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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Fall of Antaeus, Son of Poseidon

The Epic Wrestling Match
photo © me!
Antaeus was a son of Poseidon and Gaia, a giant who drew power directly from his mother -- that is, the earth itself. He was one of those jerks who wouldn't let anyone pass through his land without first defeating him in a wrestling match. (This is the kind of guy Theseus might have taken apart on the Isthmus Road, just for the record. And in fact, Theseus does defeat a similar Wrestle-or-Die figure in Kerkyon as one of his own labors. I'd imagine the parallels are deliberate.) But of course, Antaeus being Antaeus, and drawing power from the ground underneath him, he was unbeatable. The losers ended up dead, and their skulls shingled his temple roof to the glory of Poseidon.

Why those skulls didn't go to a temple to the glory of his mother, whose strength allowed him to perform these feats, I do not know. Maybe he was trying to get his dad's attention, because Poseidon was an absent father figure. Considering Poseidon and Zeus' track records, it isn't difficult to imagine that they neglected their less impressive children.

Anyway. One day, Heracles was passing through Libya (Antaeus' home turf) and Antaeus being Antaeus couldn't just let that opportunity go. I'm sure at that point he was thinking: YES. A real opponent! Or maybe something along the lines of: Haha! If I defeat Heracles I will be famous throughout all the lands and my name will be remembered for all time! Fame was, as we know from Achilles' choice, of great value to the Greeks. But either way, whether it was pride or because he just wanted to test himself, Heracles was made to wrestle him.

Now, this sculpture -- I don't know. Antaeus does not look very large for a giant, or else Heracles has got to be supersized for a man. Maybe it was a little bit of both. But regardless, the story ends the way you might expect. Heracles lifts Antaeus up off the ground in a crushing bear-hug, preventing the giant from drawing upon his mother's power. Antaeus weakens, and Heracles defeats him utterly.

Now, Heracles is kind of not the brightest crayon in the box himself, so some say that Athena told him how to win. But no matter how he figured it out, it seems kind of like dirty wrestling, to me.

...Not that Antaeus didn't deserve to reap what he sowed.

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