced the gods in a battle, and refer to the most advanced movements of yoga.
A commentary on the Odyssey even affirms that ‘Homer did not know of the anecdotes retold by later poets, and did not know that the Giants were monstrous in appearance and had snake-shaped feet, nor that they dwelt in Phlegrae and battled against the gods’. If it is possible to argue against this statement – for we will see with the study on the Odyssey that many of Ulysses’ battles were fought against the Giants which will be discussed later in this study – one must turn towards other sources to find an account of this battle.
We will be following that of Apollodorus, even though this author placed this battle just after the war of the gods against the Titans, wrongly so according to our understanding for Heracles’ intervention would then be incomprehensible.
Other authors seem to place it after the apotheosis of the hero, which is to say when the hero had realized psychisation and accessed to non-duality considered to be an effacement of the ego (one who is imperturbable, unshakeable, free from attachment and aversion, beyond preference itself), which seems on the other hand to be quite logical.
The Giants were sons of Gaia and Ouranos born at Phlegrae.
They were unmatched in size and strength and frightening in appearance, and their lower limbs were covered with snake scales. Porphyrion and Alcyoneus were the most powerful amongst them. The latter was even immortal as long as he was fighting upon the land on which he was born. It was he who led out of Erythia the oxen of Helios the sun, which became the cause of the war.
There existed an oracle amongst the gods which stated that the Giants could only perish if a mortal allied with a god against them. When she learned this, Gaia went in search of a drug which would protect her children the Giants against death. She may have even begged Zeus himself to spare them. But the latter forbade Eos the Dawn, Selene the moon and Helios the sun to show themselves, and ahead of Gaia, he himself picked the plant while appealing through Athena to the alliance of Heracles.
The Giants hurled rocks and flaming oak trees into the sky.
Like the Titans, the Cyclops and the Hundred-Handed Giants, those Giants are entities of the second divine generation. However, they are set apart by the fact that they are not immortal. They do not therefore represent forces belonging to the world of unity, but rather elements which have been utilised at a given point of evolution but must disappear.
They appear at Phlegrae, ‘that which opposes itself to the fire (of evolution)’, or according to some upon the Pallene peninsula, ‘the maintenance of stability’, and it is in a plane of the latter that the battle took place.
According to some sources they represent forces or mechanisms which have come into play at the beginning of evolution and allow for the stabilisation of forms, principally corporeal ones. In the eyes of the seeker who aims not only at the descent of divine powers within himself but also at transformation (the ultimate phase of yoga according to Sri Aurobindo), they are therefore forces of gigantic stature ‘unmatched in size and strength’. These forces are still impregnated by the evolutionary power from which they originate, for their lower limbs are covered with snake scales.
Amongst these forces, two particularly powerful ones constitute the greatest resistance to transformation.
One of these is symbolised by Porphyrion, ‘that which rises up bubbling’, expressing the primordial quality of life erupting into matter through explosive eruptions. (Refer to Mother’s Agenda.)
The other is represented by Alcyoneus, ‘evolutionary power’ at the root of mentalised life, which is constituted by indefinite repetitions in circular or spiralling movements. This movement remains indestructible as long as its roots remain within matter (he remained immortal as long as he fought upon the land on which he was born). This Giant was so powerful in his opposition to transformation that he was able to reclaim for his own use the realisations of the supramental light (he was the one to lead the oxen of Helios out of Erythia). This detail does not appear in all manuscripts, and must therefore be considered with great prudence.
At this stage of yoga it is no longer a play of the forces of nature and of the spirit which must lead evolution, but rather an alliance of the powers of the spirit and of human consciousness: man must be allied to the gods to actively participate in his evolution for it then becomes a question of surpassing the laws of nature, the mind not being able to rise above himself. This is why ‘there existed amongst the gods an oracle which stated that the Giants could only perish under the alliance of a mortal with the gods‘, which is also why none of the Giants perished without the hero’s involvement, as in their agony all were struck by Heracles’ arrows. While Heracles is almost always depicted by Zeus’ side, Dionysus’ involvement seems to have been introduced at a later time.
This participation of the pioneer of the species requires the progressive establishment of a complete transparency to the point of removing the least personal reaction, including from within the body.
