Back to Index





Michael Srigley

The vast Ring-Dance of the Zodiac, which Hercules performed and ever performs, begins in the Sign of Aries the Ram and ends in the sign of Pisces or the Two Fish. Month by month, year by year, life by life, the energies of each constellation stream forth, posing the same challenges and trials to each human being, as Hercules once faced.


This is the Labour, this is the Work.


Let us follow  

        In the Tracks of Hercules

              towards the Far-off Light



Labour I - Aries

The Capture of the Man-Eating Mares


Long ago, Hercules, the Glory of the Goddess Hera,

Set out to capture the Wild Horses of Diomedes.

He cornered and tethered them

But gave to his friend Abderis

The task of driving them back to Diomedes.

On the way they trampled Abderis to death.

So Hercules was forced to take on the task:

He drove the wild mares

The horses of generation,

Firmly back to Diomedes.

Thus did Hercules learn

Straight from the horses' mouth.



Labour II - Taurus

The Capture of the Cretan Bull


The voice said to Hercules:

'Enter the Maze

Grope through the Dark,

Seize the Bull,

Thread your Way

Through the Labyrinth

To the water-lapped shore.'

He did this, and the Voice said:

'Ride Taurus the Bull

From Island to Mainland,

Over the Wine-Red Sea

Of Lavish Desire.'

He did this too

And the Voice said:

'Be single-eyed,

Brimful with light,

Learning well

The Beauty of the Bridle,

The Art of the Curb.'

Hercules slowly mastered this.



Labour III - Gemini

The Golden Apples of the Hesperides


Voyaging in a Cup of Gold

Over the wide passionate Sea,

In search of Golden Apples

Guarded by a coiled Dragon,

Hercules was diverted from his goal

By various acts of service

Such as holding the Great Globe

Of Atlas on his shoulders,

Or pausing to release Prometheus

From his heavy iron chains.

Yet finally he reached the Hesperides,

Was permitted to eat a Golden Apple,

And as a final act of service

He left other Apples behind him

For those who would follow in his tracks

In times to come.



Labour IV - Cancer

The Capture of the Doe


Hercules hunts the shy Doe

Of the Forest, so swift to vanish.

Like a flash of intuition, she comes and goes

In the forest clearing of the stockstill mind.

Though Hercules wounds it and brings it to a temple,

It ever moves delicately through the shadow-dappled glade

Of a far hill.



Labour V - Leo

The slaying of the Nemean Lion


Rumour reached Hercules of a Great Lion

Ravaging by night the Land of Nemea.

He decided to go there and kill it

But this was easier said than done,

For on arrival he found that the cavern

It lived in had two openings so that

If he entered by one, the Lion left by the other.

Finally he decided to block one opening

And enter by the other. Clever, eh!

In this way he cornered it, lifted it

Above the earth, and so throttled the Lion.

Ever after he wore the Lion's Skin

Over his head and down his spine

As a token of true self-conquest.



Labour VI - Virgo

Seizing the Girdle of Hippolyte


Hercules made some grievous mistakes.

For example, in seizing the Girdle of Motherhood

By force, he killed Queen Hippolyte.

His Teacher said: "Redeem this act"

Hercules set out to do so.

He passed a Great Sea,

And saw a Huge Monster there

Rise and swallow Maid Hesione

In one gulp.

As Heroes must,

Before he could think,

Hercules dived down

Deep into the red gullet

Of the Huge Monster

And rescued Hesione

And brought her back

To the light of day.

The Pattern is ancient:

The Doubt and the Dithering,

Between Substance and Spirit,

The Choice at the Crossroads,

Between Body and Soul,

Only to be resolved in the Act

Which embraces both.



Labour VII - Libra

The Capture of the Erymanthian Boar


On his Seventh Labour Hercules was told

To capture the Wild Erymanthian Boar

But remember to take time off to eat -

Good advice, but he carried it too far,

For, climbing the cliffs in quest of the Boar,

He met two Centaurs with a cask of wine.

