Ninth labour: The Belt of the Amazon Queen
On ceramics, the fight that opposed Heracles’ troop to the Amazons was very popular, but one finds no trace of a belt or harness. Heracles’ opponent was an homonymous Andromache «who fights the man» in which we can see a meaning equivalent to that of Paris-Alexandros «who pushes man back»: the only ultimate possibility of the yoga was an annihilation into the impersonal Absolute, and not the divinisation of the body.
The oldest texts insist on the fight and the death of the Amazon queen, then named Antiope, killed by Heracles. The later versions recount a friendly relationship before the deadly fray.
At first, Heracles began to build a friendship with the Amazons and even obtained the belt peacefully before fighting them in a second phase: this progression followed by a reversal indicates that the seeker must first realise a perfect vital control before surpassing it in order to realise a more integral union, a greater perfection, by the liberation from nature’s modes and dualities. By vital control, one has to understand liberation from desire and ego, including control over anger, sexuality, disgust and fear.
This reversal then logically occurs at the same time as the Trojan War, during the first great reversal of the yoga, as the Amazons sided with the Trojan camp.
Apollonios (IIIrd century BC.) is the first to mention Melanippe, Heracles captured Melanippe, the queen’s sister (here called Hippolyte), in an ambush and exchanged her for her «harness».
This version could be telling that this perfect control over the vital can only be obtained through a perfect apprehension of «the shadow». Melanippe, the queen’s sister, is indeed «the black deformed force», Hippolyte’s counterpart «the vital energy from which one liberated oneself». Melanippe indeed represents the restrained vital energy which distorts into a black and destructive energy, for a seeker who nevertheless places purity at the top (the Amazons revere Artemis).
The presence in the myth of this duality as well as the Amazons’ filiation – they are Ares’ daughters – show that the seeker has not yet reached total liberation in the action, beyond dualities.
Some of Pindar’s scholars mention that Melanippe was killed by Telamon «the endurance», Aeacus’ son, while Hippolyte was killed by Heracles: when duality stops, the perverted energy (Melanippe) and the ideal aimed goal (Hippolyte) disappear too, vice as well as virtue.
Diodorus (in the Ist century BC.) completed Apollonios’ tale: a troop of the best warriors was accompanying Heracles in this expedition, including Telamon and Theseus. After the victory, the latter received as spoils of war, an Amazon named Antiope who was the mother of an homonymous Hippolyte, whom Phaidra fell in love with.
Nevertheless, in the oldest tales (Pindar’s and Pherecydes’), Theseus’ expedition against the Amazons was independent from Heracles’.
According to Apollodorus, (between the Ist and IIIrd century AD.), it was on Eurystheus’ daughter’s request, an homonymous Admete «she who is not yet subjected to the yoke», that Heracles had to bring back the harness. On the way, the hero helped king Lycos defeat the Bebryces and their king Mygdon, Amycos’ brother.
Then, during his first meeting with Queen Hippolyte, she promised him her harness. But Hera, disguised as an Amazon, excited the other women by spreading the word that the hero wanted to kidnap the queen and they attacked his ships. Feeling betrayed, Heracles killed Hippolyte and seized the harness.
In order to achieve this realisation (at the Amazons’), an alliance of the yoga of purification/liberation (Heracles) and of inner light (Lycos) is necessary to conquer anger (The Bebryces «roar, devour» and their king Mygdon).
Furthermore, the force which always brings one back to the right movement of evolution (Hera) does not accept that the seeker stops on the way.
All the tales agree with the description of a nation of «warrior» women, thus an advanced realisation of «Truth fighters». The first example of such women, besides the immortal goddesses, appears with Atalante who represents the realisation of a certain «equality» in the Hunt for the Calydonian Boar lead by Meleagros (a descendant of Protogenia «those who walk forward», a heroine of Japet’s lineage, the ascent of the planes of consciousness).
Some sources mention that the Amazons were governing themselves without the help of any man and tolerated their presence only as servants, or even, killed or mutilated their male children at birth, blinding them or making them lame. The seeker then considers he completed the yoga. He does not let the necessary work of purification on his nature’s imperfections come to his consciousness, or he refuses to take them into account or only very partially.
Diverse characteristics are attributed to the Amazons of which the origin is difficult to determine.
For example, even though the legend passed down to us makes them excellent horsewomen – this competence depicting control over vital energy – they are usually represented on foot on ceramics, and among the reliable sources, only Apollodorus seems to mention that they rushed on horseback towards Heracles’ ship anchored in the harbor in Themiskura.