But Nature submitted to the principle of stabilisation – and therefore of inertia – refuses transformation and opposes it through all possible means (Gaia went in search of a drug for her children the Giants so as to protect them from death).
The supraconscient then inhibits all higher lights which, because they are expressions of Truth, could allow what is in existence to find a way of maintaining itself due to an excessively swift transformation, and instead calls upon ‘human’ consciousness for transformation (Zeus forbids the manifestation or appearance of Eos, ‘the light which announces what is new’, Selene, ‘true individuality’, and Helios, ‘supramental light’, and calls for Heracles’ intervention). In fact, the seeker must ‘grope’ his way forward to open the new path, for the ‘powers of Truth’ only intervene where perfect transparency has been achieved.
Heracles then struck Alcyoneus with his arrows. When having fallen to the ground the latter was regaining strength, Heracles, following the advice of Athena, took him away from Pallene, and it is thus that he died.
Porphyrion having precipitated himself against Heracles and Hera, Zeus awoke within him a desire to possess the goddess. As the Giant tore away her garments and was on the point of raping her, Hera cried out for help. Zeus then struck Porphyrion down with a lightning bolt, and Heracles ended his life with his arrows.
Then Apollo shot an arrow into Ephialtes’ left eye, and Heracles another into his right.
Dionysus slew Eurytus with a blow of his thyrsus.
Hecate killed Clytios with her flaming torches.
Hephaestus killed Mimas with smouldering hot and red iron projectiles.
Athena flung the island of Sicily upon Enceladus, and then flayed Pallas alive, covering her body with his skin.
Poseidon pursued Polybotes across the sea. The latter reached Kos, and the god flung upon him a fragment of the island later known as Nisyros.
Wearing Hades’ helmet, Hermes slew Hippolytus.
Artemis killed Gration.
The Moirae killed Agrios and Thoon, who fought with bronze clubs.
The others were struck down by Zeus’ lightning bolts, and in agony were all struck by Heracles’ arrows.
The symbolism of the Giants’ deaths corresponds to very advanced yogic experiences. A description of this can be found in Mother’s Agenda, as well as in some of Sri Aurobindo’s works.
Here we will only attempt a cursory overview, as not being directly recorded by initiates the sources available on this topic must be approached with caution.
Alcyoneus, ‘evolutionary power’: above we have described the powerful force linked to the first mentalisation of life and locked within the necessity for the stabilisation of forms (Alcyoneus at Pallene: Pallas+N). At first the seeker vainly strives to come to an end of this, for what he believes he has defeated immediately reappears.
The Halcyon was a bird which nested on beaches just at the edge of the waves and sung in a plaintive tone. It is therefore the symbol of a mental habit situated at the boundary-line between matter and the vital world. The giant Alcyoneus can then probably be associated with the plane which Sri Aurobindo refers to as ‘the physical mind’, considered to be a great obstacle by the Greek masters of wisdom. This refers to the part of the mind involved in the interaction with the material world, and to which one normally pays little attention. It is characterised by defeatism, incredulity and anxiety about everything. The highest ‘witness consciousness’ (Athena) informs the seeker that the only means of defeating the Giant are to separate him from his stabilising base. It must be noted that Pindar discusses the battle of Heracles against Alcyoneus separately, and places it just after the defeat of the Merops at Kos and before the war against the Giants.
Porphyrion, ‘that which lifts up bubbling’, could be an expression of the fundamental nature of the manifestation of the force of life in matter, and no longer its modus operandi. This too must be transformed so as to allow another mode of functioning of the body and the transformation of its organs.
It would only be possible to put a stop to this force when the seeker succeeds in eliciting within it a desire to unite with the power of the overmind which watches over the evolution of the whole (Zeus awakened within Porphyrion the desire to possess Hera, which allowed him to strike him down with a bolt of his lightning). In other words, that which deeply blocks the transformation of the archaic vital processes can only be defeated if the seeker allows it to manifest itself in its full potency, probably risking the failure of the yogic endeavour as a whole and possibly even physical death.