They broached it and downed the wine,

Till Hercules, sloshed, slew one of the Centaurs.

Hercules now plodded upwards alone,

Found the Wild Boar, fought it

With his bare hands, and subdued it.

Then lifting it by its hind-legs,

He marched the Boar like a wheel-barrow

Down to the City of the Centaurs,

Who, being half human, half horse,

Laughed and whinnied at the ludicrous sight!

Hercules had completed his Mission,

But had wobbled somewhat on the way.



Labour VIII - Scorpio

Destroying the Lernaean Hydra


There was severe drought in ancient Argos

And so the Goddess Amymone struck a Rock

And out of it gushed three clear streams.

But the Foul Hydra with Nine Necks

Settled in the foul Swamp nearby.

Hercules' task was to kill it, knowing

That each time he lopped off one Tentacle

Three more would spring up in its place.

A most radical procedure was required.

The Voice of his Master whispered to him:

"Rise by kneeling. Conquer by supplication",

And this the Hero proceeded to do.

Kneeling, he raised the Hydra into the air,

And one by one the squirming Tentacles

Sagged down. The Hydra died.

Such is the power of the Bent Knee

And Clasped Hands.



Labour IX -  Sagittarius

Killing the Stymphalian Birds


On his Ninth Labour Hercules was told

To cleanse yet another Stinking Marsh

Where the fierce Stymphalian Birds

With their iron beaks and sharp talons,

Lurked, threatening all wayfarers who came near.

He tried shooting arrows at them,

Setting traps. But to no avail.

Hercules was in a quandary.

He paused and pondered,

And he heard these words:

"The Flame that gleams

Beyond Common Sense

Reveals the Way ahead."

A solution dawned on him,

And seizing two great bronze cymbals

He set up such a din

That the brutal Birds fled.

Deep silence settled.

The bright sun sank.

Darkness deepened

Saturated with light.



Labour X - Capricorn

The Slaying of Cerberus, Guardian of Hades


Always in the dead of Winter

When the Sun sags over the horizon

Hercules slays

The Monster Cerberus;

It is the Turning-Point

When the Way down

Wends upwards;

When the Child swaddled in shadow

Gleams in the Crib

For Everybody's Sake,

Buried Grain,

Growing towards Light

Out of the dim Depths.



Labour XI - Aquarius

Cleansing the Augean Stables


Hercules next comes to the Sick Land of King Augeus

And finds it afflicted by a Pestilent Stench

Rising from the heaped dung of the King's Stables.

It has brought disease to the whole realm.

People are dying, the crops are withering.

And so seeing that Augeus does nothing,

Hercules decides to Act.

After racking his brains,

He forms a plan and carries it out:

He brings two large rivers together

To make one great Flood;

He directs its flow first

Through the King's Stables

And scrubs them spick-and-span.

And then Hercules lets the Waters

Wash the Whole Kingdom Clean.

The stench vanishes;

The people recover;

Fruit ripens on the laden boughs

And fields shimmer with gold Corn,

That will bulge the barns for winter.

Only Augeus is displeased

And, as might be expected,

He rewards Hercules

With banishment.



Labour XII -  Pisces

The Capture of the Red Cattle of Geryon

It is said that on his Last Labour

Hercules overcame the Great Illusion;

Glimpsed, beyond all partial truths,

Truth in all simplicity.

Across the Fretful Waves

Of the wide, wind-swept sea

Fares Hercules to Erytheia,

In a Bright Golden Cup

To free the captive hoards

Of All Humanity,

Long interned in darkness.

He will then ferry them all

To the Sacred City

In the Sturdy Ship

Of the Holy Grail.

Thick Darkness now gives way to Dawn

Out of the glade emerges the Fawn,

The Dying Grain revives as Corn,

The Old Age dies, a New Age is born.




Back to Index