Below is my original blog post (updated with somewhat better grammar and sentence structure) reflecting my, one of a kind, early work in regards to “pagan” mythology and strength training. The original post can be found here on my Blog, Circus of Mars.
The Hercules program was inspired by old-time strongmen like Henry Higgins, Auther Saxon, and Eugene Sandow. These men attained strength which is still largely unmatched and did so using highly focused and abbreviated programs. Modeling their example, I engineered an “old-time” strongman course utilizing just 12 full-body exercises (or labors) and a heavy dumbbell. Unfortunately, this strength program was never produced by my now-defunct Heroic Evolution and still, at present, remains an unrealized dream.
Hercules, Through works and not grace alone
The name Hercules conjures images of raw, unbridled strength and rugged masculinity. Hercules was born of a union between the mortal woman Alcmena and Zeus, king of the Gods. While divine blood runs through his veins, Hercules is, first and foremost, a man. Burdened by the same flaws and temptations of mortal men but gifted with the strength and nigh invincibility of a God.
The latter might sound ideal; however, it was the impetus for Hercules’s often tragic life. His strength a curse as much as it is a blessing. Hercules walks a tricky path. Being more than a man but less than a God has its unique challenges. Much of Hercules’s story is a struggle with self-control and accepting responsibility for the results of his otherworldly strength.
An examination of Hercules’s life would be a worthwhile study for any man. He seems to have all a man could want. He is incredibly powerful, phenomenally athletic, popular with the ladies, and leads a heroic life brimming with adventure. Still, Hercule’s life is marked with catastrophy. While I was internalizing his story, I experienced profound sadness and unresolved angst within them.
Hercules is the bastard son of Zeus. He was brought up by skilled warriors and tradesmen, they seem to have been good father figures but at the end of the day, they where replacements. Zeus remained distant. and it is the secret wish of all boys to make his father proud, whether that father is deserving of the effort, or not.
Hera, Queen of the Gods, plagues Hercules at near every turn. Due to notoriety, his great strength earns, and the attention it brings him, Hera is constantly reminded of Zeus’s frequent extramarital affairs. Hera heaps her wrath over Hercules, attempting to punish him for the actions of his father. It was Hera who placed Hercules under an enchantment of madness, causing him to see his wife and children as his enemies. Hercules ripped them to shreds and pieces with his bare hands and teeth. When the enchantment ended, and Hercules realized his error, it mattered not how strong he was, he was no able to bear this burden of guilt.
Fleeing deep in the desolate wilds of barbaric lands, Hercules languished for years in terrible shame and agony. It was the God Hermes who eventually sought him out and convinced Hercules to seek redemption. Hercules traveled to the Oracle at Delphi to ask Apollo what he could do to make amends, purify his heart and cleanse the evil from his spirit. Apollo knew that true forgiveness could only be attained from works as well as grace, he issued Hercules a series of tasks which would absolve Hercules and set his mind and soul free.
Hercules’s life serves as an important lesson and a dire warning. Men must be ever mindful of their actions, even more so when angry or frustrated. It is in these moments long-lasting harm followed by deep regret can result from an instant of rage or recklessness. Hercules traveling to the Oracle at Delphi demonstrates that we should seek the wisdom of Delphi, to “Know thy Self”, as well. As men, we ought to take responsibility for our actions, accept the consequences and commit to set things right.
At Delphi, Hercules learned that he must perform a series of arduous physical labors. Only through sweat and toil could Hercules’s soul be cleansed. Submitting himself to service and putting his git of strength to constructive use, Hercules earns back his dignity and admonishes his guilt.
His story makes an argument that grace, while important, should be equally paired with works to demonstrate who we are striving to become. It’s one thing to ask forgiveness, even beg it, but it is another to both sweat and ache remorse out of every pore.
Women play a major role in Hercules’s life. Some women genuinely care about him but most seek to use him for their own purposes, and usually at Hercules’s expense. A lesson exists here. Men ought to closely examine the role women play in their lives. Deianira is Hercule’s second wife and who ultimately causes his mortal death. She weaves a cloak for him as a gift upon his return from a long journey. On the inside, she has smeared what she believes a magical love balm made from rare herbs and the blood of a dying centaur. The centaur played upon her fears of Hercule’s many female admirers, telling her the balm will cause any man it is rubbed on to love her and only her.
The centaur wanted vengeance on Hercules for shooting him with an arrow that had been dipped in the poisoned blood of the Hydra he killed many years earlier. The centaur’s blood had become tainted with the Hydra’s poison. When Hercules wrapped the cloak around his body the balm true acidic nature took effect. Hercules’s skin was plainly seared away and the cloak bonded to his muscles so tightly, that as Hercules tried to pull the cloak off he ripped his own muscles from his bones. The Hydra’s virulent poison would never cease to eat away at his remaining flesh and keep him wracked in unending grief.
In the harsh days which followed, Hercules decided he had experienced enough
pain. In his last and perhaps greatest display of strength, Hercules
forgives his second wife Deianira, Zeus for not being present in his life and even Hera for all the strife she caused him. Hercules then builds his own funeral pyre and allows himself to be burned to death, one final cleansing.
In this act Hercules attained grace, but through his labors, he was found worthy and ascended to Mount Olympus. Hercules demonstrated that sometimes it takes more strength to let go then hold on. It takes great courage to relieve others of their own burdens. You release yourself from having to hold their guilt captive.
Strength training serves as a type of labor. Your sweat cleanses you and the pain from training becomes the fires of purification. You are engaging in a physical, emotional and spiritual release. The Hercules program proves your willingness to become a stronger person and increase your capability to be of service to others. Through works, you will attain the opportunities for grace. Every time you train, it is a type of baptism and through your deeds, you earn your place in the heavens.