Ephialtes, ‘that which oppresses’, which is to say ‘anxiety’: this Giant probably refers to a fundamental anxiety or fear of disappearance. To be able to defeat it one must impede it from perceiving what is provoking it, creating an absolute detachment within oneself (Apollo and Heracles blind him).
Eurytus: within this context, Eurytus is perhaps to be understood as a principle of separation. He is killed by the ecstasy resulting from union with the Divine (Dionysus killed Eurytus with a blow of his thyrsus).
Clytios ‘the renowned’: ‘well established’ processes are removed by the power which has ‘exited from error’, which is outside ‘the blinding of the spirit’ and handles the first glow of Truth (Hecate killed Clytios with the fire of burning torches).
Mimas, ‘the process of repetition’, is put an end to by the overmind force that creates forms (Hephaestus killed Mimas).
Enceladus, ‘the vibration of excitement’, disappears through the action of the inner master, who brings it face to face with a ‘lack of sincerity’ (Athena flings the island of Sicily at Encelade).
Pallas: if we understand this name in the sense of a force ensuring stability and cohesion, it must evidently cease to allow transformation to take place (Athena killed Pallas and covered her body with his skin). Only the inner master (and the witness consciousness) must maintain its stability, everything else being susceptible to transformation. The Giant Pallas must of course not be confused with Athena’s childhood playmate, who was inadvertently killed by the goddess.
Polybotes, ‘that which nourishes abundantly’ or ‘different modes of nourishment’: the subconscient tracks down within the vital the processes which feed the current structure till he is able to understand its mechanism (Poseidon pursued Polybotes across the sea till the island of Kos, and flung upon him a fragment of the island later known as Nisyros).
Hippolytus, ‘a constrained, or conversely, unbridled energy of life’: it is the overmind in its function of exact receptive intuition, manifesting itself through mental silence which leads the vital to its just expression (Hermes, wearing Hades’ helmet of invisibility, slew Hippolyte).
(The significance of the name of the Giant killed by Athena, Gration, remains a mystery.)
The Moirae, ‘powers which settle destiny’, put an end to the impetuousness and violence of the ruling forces at the roots of life (the Moirae killed Agrios, ‘wild and violent’, and Thoon, ‘prompt’, who fought with bronze clubs).
To the battle against the Giants must perhaps be added that of Heracles against Geras, ‘old age’, only depicted on fifth century BCE pottery. In fact, if access to the unity of matter and spirit is the essential goal of the most advanced yoga, a victory over the ageing of the cells of the body is a corollary which the ancient seers must have intuited.
The sack of Oechalia, the death of Heracles and his apotheosis
Looking at the end of the hero’s adventures, we will consider that the war of the gods against the Giants took place after his death and apotheosis.
Having reached the end of his period of servitude to Omphale, Heracles returned to Oechalia, burned down the city and bade the herald Lichas to bring Iole to him at Trachis.
It has been seen that Eurytus, ‘a great development on the plane of the spirit’, had refused to grant to the hero the hand of his daughter Iole, ‘the (integral) liberation of consciousness’, even though Heracles had won her as a prize in their archery contest. Heracles had then slain Eurytus’ son Iphitos. Although he had been cleansed from this murder by Deiphobe, he was beset by an illness from which he could not recover unless he submitted to a year of servitude under Omphale, queen of Lydia.
The seeker must in fact still undergo a lengthy period of purification within his body while following its orders, a purification to which he must willingly submit with the knowledge that there will be no way of interrupting this yoga once he is engaged in it (Heracles becomes Omphale’s slave).
Having completed this purification, he destroys ‘the structures previously established for a liberation in the spirit’ (once freed from this servitude the hero sacked Oechalia, the city over which ruled Eurytus).
It must be remembered that Eurytus had been Heracles’ teacher in the art of archery: a vast opening in the spirit had allowed a sharpened refinement of the direction of yoga. It is the psychic light which has unveiled this aim and the means of attaining it, which were to be transmitted till the conclusion of this yoga (Apollo had given him his bow, which was then passed on to Ulysses through his son Iphitos). But beyond the liberation in the spirit only the psychic is capable of leading the seeker on the path of evolution in keeping with truth (Eurytus was killed by Apollo).
