When the Roman commander Quintus Sertorius crossed from Hispania to North Africa, he was told by the residents of Tingis (Tangier), far to the west of Libya, that the gigantic remains of Antaeus could be found within a certain tumulus; or mounded grave. Digging it open, his men found giant bones; closing the site. Sertorius made offerings and “helped to magnify the tomb’s reputation.”
The Ancient Myth
According to Thoughtco.com, Antaeus was the son of Gaia and Poseidon. His strength appeared to be invincible. Antaeus challenged all passers-by to a wrestling match which he invariably won. Upon winning, he always slaughtered his adversaries.
That is until he met Hercules.
Hercules had gone to the garden of the Hesperides for an apple. (The Hesperides, daughters of Night or the Titan Atlas, took care of the garden.) On Hercules’ way back, the giant challenged the hero to his customary wrestling match. Hercules was having trouble at first. No matter how many times Hercules threw Antaeus off and tossed him to the ground, it did no good. If anything, the giant appeared rejuvenated from the encounter.
Hercules eventually realized that Gaia, (the Earth)- Antaeus’ mother, was the source of Antaeus’ strength, so Hercules held the giant up until all his power drained away. Antaeus’s secret was that if he stayed firmly on the ground…and in contact with his mother…he could not be beaten. After Hercules killed Antaeus, by keeping him off the ground, he then crushed him with a bear hug.
Wikipedia explains that Hercules is a Roman hero and god. He was the Roman equivalent of the Greek divine hero Heracles, who was the son of Zeus (Roman equivalent Jupiter) and the mortal Alcmene. In classical mythology, Hercules is famous for his strength and for his numerous far-ranging adventures.
The Romans adapted the Greek hero’s iconography and myths for their literature and art under the name Hercules. In later Western art and literature and in popular culture, Hercules is more commonly used than Heracles as the name of the hero. Hercules was a multifaceted figure with contradictory characteristics, which enabled later artists and writers to pick and choose how to represent him.
Ancient and Modern Pop Culture References
Some ancient writers who mention Antaeus in their writings are Pindar, Apollodorus, and Quintus and Smyrnus. The contest between Heracles and Antaeus was a favored subject in ancient and Renaissance sculpture.
Incidentally, the modern American hero and demigod, also a descendant of Poseidon, Percy Jackson, (b)y Rick Riordan, also defeats Antaeus by suspending him above the earth.
Other pop culture references are movies Hercules Unchained (1958) and Hercules the Avenger (1965) as well as the Disney’s Animated film, Hercules (1997).
Writing Prompt *A Modern Twist on the Ancient Myth
You are a modern incarnation of Gaia, mother of Antaeus.
Stressed from work, and while driving to pick up a delicious lunch in Tripoli, you accidentally bump into the car in front of you. It’s just a light fender bender, but it pops open the other car’s trunk.
You notice that the driver is none other than Hercules—and there’s a dead body in his trunk. The body is of Antaeus your son and you notice this right off the bat because his body barely fits into the trunk. What elaborate excuse does Hercules give you to explain his alarming cargo? Where was he taking the body? What do you do? Why are they reincarnated? Are they doomed to replay the same scenario again and again for all eternity? How can they break the cycle?
If you find this article fun and interesting and you decide to expand on this story, let me know how it continues in the comment section below, and as usual…happy writing!