By George E. Georgas, Fencing coach, Historical Fencing & Pammachon instructor
Hercules was the greatest hero/warrior in Greek mythology and was honored as a demigod by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Indeed, during the height of the ancient Roman empire, he was being worshipped alongside Mithras in the legions, while when the empire became Christian, Hercules didn’t lose his glory, and remained the greatest warrior in the world, his only competitor being Achilles. The boys of the East Roman Empire used to grow up with the tales of Hercules’ feats, and dreaming of being like him when they grew up.
Hercules’ path as a warrior started very early. The legend tells us allegorically what must an inexperienced warrior do to succeed.
What does the legend tell us? Hercules, whose name means Ήρα (Hera) + Κλέος (glory), was the son of Alcmene and Zeus. His stepfather was Alcmene’s husband, Amfitrion, and his stepbrother was Ifikles. Hera hated Hercules, seeing in him Zeus’ infidelity. So, around the time when the two boys were eight months old, Hera sent two snakes in the night, to kill them. When the snakes approached the crib, Zeus sent light that woke the kids up. Ifikles, scared, started crying, but Hercules, without any fear, grabbed the snakes by the neck and strangled them. After this, the strength inside Hercules became known. The legend says that Hercules strangled the snakes.
What does the snake symbolize in mythology? The snake, most likely dark symbol of one’s ebullition and hunger for power must be evaded or killed so that the hero receives knowledge and reaches purification.
Here, though, we have two. And if the warrior doesn’t kill these two snakes like Hercules did, they will devour him in the future. One snake symbolizes pride. Pride quickly develops in someone’s heart and can blind them and produce other dangers. The other snake is doubt. Another great danger that always lurks in the shadow of every warrior’s mind. And if you let it, it will make the person undaring and cowardly.
If pride grows fueled by unbound selfishness brings great disaster in the path of not only the warrior but everyone. But let’s stay on our topic, the warrior. If pride isn’t addressed early on, in the future the warrior will underestimate everyone. Considering themselves very strong and good at what they do, they will be blinded and will remain in stasis. Meanwhile, through the pride with which their ego is being fueled, more enemies will be created that the warrior will have to face, but it will be too late due to the warrior’s lack of progress.
To generalise, a whole empire was lost due to the unbound pride of its leaders and people, creating enemies that razed it. In Christian tradition the greatest sin is pride. Lucifer saw the inner light, his pride grew, and from that pride his fall ensued and he lost everything.
The other snake, doubt, is more insidious. If it grows, the warrior will question whether they will succeed or not, feeding their fear and making it impossible to control. Battles have been lost because the general had doubts about his success, and so never dared to try. Gladiators lost their lives because, afraid that their move would not succeed, died because their opponent dared when they did not.
Hercules, woken by Zeus’ light, managed to strangle the snakes before they devoured him. That is what a warrior must do. Work with themselves to banish pride and doubt, like Hercules did.
All that has to do with the esoteric or spiritual interpretation of the myth.If we see it through the prism of science, then the two snakes are the autonomous nervous system, that similar to two snake-like energies revolve around the spinal cord. In other words, the trainee is called to control them. The autonomous nervous system is divided in the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Through these there exist certain mechanisms in our body that are activated even through emotion. In general terms, the sympathetic system prepares the body for action, like “fight or flight”, while the parasympathetic relaxes the body.
To understand what I mean, here is what Dr. D. Petrides writes on the subject:
‘Beyond the control of basic reactions and functions of the organism, a basic reaction based in behaviors aqcuired through many millenia of evolution, is the fight or flight response. When a mammal is in danger it usually has two basic choices. One is to fight and the other is to flee. In the first case there happens a stimulation of the functions of the organism so it can respond to the necessities of battle.
In the second case, with flight, the stimulation that battle demands is avoided. And I say basic, because there are many variations on these basic reactions.For example neither fighting nor fleeing. Or to be in a state of constant perceived danger, adopting a defensive stance towards the environment, without relaxing. Or to respond with panic towards the danger, to freeze. As mentioned before, the whole organism is mobilised in a specific way in the cases where we have a general response. For example, in the fight response, the stimulation of the sympathetic part of the autonomous system leads, through the secretion of specific hormones and mobilisation of specific neural circuits, to heightened peripheral blood circulation in the muscles, increased arterial pressure and heart rate, bronchodilation so more air, and therefore oxygen, reaches the lungs, pupillary dilation, increased alertness, etc.
If fear prevails for some imminent danger, real or perceived, or if the organism isn’t able or willing to react, or trying to hide its aggression towards a stimulus that it considers threatening, then the stimulation of the autonomous nervous system, trying to protect the major organs that it thinks are in danger, leads to retraction of blood from the peripheral circulation, that results in pale skin and overloading the heart that can lead to arrhythmia etc.‘
Quench, then, the pride that might make you reckless, and quench the doubt that will make you weak-willed and undaring. Find the balance within yourself.