It is Lichas, ‘concentration in view of liberty’, who led Iole to the dwelling of the hero at Trachis, ‘harsh’, announcing difficult tests or ordeals ahead.
From this episode onwards, accounts vary depending on the moment in which the different writers situate the death of Heracles during the three last labours, moving from a psychic and spiritual ransformation to the beginnings of a yoga in the body.
All however have taken up Homer’s version, who describes the hero’s apotheosis in company of the immortal gods and his union with Hebe, the principle of eternal youth. Daughter of Zeus and Hera, Hebe symbolises the highest level attained by the seeker, that of the liberated individual who has acceded to the overmind and to non-duality in the spirit. Having torn out the roots of desire and ego (of that which creates a sense of separation), the seeker attains the stage of the liberated individual and can live the present moment in joy.
The end of the hero’s life is described differently by various authors:
In the Iliad, Homer affirms that the powerful Heracles did not escape death, for Hera’s anger and his own destiny (moira) triumphed over him. Like Hesiod, he makes no mention of Iole nor of the death of the hero being caused by Nessus’ blood.
In the Odyssey it is understood that after his death the hero dwells in two different places; on Olympus, where he is united with Hebe and lives in the company of the gods, and in Hades, where his eidolon (or shadow double) converses with Ulysses. (We will leave aside the question of whether Canto XI, also known as the Nekuia, was a later addition. Writers commenting on this have deduced from this double self that it manifested itself with the nous or phren of the hero, which was for them surprising.)
From this double place of dwelling one can deduce that the seeker has not only completed his personal yoga, but that he has also begun the yoga of the body.
The union of the hero with Hebe, goddess of ‘eternal youth’, a symbol of an establishment within the instant and ‘a ceaseless adaptation to the movement of becoming’: eternal youth in the Spirit is realised, and from then on the hero searches for that of the body (the name Hebe is in fact formed from the character Beta, symbol of incarnation).
Sophocles and other writers after him presented a different image of the hero’s death, which they situate within an earlier phase of yoga.
Learning of Iole’s arrival, Deianira feared that Heracles would love Iole more than he loved her. To ensure his love she then poured over a tunic the love philtre which the Centaur Nessus had given her, and had it taken to Heracles.
As the poison consumed his flesh Heracles strove to tear the tunic from his body, but it adhered to his skin. He then ordered Hyllus, the eldest of his and Deianira’s sons who was then but an adolescent, to build him a funerary pyre atop Mount Oeta on which he could immolate himself (in another version of this tale, Heracles himself built the pyre). Then upon learning what she had brought about, Deianira committed suicide. Before climbing onto the pyre, the hero had asked Hyllus to wed Iole when he reached a mature age so that no other man could make her his wife.
At this stage the seeker has attained a high level of detachment (Deianira), but this liberation is tainted with the seed of a magical illusion which leads him to believe that he possesses the power of love (Deianira already possesses the love philtre given by Nessus).
He however feels obliged to no longer consider detachment as the principal aim of yoga if he wishes to advance towards greater freedom (Deianira fears that Iole may take her place in Heracles’ heart). For the later phase of yoga detachment in fact constitutes the greatest obstacle, for it can divert from action.
The Mother explains that in fact the state of endurance which does not allow itself to be shaken by anything becomes a very difficult obstacle to surmount even though it is an indispensable step:
‘But this particular state of endurance – this endurance that nothing can upset – is very dangerous. And yet it’s indispensable, for you must first accept everything before having the power to transform anything.
It’s what Sri Aurobindo always said: FIRST you must accept EVERYTHING – accept it as coming from the Divine, as the Divine Will; accept without disgust, without regret, without getting upset or impatient. Accept with a perfect equanimity; and only AFTER that can you say, “Now let’s get to work to change it.”
But to work to change it before having attained a perfect equanimity is impossible’. (Mother’s Agenda Vol 1, 17th December 1960.)
And so the seeker clings with all his strength to this ‘detachment’ and thus lives within a profound contradiction, an attachment to detachment that is seen as the supreme realisation of yoga. The seeker then imposes on to the yoga, without being entirely conscious of it, a combination of ‘the essence of an imperfectly purified quest for unity’, or in other words the danger of universal desire (Deianira offers Heracles a tunic impregnated with a poison made of the blood of Nessus and the venom of the Hydra).
