Hercules' Dream Team; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Daily Mail (London), May 27, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Hercules' Dream Team; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION In La Coruna, Spain, there is a Tower Of Hercules. There is also a football team called Hercules, and Plato dubbed Gibraltar one of the Pillars of Hercules. Why the association with this Greek mythological figure?

SPAIN has no more affiliation with Heracles/ Hercules than anywhere else in the world. This powerful, lion-skin clad, club-wielding demi-god was popular wherever his cult was taken.

Temples dedicated to Heracles were common along the Mediterranean coast. The temple of Heracles Monoikos (the lone dweller) on a lonely promontory in what is now the Cote d'Azur is the origin of Monaco.

The Pillars of Heracles were defined by the Greeks. At that time, there was no such thing as Spain, just a conglomeration of Celtic, Iberian and Turdetani tribes who occupied the area.

In Greek mythology, Heracles had to perform 12 labours, one of which was to fetch the Cattle of Geryon from the far west and bring them to King Eurystheus. The pillars were the exit of the Mediterranean into the great unknown.

When the Romans became the premier empire in the Western world, they subsumed and adapted the Greek pantheon; the Greek Heracles became Hercules.

The imported Greek hero is thought to have supplanted a mythic Italic shepherd called Recaranus or Garanus, also famous for his strength.

With the spread of Roman influence, Hercules was worshipped from the Hispanic peninsula through Gaul and was beloved by warriors of all castes.

Tacitus records a special affinity of the Germanic peoples for Hercules: '. . . they say Hercules, too, once visited them; and when going into battle, they sang of him first of all heroes.

'They have also those songs of theirs, by the recital of this barditus as they call it, they rouse their courage, while from the note they augur the result of the approaching conflict. For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm.'

The Tower of Hercules was erected by the Romans as a lighthouse and land Romans as a lighthouse and landmark at the entrance of La Coruna harbour in north-western Spain in the late 1st century AD.

The Romans called it Farum Brigantium, derived from theGreek pharos for the lighthouse of Alexandria and, possibly, an early Celtic king Breogan.

Though known colloquially as The Tower Of Hercules, it was only in the 20th century that it became formally named as such. However, from its erection there developed the Celtic/Roman myth that it was there that Hercules slew the giant tyrant Geryon after three days and three nights of continuous battle.

Then - in a Celtic gesture - Hercules buried the head of Geryon with his weapons and ordered that a city be built on the site. The lighthouse atop a skull and crossbones, representing the giant, appears in the coat of arms of Coruna.

Evidently, the spirit of Hercules was alive and well in 1922 when Pastor Vicente de la Llosa Alfosea founded Hercules Football Club in Alicante. A hunchback known universally as the Hump, he was perhaps a surprising patron. Alfosea named his team after the invincible nature of Hercules - despite which they have spent most of their existence in the second tier of Spanish football.

Paul Everitt, Cambridge.

QUESTION Who first said: 'Fools rush in where angels fear to tread'?

THIS was written by 18th-century poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in his Essay On Criticism (1711). Pope intended to write an English counterpart to Nicolas Boileau- Despreaux's influential L'Art Poetique, a canonical guide for the composition of poetry, based on the similar Ars Poetica of the Greek poet Horace.

Pope's essay begins with a discussion of the rules of taste that ought to govern poetry, and which enable a critic to make sound critical judgments.

Though his work was masterful for one so young (he began writing it when he was 17), and far more amusing that Boileau's work, British authors were more rebellious and less inclined than their French counterparts to follow any convention.

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