Apollodorus reports elsewhere that «mothers compressed strongly their daughters’ right breast for them not to be hampered while handling the javelin or the bow». However, the ceramics, on which they have at best one naked breast, do not confirm this fact.
This anecdote could illustrate the fact that, according to some initiates, the work of liberation in the spirit cannot be done without resorting to some «limitation» or «compression» of vital energies, and more particularly of sexual energy (that is indeed usually requested in most yogas). Melanippe could represent the consequences of this constraint, the «black» vital energy.
Heracles was not the only hero to fight the Amazons. Theseus, Priam, Bellerophon and Achilles also had to confront them, even if, in their cases, this «work» was not put at the forefront. According to its position in the concerned myth, this fight indicates either that the seeker has reached the level of this liberation, or that this fight is one of the logical outcomes of the related work: purification of errors, fight against illusions or realisation of transparency.
Theseus, who was married to Antiope (or to an homonymous Hippolyte), confronted the Amazons when he neglected his wife for Phaidra, Minos and Pasiphae’s daughter. This war occurred shortly before the abduction of Helen and the episode of the descent to Hades, and long after the victory over the Minotaur. We shall examine it in detail in a later chapter with the version according to which he accompanied Heracles in his expedition.
According to Homer, Bellerophon fought the «viril Amazons» at the very end of his feats, after the victory over the chimaera, but before the king of Lycia opposed his best men to the hero who will conquer them, so just before the seeker overcomes the “lightnings of Truth” he has experienced. The importance given to these «luminous experiences» is indeed one of the last obstacles (close to an illusion) which must disappear.
It is more like a Truth which must evolve towards even more Truth, rather than an illusion as we usually understand it. It can be difficult to see liberation in the spirit as an illusion unless one considers that it is the perception of the world’s illusory nature that the seeker experiences. That is why the heroes appreciate the company of the Amazons for some time before having to confront them.
Many Amazons, under Penthesilia’s lead, intervened in the Trojan War by helping Priam, to whom they had gone to be purified. To access a purification indicates the rightness of the path. The Amazons, representing the perfect mastery including that of suffering through total detachment (Penthesilia), could only side with the Trojans who themselves rejected any possibility of divinisation of matter and aspired to a divinisation out of the world, to a return to the Absolute out of manifestation.
Nevertheless, in his youth, Priam had assisted the Phrygians who were fighting on the Achaean’s side against the Amazons who had invaded Phrygia «that grills, burns». He thus contributed to their defeat.
This episode occurs before the split between Trojans and Achaean happened, that is before the bifurcation between the continuation of the ascent of the planes of consciousness and that of divinisation of matter. This split expresses that the seeker, at a given moment of the quest, must prevent the way that puts mastery as ultimate goal from «taking ownership» of the fire of the quest.
Mention should be made that Achilles, while in the Achaean camp opposed to the Trojans, at first experienced friendship for Penthesilia before fighting and killing her: each realisation, as advanced as it may be, must be exceeded if the seeker wants to pursue his journey on the evolutive path.
The Amazons live beyond Propontide «the advanced work on the vital (Pro-Pontos)», towards the back of Pontus Euxinus (Euxeinos Pontos) «the work in a very strange inhospitable vital world». Their kingdom is located near to the coast of the Black Sea, North of present-day Turkey, midway to Colchis. Their capital is Themiskura, name designating those «who received the Divine Law». (Themiskura is a word built with themis «what is established as rule» or «Divine Law» in opposition to nomos, «the human law», and kyra «who shares».)
This city is located at the mouth of the Thermodon, meaning that the «spiritual realisation» represented by the Amazons lies where the current of consciousness which carries «the fire of the union» (Thermodon), the Agni of the Vedas, the psychic fire, is at the maximum of its power.
There is no certitude regarding the construction of the word Amazon. The most probable is that it is made from αμα (utterly) and ζωνη (belt), symbol of a perfect vital control. Another hypothesis would be the assembly of the prefix ama (αμα) «together, who is one with» and the verb Ζαω «to live» (or the letter Zêta). Hence it would describe the seeker who has entered the path of union with Reality. (It is built on the same basis than the word Hamadryades, «who is one with the tree».
We already used several times the word «harness» (zoster) instead of «belt» which has been consecrated by the tradition. Indeed it is more a piece of warrior equipment used to hold a sword than an element of feminine clothing. (The word ζωστηρ is to be compared to ζωος «alive» and can also be from ζωρος «pure, without mixing». It also includes the root ΣΤ «to stand» source of the idea of rectitude, of the spirit/matter relation.)