The seeker cannot by his own strength alone free himself of this ‘poison impregnating his flesh’ (the tunic adhered to Heracles’ body). To conclude this phase of yoga, there is no other choice than that of accepting the test of the fusion with the process of destruction, the root of separation.
He then submits himself radically to the purifying fire which consumes him, thus eliminating the suffering that is associated with separation (the hero or his son builds the pyre upon which he immolates himself).
It is this ultimate purification which liberates the root of desire and ego which gives him access to the non-duality of the overmind and to the present moment (Heracles gains access to Olympus and enters into a union with Hebe).
Thus is concluded the journey of Heracles, ‘the glory of the right movement’ upon Mount Oeta, ‘an accomplished destiny’.
That which dies of its own will is attachment to detachment, which is also the last vestige of renouncement (Deianira commits suicide).
But the process of yoga cannot halt there, and the goal which must assert itself henceforth beyond ‘equality’ is an evolution towards a higher degree of freedom – the complete liberation of Nature in the sense given by Sri Aurobindo. This is why Iole, ‘integral liberation’, is given by the dying Heracles to his son Hyllus, ‘a very great freedom’.
No yoga but that of a quest for a perfect freedom through purification and consecration will be able to claim the right to conquer integral freedom (Hyllus will have to marry Iole so that no other man can claim her as his wife).
Thus even if the seeker has attained freedom from all judgement, preference, desire and movements of disgust or repulsion, he will still have to conquer freedom in the body.
The first generations of the Heraclides
The term Heraclides refers not only to the children of Heracles, but to his entire line of descent.
The word utilised by the ancient seers for the return to Thebes of the hero’s children is καθοδος, signifying not only ‘return’ but also ‘descent’. It is in fact no longer a question of an ascent towards the spirit but of a descent into matter with the aim of purification (Thebes).
Apollodorus gives a list of the numerous children which the hero fathered with different women: with the daughters of Thespius the king of Attica, himself the son of Erechtheus, with Deianira – Hyllus, Ctesippus, Glenus and Onites, to which group some authors add a daughter by the name of Macaria -, and finally with Megara and Omphale. Here we will only discuss the return to Thebes, followed by the reconquest of the Peloponnese by the descendants of Hyllus, Deianira’s eldest son.
Eurystheus became the king of Thebes and banished the children of Heracles, who sought refuge with Ceyx and then at Athens with the sons of Theseus, Acamas and Demophon. Eurystheus then threatened war upon Athens if the children were not handed over to him. But the Athenians refused to do so, and war broke out.
Despite his advanced years Iolaus took up arms, and Eurystheus was killed in the ensuing battle. His sons, Alexander, Iphimedon, Eurybios, Mentor and Perimedes, did not survive either, allowing the Heraclides to return to Thebes.
The death of Eurystheus, ‘a great force (or personal will)’ which set out Heracles’ labours marks the accomplishment of the personal yoga.
His children’s names express a desire to pursue the yoga on the same bases as before, which is to say mastery, liberation and the rejection of external nature: Alexander, ‘he who rebuffs man’, Iphimedon, ‘(that which works towards) a great mastery’, Perimedes, ‘(which aims at) everything that involves mastery’, and Eurybios, ‘a wide life (a purified vital)’ .
The new yoga seems to begin in a right direction; Heracles’ children seek refuge with a homonymous Ceyx, ‘consciousness opening to that which descends’, and then with the sons of Theseus, king of Athens: Demophon, ‘superior consciousness penetrating into the numerous parts of the being’, and Acamas, ‘the indefatigable’.
But the power of the preceding movement is still strongly present within the being (Eurystheus demands that the children be handed over to him), bringing about an inner conflict (the Athenians refuse to give in to this request).
The voice and/or vision of consciousness with used to direct the work of purification-liberation is again mobilised for battle (Heracles’ chariot driver Iolaus takes up arms again). The great inner strength or determination with carries out the personal yoga till the point of union in the spirit ends its course of action here, as does any desire to resume the ancient methods of yoga (Eurystheus and his sons are killed).
