Beyond the amazing heroic feats of Hercules lies an outstanding and yet unnoticed achievement for most: it is the fact that Hercules is one of the very few Greek heroes who ascended to the Heavens. While achieving a hero position in one’s life is indeed outstanding, it is undoubtedly best to achieve divinity. Then, Why did Hercules became divine? I answer this with the analysis of the key moments of his birth and life, all illustrated in a memorable design for each one of us to apply: the Herakles code.
Birth: origin of his strength
Hercules’ story begins with a particular act of his mother’s that engaged Zeus attention. Alcmene, whose name means “strong in fury”, comes from the bloodline of Perseus (another famous Greek Hero). Her father, Elektryon, promised her in marriage to Amphytreon, but made him promise that they would be together after both Elektryon and Amphytreon returned from the battle versus the Teleobans. Of the two only Amphytreon returned alive. Alcmene demanded that she would join him in marriage only when he had avenged the death of her eight brothers. Something shocking just happened in Greek history, something that makes honor to Alcmene’s name. She made a demand! that was out of place for the traditions of that time and got away with it. This was unthinkable at that time, but we have to recognize her skill to make it happen.
Amphytreon accepted and effectively avenged her brothers in combat. Before he arrived home, Zeus impersonated him and appeared upon Alcmene’s bed to beget a son. We can deduce that Zeus was impressed by Alcmene’s demands to her husband because he asked the sun God Helios to skip illuminating a day so he could have three full nights to spend with Alcmene. After this Zeus said to all the Gods that the next new born under the Perseus bloodline would be the new king. Obviously Hera, Zeus wife and Goddess of protection, disapproved Zeus actions and therefore delayed Hercules’ birth just after his cousin Euristhydes who was named king. Once born, Hercules received the name of Alcides and his twin brother Iphicles. Yes his name was not Hercules from the beginning, but that will be explained later.
Now that we know under what circumstances Alcides (Hercules) was born. We know that due to Alcmene’s demand and Zeus intervention is that Alcides (Hercules) received an excess of active energy (yang, male, line) and a deficit of receptive energy (yin, female, circle). It is necessary to mention that active/passive energy are present in both sexes and that while the myth uses a male character as protagonist, the teachings apply to any human being interested to reach beyond the human limits. This lesson is illustrated in the Herakles code with the unbalance between the male energy (lines) and the female energy (circle):
Aristotle gave us one of the most transcendent words in a Hero’s journey: Hamartia. It is a personal tragic flaw that leads to a chain of actions culminating in disaster. In Hercules story his tragic flaw was his uncontrollable strength. First mentioned when he strangled the two serpents sent by Hera when he was still a baby. Later on present when in anger he accidentally killed his music teacher Linus and later and also when he killed the lion that threatened King Thespius cattle as a good deed.
We can say truly that his strength was most of the time overpowering, uncontrolled and he left a dense mark for good or bad wherever he went. It is important to mention Alcides (Hercules) tragic flaw because it explains why Hera was against him. Hera did not approve of Alcides (Hercules) unwillingness to control his strength.
Even though Alcides (Hercules) has trouble with his overpowering strength, he was so confident of himself that he discarded all of the weapon presents sent by his teachers and always favored his self made Club. His tragic flaw is present in the three chained circles of the Herakles code that look like a Club.
At his lowest Alcides (Hercules) did something unforeseen of him, he sought help! The strongest man in Greece went to seek advise from the oracle of Delphi. There he received two insights one direct and one indirect. The first was the advise from the Oracle that in order to atone for his sin and reach divinity he was to serve his cousin the King Eurystheus for twelve years. The second one he detected by himself: he was shocked to hear the Oracle referred to him as Herakles, which means “the glory of Hera”.
Alcides understood that in that name resided the solution to his tragic flaw and his divinity. He performed what the best initiated individuals of all time did: embrace one’s own flaw. He decided from there on that he was to be named Herakles and by that change of name he changed his luck. This was the key advantage to complete all twelve labors that came ahead, which were influenced by Hera herself.
This change of name is represented by the inner color of the diamond shape, that on the left side doesn’t distinguish the two colors (red/yellow) and on the right side clearly separates them the same way Herakles was able to distinguish his strength from his flaw. In the center, the white space represents convergence into himself for self improvement and divergence towards heaven.
Proof: Twelve labors
At this point in Herakles life he is ready to start, and the twelve labors will prove if he’s up for immortality. This is a worthy challenge for him because he has to obey his cousin Eurystheus who doesn’t come any close to his strength. Although the sequence of the labors varies depending on the source of the myth, there’s one order that makes sense in Herakles journey to divinity:
Look closer, read again and notice that labors 1 – 7 have in common one theme, Herakles vs nature; 8 – 11 are about Herakles vs man; and, labor 12 is where Herakles faces divinity. This order of labors focuses on divine growth since the Gods are not interested in whom has not achieved: self control (vs natural impulses) and social skills. These three steps towards Herakles divinity are represented in the three chained circles within the diamond shape. Each consecutive circle bigger than the previous one as what is achieved vs nature contributes when facing man, and the same when in the presence of divinity.
There is another related theme present across all twelve labors, but this time the order is not important. The verbs that describe the labors are repeated and we can count four verbs in total: slay, capture, clean and deceive. This key is represented in the four sides of the diamond shape, which multiplied by the three steps produce the twelve labors count.