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N.S. Gill

Does Biden Envision Obama as A Second Hercules?

By October 20, 2008

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Bust of Emperor Commodus as Hercules, from Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy.
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.
About.com's Guide to Greece, deTraci Regula, alerted me to the fact that Joe Biden, U.S. Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, referred to Obama as cleaning out the Augean Stables if and when he enters the Oval Office.
See So, Just Where Are the "Augean Stables"?.

Had I heard Biden's use of the term, it would probably have passed me by because the "Augean Stables" are a staple of my vocabulary, but deTraci is right that we should give credit when politicians show a familiarity with the Classics.

While it was a pretty amazing feat to clean the Augean Stables -- by diverting a body of water -- a greedy Hercules tried to exact double reward/payment for it. Neither of his bosses would pay. King Augeas of Elis refused to surrender one tenth of his cattle after learning that Hercules had been hired by someone else to do the task, and Erystheus said that a task undertaken for pay couldn't count as a (community service) labor. (See the reason for which Hercules undertook the labors in Hercules Labors - Madness and Atonement). In effect, it was a dirty job and a double or triple cross when Hercules exacted his revenge. However, when people talk about the Augean Stables, they usually mean only the incredible feat of cleansing and nothing else.
See: Apollodorus on the 5th Labor.

More interesting to me is the comment by deTraci on the influence of stepfathers:

It was expected to be an unpleasant task for the hero, but since he'd grown up with not one but two stepfathers renowned for wisdom - including one of my faves, King Radamanthes of Crete - Hercules simply rerouted two rivers to do the job.
I've studied Hercules for many years, researching this point and that, forgetting more than I remember. One point I had forgotten or, possibly, never noticed, is that Rhadymanthys married Hercules' mother Alcmena. I checked in Timothy Gantz' Early Greek Myths. There appear to be two main versions of this story.
  • In the Afterlife:
    In one, Alcmena marries Rhadymanthus after death in the Isles of the Blessed (Antoninus Liberalis 33). Alternately, Hercules gives his mother to Rhadymanthus in marriage in the Elysian Plains (Palatine Anthology 3.13).
  • In Life:
    In the second version, Alcmena marries while still alive, but after the death of her first husband, Amphitryon, Hercules' human father (or stepfather). Alcmena and Rhadymanthus live in Boeotia (Apollodorus 2.4.11, Plutarch Lys. 28.5). Amphitryon died in a battle between the Thebans and the Minyans in which Hercules, an adult, also fought.

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