Regarding the continuation of this narrative we only possess later sources, principally those by Apollodorus which must be considered with all customary reserves. They include many names, but few elements to illuminate an understanding of them. We will however attempt to give an explanation of them below.
Following the death of Eurystheus the Heraclides attacked the Peloponnese and seized all of its cities. But a year after this an epidemic broke out, and the oracle interrogated about this outbreak declared that they had returned too early. Consequently they departed from the Peloponnese and settled in Marathon.
Heracles’ son Hyllus again consulted the oracle, who answered that they would have to wait for the third harvest to return. But he interpreted the oracle wrongly, believing that it referred to three years. Thus, when at the end of three years he carried out an offensive, his army was defeated and he was himself killed.
Aristomachos, grandson of Hyllus by Cleodaeus, also consulted the oracle, who replied that he would claim victory if he chose ‘the narrow passage’. But he was however defeated along with his army and killed, the Peloponnese being under the command of Tisamenos, son of Orestes.
Finally Aristomachos’ son Temenus again consulted the oracle, who gave him the same answer. He then lashed out against the oracle, who then revealed to him that his revelations were being wrongly interpreted; the third harvest did not allude to the third year but to the third generation, and the narrow passage did not refer to an Isthmus, but to the ‘oceanic depth’ to the right side of the Isthmus.
Temenus then prepared the army and built ships at Naupacte to form an expedition, which was to be led by himself and his two brothers Cresphontes and Aristodemos. But the latter was struck down by lightning, and his place taken by his two sons Procles and Eurysthenes.
A soldier-soothsayer began reciting oracles in fits of inspired transport, and as they believed that he might be a sorcerer sent by the enemy he was killed by Hippotes. Then calamity was again unleashed upon the army, the fleet was destroyed, the ground troops suffered famine and the army dispersed.
The oracle who was then consulted replied that this misfortune had been unleashed in consequence of the killing of the soldier-soothsayer, and advised Temenus to banish his murderer for the duration of three years and instead take as his guide ‘the three-eyed being’.
The leaders of the expedition then came across Oxylus riding a one-eyed horse, which they interpreted as the awaited sign and took him as their guide.
They then finally emerged victorious and slew Orestes’ son Tisamenos.
The seeker now wishes to resume the process of liberation-purification, and for this aim gathers under his banner the yogic methods elaborated by his aspiration (the Heraclides return to Thebes and seize all the cities of the Peloponnese, the land of Pelops, son of Tantalus).
But this undertaking is premature, and brings about physical disorder so that the seeker is obliged to retreat for a given period.
Then, due to an erroneous interpretation of the messages of his intuition, he provokes in his impatience a halt in the integral yoga (Hyllus, ‘the very free’, is killed).
A long time afterwards he again attempts to resume the yogic process by mobilising all of his best capacities. However he again interprets his intuitions wrongly. Although he is a warrior of light and has chosen the ‘narrow path’, he must in fact complete the purification of his karma (Aristomachos, ‘the excellent warrior’ is defeated by the army of Tisamenos, ‘he who pays his dues’, son of Orestes, ‘he who stands upon the mountain’, who was himself a son of Agamemnon.)
A generation later, which is to say in the fourth generation after Heracles, as the seeker still holds the same intuition of the path, he goes through the filter of his ‘spirit positioned at the highest point of consciousness’ (Temenus), finally understanding that he has lost his way on false paths.
For he was to go through the ‘ocean depth’, which is to say plunge into the depths of the vital.
It is then from the heights of his spirit that the seeker prepares himself for the new yoga, filling in all the weaker points of his nature (he builds his ships at Naupaktos, ‘that which caulks vessels’).
Although he receives extraordinary intuitions from his most ordinary nature, he mistakens their origin and believes them to have been sent by what is known in yoga as ‘adverse forces’ (they believed that the soldier-soothsayer who recited oracles in fits of inspired transport was a sorcerer sent by the enemy, and Hippotes slew him). In other words, the seeker believes that what is brought up to his consciousness through the action of yoga actually belongs to darkness and must be rejected. Through his high degree of mastery of the vital he then removes this source, and again the work accomplished is lost and must be begun again (calamitous events were unleashed upon the army, its fleet was destroyed, its ground troops subjected to famine and its army dispersed).
