Monday, August 03, 2009

Hercules: The Epic Poem Unbound!

Hercules has appeared in TV shows, movies, Disney cartoons, comic books, and even Disco Battles, but for a long time there hasn't been an epic poem focused on this hero.

Sure there may have been such a poem in ancient times. There are rumors on the internet that Peisandros of Rhodes (c. 600 B.C.) wrote such an epic but the thing is apparently "lost," and there are some scholars who figure that this epic was just something dreamt up by Peisandros's PR man to pump up his reputation.

All of this is changing, however. My friend, Matt Flumerfelt a fellow originally from New York who is wild about rhyme and Ancient Greece and Hercules, is in the process of completing an epic poem based on the life of Hercules and the poem (or at least XIV books of the epic) is available online at Matt's blog, Baloney Emporium.

Here's a sample from book XI with a brief introduction by Matt:

I’ve always been rather proud of this section, when Hercules goes to the ends of the earth and the Garden of the Hesperides to retrieve the golden apples for Eurystheus. In this section he’s crossed the desert and begins to reach the garden.

For days on end Alcides faced
the barren waste without the taste
of food or water, trudging west,
his gaunt cheeks hollow as a ghost.
Sporadic tufts of stoic greenery
intruded on the sabulous sea,
infringing on the sterile scenery
till dunes gave way to luscious lea.
The air grew vibrant with the song
of birds, the murmuring of leaves.
A vernal ichor, young and strong,
made zaftig earth's eclectic entities.
He abutted on a crenellated wall,
a bulwark reared of rough-hewn megaliths
with barbicans to guard against assault,
though here were neither Gauls nor Visigoths.
Such monumental piles of stone
have mostly been reserved for those
whose dainty nates graced a throne,
their egos perilously grandiose.
Tracing the wall's periphery,
he came to a quaint embrasure,
a portal of azure porphyry
with an elaborate entablature.
He gave the door a gentle push,
surprised at finding it ajar.
It swiveled open with a whoosh
as wind swept through the aperture.
The fields unfurled before his eyes
were named for the renowned Hesperides,
praised in the lays of other days
as Dilmun, Eden, Asgard, Paradise.

Atlas' daughters roamed the meadows,
weaving chaplets to adorn their tresses,
trolling airs and three-part operettas
whose harmonies and graceful cadences
were sweet as honey from Hymettus.
Spring, that Dionysian season,
was perpetual, reason being
the garden's pivotal location,
beyond the range of winter's fang.
Ladon was the garden's sentry,
a reptile of outstanding parts,
a member of the dragon gentry,
past master of the mantic arts.
Crossing the intervening croft,
Alcides reached earth's finisterre,
where Atlas held the world aloft,
though what he stood on isn't clear.
Heracles was frank with Atlas,
explaining in plebeian phrases
what he wanted with the apples
and why he'd made his anabasis.
"Why stick your neck out?" Atlas said.
"That dragon's like a pet to me.
He's sweet as lamb’s milk when he's fed.
I'd fetch the apples if my hands were free."
Rather than face the dragon's wrath
and slay so mannerly a creature,
Alcides chose to prop the earth
while Atlas took a little breather.

Putting his shoulder to the wheel,
he hoisted the telluric sphere.
If Heracles had dropped the ball,
life might have ended then and there.
Atlas lolled about the meadow,
feeling like a pardoned felon,
lounging in a live oak's shadow,
munching chunks of watermelon.
This taste of the dolce vita
fired Atlas with a love of gold.
A life of leisure is sweeter
than playing caryatid to the world.
Instead of dealing with the dragon,
he got the apples from his daughters,
who plucked them to relieve the sagging
branches, hoarding them like staters.
Atlas, returning with the booty,
told Heracles peremptorily
he felt it was his bounden duty
to take the apples to Mycenae.
Alcides said he understood
and only asked the Titan leave
to put a cushion on his head
for reasons easy to conceive.
It seemed a sensible request,
so Atlas graciously complied
and briefly reassumed his post
after laying the fruit aside.

Heracles swept up the plunder
and booked without a backward glance.
Atlas recognized his blunder
and reviled him from a distance.
His journey seemed incredible
to the simple folks back home until
he showed them the inedible
fruit. Even then most doubted still.
Eurystheus admired the apples,
but they had a bad track record.
Anyone who touched the globules
was jinxed by the goddess Discord.
He foisted them on Heracles,
who fobbed them off on Athena.
She passed them to the 'sperides,
who socked them away for Hera.


Matt is also the author of The Art of Dreaming, a book of poems. Info about purchasing it and a sample poem are available here at Everything's Jake.


Anonymous said...

This is really quite cool. I don't know how many epic poems of any sort I have read recently, let alone one on a classic topic such as this.

By the way, I found your blog through your response to my post. What you're working on sounds very interesting. My grandpa fought in World War 2 for the allies, but what makes it even more interesting for me is that he was first generation Hungarian-American. If he had lived in Hungary, he might have been fighting for the other side. And of course, I would never have been born.

Urkat said...

Thanks John for putting in a plug for my Hercules epic. Few people will have the stomach to read a verse epic on an ancient hero, but maybe some intrepid souls will take up the challenge.

Urkat said...

John, is a committed poet, or at least he should be, as anybody who dares write poetry for a dwindling audience needs to have his head examined.