On the other hand, some authors mention that Melanippe, «the black (vital) force», was killed by Telamon, which means «harness», but also «he who works on his full consecration» or even «he who endures»: control, consecration, self-giving (surrender) and endurance enabling to integrate and transmute «the shadow» in order to prepare the access to non-duality.
In summary, the labour in which Heracles had to bring back the Amazons’ queen harness symbolically involves two periods: the achievement of a perfect mastery (most probably associated with the union with the Divine in spirit, the realisation of the Self), before going beyond that in order to pursue the yoga towards Nature’s liberation until he obtains integral liberation.
In the first period, the ideal is preeminent, but in the spirit-matter division. The seeker, thinking he has reached the end of the path, does not want to get involved any longer in any labour (the Amazons reject men). In some ways, this can be considered as an illusion, the reason why Bellerophon had to fight them too. To surpass this stage depends as much on the growth of the inner being (Theseus) as it does on the work of purification leading to the psychisation of the being (Heracles).
In the second phase, it is a question of renouncing the previous realisations in order to begin a yoga in matter, which requires great «endurance».
The construction of the Walls of Troy
There is an anecdote linked to this Ninth Labour which exposes the motives of the «first» Trojan War, led by Heracles. Some elders indeed wanted to situate the «second» Trojan War – the one chanted by Homer in the Iliad – in relation to Heracles’ feats.
On Zeus’ request (without Homer giving any reason for it), the gods Poseidon and Apollo served Laomedon for one year during which they built the walls of the citadel of Troy (Pergamum). According to Apollodorus, this was to verify by themselves Laomedon”s arrogance. For that, they took a human appearance. For some, while Poseidon was building the walls, Apollo watched over the cattle. But once the labour was completed, Laomedon refused to pay the salary they had agreed upon.
Laomedon was the king of Troy and Priam’s father. He belongs to the lineage of the fifth Pleiad, Electra, who corresponds to the plane of the illumined mind in the ascent of the planes of consciousness (Iapetus). His ancestor is an homonymous Erichthonius (not to be confused with Athen’s legendary king), that is to say «a powerful incarnation». His grandfather is Tros «the right development on the spirit’s plane» who gave his name first to the people then to the city of Troy. His father is Ilos «the liberated consciousness». This name has the same structuring letter than that of the sun, Helios. His uncle is Ganymedes «he who guards joy» who Zeus kidnapped to be the gods’ cupbearer.
The name Laomedon most probably means «he who has collected and controlled the elements of his outer being». Pergamum is the name of the citadel of Troy and means «totally united» (referring here to the union in spirit).
Indeed, these elements indicate a seeker «liberated» in spirit, the purification of the outer nature not being completed yet. That is why this character reneged several times on his commitments.
The seeker «on the path of liberation» committed to give from himself, to carry out a yoga (to pay a salary) when the work of «fortification» of his path would be completed, when the work «of union» would have been made easier for him (Pergamum). Nevertheless, when this is accomplished by higher forces – the subconscious and the psychic light – which did not appear clearly to him in consciousness (the gods are disguised), he refuses to honour his debt, to give them all the credit.
For some, Poseidon was building the Walls of Troy while Apollo watched over the cattle: the light of the psychic being ensured that the previous achievements were not lost. According to Sri Aurobindo’s terminology, it would seem that here Poseidon may more likely be the subliminal mind and vital (the immense parts of the vital and of the mind located below our active consciousness), rather than the subconscious, receptacle of all the impressions and sensations collected by the consciousness.
If we take Apollodorus’ version, the seeker is tested in order to assess his ability to recognise the work of the Divine in himself, the work of the divine forces that act through him and of which he is only the receptacle (in order to test Laomedon’s arrogance ).
Some authors describe the walls built by the gods as those «of an impenetrable city», thus showing that it is no longer simply a temporary experience but a definitive realisation.
Among these realisations can be mentioned the union with the Divine in spirit, the cosmic consciousness, the Presence of Shakti or Divine mother, the Force, the Light, the Knowledge, the realisation of Sat-Chit-Ananda (the supreme triple-in-one consciousness, existence-consciousness-felicity) and joy.
This myth would then tend to express that the Trojan way is not a mistake in itself, rather a necessary realisation, but the mistake occurs at a time when the seeker is still considering the realisations as his own, refusing to attribute them to the Divine, or at least refusing to fulfill his commitments to the yoga (if one considers that the gods took human appearances). Indeed this path will be pursued by Aeneas’ progeny, long after the Trojan War.