When he examines these events by the light of his psychic intuition the seeker understands that what has induced the error must be set aside from the path for a complete cycle of maturation (Hippotes must be banished for a duration of ten years).
He must take as his guide ‘a three-eyed being’, perhaps symbolically associated with the ‘third eye’ (Ajna).
He then understands that it is that which works at the ‘point of freedom’ (Oxylus) which can lead him on the path. It is in this way that the higher spirit can put a conclusive end to the personal karma then revealed to him (Temenus, ‘higher consciousness’, can slay Tisamenos, ‘he who pays his dues’, son of Orestes, ‘he who stands upon the mountain’). It is a confirmation of the passage from a personal yoga to a yoga for humankind as a whole. He is aided in this task by ‘the suspension of mental workings in a unilateral manner’ (Cresphontes), and also by ‘an incitement to go forward’ (Procles) and ‘a great power’ (Eurysthenes).
The last of the Heraclides
We lack reliable sources in attempting to analyse the last generations of the Heraclides. Except for their names we only have some succinct details given by the historian Pausanias in the second century AD, which must be considered with prudence even if it can be supposed that this author compiled his work from reliable sources.
Even though the number of generations cited by Pausanias is impressive – more than twenty after Heracles – we will limit ourselves here to the first five within the line of descent of Hyllus, ‘a great freedom’, through which we can perceive the lines of direction of the next stages of yoga.
In the study above we have seen that Hyllus fathered a son named Cleodaeus, ‘the renowned destroyer’, which most probably indicates the great cleansing which the adventurer of consciousness carries out in relation to his certainties on the nature of the yoga (Cleodaeus was the father of Aristomachos, ‘the best warrior’).
Hyllus and Aristomachos both perished in the attempted conquests of the Peloponnese due to not having correctly interpreted the oracle’s messages. However, as mentioned above the army of the Heraclides under the leadership of Temenus finally conquered the Peloponnese.
The victors then drew lots to decide to whom would be given the cities of Argos, Sparta and Messenia.
Thus were instituted three lineages or directions of yoga.
The first lineage is that of Temenus, ‘higher consciousness’, which established itself in Argos, and is therefore associated to light and Knowledge. As seen above, this hero put an end to personal karma.
He favoured the couple of his daughter Hyrnetho united with Deiphontes, to the disadvantage of his three sons: the seeker privileges ‘the right movement of inner growth’ which must henceforth be attained through a transformation that is free of destruction (Hyrnetho in union with Deiphontes is he who ‘kills what he destroys’) to the detriment of the other yogic movements. It is the principle of transformational Love as final goal.
The second lineage expresses the notion of the middle way, for its founder Cresphontes settled at Messene, ‘the evolution which holds itself in the middle’, but was killed along with his two sons by Polyphontes, ‘he who destroys to a great degree’ (he who undertakes numerous cleansings of what is ancient).
His youngest son Aepitus, ‘very elevated, inaccessible and/or very deep’, reclaimed the throne: a path of equilibrium, the right path of the middle way, allows the adventurer of consciousness who has proceeded to numerous cleansings in the ancient forms of yoga to lift himself into inaccessible heights to the same extent as he descends into the depths of consciousness.
Finally, this last lineage led by Aristodemos, ‘the best region’, or by his two sons, who could not be distinguished one from the other: Procles, ‘that which calls forward’, and Eurysthenes, ‘a great power’, expressing the necessities linked to this new yoga. In fact Procles united with Lathria, ‘she who hides herself’, who bore him a son named Sous, ‘he who is infallible’, and Eurysthenes wed Anaxandra, ‘the feminine which directs’, both daughters of Thersander, ‘burning man’ (the inner fire).
From what we have been able to comprehend, the power possessed by the seeker who has attained this level of evolution is such that he is obliged to veil it to the sight of others while maintaining an attitude of total receptivity and consecration.
In addition there appears within consciousness an infallible certainty and an attitude of complete consecration which allows the Divine to direct the being as a whole (Sous and Anaxandra).
This episode underlines the fact that the new yoga takes as its basis the most seemingly insignificant movements of corporeal consciousness and its habits within daily life.