Apollo and Poseidon were irritated by Laomedon’s behavior. The first sent a plague onto the land, the second a flood and a sea monster which devoured its inhabitants. The oracle was consulted and replied that only the sacrifice of the king’s daughter, Hesione, would appease the gods’ anger. Thus she was tied to a rock on the shore, a prey to the monster.
Laomedon promised his immortal horses to whoever would kill the monster and free his daughter. They were the best on earth, since his father Tros received them from Zeus in exchange for Ganymedes. (The latter was the most beautiful mortal and he had then become the gods’ cupbearer, pouring the nectar of immortality into their cups.)
Coming back from the Amazons’ land, Heracles was sailing past Troy. Having spotted the young girl tied to her rock, he offered to fight the monster himself. Homer adds that Athena and the Trojans built a wall to protect Heracles from the sea monster. According to Hellanicos, Heracles entered the monster’s womb and destroyed him from within. Then the hero went back to the sea.
Here again, Laomedon refused to honour his promise. This refusal re-occurred at different times according to the versions.
In the first version, Heracles came back to receive the promised reward only many years after having freed Hesione, after spending at least one year at Omphale’s service. But since Laomedon refused to give the promised horses (or gave «mortal» horses instead, Heracles noticing the deception only later), the hero took hold of the city of Troy and destroyed it.
In another version, Laomedon’s refusal occurred just after Heracles’ victory over the monster, but the hero came back later for revenge, like in the previous version.
Then Heracles took Hesione, Laomedon’s daughter, as a captive and gave her to Telamon as spouse. She became the mother of Teucer. Furthermore, he offered Hesione to free a prisoner. She chose her brother Podarces who from then on took the name of Priam «who was bought back».
It is said that this double refusal from Laomedon to honour his spiritual commitments was the primary cause of the Trojan War.
Because of this refusal to honour his «spiritual commitments», the seeker goes through a difficult period. He is simultaneously seriously disturbed by his psychic being which removes its light, generating a very destructive increasing disharmony (Apollo sent a plague) and even more severely so by emotional disorders and opposing forces in the vital produced by the subconscious (the flood and the sea monster sent by Poseidon).
Looking within (by consulting the oracle) the seeker understands that in order to stop this deserved trial, he must sacrifice the ascent of the planes of mental consciousness (represented by Hesione, the receptive «evolution of human mental consciousness»).
When the seeker accepts to redirect his yoga (Laomedon offering his daughter as sacrifice), a new possibility of evolution presents itself but he must first demonstrate his sincerity (Heracles’ arrival and his request for compensation).
For mental consciousness to continue participating in the yoga (Hesione’s liberation) the promise to put the ability to use nature’s illuminated vital forces to the service of that which controls the yoga of purification (the transfer of horses to Heracles) is necessary. The latter are the immortal horses which Laomedon inherited from his father Tros who himself received them from Zeus in exchange for Ganymedes «who watches after or aspires for joy»: when the seeker accepted that his «joy» participates to his growth in spirit, he received in exchange the ability to draw without limitations nature’s vital energies.
In this labour of reorientation, the seeker who works in the right way of purification is protected from forces of destruction (threatening he who persists in the ascending way without entirely dedicating himself): Heracles was protected from the monster by a wall built by Athena and by the Trojans. And when Hellanicos specifies that Heracles had to enter the monster’s womb to destroy it from within, he insists on the need for an identification with the obstacle in order to be able to understand it completely and to surpass it.
But for the second time, the seeker refuses to honour his inner commitments, refusing to put nature’s unlimited vital power (the immortal horses) at the service of the yoga’s right way, of the work of purification and of total liberation of the lower nature of which Heracles is the hero.
This renewed refusal of the seeker to commit on the path of greater consecration and of purification/liberation will then be the cause of the great inner conflict which will follow (primary cause of the Trojan War).
That is why, a few years later, Heracles will come back to raze Troy. At that time, «the evolution of higher consciousness» (Hesione) is given in marriage to Peleus’ brother Telamon «the endurance». This first destruction of Troy must be linked to its siege related by Homer in the Iliad. Let us recall that this destruction of Troy by Heracles serves only in locating the Trojan War in the process of yoga. Through the marriage of Hesione and Telamon, the seeker is returned to the right path of yoga, implying a total submission in the incarnation, that is to say the work on the depths of his nature.
We shall study the end of the story – Podarces/Priam’s redemption – in a later chapter.